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European Community (Fisheries)

Volume 940: debated on Monday 28 November 1977

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7.0 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/2147/77, R/2428/77, R/2429/77, R/2434/77, R/2521/77 and R/2642/77 on Fisheries.
A week today, on 5th December, the Fisheries Council will be considering, once again, whether it is possible to reach agreement on a common fisheries policy, or whether, once again, we shall have to resign ourselves to that series of ad hoc measures to which we have become accustomed in Brussels and which are no substitute for a real lasting policy. It is against this background that we in this House are considering six draft regulations prepared by the EEC Commission—regulations on two basic questions—division of resources and conservation of stocks.

The draft regulation which purports to show us how to divide up the fishing resources of the Community is R2434. Its basic premise is that catches should be divided in the same proportions as were provided for in the North East Atlantic Fisheries Convention—NEAFC —in the period before 200-mile limits. Where there was no provision in NEAFC, division would be according to actual catch levels in the past. This solution has major difficulties. One is that some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have lost their traditional fishing grounds in the waters of third countries and therefore lose disproportionately by a straightforward application of the NEAFC key.

The Commission now recognises that this is a real problem and we have been told that it is prepared in principle to amend its proposals to take account of these losses. But even if the proposals are amended in this way, they will not meet the needs of the United Kingdom. For example, they take no account of the fact that 60 per cent. of the fish stocks within the waters of the member States are in United Kingdom waters.

The Commission's proposal departs from the NEAFC key in order to provide preferential treatment for Ireland and "North Britain", because they are specially mentioned in the Hague declaration. For the Republic it has suggested a higher allocation—two-thirds above the catch level of 1975—which is to be taken partly from the waters of the United Kingdom. Indeed, so open-handed is the Commission that it even offers the Republic an allocation from the waters of the Isle of Man—waters which are, as it happens, excluded from the common fisheries policy.

Having settled the Irish allocation to its own satisfaction, the Commission has applied its mind to the requirements of the United Kingdom. The regulation purports to give a preference to "North Britain", by which we are to infer the inclusion of certain waters off Scotland and Northern Ireland. In practice, the proposal would only provide for preference to take effect if the total allowable catch is lower than in 1976. If that happens, the preference for North Britain is provided at the expense of the rest of the Community—including, unfortunately, the south part of our island.

For us South Britons—as I suppose we must now learn to call ourselves—this would mean an additional blow to our fishing industry. Just to allow the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) fully to appreciate and savour the effect, I have to tell the House that the regulation is not as clear in its wording as one would wish. South Britons may include some Scots as well.

So there we have the Commission's suggestions for dealing with the division of resources. The House may not be altogether surprised to learn that these suggestions are regarded by Her Majesty's Government as totally, utterly and irrevocably unacceptable.

Where we do agree with the Commission is that, however the stocks may be divided, there must be sufficient fish left to divide, and the draft Regulations 2147 and 2429 are the Commission's proposals for an EEC conservation policy.

The first of these, R/2147, is not of great importance. It would consolidate a number of regulations made earlier in the year following agreements reached in the Council which expire at the end of the year.

The second, R/2429, is important since it would apparently be the basis of the Community's definitive policy on non-quota conservation measures. Its proposals are based closely upon the agreed recommendations of NEAFC, which were valuable so far as they went, but which were in practice too often ignored. Even where they were observed, they consisted of that minimum part of the international scientific advice which all 16 member countries—not all of them very ardent conservationists—could agree to adopt.

Among our main criticisms of R/2429 is that the percentage of whitefish by-catch which could be taken in the industrial fisheries is too high; that there would be a lack of adequate control on the carrying of small-mesh nets on voyages during which white fishing was carried out; that more control over beam trawling is needed than merely a power and tonnage limit within coastal waters on the east side of the North Sea; and that the draft would continue a whole series of relaxations of conservation rules in the Skaggerak and Kattegat.

There are, in addition, two proposals in the draft which do not come from NEAFC. These are to raise the standard white-fish mesh in the North Sea from 70 mm to 90 mm and to require a mesh of 70 mm when fishing for nephrops—which, in plain English, are prawns. These proposals could bring about a real improvement in the white-fish stocks and deserve very serious consideration.

The proposal for a 90 mm white-fish mesh cannot stand alone. If we ask fishermen to use larger meshes if they fish for cod or haddock or whiting, we ask them to accept a loss of catch for the time being. We cannot do that without also doing something about the tremendous catch of small white fish taken in the course of industrial fishing in the North Sea. Overall, R/2429 is not satisfactory and Her Majesty's Government will press for a stronger and more effective set of measures than it contains.

Those proposals do not take account of the fact that a whiting could never be taken by a 90mm. mesh net. The whiting is of such a shape that, even if left to total maturity, it would never be caught by such a net. Although cod and haddock could be caught by these nets, the whiting could not be. Does this not mean that the men who fish for whiting would be out of a job? Surely if that is the meaning of these regulations, they could not be accepted by Her Majesty's Government.

I know the views of the fishing industry, and to a great degree they coincide with what the hon. Gentleman said. Nevertheless, we need to examine seriously any tougher conservation measure if only because this bag of conservation measures does not go far enough. I am not saying that we should agree to this, but I have said that we shall examine it.

It was because of the EEC's failure to act on this point that Her Majesty's Government originally introduced unilaterally a "Norway pout box" to prohibit the type of fishing causing most damage. This was adopted subsequently as an EEC measure and EEC draft R/2521 proposed its continuation after 31st October. But hon. Members need not bother to study the text since the Council did not agree to it.

This is the significant point. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has calculated that if Norway pout fishing could be brought to an end in the North Sea, the annual catch of haddock and whiting could be increased by about 200,000 tonnes, which would be some 75 per cent. greater than the present recommended total allowable catches for those two species and which would go a long way to offset the fish lost in third country waters.

But the existing pout box, the one which R/2521 proposed to continue, affects only about one quarter of the pout fishery. It represents a fairly modest first step. But, nevertheless, the Council States did not agree to its continuation, even though Denmark was the only country that would not approve this action in NEAFC two years ago.

The Government therefore reimposed the box as a unilateral measure. There could be no clearer demonstration of the need for a coastal State to retain powers, even within a definitive revised CFP, to protect the stocks within the waters under its sovereignty or jurisdiction.

Of course, the Government will always support conservation measures on an EEC-wide basis. But the clear lesson of the past year is that it is very difficult indeed to secure the agreement of all member States on measures which we regard as absolutely essential even if they are fully supported by scientific evidence.

Document R/2642 provides a minor derogation from the herring ban for some small French vessels working close to the French channel coast. This has been agreed in the Council, and it has naturally led some British fishermen, particularly in Northern Ireland, the Western Isles, East Anglia and Sussex, to point out that they have exactly the same problems on our side of the water. The Council has agreed that a study be made of whether a more general derogation for the coastal fisherman might be possible without damage to the herring stocks.

Is that prospect limited to 1978, or is it something that will be proceeded with at once so that, if possible, the current season can benefit?

I hope that the study will cover much more than merely the fortnight that will be left after the Fisheries Council meeting in December. I have not yet seen the proposals, but the probability is that they will be concerned with the problem well into the future.

Was there any reason for the right hon. Gentleman's exclusion of Kent in the list of places he mentioned? He referred to Sussex and the same problems apply in Kent.

Kent is the last county that I should wish to exclude: I live in it. However, I could have gone on and on and included places such as Mevagissey. I was talking about the areas where there are major interests and where major representations have been made to the Government.

If all concerned are willing to think constructively rather than to keep looking back and to demand to the letter everything that was prejudiced at the time of the Treaty of Accession, there exists the basis for a settlement which, while recognising the needs of the United Kingdom, could be of benefit to the EEC as a whole. For the extension of United Kingdom legal jurisdiction to the fisheries within 200 miles brings with it an economic asset which is among the richest of its kind in the world. The withdrawal of third country vessels, particularly those of the USSR, has increased the available stock to the benefit of the whole Community, for it is very largely the stocks within British waters that have enabled not only British vessels but those of France and Germany to continue to fish off Norway and the Faroes.

Accordingly, the EEC must be prepared to take into account the contribution made by the resources within United Kingdom waters and the losses suffered by United Kingdom fishermen in the waters of third countries. We regard that as a principle that applies not only to us, but to the other members of the Community.

All practical considerations lead us to require that belt of up to 50 miles that we have demanded. Apart from our own national rights and needs, it is clearly common sense that the fisheries of a coastal State should be concentrated in the waters nearest its coast. Every consideration, whether it be fishing, conservation, energy saving, enforcement, or working conditions for the fishermen themselves, leads to the same conclusion. Again, common sense demands that, if the Community does not apply the conservation measures that the scientists deem essential, those measures must continue to be applied, if necessary unilaterally, but without discrimination, by the coastal State.

We have never shut our eyes to any alternative that may be proposed, whether by the Commission, the presidency, or the Council itself. But such an alternative must safeguard our position. It was in that spirit that we suggested a possible alternative of our own. We shall see next week to what extent our own constructive approach has been met by others.

I hope that our discussion next week in the Council will be fruitful. The Government remain ready to act to conserve the fish stocks should that prove necessary.

Let nobody be under any illusions: the mandate I take to Brussels is a national one, representing as it does the views of everybody connected with fishing and every shade of political opinion in our country. It is to that mandate that our colleagues in Europe must now address themselves.

7.16 p.m.

We are grateful to the Minister for bringing us up to date with the Government's attitude to the fishery problems that confront the Community.

I do not make this next point as a ritual. It is right to acknowledge again the foresight and wisdom of the Scrutiny Committee in referring these matters to the House. This is the first time for some months that we have had the opportunity of discussing fishing. There have been one or two debates in Committee, but it is important that these matters are brought to the Floor of the House.

I was interested to read the speech that the Minister made to the Council of Ministers' meeting on 24th October when he said:
"What may not be so clearly recognised is the unanimity of agreement within my country on the importance of developing, with the minimum of further delay, a Community fisheries policy that takes proper account of the changes which the general move to 200-mile fishery limits has made to the conditions prevailing at the time when the original Members of the Community devised the outlines of the embryo of a common fisheries policy."
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the debates that we have from time to time strengthen his negotiating hand in Brussels and that the Opposition have consistently supported his welcome assertion that he intends to be resolute and to get a solution within the Community that will ensure that the ultimately-reorganised policy will be fair to the United Kingdom fishing industry. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman also feels that the recent meeting in Dublin of fishing interests has brought together the British and Irish points of view and that this unanimity will strengthen his hand and that of the Irish Minister at the meeting in Brussels next week.

The six proposals that we are considering do not go far towards a new common fisheries policy. As the Minister rightly said—and he received what I judged to be the unanimous approval of the House when he said it—there is still a very long way to go over these proposals. They only scratch the conservation problem and in some sectors they do not even make a scratch detectable by the human eye.

The background of the proposals is almost entirely opposed to conservation. The need for better conservation of stocks has become far more apparent and is a subject that we have discussed much more frequently in the House as our fishing fleets have been forced more and more back into our own waters. As a result of restrictions in Icelandic, Russian, Norwegian and Faroese waters, the problem of conservation has become infinitely more acute, and therefore the House has been devoting much more time to thinking about it.

At a first glance I suppose that the conservation of the Community's fish stocks would seem to be a simple and obvious operation. Unfortunately, it is becoming extremely difficult. At the moment it is clear that the Community's fishing pond yields about 3 million tons of fish. Scientists seem to agree—and I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this—that with proper conservation policies that yield could rise to 5 million tons.

That would mean sufficient fish for our own consumption and a surplus that we could arrange either to export or to use in swap arrangements in order to make sure that we obtain adequate supplies of fish for our own needs from waters which at the moment are banned to us. Basically, if all things were perfect, no position could provide us with greater strength. It would mean that if we were so to arrange stocks of fish in the Community pond—

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman in mid-sentence, but I hope that he will accept a suggestion about the expression "Community pond". My suggestion is that it is an inappropriate and misleading term to apply to waters which extend 200 miles to the west of Rockall.

As I understand it, Community and international law state that Community waters extend for 200 miles. I know that Rockall is a legal issue at the moment, and I do not want to get involved in that.

I think that I may be able to help the House. This is a material point. The Treaty of Accession and the regulation which preceded it used terminology which I have never ceased to use myself and which I hope that the House will want to continue using. It describes those waters as being under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of the member Slate.

If that is a clearer way of describing those waters, I gladly use that term. It is a definition that I would much prefer, although the expression I used earlier is widely used by fishermen and the fishing industry. We all fall into these traps.

I was saying that with adequate conservation we would avoid the sort of situation which emerged recently whereby British firms have had to buy Icelandic cod in Holland and bring it overland for processing in this country. There would then be a much better chance of fish being caught and landed from Icelandic or Norwegian sources by British trawlers.

The proposals before us are a start, but they need major alteration or addition and major stiffening if they are to be properly effective. They will need a great deal of improvement and stiffening if we are to get the yield I have just described.

As they stand the measures are pitifully inadequate. Partly, as in Document R/2147, they consolidate existing arrangements over the ban on direct herring fishing. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will tell us how he sees the long term. The proposed measures are of limited duration and it would be helpful for him to tell us what he sees for the future and whether he is confident that the ban on direct herring fishing will be able to extend further.

We support the measures in R/2147 and some of the proposals in R/2429. But, as the Minister said, that proposal is not satisfactory. It is based principally upon the NEAFC rules, which have proved so immensely unsatisfactory. They deal with some matters that we support concerning the control of mesh sizes and industrial fishing. We, like the Minister, believe that the percentage of by-catching is far too high and that it should be greatly controlled.

The Minister referred to the proposal, which has caused such consternation in the fishing industry to raise the sizes of mesh to 90 mm. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) put his finger on the point when he said that the fishermen were particularly concerned about the whiting fishery. On mesh sizes the industry wants a change to 80 and 85 mm. The job of the Government is to strike a balance between what is right for conservation of the stock and what is necessary to avoid putting a great many fishermen out of business by a mesh size that is too large for them to be able to make a living.

On industrial fishing and the control of by-catches we support the controls imposed so far as they go. We particularly welcome the Government's unilateral imposition of a ban on Norway pout fishing in the box in the North Sea. As proposal R/2521 was not agreed by the Council, we believe it was right for the Government to take steps under the Hague agreement to have nondiscriminatory measures to deal with pout fishing in this area.

The damage done by industrial fishing is immense. The Minister quoted a figure which I found surprising in the light of figures that I have seen. He said that the catch of haddock and whiting would increase by 200,000 tons in the North Sea if there were to be no pout fishing.

However, I understand that the Ministry's laboratory at Lowestoft had estimated that 550,000 tons of immature edible fish were already caught by industrial fishing methods. The laboratory has estimated that if those fish were allowed to grow to maturity, there would be a potential extra 1 million tons a year of edible fish in the North Sea. That means that the 550,000 tons of immature fish would be permitted to grow under a properly managed arrangement.

I realise that the Minister's figure covered only haddock and whiting, but I understood that industrial fishing was particularly hard on these two species. Nevertheless, there seems to be a discrepancy between the Minister's figure and the figure produced by the scientists.

The proposed quotas that individual sovereign States will be allowed to catch under R /2434 are, as the Minister said, unacceptable. The right hon. Gentleman said that the proposal is totally, utterly and irrevocably unacceptable to the Government. I can tell him and the House that they are equally totally, utterly and irrevocably unacceptable to the Opposition.

The proposal seeks to give the United Kingdom 22 per cent. of the fish from the waters that we are talking about whereas 60 per cent. are caught in British waters. The overall situation is intolerable, and individually it is ridiculous.

I expect that all those who intend to speak in the debate will have examined the proposals and will have found ways of demonstrating how intolerable it is. I shall quote only one set of figures, which I have extracted from the proposals. I take the waters of the Irish Sea, the Bristol Channel, West and South Ireland and the English Channel. That is the band along the English Channel, round Land's End and then up both sides of Ireland covering the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea. I take what I think are the six principal species that are caught in that band, namely, haddock, whiting, saithe, cod, sole and plaice.

How are the three coastal States—namely France, Ireland and the United Kingdom—treated under the proposals? The proposed quotas demonstrate the unfairness of the proposals. For that area of sea and for those six species, Ireland is allocated 22,379 tonnes, France, if you please, is allocated 32,172 tonnes, and the United Kingdom, which is much the largest coastal State in that area of water, is allocated 10,453 tonnes, which is less than half the Irish allocation and less than a third of the French allocation. That seems clearly to demonstrate how totally unfair are the proposals. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will continue to make it clear that no British Government could accept such quotas. Clearly, we are entitled to a far greater share.

It seems that no importance has been attached to our lost opportunities in third country waters. The Minister referred briefly to a committee, which he said was reporting after considering the problems of the loss of opportunities in third countries. It will be helpful to be told when the committee will be reporting. I imagine that it will report to the Council of Ministers or, perhaps, to the Commission. I hope that its report will be available to the Council of Ministers when it meets next week. It would be extremely helpful to us to know that the impact of the loss of third country fishing opportunity was clear before the Ministers met.

We totally reject the suggestion that quotas are a fair and proper way of sharing out the catch. Time and time again we have said that the sharing-out must be done by control through fishing effort. Recent examples have made it clear how the quota system can fall down. There has been a recent example in the way in which the Norwegian quota to Community countries has meant that the British fishing fleet has been robbed of 2,600 tons of fish in Norwegian waters purely because the French or German, or both—nobody seems to know—cheated on their quotas and robbed our fishermen of 2,600 tons.

The whole history of NEAFC has shown the futility of the quota system. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is seized of the point and that he, like my right hon. and hon. Friends has consistently—[interruption.] The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) may laugh, but it is evident that he does not attend our fishing debates regularly. If he did, he would know that the Opposition have consistently complained about the quota system and spoken in favour of the effort system. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) almost has those sentences engraved on his heart, I have heard him say them so often.

In R/2428 there are further arrangements laid down for the control of catches and fishing activities. First—I regret to have to say it—we are not very confident about the ability of some member States to carry out the inspections and deal with the controls. There have been frequent examples of blind eyes being turned to flagrant breaches of the regulations. I am told by those in the fishing industry that the by-catches in some European-cum-Community ports—apparently one has only to go on the quayside to see this—are flagrantly in breach of the regulations. I am told that they are allowed to be far greater than the regulations permit.

Recently we have had the disgraceful case of a French trawler that was arrested because of illegal fishing. The skipper produced some regulations issued by the French authorities that suggested that he was permitted to use a small mesh industrial net provided that he had at least 20 per cent. of trash—that is, industrial fish—within his catch. The skipper interpreted the regulations as meaning that up to 80 per cent. of his catch with an industrial net could be white fish. That is a classic example that has been reported in the Press. It was drawn to my attention by those in the fishing industry to show how the regulations issued by the French authorities are encouraging flagrant breaches of the regulations.

The new common fisheries policy must find a way of reducing the opportunities for cheating, which at present are far too numerous. We believe that the coastal States are best equipped to control fishing practice and conservation, but the rules set up to allow them to do so must be tight so that there is the minimum amount of cheating. That is why we have always supported the industry in its demand for a 50-mile exclusive economic zone. That is why we do not quarrel with the proposal in R/2642, which gives a derogation to the French herring fishermen along a stretch of their coast. We hope that this will lead to similar controlled derogations in United Kingdom waters.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the East Anglia fisheries, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) saw the right hon. Gentleman during the recess with a number of the fishermen in his constituency. My right hon. Friend and his constituents were asking for exactly that sort of derogation for the fishermen in their area. That has not been granted, but I hope that the French derogation is not a straw in the wind and that the Minister will use it to get the sort of derogation to which he has referred.

More important, we hope that the French derogation will lead to a wide acceptance of the rights of coastal States to control and look after fishing activities and to have the right to fish within those waters. The Minister made that point after the Brussels meeting, and it is one on which we support him entirely.

I find some difficulty in following the hon. Member's argument about how the Opposition have always supported the exclusive area concept. If he is talking of controlled derogations in exclusive areas, how can he hope that they will be equal exclusive areas?

I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. I was thinking that these derogations might be the precursors of the establishment of exclusive economic zones.

I shall be surprised if in the next few months we achieve a 50-mile exclusive economic zone. In the meantime the Minister should do his best to arrange derogations of this kind around our coasts. We believe that these derogations represent the right approach. We agree with the Minister that fisheries are best concentrated around our fishing ports. We urge the Minister to be resolute in his negotiations on these matters.

We should like to hear further about the views of the Government on the type of action that they took over Norway pout to control stocks on a non-discriminatory basis under the Hague agreement. There are a number of ways in which the Government could act within the law in the same way as they did over Norway pout. Perhaps they will have to act soon on that basis.

It would be helpful to know whether the Government have plans to limit further the percentage of by-catch, particularly in industrial fishing and where it involves herring. It would be helpful to know what plans the Government have to do what the industry badly wants them to do in order to prevent vessels from carrying more than one type of net. This would go a long way to conserve our fish stocks. It would be helpful to know how far the Government are going towards banning beam trawling. The Minister has said that the scientists have not yet come to a decision. If he had set up a Royal Commission, he would have had an answer before now.

May I explain the problems as a non-scientist? There is nothing wrong, as such, with beam trawling, but the beam trawler is very fast and powerful and, because of its speed and power, the mesh becomes clogged. That results in smaller fish being taken. One must leave the scientists to deal with that.

The scientists seem to be taking a long time to come to a conclusion.

Have the Government any plans to try to stop the growth of purse-seining? I am sure that in his visits to the southwest of England the Minister will have been aware that a great many fish which are not caught are killed. They are caught and the net is slipped without the fish being landed on the boat because their quality or size is not that for which the vessel is looking. Purse-seining is an extremely expensive way in terms of fish stocks of catching fish.

I have talked to fishermen about beam trawling, which is particularly bad in the South of England. I am told that the trouble is caused because breeding is upset by beam trawling rather than because of the clogging of nets.

My hon. Friend is referring to the Minister's reply. I was dealing with purse-seining.

It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us the Government's views about the outcome of a situation whereby Russian fishing vessels, particularly in our mackerel fisheries, have been banned. Yet freezers seem to have appeared from a number of Eastern European countries and are shipping vast quantities of mackerel from our own boats, which is having the same effect on our stocks as the Russian trawlers had.

The hon. Member has mentioned transhipping at sea of mackerel from our boats to Russian vessels. Can he say where this has occurred?

I understand that it is happening in the Carrick Roads in the Falmouth Estuary. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) will correct me if I am wrong.

I must impress on the Minister the need for resolution in negotiations. We all know that as it passes time is cutting back on the stocks of fish. I hope that the House will agree that it would be wrong to go for a quick solution, because, although time is eroding the fish stocks in the end such a solution would be against the interests of our fishing industry. It is essential that we see the problem through.

I was glad to hear what the Minister said. There was little in his speech with which we disagreed. There are many matters in the proposals with which we disagree. But we do not intend to divide the House against them. We have expressed our views adequately and we hope that when the Minister goes to his meetings this debate will have strengthened his hand considerably.

7.48 p.m.

I was interested to hear the last few words of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) about not dividing the House. When I look back over the years of fishing debates I find that the Minister is in an almost unique position. He has the whole House behind him on an EEC matter. When he goes on 5th December to settle these issues, I hope that he is successful because no one here is stabbing him in the back, which has happened so often in the past.

The Minister has said that if we do not accept the proposals we might lapse again into ad hoc measures. Commissioner Gundelach is living hand to mouth, day by day. We all like Ministers to show no-nonsense, robust attitudes. We are sending the Minister to the meetings with our hopes and hearts behind him.

The debate is about three issues. There are three attitudes and three ways of looking at them. First, the debate is about the conservation of existing stocks. If we do not conserve there will be nothing left for the future.

Secondly, it concerns catch quotas. Thirdly, and even more important, the debate is about how on earth one enforces those quotas. How does one stop French fishermen, for instance, when their catch quota is fulfilled from taking more than their entitlement from the West Celtic Sea? The statistics for quotas are comical and cockeyed. The situation is amazing.

I look at the issue with three basic fundamentals behind my comments. These are the continuous and continuing constants in my head: first, conservation is vital, therefore we must all accept it. Anyone opting out of conservation measures should be outlawed. Secondly, the United Kingdom has within her borders the lion's share of the EEC stocks. Thirdly, can we depend upon our partners to play the game in this matter of the existing stocks? I doubt this very much.

We have before us Document R/2434/77. What are the policy implications mentioned there? It points out that the Commission will attempt to maintain where possible the traditional catch of North Britain. It does not define this catch. What parts of the country are included? Is Northumberland in it? What about Berwick-upon-Tweed? Does it extend to the southern edge of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, which is Hull?

It also refers to where local communities are particularly dependent on fishing, but indicates that no account has been taken of losses suffered by some member States, particularly the United Kingdom, in third country waters. Without being too parochial, I hope, I point out that we have lost 40 vessels fishing off Iceland—nearly 1,000 men on deck. We were catching 130,000 tons of cod and some haddock a year or two ago. We have seen those 40 vessels come and go. They no longer do this. What compensation do we get for this? Nothing. We get no compensation from our Icelandic efforts, never mind the EEC computation of what we should get. Are we to be given any compensation for the fish that we have lost and for the men who are unemployed?

What about the social effects? There is mention of North Norway and of Scotland, but what about the social effects in Hull? In my local paper this week—the Hull Daily Mail—there was a report to the effect that in a certain section of my constituency, Hessle Road, the city council intends to preserve fishermen's cottages as industrial archaeology. It will be just like the coalfield near Berwick-upon-Tweed. My own village is now industrial archaeology. The mine has been closed and is there for people to look at, as are the old houses in which some of us were born. The same can happen to the fish dock in West Hull.

Why is no account taken of this? Is it because of lack of good will or understanding by our EEC partners, or is it because of the general inability of people who function as politicians, in Paris and elsewhere, to consider the situation in a sister State which has been placed in these disastrous straits by the action of third nations such as Iceland and the Soviet Union?

No amount of unctuous claptrap in Brussels or elsewhere will convince me. Nothing that the Danes or the French can do will smooth away the feelings of people such as myself and my constituents. What is Commissioner Gundelach doing? There is endless delay in settling matters, but the longer the delay, the closer are knitted all sections of our industry here at home.

My complaint about the fishing industry in the past has been that it had no leadership. It has just been a collection of disunited factions. Now, in adversity, these factions are coming together. Only last week there was a delegation of 30 men representing for the first time all sections of the industry, from owners through to fish and chip men in Leeds and merchants in Cornwall. They are united against EEC policy. For the first time events are forcing unity upon us.

There is, indeed, unity in this Chamber tonight. Not a single hon. Member will get up and attack the Minister. The EEC will be attacked but not the Minister. How long has this been happening? We did not have it three years ago. It has happened only fairly recently. It is a very significant and important fact in the life of this House, in the life of this nation and in the lives of our fishing constituents who want to get to sea and catch fish.

As for the 50 miles exclusive economic zone, I have here a very fine international magazine, Fishing News International, for November 1977. At the top of page 29 there is the heading:

"Limit claim illusory', says Gundelach."

It goes on to say that he
"bluntly told Irish fishermen that a 50-mile limit it not on."
But further down the page what I see is not a report of the Commissioner talking on the Continent but a report showing that our own flesh and blood are fighting on this issue. It says:
"Everywhere in the industry the call is for 50 miles exclusive. Nothing else will do; or at least no one likes to admit that they would settle for less. And nobody has the slightest faith in the Community's proposed quota system, which is regarded as demonstrably uncontrollable and as ignoring the vital role of the coastal state in resource management."
This has been said tonight ad nauseam, but it really is only the coastal State, whose people depend upon those coastal waters for their living, which can be expected to safeguard the stocks in those waters. Men living in the Western Isles will safeguard fish off the west coast of Scotland—not men who are living in Brittany or men who are living in Jutland. At least, I do not think so, based on what I have seen and heard from skippers and fishermen in the industry for the last decade or so since I went to Hull.

At the meeting last month in Dublin, people spoke from England, Scotland and Ireland. Shades of devolution, debates! If we could speak together on that issue as well, it would be helpful. But today everyone in the industry is speaking with one voice, whether it is the fish and chip men from Leeds, the auctioneers from Grimsby or the merchants from all parts of the country. They are all standing together, and they are all genuinely scared about the proposed quotas and the implications of this sort of policy.

I should like to make a passing comment on the quotas, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Westmorland. He did not say what many people would say. Many people would call this Annex to R/2434/77 a Gaullist or Chauvinist shambles created by people on the Continent. A careful look at the quota figures indicates that they do not support the interests of the people we come here to represent.

I have been totting up the figures. I have not looked at geographical area 21 or some place to the west of Scotland. I have attempted to add up, as honestly as I could, the figures for the United Kingdom and France in those areas which lie about our shores—our water, so-called. My figures for the United Kingdom add up to about 480,000 tons. The figures for France come to about 300,000 tons. It has often been said that the French catch 60 per cent. of the total national catch in our waters. It has been said time and time again and never denied by anyone. But since our fleets were catching together, inshore, in middle water and distant water—with Iceland at 130,000 tons and Norway at 100,000 tons or less—up to 900,000 tons two, four or six years ago, where are we to get the extra fish to bring us up to that total in our existing catch? I cannot see Iceland giving us any fish next week, next month, or next year, but I can see Icelandic fish being landed. I do not object for one moment at seeing Hull auctioneers, bobbers and lumpers getting jobs on shore.

It seems silly for us to maintain the ban on Icelandic white fish when many of our dockers and bobbers are being put out of work. Since Iceland is claiming exclusive waters for coastal control, does not my hon. Friend agree that it is reasonable that we should now end this ban?

My hon. Friend knows that I have been saying that in Hull. But there are some people opposed to it, yet there are some owners, but not all, who want this fish landed. The bobbers want it landed and I believe also the Transport and General Workers Union which speaks for the bobbers. I believe that they are not opposed to the philosophy or the ethics of this.

But the headache lies in the fact that there is a plan to divide the fish landings into four ports and for those areas to share the work that is available. I think the ports are Fleetwood, Aberdeen, Grimsby and Hull. It is common on the shop floor for union leaders to share out the work when there is not much work available. I do not object to that at all. I would welcome fish coming into Hull dock tomorrow—if it gave work not merely to the lads on the dock but to all those on shore employed in Birds Eye, Findus and the other processing factories that litter the dockside in Hull. That is my view about the matter.

The Minister and I have held different views in the past about the EEC, but we are certainly not at loggerheads over this issue. We are at one. The Minister came to the industry as someone from the outside. He has not only earned, but deserved, the respect and affection of all sections of the industry. I have not met anyone who does not say that the Minister is someone who will fight on our behalf. The industry has faith in him. I hope he will justify that faith. I do not think he will let the industry down. My only fear is that the odds are perhaps a bit heavy. I hope that they are not too heavy.

8.3 p.m.

I very much hope that the debate will help the Minister when he goes to Brussels next week. I am certain that the expressions we have had so far show that we are almost unanimous in our approach. I should like to put a few points on one aspect of fishing, namely, industrial fishing.

It is terribly easy to get steamed up about this matter and to say that we should ban all industrial fishing. But we have a considerable number of fishmeal factories in many parts of the world and it is not practicable suddenly to say that we should ban all industrial fishing. I am certain that the scientific facts of the effects of industrial fishing are well known to the scientific advisers of the various Governments of the EEC, but it would be useful if all this information could be drawn together and represented.

We are obviously in considerable conflict with the Danes about the Norway pout box, which we are continuing. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) quoted figures for the amount of by-catch fishing which, if allowed to go on, could in future damage more edible fish. In the same way I believe that the Danes are catching about 350,000 tons of sand eels, which are the food for cod and other white fish. There must be a right balance to strike as to the amount of sand eels that we shauld harvest, because if we do not harvest the right amount, there will be insufficient for other species. There is obviously a need to strike a balance between the weight of sand eels that can be caught by industrial fishing and the amount that should be used as food for other fish.

I also believe that we should be turning our minds to some of our fishing vessels that have departed from other waters, such as around Iceland, to see whether they could be diverted, if necessary, into industrial fishing. They could look for blue whiting in the Outer Hebrides, in the Atlantic and possibly down into the South Atlantic. Having been to the Falkland Islands, I was interested in the Shackleton Report on the development of fishing in that area.

I should like the Minister to say whether it would be worth while to try to bring together all the information about the amount of industrial fishing that has been carried out so that we might find a pattern and accommodate the increasing amount of fish for human consumption while satisfying the obvious needs of the fishmeal industry. If we just shout "Ban industrial fishing" and do nothing else, I do not think that we are taking concrete steps to help the industry.

In conclusion, I should like to ask the Minister a question on quite a different matter. It concerns the EEC proposals to help herring fishermen in the North Sea who are unable to fish because of the ban. As I understand it, the scheme runs from March of this year until the end of next year and compensates fishermen at the rate of —42 per tonne for what they have been unable to catch, based on their average landings for the previous three years.

I do not think that this year any of our fishermen will qualify, because every time we enforce a ban on fishing we know that fishermen are under pressure to go and fish for another species in another part of the world. So far as possible, some of our fishermen should be encouraged to take this money rather than fish for another species. That they will undoubtedly do in order to maintain their livelihood. If the Secretary of State can give the House an answer on this subject, that would be very helpful.

If the Minister thinks it worth while to have some drawing together of the information about industrial fishing, that would help us to strike a better balance.

8.9 p.m.

This is only the second fishing debate in which I have taken part. We are falling to a common pattern, that of speaking to the converted. The House unanimously backs the Minister when he goes to take part in further discussions in the Market. Yet each time nothing happens. We ask for a possible change in the common fisheries policy but each time the renewal of the discussions means that the crisis is just indefinitely postponed.

Yet while all this goes on, the industry slips deeper into crisis. I am not saying this as a criticism of my right hon. Friend, because he has clearly shown the right mixture of firmness and scepticism about the Market. The House has shown its unanimous support for the stand that he has taken. But we must recognise that he has a task which makes the labours of Sisyphus look like a boy scout on a bob-a-job week.

In fishing our entry into the Market was a sacrifice and sell-out so disastrous that even the Conservative Opposition is now beginning to recognise the scale of it and pays deference to it in crocodile tears. The Government have given notice that the trend world wide towards 200-mile limits has created a new situation and made it necessary to renegotiate the basis of the common fisheries policy. In doing that, the Minister has taken on an enormous uphill struggle. But, while it goes on, we are approaching a tragic situation in the industry.

The situation which has developed in Grimsby over the past few months is one which has come after the setback of the closure of the Icelandic grounds and the curtailments of our effort in Norwegian waters. On 10th November, there were 620 fishermen in Grimsby registered unemployed. Last week, Consolidated Fisheries, the second biggest trawling company in Grimsby laid up more vessels and laid off two-thirds of its people. The seiners, the smaller vessels, are now mainly laid up for the winter. In normal circumstances at this time of the year, many of those engaged in seine fishing would transfer to the trawlers, but that is not possible in present circumstances because the deep water fleet is running out of waters to fish.

The Norwegian quota is exhausted, and that is a situation which has been exacerbated by the French tonnage pinching part of our quota—an act which in itself demonstrates the inadequacy of quotas to police fishing and to control it. Distant-water vessels have been transferred to the westerly grounds with pathetic results because of the concentration on those grounds of vessels diverted from Norwegian waters. The result is that, of today's four landings in Grimsby, only one of those vessels has been profitable. The rest have come back with catches so small that their daily break-even costs have been only half-covered by the trips that they have made.

The Grimsby fish market has seen its worst ever trading. In the past month, we have seen a tragic record, with the smallest catch landed there for 121 years. We are averaging less than 2,000 kits of fish landed per day in Grimsby. We need 5,000 to keep the market going. The result is that the distribution system on which Grimsby prides itself and which is vital to the wellbeing of the port is now under considerable financial strain. It is a non-profit-making concern. There is not enough fish coming through to keep the distribution system functioning properly. Another result is that merchants are laying off filleters, and the processing side is having to cut back effort. There is no prospect of this situation picking up until the New Year and new quotas.

The problem is to know whether this is to be a tragedy just for this year or one which will be repeated next year. In other words, will this be the Common Market's Christmas present to Grimsby?

Expedients have been put in hand. Last week, the owners agreed to reduce charges for Common Market vessels. This is a welcome development, because it means that the fish we cannot catch ourselves any longer can come into the market. Discussions are now beginning about the ending of the ban on Icelandic wet fish landings. The Transport and General Workers Union, which represents the lumpers and the bobbers, is reviewing its position and entering negotiations on landings of Iceland wet fish in order to keep our markets going. I hope that the owners, who are divided on this issue, will also lift their ban. There is no point in the owners hiding, behind the skirts of the Transport and General Workers Union on this issue. If they want to maintain the ban, they must do so and incur the odium which will fall on their shoulders for maintaining a ban if the TWGU changes its position, which I hope it will. Bringing in fish from outside is only an expedient. We want fish caught by our own boats and by our own fishermen.

There are even more clouds and anxieties on the horizon in the shape of worries for the smaller vessels. Because of the fears of a quota of 150 vessels for the whole of Southern Norwegian waters, alarm is now being created among smaller vessel owners as well. If a 150-vessel quota is imposed by Norway in these southern waters, it will be disastrous for Grimsby since it would mean that our share would be small and that other vessels would have to move on to grounds further south which are already over-fished by Common Market vessels.

That is for the future. We have an immediate problem in Grimsby which is tragic in its dimensions. It is one in which I cannot feel any great sympathy for the larger owners. My cheeks are not running warm with tears of sympathy for them. It is a setback for owners who have done well out of fishing and yet in spite of that have not ploughed their money back—and have not improved their vessels and provided adequate conditions for their crews. Unfortunately, however, a setback for the owners, many of whom have fat with which to ride it out, is a tragedy for the men.

When fishermen are laid off, unemployed and on the dole and they ask me why, as they have done over recent weekends, I have to go into tortuous explanations about the world trend to 200-mile limits, the problems of the common fisheries policy and the difficulty of our negotiations with the Common Market. Then they ask me what we are doing to try to change the common fisheries policy, and again I go into long explanations about the current negotiations and about the strong position which my right hon. Friend has taken in them.

But then they ask me, if these negotiations are going on endlessly, if we are not getting anywhere in them and if all we get from the Common Market is more and more documents, recommendations and papers, why are not we taking unilateral action. I have to confess that I am stumped for an answer. I am stumped to answer them and to tell them why we do not use more of the powers that we still have to take unilateral national conservation measures. This surely is the key to asserting our own control of our own waters, taking national conservation measures, and through that, gradually getting back what we have lost.

I am also stumped for an answer if I am asked when we shall begin to take the unilateral action which alone seems designed to end this protracted series of negotiations. The Prime Minister has been outspoken in his criticism of the Common Market and his demand for reforms of the basic structures of the Common Market. The common fisheries policy is a prime candidate for just those reforms.

It is a clear-cut issue. We have a clear-cut grievance. We have a clear-cut demand. We provide two-thirds of the fish in the so-called Common Market pool. We want two-thirds of the catch. It is no more than our right and no more than our due. We have a clear-cut demand and a very pressing need at the moment. In Grimsby, there is a growing demand for unilateral assertion of what is, after all, only our right. The more protracted these negotiations are, the more overwhelming will be the demand for unilateral action.

Instead of trying to unravel this tangled mess of the common fisheries policy, we should take unilateral action to cut this Gordian knot. That is the demand which I see in Grimsby, and it is a demand which will grow louder and clearer the longer that this farce of negotiation goes on.

8.18 p.m.

I want first and briefly to deal with some of the specific matters arising from these documents, after which I shall turn to the more general issues which have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken already, including the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I mention first the herring exemption granted to France, referred to in one of the documents, and the situation facing East coast fishermen who also want to fish for herring.

The Minister of State was kind enough to write to me a letter which I received today spelling out in more detail the discussions which are going on about the possibility of a further derogation on herring for inshore fishermen in other countries besides France. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that he expected that probably it would apply only to vessels of less than a certain length—perhaps 40 feet or 50 feet—using gill nets or drift nets.

I put to the Minister the case of the Longstone fishery off the Fame Islands in Northumberland. There is increasing scientific evidence that that fishery is distinct in its spawning time and its stock replenishment from the general North Sea herring fishery and, therefore, that those who traditionally fished it from its immediate locality have special grounds for consideration if any exemptions are to be made. Reluctantly they have accepted the ban which applies to them because they, too, saw the need for a general ban and a general acceptance of it. If it can be shown that the Longstone Fishery is distinct and that they have taken proper care of it over the years, I think that their interests must be given very careful consideration. I would be interested to know what the latest thinking in the Ministry is on the state of the Longstone Fishery and whether it is being fed into these discussions on further exemptions which might be granted.

On the conservation proposals referred to by other Members, particularly the minimum mesh sizes for white fish species in the North Sea, the 90 mm limit may suit some people. It may suit some areas in which cod and flatfish are the main target. I am thinking of areas further south than us, the Humber and Lowestoft. But it will not do for the inshore fishermen. Even within the Norwegian sector an 80 mm minimum is at present allowed. I am advised by all the inshore fishermen that a 70 mm minimum is the only reasonable limit within which they can fish for whiting.

By-catch limitations of white fish are necessary and good, but the present wording of the documents leaves it open to abuse if industrial fishermen can still carry small-mesh and large-mesh nets at the same time. Unless there is some limitation on what nets can be carried, the objective of the regulations will not be carried out in any case. Perhaps it is necessary to make some special provision for vessels in transit from distant ports—some kind of provision under which they might be allowed to carry a second net which would be sealed and could be unsealed only on inspection at a British port. The situation ought to be looked at very carefully.

The 70 mm minimum is proposed for prawn nets. This is a sensible step. It is, after all, in line with British thinking and British practice over many years, unlike the Irish and French, who use 40 mm to 60 mm nets. The trouble with prawn nets is that they have a high white fish by-catch, and if there is an increase in the mesh size of white fish nets to 90 mm, everybody will carry prawn nets to catch white fish. So the purpose of the regulation would not be served. I do not see how we can operate enforcement on this basis. We may have to settle, if it is to work well at all, for 70 mm all round. I cannot see a workable conservation régime acceptable and enforceable resulting from these proposals.

It is a small mercy, and something to be welcomed, that we have proposals on conservation and control emanating from the Community at all. But now that the discussion has moved into that field, it is necessary to emphasise how important landing control is in any conservation régime and how everything depends on this. If there is to be any move in the direction of common rights to fish, common exploitation of resources, or shared resources, there must also be common rights to enforce control and the opportunity to apply controls in foreign ports. If we have no check and monitoring of what is being landed in the ports of other Community countries, there is no possibility of an effective conservation régime. Any pooling of resources must be accompanied by a willingness to co-operate in our enforcement measures. That means having British inspectors able to go into and free to move between the Common Market ports to carry out inspections on the spot.

Surely it is in the proposals that the inspectorate of each member State acts on behalf of the Community and that there are Community inspectors to back it in order to ensure common settlement of landing rights. One may not believe it, but that is what is in the proposal.

I am aware that it is in the proposals, but even if it satisfies the hon. Gentleman, it does not satisfy me. I do not see that we have a pool of inspectors available in other Community countries whose record in conservation would justify our placing our trust in them. I am prepared to see inspectors from other countries coming to British ports in reciprocation for British inspectors being able to operate in their ports, but I cannot think that there is any basis yet for a reliable Community conservation inspectorate. We may get round to it, but we are a long way from it. We have to have responsible British inspectors able to move between some of the Community ports in order to check on landings. Our willingness to accept the reverse shows that there is no bad faith about it but that it is a necessity in order to satisfy the fishing community about what is being done.

The proposals include yet again management of fisheries by quota. I need not add to the general despair evoked at the mention of quotas as a conservation method. Still less need I add to the comments about "Northern Britain". If we in Berwick are under some difficulty in knowing whether we ought to be in Scotland or in England, we should at least be satisfied that we are in Northern Britain. But I am speechless at the whole concept.

The massive contribution of the United Kingdom to the fishing resources of the Community still gets a ludicrous return. There are few things more contemptible—not too strong a word—than the attempt to buy off little Ireland with some measly donation from the British fish stocks. It is like a bank robber saying to the night watchman, "If you keep quiet while I rob the bank, you can have some of the loose change". I hope that the Irish do not fall for it. I hope that, like us, they insist on a sensible policy which is based on rights of member countries in waters which if they were not in the Community would be indisputably theirs.

This document will take us nowhere near an acceptable common fisheries policy or a policy that the Minister can or would want to defend in this House. He knows—and has made it clear in a speech that we all welcome—that the other members of the Council of Ministers and the Commission—each is as bad as the other—do not realise that there is no way in which a British Minister can give in to their demands for a completely unrealistic common fisheries policy and carry it in this House.

I do not think that the Minister will be surprised or displeased to hear me say that, if he cannot secure full provision for our fisheries and full protection for future stocks, we must go back to the 50-mile exclusive limit declared unilaterally. We should be left with no alternative. There is a majority in this House for it, but there is no majority for the kind of nonsense that the Commission and other members of the Council of Ministers seem to think that we might be prepared to accept.

8.28 p.m.

I am not surprised at the rediscovery of chauvinism, which has been found during the debate among many supporters of our entry into the EEC. It is interesting to recall the referendum campaign. With the exception of Orkney and Shetland, it is hard to find the fishing industry speaking with a united voice on that occasion and saying that proposals like these were unacceptable. Let us not just blame politicians for not saying so. The fishing industry was lamentably silent on my side of the argument urging that we should not stay in the Common Market.

Surely the voice of the Scottish fishing industry was clearly enough heard when it appointed no fewer than eight of the 11 Scottish National Party Members in this House to represent fishing communities.

It should be made clear that at any rate individual fishermen have said to me that they regret voting for the United Kingdom to stay in the Common Market. There is no point in trying to slide out of it by saying that the Scottish fishermen had no voice.

Perhaps I may complete the paradox. We are in danger of throwing out an embryo, if not a live baby, with the bathwater of these proposals. Allowing for many of the weaknesses in them, there are certain elements that we would be foolish simply to dismiss, and the first of these concerns the problem of by-catching of the Norway pout. Let us look carefully at what it involves. There is no doubt that damage to fish resources by the fishing of the Norway pout creates unacceptable levels of by-catch and a diminution of future stocks.

If we look at the location in terms of lateral geography and depth within the sea and take into consideration the seasons within the year, it will be seen that some interesting results are produced. The report commissioned by the European Community showed these results. The first concerns Iceland. If a differentiation is made over the depth at which fishing takes place—and Iceland has managed to do this without too much difficulty—it will be seen that the by-catch can be reduced substantially. I was in Reykjavik last week and saw figures showing how, by fishing close in on their southern shore and by forbidding trawling below a certain level, the Norwegians have been able effectively to eliminate a large part of the by-catch.

The positioning of the pout box produces interesting results. Stopping the pout box at zero degrees produces one result yet moving it one degree east brings a quite different result. What is interesting, bearing in mind the cry of those who call for a 50-mile exclusive zone, is that there is not a square inch between zero degrees and one degree east within the 50-mile zone. The benefit gained for conservation purposes by extending the pout box eastwards takes us completely outside an exclusive 50-mile zone. That is in an area for which not even our most ardent advocates of a 50-mile zone are calling.

If we push the pout box only to zero degrees and from 56 degrees north to 60 degrees north, in the whole year we take roughly 134,000 tons of by-catch. If the box is moved one degree further east, that figure is pushed up to 383,000 tons. It is that crucial change that is wholly outside the 50-mile exclusive zone. It is in this area, looking at the monthly breakdown of figures, that the damage to zero and one-year stock is most grave.

Is not the argument for the 50-mile exclusive zone basically that our people should be able to catch fish in that zone? I accept all the arguments about conservation of Norway pout. I thought that the extension from 12 miles to 50 miles was to help the inshore men and others who would have the benefit of the fishery protection flotilla.

Part of the difficulty is the confusion about what we mean by a 50-mile fixed zone. Many people believe it to be what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) has just outlined. For others it means something different. In 1976 it was in the extended box, east to zero degrees, that the bulk of the immature young haddock in particular were caught. In that year 176,000 tons of haddock were caught for human consumption and 41,000 tons were caught, predominantly in that area, for industrial purposes.

We have to compare the number of fish. The 41,000 tons represented an estimate of 390 million fish whereas the 176,000 tons represented 430 million fish. This was to do with the size of the fish caught. Future generations have been robbed of haddock as a result. It is this imbalance that is located outside our 50-mile zone. That is the problem and there is no evidence that excessive fishing for the pout harms it.

The area seems to be extraordinarily resilient. It is able to provide 300,000 to 400,000 tons of pout just as well now as it ever did when it was not fished. Norway pout is just one example of problem areas for conservation. There are also common stocks on the Viking Bank on the median line between Norway and this country where the 50-mile limit, as it is sometimes crudely estimated, is totally irrelevant. Giving our fishermen a 50-mile limit does not give them access to the joint stocks near the Viking Bank. For many fishermen in Scotland, particularly in Aberdeen, it is that access which is important. As has already been mentioned, those fishermen use the seine net. Those from Grimsby are in the same position.

A 50-mile exclusive zone is wholly meaningless if it means that our inshore fishermen alone may fish there. As a conservation measure, it is wholly inadequate, because the belt and braces need is for the Government to take unilateral conservation measures, perhaps right out to the 200-mile limit of our national waters. We cannot stop with conservation measures at 50 miles. It does not make biological sense or political sense, in legalistic terms. A 50-mile exclusive limit as a means of securing the livelihood of inshore fishermen may have defects, but the concept of a 50-mile exclusive zone for conservation is a total nonsense.

Conservation, the migration of species, and the needs of all the fishermen in the Community all demand that the Community should provide a conservation policy, which it has woefully failed to do so far, although it is hard at times to distinguish between the intransigence of the Council and the failure of the Commission. If the Community fails to provide an adequate conservation policy, it is incumbent on Ireland, ourselves and every other member State of the Community to take unilateral conservation measures. This is a different problem from that of a 50-mile exclusive zone for fishermen to exploit.

We have here a deep socio-philsophical problem—to use the jargon—in that the days when either inshore or deep-water fishermen might go and hunt where they would for their fish are over. The efficiency and sophistication of their own technology has destroyed that for ever. There are no longer enough fish in the North Atlantic—and there are doubts about whether enough exists in the South Atlantic—for free access hunting to be the basis on which fisheries can continue. In those terms, quotas in themselves are a disaster and we must move towards a system of such strict licensing as will convert the hunter into a licensed operator.

The gear that the fisherman may use must be defined very closely. He must not be allowed to take two sorts of nets, although there may be some operating conditions in which that is inevitable. He may go only where and when permitted, and he must have sophisticated radio beacons and the rest so that aerial surveillance can show where he is. He must have a whole range of controls laid upon him. He will object to all this because it destroys a way of life as old as man's fishing.

I accept that the quotas are woefully inadequate for various species and in various areas. The major conceptual weakness—and this is my major criticism of the Community proposals—is the absence of a decision to determine and impose effective licensing, which alone may make other fishermen believe that it is in every fisherman's interest to become a patrol vessel himself. It is only when we convert the fisherman to the need to conserve his own on behalf of his own and give him a proprietorship in the fishing grounds in which he is wont to fish that we can do this.

I was in Iceland last week and saw the degree to which, under stern necessity, the Icelandic fishermen have accepted stringent licensing and control. When one sees that, one realises how far we must go, and in that regard our membership or non-membership of the Community is at times a mere irrelevance. If we had remained outside and had had a 200-mile exclusive zone, the need to enforce such regulations upon our fishing would have been no less. It would have been exactly the same. Therefore, it is a bit disingenuous—I say this as an anti-Marketeer—to blame for membership of the Common Market and the common fisheries policy for all the problems facing the fishing industry.

8.41 p.m.

I, too, congratulate the Minister on the strength of feeling with which he opened the debate. We hope and believe that that strength of feeling will be matched by deeds when the right hon. Gentleman goes to Brussels. He is a good fighter, but what matters is to win, which will not be easy. I believe that in the end he will have to take unilateral action. I believe that the Common Market will not listen even to the strong arguments adduced by hon. Members of all political parties in the House today.

The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) spoke about the views of the fishermen at the time of the referendum. However that may be, I remind him that we on the Conservative Benches at that time urged the Government to include renegotiation of the common fisheries policy and to have it argued out before the referendum. We should then have had some leverage. Now, the Minister's difficulty is that he has very little leverage.

Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that at the time of the original negotiations he said that he was quite prepared to accept the arrangements made by the then Prime Minister and his cohorts? He was prepared to accept the derogations in the terms laid down then and was satisfied with the arrangements. Therefore, on what ground does he now raise the question of re-examination, particularly when he did not raise it at the time of the referendum?

The hon. Gentleman always goes back to the time when we first negotiated with the Common Market. The question of the zones was then a matter of 12 miles. We were not even thinking about 200 miles. The position was different at the time of the referendum, because we were thinking about 200 miles. The whole position has changed. I have told the hon. Gentleman this on about four occasions. Perhaps he will now read Hansard and look back on the facts.

The hon. Member for Durham spent most of his time demolishing the case for a 50-mile zone but saw some good in the present proposals. I agree with him, because they are conservation measures. As the hon. Gentleman said, what matters today, and what must be impressed on all fishermen in all countries, is that the sea is not an endless producer of fish. Conservation is what matters if there is to be an industry in any of the Common Market countries or any fish on our tables.

The regulations, which are good but wholly ineffective, fall under two headings. There are two regulations dealing with conservation by prohibition. The other four deal with other methods of conservation.

I shall deal first with Documents R /2642 and 2521. Document No. R/2642 allows the French or, I believe, fishermen from Fécamp and some of the small ports on the French coast to catch up to 600 tonnes of herring in certain areas even though the catching of herring is prohibited. Is that the thin end of the wedge? It seems that some coastal States —certainly, this applies to that part of France—have rights even though there is a ban. I think that this could be exploited by the Minister as an example of the EEC already recognising that the coastal State has certain specific rights to fish in waters off its own coast.

Surely, it takes account of the discrete spring spawning herring stock, which is a sub-species quite distinct from the main body of North Sea autumn spawning herring stock—there are others, in the Mourne and so on—and this is a recognition of the discreteness of the stock rather than of a national interest which may be involved.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation. He has great experience of the European Parliament in these matters. I acknowledge that it may really be a matter of spawning rather than an issue of rights held by the coastal State, but I think that the rights of coastal States may come in to a certain extent. At any rate, let us hope that they do, because this should give us the rights which the hon. Gentleman and we on this side are fighting for.

I turn next to Document No. R/2521. This was not accepted by the Commission, as the Minister explained, but what would happen if it had been accepted? It would ban fishing for Norwegian pout up to the end of this year, yet last week in a Standing Committee we passed an order which prohibits the catching of Norwegian pout indefinitely.

There seems to be a contrast between EEC rules and national rules. Who has the real authority? Can we pass rules up to 50 miles or up to 200 miles? There is considerable confusion here—certainly, I am confused—about which rules are the dominant rules, the EEC or the British rules. They are of course both non-discriminatory. I hope that the Minister will deal with that and clear up the confusion.

The Minister spoke of catches in our waters. The Netherlands catches 61 per cent. of its fish in British waters, the French catch over 60 per cent., the Belgians catch 30 per cent., the Germans catch 27 per cent. and the Danes catch 18 per cent. Therefore, it is of considerable importance to us to know who regulates the quotas or the catching of fish and the conservation measures not only in the 50-mile zone but in the 200-mile zone which is now virtually recognised by international law as being the prerogative of coastal States.

I turn now to the other four documents. Document No. R/2147 is a consolidation measure. I note that it allows a by-catch of 20 per cent. by weight of demersal fish in the course of industrial fishing. The House has already expressed its view on industrial fishing, and I am sure that that view is shared by the Minister. It is wrong that countries should carry out industrial fishing for fish meal and run the risk of catching immature fish when there is not enough fish for human consumption. I hope that every effort will be made to make the Danes see the force of that argument. I hope also that the EEC, which has funds to compensate Danish fishermen, will be able to weigh in with those funds in an effort to reduce the weight of industrial fishing which forms 80 per cent. of the Danish fishing effort.

Document No. R/2434 is the nub of this debate—the proposed catch quotas for 1978. We have already noted— hon. Members on both sides have pointed this out—that there are no losses for third country waters allowed for. This is patently absurd and unacceptable. I have worked out the percentage of catch of the seven different major fish stocks. I shall not weary the House with all the figures, but as I recall them they came to from 18 per cent. to 28 per cent. for the British quota of the total of these seven different types. So the average is about the one given in the Press of 21 per cent., which is clearly unacceptable.

Document R/2428 deals with inspection and records of landing and control of quotas. This is, or could be, an extremely important provision, but it will be useless because the whole proposal is based on catch quotas, and it has been proved by events on the Norwegian coast not long ago that catch quotas are completely ineffective. If the Minister does nothing else, perhaps he can drum into the mind of the EEC the thought that if we are to have quotas at all they must be effort quotas. The Icelanders taught us this lesson. They showed that when the trawlers that can fish in certain areas are named there is no difficulty between the two sides. The Icelandic coastguards could spot the vessels and so eliminate poaching. This is the form of quota that must be introduced in the EEC if we are to have quotas at all, and if the Minister does nothing else but persuade the EEC of that he will have done a good job.

Document R/2429 deals with fishing gear, mesh sizes, by-catches and minimum sizes of fish. The problem is generally accepted to be caused by small vessels of from 40 ft to 110 ft catching immature fish. In Hull recently a Continental vessel was found to have a fisheries inspector on board. He admitted to the consul of that nation—and he did so in public—that the vessel was fishing with illegal nets, but he said "I cannot stop them from fishing because if I do they will not catch anything and will go out of business". That was a pretty difficult approach for Hull fishermen to swallow.

There were two similar cases. The French trawler "Guinemer" was brought into Hull because it had been fishing illegally. The captain said—and proved—that the orders from the French Government were the orders to which he adhered, but they were not orders that would comply with our regulations. In spite of that incident, six months later another trawler, the "Cap Canaveral", was also found to be fishing illegally, on the same orders from the French Government. If this document does anything, it might clarify international orders both as regards by-catches and mesh sizes.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food knows about those two cases because he has had correspondence from the people in Hull to draw these matters to his attention. It is useless having rules unless they are enforced. The use of national inspectors acting as international inspectors is a good idea if one can rely on them to maintain the law, but first we must have an internationally recognised Common Market law on these matters. Time and again foreign vessels have been caught using mesh sizes of 42 mm and 47 mm when the legal limit was 75 mm, and this practice must stop.

Taking these documents together it seems that their provisions are moving in the right direction, but they are piecemeal measures and will work only if enforced. They cannot be enforced unless there are effort quotas, and even with those there must be adequate policing. The only effective way in which that can be done is by having Common Market fishery protection squadrons or aircraft.

That is the most economic way to do it. Whether it is possible I do not know, but it is a matter that should eventually be considered. At the moment, the British Fishery Protection Service, aided by Nimrods, is effective in detecting poachers, but it is difficult to do anything about them. Hon. Members have been out in these Nimrods and seen how effective they can be. When they spot a poacher they radio the Minister's operations room in London. The message goes back to a fishery protection vessel. If she happens to be within 50 miles from the incident there is a chance that it will catch that poacher, but she is probably over 200 miles away, and by the time she arrives on the scene the poacher has completed his catch and disappeared.

There must be a better way of preventing the poaching that now goes on, and I believe that effort quotas are the answer. If each vessel has a number painted on its bridge which can be seen from the air, it can be decided straight away whether the vessel is illegally fishing, the Government responsible for the vessel can be contacted, and a photograph showing the vessel can be supplied as well as the latitude and longitude at which the vessel is fishing.

It has been said constantly that 60 per cent. of EEC fishing is in what we claim to be British waters, yet our allocation is only 21 per cent. That is not acceptable. I was interested in a recent article in The Times which concluded by saying
"The truth is that Brussels has realised that to offer the British anything like the compensation they are looking for would imply sacrifices by other member States that would be politically unacceptable."
I think that is true, and it is a measure of the battle which the Minister will have to fight in Brussels next week.

The effect of what has happened to distant water ports such as Hull has been very great. In a period of three years the operational wet fish fleet has declined from 57 to 22; the freezing fleet has so far dropped by only three vessels, but those vessels cost £1 million each.

The nub of the matter relates to the uncertainty for the future. The Minister is now going to Brussels for the fourth or fifth time. I hope that he will come back this time with some positive information so that we may end this uncertainty. We do not want to see these modern vessels having to be sold to owners in New Zealand or Australia, or to see them operating so far from the home ports that will cause disastrous unemployment.

I repeat that it is the state of uncertainty that is causing unemployment, and will cause further unemployment in the distant water ports as long as it lasts. If we do not obtain something on the lines of an exclusive 50-mile zone, the disasters that now face Hull, Aberdeen, Fleetwood and Grimsby will be transferred to the small ports. We must remember that the small ports have a strong voice in this Chamber. Although only half-a-dozen or so Members represent distant water ports, I believe that there are 200 or 300 Members who represent the small ports. I hope that the Minister will remember that and take the thought with him when he goes to Brussels.

I hope that he will fight hard, although he will find it difficult to win a victory. I believe that eventually he will have to take unilateral action, and then negotiate. Unless he declares a 50-mile exclusive zone, I do not think the Common Market will be prepared to enter into sensible negotiations with Her Majesty's Government.

8.58 p.m.

I wish to express my appreciation of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes). It was an excellent and thought-provoking speech which made us think on lines away from the traditional areas of debate.

One of the difficulties is that we have been here so often before in our debates. One wonders where exactly the situation will end. The present position reminds me of the long-running Saturday morning serials one used to go to as a youngster. At the end of the episode the hero would find himself in terrible difficulties and just about to be run over by a train. There he would be left until the next visit to the cinema the following Saturday morning. However, on the next visit, lo and behold, he would escape, but by the time one reached the end of the next reel, the hero was back in the same apparently inextricable situation.

My governmental colleagues who deal with these matters in the EEC are continually in that kind of situation. Each time they go to Brussels, we wonder how they will get on. Then, when they return, somehow or other we have managed to escape the quotas put forward by the Commission and the situation appears to be satisfactory. However, by the time we reach the next fisheries debate there is yet another set of proposals that seem to land us in an even worse predicament than previously.

The difference is that when we used to attend the old cinema serials we knew that the hero would win and that the cause of justice would triumph and that all would be well. Our problem is that in our heart of hearts we cannot believe that, however hard Ministers fight in Brussels, the villains or adversaries will be vanquished. We have the feeling that they will win and that we shall be sold out again. The question is how to get out of this difficulty.

Why is there such tremendous suspicion in the House and the country about the aims of the Commission and the Common Market generally? This is at the root of the matter. People are not so much concerned with the individual proposals. We seem to start from the basic view that the intention of the proposals is to do down our fishermen. There is no doubt that we are not getting our share. There is no disagreement here about the need to preserve and protect the essential interests of our fishmen and the people on land who depend on the fishermen's efforts for their livelihoods.

On the catching side, our fishermen have been gradually edged out or moved out altogether from every traditional fishing area, whether Iceland, Norway, the Faroes, or the Russian seas. We do not see a recognition of this fact in the Commission's proposals. There is nothing offered as a substitute. No account has been taken of the losses of third-country waters.

It may be that something is to be put into the documents which is not there yet. For example, the allocated quotas do not add up to 100 per cent. of total allowable catches. There is a reserve of 10 per cent. to compensate for the loss of third-country waters. However, our share of the catch is so lamentably low that we cannot take the proposals seriously.

We urge the Government to do their best to move towards a sensible common fisheries policy. We must ask whether we can get a sensible policy. There is no doubt that the proposals worked out before we joined the Common Market were not sensible for us, but we were landed with them. If it is not possible to get a sensible CFP, we may have to bend our minds to beyond a breakdown of negotiations on the policy and where we should stand in relation to EEC rules.

I do not see how we could take unilateral action, other than on conservation, and remain in the EEC. The difficulty is that unilateral action has to be nondiscriminatory. If action is taken for conservation reasons, our fishermen must be kept out as well and processors suffer, too. I think that most people who call on the Government to take unilateral action really mean action to keep everyone else out while allowing our fishermen to stay in. Unilateral action on conservation grounds leads to difficulties not just for the catching side, but for the processing side.

We know, for example, how many firms in the North-East of Scotland have had to apply for the temporary employment subsidy to keep going until they see whether they can get over the period of shortage that has been caused by unilateral action, although I suspect that the effects of the unilateral action may be overstressed in terms of the difficulties they are causing. However, application has to be made for temporary employment subsidy, and that is awarded on a basis of equality of treatment with all other companies which would qualify for TES, and not because those claiming have suffered from the EEC fisheries policy.

I understand that the Government's view is that one cannot take action on conservation lines and at the same time make some special financial provision for those companies that might run into difficulties as a result, and still be within EEC rules. So we are in this difficulty over unilateral action. Where do we go to get a sensible and realistic CFP?

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, if I understood what he was saying correctly. He was saying that more than the simple interests of our constituents are dominating the debate. But this is a worrying factor. If we are saying that only the national interest is to dominate, are we saying that only Britain has the right to judge the CFP in terms of national interest? It is no use saying that it is those horrible Danes, those dreadful Germans, or those awkward Frenchmen—

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that it is because they are French, German or Danish that they are being difficult?

I was not saying that those people are being difficult, but that their nations are being difficult. The Danes and the French have not obeyed the quotas. They have nothing to put into the pool and therefore the British Government would be entitled to take unilateral action.

The right hon. Gentleman is confirming what I am saying. He is not saying that it is because they are Dutch, French, or Danish that they are necessarily bad, but that it is because they are fishermen from those countries that causes the trouble. However, we must recognise that their Governments are acting just as altruistically from their point of view as we are from ours. We cannot expect them to do otherwise but to fight for what they believe to be the rights of their fishermen.

Now that there is de jure recognition that each coastal State has the right to 200 miles, all the European States have the same rights. But our 200 miles happen to cover well over half of all the EEC waters, and therefore if we are to negotiate a common policy we should get a quid pro quo for the amount of fish in our waters.

That is not in dispute. There is no division in any part of the House about our rights to a reasonable quota which compares with our previous historic catch, taking account of changes in third country waters, the needs of our fishermen and so on. But something has to give somewhere if we are to get a CFP. I do not think that it does any good for us always to complain about the Common Market fishermen and their Governments in the terms which are used about them. Their Governments believe that they are fighting in the Council of Ministers for what they regard as their national interests.

Is there any way in which that can be broken down? If they are unwilling to move from their demands—and it goes without saying that their demands are excessive—how are they to be persuaded or otherwise to change their minds in order to give? Unless they give, we reach no agreement.

I accept that it would be thoroughly bad for us to go on continually month after month, debate after debate, with no conclusion being reached. However, if I read aright what is being said in the Press by those on the catching side, it seems that rather than have an agreement that does not suit them, they would rather have the present uncertainty. They believe that in this case nothing is better than something.

I am anxious that we should try to resolve the issue, but I do not know how we can do that. We must begin to apply our minds and ask ourselves whether there is a way in which we can make others understand that what we are concerned about is not merely our own national good—of course we are interested in that—but long-term measures for the Common Market fisheries pool or the waters where the fish are. In this instance we are not arguing about terms. That is what must happen if we mean what we say.

Almost everyone who speaks in this sort of debate, including fishermen, says, "We are interested in conservation. We recognise that it is necessary." I see that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) is smiling. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is agreeing with that at which I am hinting. Perhaps those sentiments are expressed with tongue in cheek.

It may be that there is still a hankering for the much-hallowed system of "Hunt where you will: catch as much as you can." We all accept that those days are gone. However, if we are persuaded that conservation is a measure that must become a reality and that it has a relevance not only to ourselves but to our EEC partners, we must find some way of breaking the logjam and making others understand that they cannot go on as they have in the past. We must make it clear that they cannot go on overfishing as they did in their own grounds, as there is very little left.

What efforts can be made to get fishermen to talk together at one common forum? We all recognise the benefit that has arisen from getting both sides of the United Kingdom industry together. The retailers, processors, distributors, trade unions, owners and the man who go to sea are united. It was not easy to achieve that unity. It took a long time before they overcame their suspicions of one another. Those suspicions have not been removed entirely and nor will they ever be completely removed. However, there is some unity of purpose and the beginning of an understanding that the industry depends on its constituent parts.

There is the possibility that if we begun to get that sort of unity within the EEC we should find some glimmering of an understanding among the member States. I believe that the Governments on the Continent are just as much under pressure from their fishermen as our Government are under pressure from British fishermen. It would be strange if it were otherwise.

Is it possible to consider the beginning of a conference of fishermen composed of trade unionists or fishermen in different parts of the EEC leading to an understanding that there is a common problem that must be solved for all our sakes for the future? I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether the Government would be willing to sponsor such a conference, or perhaps to get the Commission to do so. In that way fishermen of different peoples could come together to discuss common problems.

Unless we do that and unless we can begin to achieve that sort of understanding, the suspicions will remain. For instance, there will be the suspicion that the Commission is not serious about trying to solve the problem. It is probably the case that Civil Service bodies take on a form of their own. When they are given a job to do, they will do it irrespective of their own views. However, the suspicion remains that the individual countries do not really want to see a solution to the problem.

It seems that the only solution that they see is a fiddling-out time until the present Common Market fisheries policy comes into being, namely, free access right up to the beaches with no controls.

I hope that that is not the position of individual countries, but the suspicion that that is what they are after bedevils the whole argument.

If that is the argument, we shall get a common fisheries policy which in a sense has no regard for anyone. In that case we should be thinking about how we can operate unilaterally within 200 miles what I regard to be the true meaning of a unilateral policy, which means trying to keep our waters exclusively for our fishermen.

9.15 p.m.

I add my warmest congratulations to the Minister on his speech, which will be cheered by fishermen throughout the length and breadth of Britain.

I shall refer to some of the proposals contained in the epistle to North Britons from Saint Burke of the Common Market. I am talking of Document R/2434/ 77. If Saint Burke believes that this will be the Bible by which we shall live in 1978 he had better think again. The amount of fish mentioned in this document is greater than the amount that is left in the sea. The amount that he proposes to give to Denmark to grind into fishmeal in 1978 is nothing less than criminal. He proposes to give Denmark 232,000 tons of sprats whereas the United Kingdom is to get only 61,000 tons. He proposes that Denmark shall have 19,000 tons of mackerel and that the United Kingdom shall have 4,500 tons. He proposes that the Danes shall have 252,000 tons of Norway pout while we shall have 20,000 tons.

At present the sprat stocks are 13 to 17 miles off the Tyne. If they were within the 12-mile limit they would be relatively safe but, because they are outside that limit, over 100 purse-seiners are going after them while we are speaking here tonight. These stocks will never reach the 12-mile limit nor will they reach an area where our boats can catch them with seine nets.

We must do something quickly and turn our attention to the damage that is being done by the purse-seiners. The sprat fishing season normally lasts from November to early March and the vessels can bank on getting a reasonable catch each week. The purse-seiner is so deadly efficient that very few fish in any shoal will get away. It is too deadly to allow that method of fishing free access to any stocks of fish.

I urge the Minister to restrict severely the amount of fish that these purse-seiners can catch. I understand that the Norwegian Government no longer permit the building of purse-seining vessels but this Government are still encouraging them through the payment of grants. This can lead only to the total annihilation of all species of fish that travel in shoals.

It is difficult for me to advocate measures to control purse-seining as I have a great admiration for the efficiency of these boats and the high standards that the crews set while operating often in difficult conditions. A purse-seine net would encompass the whole of St. Paul's from top to bottom, from basement pavement to spire and all the ground on which it stands. It is not difficult even for a laymen to appreciate how many fish may be swimming in such an area of sea. One of the most memorable weeks that I have had was spent aboard a purse-seiner, the "Courage", which was mackerel fishing in the Minches. I cannot praise too highly the skipper, George West and his crew of 12. Their method of going about their work and their dedication were a treat to see, and the rest of the British industry should take a lesson from them. But they were just too efficient and too deadly. Just as we are never allowed, in Britain or anywhere in the world, to have the perpetual match or the everlasting electric light bulb, I doubt very much if we can any longer allow the purse seine to continue to be used freely.

These vessels, with their first-rate skippers, should be encouraged to get after the stocks of the blue whiting which are off our West shores, about 200 miles out. These men have the skill to adapt to the catching of blue whiting. As the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) said, perhaps we ought to be encouraging them to go to the South Atlantic, to fish off the Falklands or South Georgia, in the vast stocks of fish still untapped which could be used for the fishmeal industry. But they must have money to allow them to make the necessary structural change to their boats, and to allow them to buy the type of gear that would be needed to get after such stocks, before they can possibly set off on such a venture. The Government must also look beyond the EEC fishing pond to the places in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, to see whether the weight of fishing effort in the EEC pond can be transferred to other parts of the world.

To return to the desperate plight of the sprat stocks—which are at this moment being plundered by an armada of boats which are more deadly to our future than anything the Kings of Spain or the Emperors of France ever sent against us—were these sprats within 12 miles of the shore, they would be safe from foreign vessels, but they are in deadly danger. It is absolutely vital that we extend our fishing limits from 12 miles to 50 miles at the earliest possible moment, so that we may manage to save even some of the sprats to breed and reproduce for a further season. Strict conservation laws must be applied rigidly within 50 miles, with the proper policing of catching and the disposal of catches. Many hon. Members have referred to that this evening.

Will the hon. Gentleman not agree that, if we are speaking about conservation orders, we should really speak about conservation measures within the 200 miles and not just the 50 miles?

I was intending to come to that later. I agree that it is absolutely vital that conservation measures be taken throughout the entire fishing pond and not only in the first 50 miles.

My constituents tell me that the Faroese and Norwegian vessels which were fishing for herring off the West Coast of Shetland throughout October were even more deadly than the sprat fishers of this moment. They caught vast quantities of herring, which were landed in Denmark. I should be very pleased if the Minister could tell us what amounts were landed. I have heard of figures as high as 220,000 tons of herring landed in that month. If the fish had been allowed to get within 12 miles, they would have been available to our skippers in the Minches throughout the entire winter.

At the weekend my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and I were attending a fishing function in Banff. We were left in no doubt whatsoever about just how desperate is the situation in the Minches. Many of the skippers who were talking to us have been herring fishermen all their lives. They say that this is the first year in which they have found the Minches to be a desert. There are no fish in the Minches this year. What is the point of the EEC or anyone else giving them a quota on paper if there are no fish to be caught? It is extremely likely that less than half the total quota on paper will be caught.

The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the pout box. He seems to think that we cannot have the pout box and the 50-miles limit, but I cannot see any reason why this should be so. Of course, we want 50-miles exclusively for the use of our own fishermen, but in areas such as the pout box, and in other spawning areas, it is vital that we have conservation measures throughout the year, or at least at certain times of the year—at spawning times, for example—so that the stocks can be unmolested and left to get on with the job of reproducing themselves.

The position of virtually all the fish stocks is desperate. As well as the longterm regimes that are proposed in the documents, the Government must take emergency measures before the end of the year. I should dearly like the Minister to announce tonight that if he fails to get agreement in the negotiations next week he will come back to the House and say, "As from 1st January 1978 the first 50 miles around our shores will be for the exclusive use of our fishermen." Very strict conservation measures should also be taken within that 50-mile zone.

I know that my name is hated throughout Denmark wherever fishing is talked about. Although I am disappointed about that, I am not repentant. I believe that it is absolutely vital to ask the Danes greatly to limit or, indeed, end their method of industrial fishing. There was a time when the Danes were the most highly respected fishermen of the North Sea. Between the wars the Danish fishermen were regarded as the leaders of the fishing communities. But since 1950 in particular they have switched their methods of fishing. Now, instead of fishing for table fish, they fish virtually exclusively for industrial purposes.

It is vital that the Minister should ask our EEC partners to persuade the Danes to stop all industrial fishing for at least one year. I believe that the Danish fishermen would be better off if they adopted my suggestion. While there would perhaps be fewer boats to pursue the fishing, the Danish skippers would nevertheless need more crew members. While it takes only four men to man a boat in order to catch fish for industrial purposes, the same vessel would need eight or even 10 men to handle fish for human consumption. There would also have to be many more people on the processing side to prepare the fish for the table.

If we are to conserve any of the fish in the EEC pond—the Minister rightly does not like that description—it is vital that we persuade the Danes to close many of their fishmeal factories. That would mean a loss to the owners of those factories, but it is a quantifiable loss. We know how much money they have invested in those factories, and they could be compensated for that loss. We would not need to see all the factories closed because, obviously, the offal of the fish caught for table use and the by-catch would still be available for the fishmeal factories.

I have no quarrel with most of the regulations in these documents But they will not be enough to halt the slaughter that is going on. I want to refer in particular to Article 7 of Document 2429 which says that under-sized fish must be returned immediately to the sea. That means that our fishermen would have to throw every under-sized fish overboard. These fish are dead. They die just five minutes after going on deck. It is an absolute waste because they just feed seagulls. I have said before in this House that British boats are the only ones which the seagulls follow. If these regulations are put through, seagulls will be following every EEC boat.

It is ridiculous to throw these fish overboard. They are dead. Why cannot they be brought in and used for fishmeal? Indeed, why cannot they be brought in so that our fishery officers may see exactly what is being caught? In that way, our scientists and fishery officers would be able to say "You are catching far too much of a by-catch here. You are killing too many immature fish. Therefore you must stop fishing in that area." If we got that kind of knowledge coming from the fishing industry, we would be in a far better position to regulate the amount of immature fish being caught.

But, as I say, there would still be some fish going through the factories for industrial purposes—dead and immature fish and offal—so that not all the fishmeal factories in Denmark would have to be closed.

There are many more aspects of a detailed nature about which I should like to speak. I have in mind, for example, the proposed introduction of a 90-mm. net. I am pleased that other hon. Members have mentioned that.

I should also like to offer suggestions of ways and means whereby our fishermen could be given a more important rôle in policing our waters. As things are today, it is vital that our fishermen should know which boats are allowed into our waters and which are not so that they themselves might quickly recognise the poachers and tell our fishery cruisers, which could make arrests wherever possible.

Above all, I plead with the Government to declare unilaterally a 50-mile limit to take effect on 1st January. I should like them to prohibit industrial fishing anywhere within 200 miles of our coastline for one year and to work towards getting EEC industrial boats off the North Sea altogether.

I have little doubt that once again I shall be accused of being alarmist. When I first came to this House in February 1974, I was ridiculed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides when I called for a 50-mile limit. My party's voice was not listened to in the referendum about our staying in the EEC when we spoke about the unfairness of the fishing deal.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to correct that. When he first came to the House, his party was shouting for a 100-mile exclusive limit.

The Minister is quite correct. We were. However, in order to strengthen the voices of everyone, we reluctantly reduced our demands from 100 miles to 50 miles. We did that to bring ourselves into line with the voice of the industry at that time. We regretted that change. We still regret it. However, we believe that to have unanimity in the cause we must ask for a 50-mile limit. Who in this House will ridicule us now for making that demand?

I believe that the situation today is more serious than I have stated it, and that it is up to the Minister now to listen to the urgent voice of the industry. It is up to him to find out all that is happening within 200 miles of our shore and to take the necessary action. If this Government will not do it, Scotland will have no alternative but to press on quickly to independence.

An independent Scotland will negotiate a fresh deal. The SNP will not stand by and sec Scotland's industry ruined, and we know that the Scottish electorate back us in our determination.

Let the Minister take this loud and clear message from this House to his EEC colleagues. If Scotland has to leave the EEC, we shall take with us not a 50-mile limit but a 200-mile limit, as Iceland has done, as Norway has done and as any other self-respecting nation which cares for its fishing industry would do.

It is time that this House stopped playing the game according to the rules of cricket advocated by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). It is time that we starting playing the game according to the rules of survival, because it is survival we are talking about.

The hon. Gentleman has just referred to what I said earlier. If he is saying that he regards the French, the Dutch and the Germans as bad in themselves, it is precisely that point of view which is making it so difficult for them to be prepared to accept our point of view. The kind of chauvenistic nonsense that the hon. Gentleman is talking is doing more damage to the case that we are trying to put forward than anything being done elsewhere.

The damage is being done not by the Scottish boats, not by the British boats but by the gentlemen about whom the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North is talking. If he is prepared to play the rules of cricket and stand back and let other men take all the fish while the stocks are annihilated, let him go ahead. My colleagues and I are not prepared to stand by and see that done.

I will not give way. We have now no Icelandic fishing, and it is only realistic to realise that we will never again have Icelandic fishing. The Icelanders had to take the action that they took. They were pushed to it. They were at their last ditch. I believe that the British fishing industry has now reached that stage, and it is vital that Her Majesty's Government take the same kind of action. We cannot possibly be pussyfooted or beat about the box on this matter. It is vital that we take urgent and firm action, and that we do so on 1st January 1978 so that there may yet be some future for the skippers, the crews and for the sons and daughters of all those who fish from our shores.

9.37 p.m.

I find it rather difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman in what he has just said, because I am not sure what "pussyfooting" and "beating about the box" are at the same time. But the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) has in the main supported what the Minister said. Those were his opening words. In that I follow him, and in what my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) said. The Conservative Party supports the Government in their attempts to defeat these regulations.

I heard with considerable interest the description by hon. Members from Humberside of the state of their ports and the position in Grimsby and Hull. They will recognise, too, that this difficulty is as great in Fleetwood—equally empty markets, equally laid up ships. They have the consolation, however, that they have the benefit of development area status to help them, a status which my port, alas, although having asked for it, has not been granted. We in the deep sea fishing ports are the hardest hit of all those affected by the present fishing situation.

I thought that I had heard some jargon, but until I came to this I had not realised what jargon really meant. I should like the Minister to help me. In the explanatory note—which, I take it, is supposed to be helpful—to R/2428 the fourth paragraph says:
"Additionally, the Commission considers that although in the first instance there may be national action, a Community decision is necessary, in order to close a fishery to the fishermen of a Member State"—
it then mentions the word "wh". That can mean "who", "when", or "what"—
"the quota allocated to that Member State has been exhausted: only a Community decision is directly opposable to the fishermen in the courts of all Member States."
I have asked two very distinguished lawyers in the House to explain to me what that means and they quite unable to do so.

What I am afraid it may mean—it is very important if anything like these orders were to go into action—is that if a country such as France had fished out its quota, the sovereign Government in control of that quota could not stop it. It could only be done by the EEC, which would mean a gap between us. Therefore, if it was from our waters that fish were being taken, although we knew that the French had fished, we in the United Kingdom could not stop it except by the decree of Brussels. There might be a very serious gap in that time which could increase the French quota and reduce stocks. That is the sort of point on which we should have some explanation.

In considering Document R/2428, I find myself in agreement with the general proposition that the States which have sovereignty of the waters should be those that control the regulations issued by the Community for fisheries within those waters. But it has a side effect in that the bulk of the waters in the Community belong to the United Kingdom. Our conservation effort and enforcement will be much greater than that of other countries. I suspect that we shall have to spend a great deal more money on enforcing conservation rules than any other member of the Community. Has it been suggested that we should be recompensed for the conservation effort within our own 200-mile limit—an effort which, at the end of the day, will benefit the other members of the Community which fish within that area?

What disappoints me is the very small priority which the documents seem to give to the control of effort, which I think is generally agreed to be by far the most effective way of conservation. There is deep distrust of the quota system. It is subject to cheating. But we know from our experience off Iceland that fishing effort control is effective. I suspect that this reference to control of effort has been put in merely as a sop to the United Kingdom because, when we come to the effort area—the allocation quotas —it has to be done by a quota system, and there is no mention of fishing control by any sense of stock.

In the context of the communication to the Council of Ministers I want to re-emphasise the point, made by other hon. Members whose constituencies, like Fleetwood, have suffered from action taken by Iceland, Norway and Russia, that we need to be compensated for the catches we have lost. There is a gloss in this communication where it says that this loss cannot be quantified. I am certain that it could be. We are told that we are being compensated by the Community in effect because other countries are not now fishing within our 200-mile limit—the Russians, for example.

It is said that it is impossible to help the ports of Fleetwood, Grimsby, Hull and Aberdeen by putting a key into the documents to make provision for them. It is a pity that some of those who drew up this document do not come to see what is happening and the appalling effect that the withdrawal of ships from these waters has had.

When one looks at the quotas themselves one is staggered by the effect that they will have in the Irish Sea, which is just off Fleetwood's door. In the Irish Sea the United Kingdom will get an allocation of 390 tonnes of sole, which is a key fish, but Belgium will get 624 tonnes and the Netherlands 280 tonnes. I cannot see the justice of that.

Another white fish which is important in my port is the haddock. The allocation for the United Kingdom in the area Irish. Sea, Bristol Channel, Western South Iceland and the English Channel is 147,000 tonnes while for the French it is 735,000 tonnes. It is obvious that the fishing fleet in the Irish Sea will not be British, English or North British.

There is another matter which I have to raise. Is the port of Fleetwood in North Britain? If I were to be told that I was a South Briton I would not be able to hold up my head in my constituency. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that point. I cannot see, in anything produced by the Community, any recognition of the fact that we are in North Britain.

There is a tragic situation in the fishing ports. These regulations are a nonsense and the Minister can be assured of our full support when he goes to Europe to negotiate a better deal on our behalf.

9.47 p.m.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). If it is any comfort to him, I was told at an early age that "foreigners" live on the wrong side of a line between the Mersey and the Humber. On that basis the hon. Gentleman escapes the definition of "foreigner". Whether he qualifies as a Northumbrian or North Briton is a different matter. Like me, he is on the periphery of the real England, which makes it a bit difficult for my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), who always talked about the North of England starting at Watford.

The hon. Member for North Fylde has painted a grim picture. In this he has been joined by my hon. Friends who represent the deep-sea ports. We have heard of the effect over the past few years of the extension to 200 miles of their fishing limits by countries such as Iceland, Norway, Russia, the United States and Japan. This has had a most serious effect upon our fishing fleet and employment opportunities.

The hon. Member for North Fylde mentioned that my area had belatedly been given development area status. That is not a mark of approbation. It is a sign of the unfortunate situation in our community that the Government should have deemed it necessary to give us this status. I am sure that all of those who represent development areas would agree that the sooner they get rid of that title the better. I have to say, in all fairness, that at the moment it brings us certain benefits. Because of the recent economic recession these have not been apparent. The hon. Gentleman spoke about Regulation 2428 laying down certain measures of control on fishing activity by Community vessels. It is an interesting document. I note that the explanatory note is a translation. I would not have liked to see it in the original and I would be grateful if someone could translate the English translation. The third paragraph reads:
"As to the inspection of fishing vessels and their activities, the proposed Regulation establishes such rules as are deemed necessary to ensure that inspection by the Member States within their ports and within maritime waters subject to their sovereignty or jurisdiction is effective and non-discriminatory, while the practices used in inspection are to be made as uniform as is deemed necessary."
What is a circle? A circle is a circle is a circle. What is "necessary"? What regulations should we have? Those regulations which are "desirable"? When we come to the actual regulations we find the phrase "having regard" appears three times and "whereas" appears 16 times. The translation then says that the Council "has adopted this regulation." It goes on to talk about inspection of fishing activities and fishing vessels.

I turn now to quotas, and I want to underline this point so that our friends, allies, enemies, partners or whatever they may be in the Community can understand this. It is not by quotas that our interests and their interests will be protected but by the licensing of fishing effort. This must be stressed time and time again.

It is not a case of being Perfidious Albion and trying to see our way out of something that is unfortunate for us. It is also something in their interest, because it makes the policing of quotas easy, whatever arrangements are made about the eventual catch which it is surmised that people have caught. We shall still be able to police the area effectively.

That is why it is the licensing of fishing vessels and the fishing effort that is important. No adequate definition has been accepted by those who advocate a 50-mile limit and those who advocate a 200-mile limit. What is meant by a 50-mile exclusive zone and what is meant by a 200-mile zone? We need to try to define these terms.

Do we mean 50 miles in which only British vessels can fish? Do we mean exclusive to Britain, or do we mean exclusive only in the sense that that is our area and that we alone will licence who fishes in it, and that therefore we shall perhaps give dispensations and derogations to other countries? This has not been properly defined. There may be advantages if we allow foreign vessels to come within our 50-mile limit if there is a degree of reciprocity and we are allowed to take part in operations elsewhere. We must define what we mean.

I would define "exclusive limit" as meaning that the littoral State decides which vessels, how many and at what times they will fish within that limit. I define it as meaning that we control who fishes in that area. They may be British vessels or other vessels, depending on the exigencies of the case and the mutual balance of advantage between the nations involved. If we are satisfied that this is what exclusive means, what do we mean by the area from the 50-mile limit to the 200-mile limit? Is this merely an area that we are policing on behalf of the Community to see that agreements made within the Commounty and with third countries are enforced? Or do we mean that the 200 miles is an extension of what we are claiming within the 50-mile limit? If the latter is the case, I do not think that we have any chance of a common fisheries policy.

If we are saying that between 50 miles and 200 miles we shall share or that we shall adopt a policing rôle on behalf of the Community, trying to see that the agreements made within the Community and with the Community by third parties are enforced, we have a reasonable definition about which we can talk to our Community partners. But with either 50 miles or 200 miles we cannot refuse to define precisely what we mean. There is a great deal of confusion not only in our relations with foreign parties or other countries within the Community but with our own fishermen because of the lack of a clear definition.

Hon. Members have a duty to say what they mean by a 50-mile exclusive zone and what they mean by 200 miles. Until we know the exact terms that we are using for our definitions, and on which we are seeking to fight this cause, we are in a most difficult position. We could be accused of hypocrisy towards our own fishermen, because we use one definition and they think that we are using another. We must be most careful about this.

Whether they voted for or against joining the Community and our continuing Membership—I voted against—hon. Members also have a duty to say that we shall be in a most drastic situation in 1981 if we do not come to an agreement. Whether we like it or not, under the terms of our accession, which Governments of both parties accepted, people will then have a right to fish up to one another's shores. In that sort of international anarchy it is not only the fishing industry that will suffer but all the fishing communities within the member countries of the EEC. Therefore, it is not only in our interests but in the interests of the whole Common Market that a proper, sensible agreement shall be achieved. Those are the basic ground rules.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) is not present, because I believe that people can be carried away by the exuberance of their own case. With a degree of self-righteousness, they can lose a great deal in their froth and emotion without seeing that what we are seeking to preserve is a viable, positive fishing industry in this country which will serve the interests of our nation and many parts of the Community, which will maintain not only the fishing communities in our great deep-sea ports or former deep-sea ports but the scattered fishing communities in many parts of our islands. That is the rôle of the fishing industry. It is what our Ministers must achieve when they go to Brussels.

Therefore, it is essential that we should have our sights precisely upon what is right for our industry. It is a matter not of speaking of so many tonnes from the North Sea, the Irish Sea or the Celtic Sea compared with what the French, Danes or other's have, but of what has been achieved to maintain our viable position and our dominance, as well as a realisation of what our 200-mile zone has given to the Community.

There is a duty also on the Commission and on the Government to achieve satisfactory compensation for those areas which have suffered not as a result of Community policy but as a result of policies of third countries—Russia, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, the United States and Canada—which have driven from what we have regarded as traditional fishing grounds the deep-sea vessels sailing, in particular, from Humberside and Fleetwood and also from Aberdeen and other smaller ports. I say that with no disrespect to Aberdeen. I am speaking merely in terms of its fishing effort. We must ensure that either the Commission or our own Government—in my view, it should be our own Government—find adequate compensation for them. In so far as we still have a freezer fleet, we must ensure that it is properly worked, properly used and properly compensated.

In this context, it is important for us to talk not just in terms of compensation for the owners of vessels and the companies which have controlled vessels, since in many ways they have been overcompensated, they have had their subsidies and they have written off the value of their vessels. There must be proper compensation for the men who have been made and will be made unemployed. Moreover, the unemployed are difficult to trace, because in the deep-sea ports the industry has been a casual industry, with men employed from voyage to voyage, and unemployment benefit used to supplement what in other industries would have been the proper function of the employer.

It is our duty to ensure that, whatever shape the industry takes, we get rid of its casual nature. We must ensure that those who earn their livelihood at sea—those who are neither skippers nor share fishermen—are not forced to seek succour and consolation in drink but are given a secure future in the industry, properly looked after, properly controlled and properly regulated. It would be a sad day if any Government were to look away from some of the social problems attached to the fishing industry and security in it and seek a remedy in savage penal legislation, paying attention to the symptoms rather than the disease.

We must ensure that we have a fishing industry which, whatever comes out of the Community and whatever arrangement is made, can offer a person working in it security for himself and his family, with opportunities for advancement and good industrial conditions, without re- course to what is being suggested in some quarters, that is, penal clauses to replace sound industrial relations and proper living and working conditions.

10.3 p.m.

I shall be brief because hon. Members who have already spoken have ranged fully over this important subject. I find myself in unusual agreement with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). I fully support him in what he says about the human problems which have been created by the new situation in the fishing industry. I share to a certain extent the fears which he has expressed in speaking of his constituency. There is no doubt that his constituency and others in Hull and similar ports with deep-sea trawlers are taking the immediate brunt of the present problem. Nevertheless, there are fears throughout the industry, not just in any one sector of it, since the problems of one sector sooner or later affect the conditions of the others. As time goes on, the trouble spreads right round the coast.

It has been rightly said that the present state of affairs did not exist when we first entered the Common Market. Indeed, from the standpoint of my constituency, the boundary was moved outwards at that time, and therefore help was given.

I constantly hear the argument used by Conservative Members that they did not know that there might be 50-mile or 200-mile limits. That was freely predictable, and many of us in this House predicted it. Even if I accept the basis of the argument advanced by the hon. Gentleman, the fact is that under the fishing agreement signed by his party even the 12-mile area would have been free and accessible for fishing in 1981. He cannot duck the argument.

I cannot agree with that. It meant that in 1981 matters would have to be renegotiated, and therefore it would have been open to us to say whether we agreed to what was being proposed.

Some of those who are to speak later in the debate will be able to give a more personal experience than I can of what was involved, but that is my understanding of the situation.

Certain it is that we have a new situation. The problem that faces everyone is not just a definition of areas where we are allowed to fish, and where we are not. The problem is very much whether there will be anything for which to fish. We are considering security of jobs in the future, but there will not be any secure jobs unless conservation has been properly carried out because the fish have to be there before fishing can take place.

In this new situation we are undoubtedly the ones who have lost most. I agree with those who have said that the situation facing the distant-water boats that have been moved out of more distant territories has to be taken into account in any negotiations and in making allocations for the future. Not only have we lost most, but we have most of the fish that is in the waters under consideration. In addition, we shall have to do most of the control work to watch over these waters.

All those factors should rank far more importantly than they seem to have done in the negotiations that have taken place so far. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will bear all those points in mind when he enters the negotiations and, as everybody has said tonight, we support him in the work that he will be doing. I agree that what we seek in all this is a fair and enforcible licensing system, because, clearly, the quota system has been proved to be inadequate.

I have only two further points to make. First, I want to emphasise the deep concern felt by my fishermen and my inshore federation about the future, and in particular about some of the effects that may flow from these regulations.

With regard to the 50-mile exclusive zone, I am certain that we cannot afford to have a narrow zone. When it comes to conservation, the speed of boats and the efficiency of the equipment used is such that any control must take place over a wide area, otherwise we shall not have a chance of catching the boats that are doing the damage and the poaching.

I believe that to talk of narrow areas of supervision or control is entirely un realistic. I believe, too, that to have a number of boundaries between one country and another at frequent intervals will make the job that much more difficult as people slip from one boundary to the other. Since it appears that we shall have to carry out most of the supervision, we must insist on these wide exclusive zones.

We hear a great deal about scientists' forecasts of conditions. My experience gained through talking to fishermen in my constituency is that very often they can tell what will happen in their territories years before the scientists reach their conclusions. What is more, what those fishermen say usually turns out to be true.

When we discuss matters relating to the size of net meshes and other conservation measures, we must remember the difficulties that beset those who fish for herring. The fishermen in my constituency have for many years sought a ban on herring fishing for a period in order to apply some measure of conservation. I believe that these men and their organisations should always be listened to with the closest possible attention when regulations or legislation are being considered.

I reinforce all that has been said by others this evening, and particularly the fact that many fishermen's organisations have the utmost fear of proposals relating to the size of net mesh. I accept what the fishermen tell me because what they have told me in the past has turned out to be true. I hope that we shall not simply rely on the words of the scientists but will give due regard to the word of the practical seamen who spend a great deal of their lives at sea. Their fathers have been at sea before them, and often the boats are handed down from one generation to another. Fishing is their livelihood, they know what goes on at sea, and they often know these things more surely than do the scientists.

10.13 p.m.

I wish to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw), and particularly his remarks about conservation policies. I have the utmost respect for the work of our scientists, and particularly those institutes whose work consists in collating information. However, that work is incomplete unless it is married up with the observations and views of experienced fishermen. I know that the Secretary of State acknowledges that there is no substitute for the experience of those who have to undertake fishing as a job.

I hope that, in co-operation with our EEC partners, we are now moving forward to a new stage of conservation. I believe that in the various negotiations that take place the industry often feels that its views are being disregarded or not being taken fully into account. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend's words about the views of ordinary fishermen will be noted.

Several hon. Members have emphasised the importance of fishermen in policing various conservation measures. I believe that there will be a greater willingness to carry out that policing activity in the industry if those fishermen feel that they are being consulted in the formation of those policies.

I intend to speak briefly, because many of the points I intended to make have already been dealt with. I wish to endorse what the Minister said in opening the debate. The right hon. Gentleman takes with him to next week's negotiations the best wishes of the House and, I hope, a reinforcement from the House of his determination to carry forward the purposes that have been discussed so fully in the debate.

I emphasise yet again the ineffectiveness of quotas. I do not intend to go into detail because this subject has already been discussed so much, but I do not see anything in the change from the regime that we had under NEAFC to the regime under the EEC to indicate that quotas will necessarily be any better or more enforceable than before. In view of our experience, it is important to bring home to ou0r Common Market partners that we have to consider a different system, namely the individual licensing of boats, which is the unanimous view of the House and all those with experience of the workings of NEAFC. Although the documents are couched in terms of quotas, conservation will not be effective until we institute a proper and effective licensing system.

There is a lack of recognition in the documents of the sacrifices that United Kingdom fishermen have made in fishing in third country waters. I shall say no more about that because it is obviously something about which the Minister feels very strongly.

There has been talk in the documents and elsewhere in the Community about the effect of some conservation measures and quotas. It is suggested that where our fishermen are suffering and have to give up fishing and look for other occupations, some form of compensation might be paid. In some fishing villages in Scotland, particularly on the North-East Coast and in the West, that solution will not do. We are talking about people for whom fishing is not just an economic occupation, but a way of life. Their fathers, grandfathers and generations before them have all gone to sea. Talking to the wives and mothers in these villages, I find that many would like their men to leave the sea because of the dangers involved. Some do leave, but it is amazing how often they go back. It is in the blood. Offering them financial compensation will not work. It is entirely against the nature and character of people living and working in these places. We must bring home that point to the Common Market partners as strongly as possible. Offering such fishermen compensation would he like trying to buy their birthright. They will not sell.

We are debating particular conservation measures which flow from the documents. We have been in the forefront of conservation measures. Some have been in effect for a considerable period and I had hoped that we should be seeing measurable results as a consequence of those measures in terms of species reappearing, appearing in larger quantities or, through such measures as the pout boxes, the appearance of fish for eating. That is a view that certain fishermen have expressed.

I should like to know what monitoring has been carried out to gauge the effect of these conservation measures. If we could show by the conservation measures we have introduced—such as the pout box—that we are having some success, that certain species are returning to these areas, and that a new future is being built up for our fishing industry, that would strengthen immensely the bargaining power of our Ministers in the Common Market negotiations.

There is another effect of the conservation orders and the documents. The Secretary of State is well aware of the effects not only on the fishermen but on the fish processing industry. The Government have been responsive to the needs of the firms in the North-East of Scotland, particularly the herring processing firms, by way of temporary employment subsidy and so on. But will the Minister extend his sympathy in this interim period to the firms that process the white fish? They are now facing equal difficulties.

Hitherto the problems were in the larger firms which employed large numbers of people and which could speak with a loud voice. However, in many parts of Scotland, particularly in the City of Aberdeen, many of the family businesses engaged in processing are being affected, but they do not employ the necessary minimum of 10 people to qualify under the TES scheme. In considering the difficulties of the fish processing firms, I urge the Secretary of State, therefore, to bear in mind those in which perhaps only two or three people risk becoming redundant. The effect of the current situation on a number of small firms, say, in Aberdeen, Peterhead or elsewhere, can be just as great as the effect on one larger firm which may be making 50 people redundant.

The hon. Gentleman is making a strong point which as he knows has been raised in the city of Aberdeen. He will be glad to know that I have taken this up with the Government.

I am aware of that, but I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that I, too, represent part of the city of Aberdeen, and that may surprise him I have as constituents those who work in and run these firms. All those hon. Members who represent the city of Aberdeen, as I do, have been making this point strongly to the Government.

I urge the Secretary of State to bear in mind also the needs of both the larger vessels and the smaller vessels. The former we call the inshore vessels, although they work far from inshore. The main catch effort is in the boats that go further afield and have the adaptability to move around the coast of Scotland and go as far as the Norwegian banks. The men on these boats are the people who tend to make up the office bearers and representatives of the fishing organisations.

Will the Minister also bear in mind the needs of the smaller boats which cannot go so far from the shore and which, because of the size of the vessel, cannot move around the coast of Scotland to fresh fishing grounds to the same extent.

There are three proposals in the documents. If the mesh size is increased, the boats fishing in deeper waters are not affected nearly as much as those fishing of the part of the coast that is represented by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), off the coast of Northumberland, or those fishing in areas such as the Moray Firth. An increase in the size of the mesh will have a great effect on those fishing for sprats. It will have a lesser effect on the economic viability of the deep water vessels than on the smaller boats that work closer to the shore. I am sure that that would be confirmed by the inspectors.

Equally, if the amount allowable of by-catch is reduced, that could destroy sprat fishing in inshore waters such as the Moray Firth.

We must also consider the effect of steaming with only one set of nets on the vessel. That may be all right for vessels going further out, but different considerations apply to the smaller vessels that do not have the same fishing opportunities and scope. Very often the smaller boats will carry two sets of net. If sprat fishing does not prove worth while, they may change to prawn fishing at certain times of the year.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take these matters into account and to give consideration to the smaller vessels. The total catch and the effect that they have on the depletion of fish stocks in infinitely less than with the larger vessels that go further afield. In any conservation measures we must give special consideration to the smaller inshore vessels.

Finally, I make three short points. I believe that we have all been encouraged in the House and in the industry by the unity of agreement reached at the Dublin Conference a week ago, to which the right hon. Gentleman sent a telegram of support, at which the Minister responsible for fisheries of the Eire Government spoke and at which representatives of the fishing industry in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland took part. I believe that that bodes well for the future. I hope that we can carry forward that degree of unity in the negotiations next week.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman must remember that the outcome of the negotiations will eventually be put to the test in the House of Commons. If we do not have a satisfactory solution presented to us, it seems clear that what is proposed will not be endorsed at the end of the day. I know that the right hon. Gentleman realises that, and I hope that he will take that message to his colleagues.

Finally, we must consider the consumer. We have talked about fishermen and fish processers, but so often we have forgotten the consumer. If we do not get a solution to the problems under a common fisheries policy, it is the consumer and the housewife who will suffer. That is well illustrated by an article that appeared in the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 25th November. It shows that with the problems of conservation there has been an increase in the price of fish. From 2nd October to 5th November 4,316 tonnes were landed at Scottish ports making about £.1·5 million. The article then states:
"Last year during the same period, nearly three times the quantity was landed—11,072 tonnes—but made only ·10,598 more than this year's alarmingly low landing total…proof that prices have gone well and truly through the roof!"
That is one of the consequences of this policy. It is an inevitable temporary consequence until we get conservation right. Unless we get it right, and unless we can protect fish supplies in future, it is not only the fishermen and fish processers who will suffer but the housewives. It is for the housewife that the right hon. Gentleman goes to the negotiations, as well as for all the other interests.

10.30 p.m.

First, I must apologise to the two Front Bench speakers for not being here when they spoke. I was in Brussels discussing in the regional committee how best to spend the money from the regional fund in areas where there will be cut-backs in fishing. I was ensuring that compensation will go not only to boat owners but to the work forces on shore.

I have the unenviable task of taking these documents through the agriculture committee in December. I do not look forward to that task, but the amount of co-operation from the other countries is surprising. I cannot imagine that any agreement on any particular policy will arise on 5th-6th December, so that the discussion in the European Parliament in December will still come before anything has been finally decided.

The Danes have been fairly hard done by in the House today, but there is a much greater understanding from the Danes now than there has been for some time. They are making an effort to cut back their fishing industry to fit in with Community policy.

It is unusual perhaps for a Member of the Opposition to compliment a Member of the Government side but I congratulate the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes). He has done a very good job in the Fisheries Committee, which he chairs. We can be proud of his efforts on behalf of this country. He would be the first to admit that he did not know a great deal about fishing when he first came to Parliament but there are few now who know more about it than he. He was an anti-Marketeer, and probably still is, but he is always fair when discussing policy.

As the hon. Member said, fishermen can no longer be freelance hunters in the sea. It is too late to lay the blame at any door. We must now look to the future. One must be careful when discussing exclusive zones or the exclusive control of zones. We must remember that although we may draw lines in the sea showing where we may fish and where no one else may fish, we cannot tell the fish where they should go.

Most herring stocks off the East coast of Scotland pass through Danish waters. If we have exclusive rights to fish round our own waters and the Danes have the same rights, they could take out all the herring from the North Sea as it passes through their waters. The hon. Member for Durham and I have been having talks with the ICES in Denmark.

Although the scientists are considered to be the wrong people with whom to discuss these matters, in the last few weeks they have been saying not that the fish are no longer there but that the balance has shifted by the over-fishing of herring. They say that there is an increase in the numbers of other fish such as sprat, Norway pout, sand eel, blue whiting and field culling. If we are not careful and do not take these fish out of the water there will be no room for herring to return to those waters because food that is necessary for young herring is being eaten by other species of fish.

It is difficult to talk of a 50-mile zone in conservation terms because the fish live outside that area. We must look at the possibility of a 200-mile zone and beyond that. At certain times of the year it is safe to fish in the pout boxes and at other times it is not safe to do so. There are certain depths for fishing which would cut down the by-catch.

To listen to the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), one would think that every single fisherman in the whole of Scotland was a member of the Scottish National Party. That is not the case. We have had delegation after delegation of fishermen at the EEC Assembly and at the committees in Brussels over the last two years, and many of the men are certainly not SNP members. Many of them get down to very serious discussion. I think that we should be very careful not to bring too much emotion and feeling into the whole subject. If we do we can easily lose sight of the ultimate end.

We have to watch that if we have an exclusive use limit within our 50 miles, or whatever we decide on, we do not create problems among our own fishermen. If the Scots fishermen start going down south and taking the mackerel from the Cornish fishermen, the Cornish fishermen will be upset.

There is another problem that is cropping up, and the Danes have been complaining about it. I refer to the supplying to third-country factory ships straight from British boats around our coasts. I would almost go so far as to say that when this happens these ships should be banned from our waters. Every ton of fish put off a British boat on to a third-country factory ship means fewer shore jobs for our people. It also means that we cannot see what type of fish is being caught or monitor the amount being caught.

We have to encourage the exploration of new species for deep-sea boats, because I believe that that industry is dead from the point of view of British waters. There is simply no room in British waters for the large deep-sea boats, and we have to find other areas for them throughout the world.

We have to watch what we are doing within the industry itself. It will only exacerbate the problem if we go on giving grants and subsidies to build bigger and better boats to catch more and more fish and at the same time, at the other end of the scale, give subsidies to lay up or even destroy boats. That is a vicious circle.

Most of my other points have been covered; therefore, I will not go into them further. I am sure that when we get a common fisheries policy, as we shall, no one will be happy, but I believe that when that time comes the fishermen of Britain will play their part in any agreement reached.

10.38 p.m.

I wished to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that I might speak for a very short time in making one or two remarks about the debate, to most of which I have listened. I was originally under the impression that it would finish at 10 p.m.

It has been a remarkable debate for a number of reasons, one of them being the conversions that we always find whenever we have these debates. I am bound to say also, having listened to a number of the speakers, particularly from the Conservative Benches—although it does not occur exclusively in that area—that there has been a twisting of the facts.

History is being written in regard to the fishing agreements and the Community itself. In that respect I want to try to nail what I think is an untruth concerning the signing of the agreement, before Britain's entry into the Community, by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). He has admitted that we tend to rewrite history in the European Assembly when we discuss fishing policy. When the agreement was signed, irrespective of whether one considered that the limits were to be extended to 50 or 200 miles, it was clear then that the area up to 12 miles was to be made available to all ships of the Community after the period 1981–82. The argument about not being able to foresee it does not stand up when we bear in mind that the agreement was to allow all Community ships into the area, right up to the beach. It is a little dishonest to suggest that it was something different when it was signed at that time.

I also marvel at the amount of unity that is shown with regard to our Ministers. Our Ministers are to be congratulated on the efforts they have made in this difficult area where they cannot use the veto because that was the agreed policy when we went into the EEC. I do not know how long that unity will last. However, I have no doubt that that unity will depend on the definition of "exclusive" that will have to be determined by those involved in the negotiations.

Nevertheless, these regulations are an advance, particularly in the area of conservation. But we must decide what to do about net sizes and such matters. By becoming regulations these matters will be passing into Community law which member States will observe. Whether we like it or not, these regulations are a better way of enforcing conservation than the joint agreement which previously existed among the international fishery organisations. The regulations are clearly an advance in that regard.

The regulations will become legally binding, particularly on Community boats and third world boats which enter the areas and waters ruled by the sovereign power of the nation States. They are an advance towards coastal control—an important factor that we have always advocated. They are a recognition of the power of the coastal States themselves to enforce the powers of conservation.

The regulations give a derogation to the French to fish for herring immediately outside their port areas while limiting the size of the vessels involved as well as the effort to fish. At the same time they recognise that there must be some kind of scheme for the coastal State to fish resources immediately outside its own port area.

All these are advances towards the recognition that the coastal State will have a rôle to play. This was generally recognised by the United Nations in the Law of the Sea negotiations and it was recognised much earlier with regard to the exploitation of mineral wealth. I believe that the Opposition is confusing this with fish areas, which are not the same thing. We are discussing the way in which the coastal State should control different forms of wealth, whether it is mineral wealth or fish.

This gives force and recognition to the argument that I have advocated as a kind of compromise solution—that of maintaining the coastal rights control while recognising that we are in a Community which gives to every coastal State some kind of say in how quotas are determined. It is in the recognition of exclusive control that the difficult problem lies.

I personally believe that the Government will not take a unilateral stand. If they did they would be in a much stronger position, but in the context of the negotiations and the trade-offs that will be involved, the Government are hardly likely to take a unilateral stand on this issue.

The hon. Gentleman talked about trade-offs. This is a real fear among fishermen who think that there will be some kind of trade-off with Britain giving up her reasonable demand for an exclusive 50-mile zone. Can the hon. Gentleman give the House some examples of the trade-offs that he has in mind?

One area where there has been a certain amount of trade-off is the JET project which we fought to have based in the United Kingdom. I am sure that Ministers can give many examples within the agricultural and fishing areas where in order to secure one objective they give way on another. I am sure that other hon. Members have better examples than that which I have given. But it is true that there is a considerable amount of trade-off. That is one of the essential conditions of Community negotiations. However, we must make up our minds. I hope that the Government will be prepared to take a unilateral stand on this issue.

I can well understand the negotiating positions of Governments and people making statements to that effect. But, at the end of the day, those of us who are concerned with whatever might be the agreement—and I am more concerned with that than with the negotiating stance—will be presented with a compromise of the kind which I have advocated and which embodies the principles that I suggested earlier in my speech.

If that is the case, it raises the issue of what is "exclusive". I always used to think that it meant exclusive—that is, that a single nation had sole rights in a given area, be it 50 miles or 25 miles. I always understood that the people who advocated that cause believed that it was what it really said—exclusively for them. Now we hear from the Opposition Front Bench—and I do not disagree—about having forms of controlled derogations, with the ships of other nations which have fishing agreements with us—Community countries or third parties—having some right to come into waters which are designated for exclusive control.

If that is the definition—and a number of hon. Members have spelt out that that is what they think "exclusive" means—that is probably where we shall end up. But if that is the final outcome, I wonder whether the differences revealed in the definition of exclusivity will break this unity which seems so binding in fishing agreements. We must wait and see.

From my own point of view, the general regulations at the moment show an advance in those areas which I have indicated. Where matters are much more controversial and where a certain amount of confusion seems to arise is the rôle of quotas in all this.

I have the feeling from a number of the speeches in this debate that hon. Members believe that quotas are no good at all and, therefore, that they must be thrown out. But clearly whatever system is brought in will have quotas. The argu- ment is not that quotas are no good. It is that they are not enforced or that they are not working. Obviously that is an argument against quotas. But even if we had an exclusive system which we were controlling, as Iceland has, and we had our 200 miles, were not in the Community and had a far better fishing deal, which would be the position, it is obvious that quotas would exist. So I do not think that we should go along with those who say that quotas are useless.

Quotas are an essential part of conservation. It is how they are enforced and what mechanisms of control are used which are important, and part of all that must be a definition of how much we take out, to whom it shall be given, and how many vessels will be involved. That is at the heart of what is a quota system. We have to be clear in our minds about that.

One matter about which we are united is that the present quota system is not acceptable or even equitable to our position in this matter, and I am glad that the Minister made it clear that he did not accept the situation. But, again, we hear many people talk as though we were greater conservers than other nations. It is my experience that we have as many pirates in Britain as there are in Europe and that it is just as difficult to get them to observe conservation measures as it is in Europe.

There are examples to prove that this is so. One which is extremely pertinent at the moment is that of the Russians fishing for mackerel. Vessels, even from my area, are going down and, because it is profitable at the moment, fishing out all the mackerel and pumping it into Russian ships, having been propagandising for heaven knows how long to get Russian vessels out of these waters.

I hope that the Minister will give some indication whether it will affect our negotiating position vis-à-vis third-party countries. Areas such as Humberside are greatly dependent on the agreements that we get with third parties because we are traditionally dependent on the types of fish that we get from those third-countries' waters.

This is one of the anomalies, especially for Humberside. Despite all the concern for inshore fishing, there is no area being hit harder by fishing agreements, be they with Iceland, the Community or anywhere else. It is the one area which has been thrashed because it is the area which has concentrated most on what the Community call "artisan" fishing. If that is the expression used to describe those involved in small inshore boats, I do not know what we should call those who work on the deep-freeze boats. They are concentrated on Humberside. To that extent, Humberside is a special case.

The taking of mackerel in the way I have described threatens the stocks of areas of the South. We have evidence in Hull that boats have been catching the mackerel so fast that it has had to be stored in the streets by the ton. It is no use attacking industrial fishing and then having to stack fish in the streets because the warehouses are so full. In such circumstances, it is a little hypocritical to talk about our concern for conservation.

Twelve months ago, we told the Minister that we would have to have special agreements for the North of Britain. I thought that I came from the North, but by the new definition in these documents, I do not. But that definition says a lot, because once again Humberside is particularly hard hit. There was a hard-fought-for recognition in the Community that there were certain areas which were in a specially difficult position and should be given special compensation. Such recognition has been given to Scotland and Ireland, but England's fishing areas have got nothing. We are told that whatever agreements we get with Russia, Norway and other countries will help to recompense us, but the compensation for Scotland and Ireland is to come from third-countries' shares, so I do not know what will be left for Humberside.

Presumably, agreement will be reached within the next 12 months, or possibly after the French General Election. I hope that my right hon. Friend has a number of long-term plans, particularly for the crisis on Humberside. A lot can be done. Detailed negotiations are now going on.

I appeal to my right hon. Friend to draw together the people of Humberside, to look at education, training and maritime connections, and build a centre of excellence on Humberside for fishing. Quite a lot of Common Market money will become available for compensation, and it should not be shovelled, as always in the past, into the owners' pockets, from some of whom already we hear such talk as "If we are to have 200 miles, give us £2 million". That is a deplorable attitude.

My right hon. Friend should bring up the excellence of Humberside fishing and help it make its contribution not only to Britain and the Community but to the Third world, where many countries want to develop their fishing fleets. I hope that such long-term thinking is going on in the Ministry. I am always having to say "This is bad for Humberside". I hope that the Ministry is looking at what can be done substantially to change the situation and to end the bad times on Humberside.

10.54 p.m.

We have had a comprehensive and wide-ranging debate—an unacrimonious debate apart from the skirmishes here and there about the Common Market, and the ritual rantings from the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) about how the SNP is not going to get slaughtered at the next election as everyone else believes.

I enjoyed the robust speech by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I gather that he is not present now because he has a rather nasty touch of influenza. We all hope that he will be fighting fit again to put the case for the House when he gets to the Common Market again next week.

Much more important than the amiable nature of the debate has been the fact that opinion has been almost completely united behind the right hon. Gentleman in saying that these regulations are not acceptable as a package. They are not acceptable to the House, the Government, the Opposition and all sections of the British fishing industry. Not only do we have a unity of view on this within the United Kingdom, but last week's meeting in Dublin showed that the Irish are united with us. I hope that those in the EEC with eyes to see and ears to hear will realise that they must recognise the strength of the unanimity in this country.

The principles underlying this package will not work. It is not just a question of the details. The basic point is that the EEC must realise that no Minister could get this package through the House of Commons. The EEC will have to think again. The fallacy at the heart of the package is the present system of quotas. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, it is not a question of being against the principle of quotas as such but of being against the principle of quotas as they appear to be enshrined in the package. The package is unfair. Even if it were not, it would be unworkable.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has pointed out that we are talking not about EEC waters but about British waters which happen to be in the EEC. We therefore have a right to say how those waters shall be carved up. We are not prepared to hand them over without objection to the EEC and give them the right to say how they will dispose of the fish in our waters.

For those of us who sit in the European Assembly the difficulty is that we did just that—we handed over these waters. What we are trying to do, whether Conservative, Liberal, SNP or Labour, is to pull back from a catastrophe to a near tragedy. That is not a very glorious position but it is the reality.

I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Assembly by pointing to what the majority of British people believe. I hope that this will be used as ammunition when they get to the European Assembly. They should say that they are not prepared to accept the diktat of the EEC. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) made the point that most of what has been said in the debate has been said before. This is precisely because these are such strong points. We must emphasise why we cannot accept this package.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and others pointed out that the quotas being put forward in this package appear to take no account of the fact that British fishermen have lost the most valuable fishing grounds off Iceland, the Faroes, in Norwegian waters, and in the Barents Sea, in Soviet waters. I understand that about 20 per cent. of our former catch has been taken from us in this way. It is incredible and intolerable that the European Community should have the nerve to tell us what our quota should be without taking account of the fact that 20 per cent. of our catch has been taken away from us.

It is obvious, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has said, that the EEC should not say that it intends to give the British fishing industry only about 21 per cent. of the quota when we provide 60 per cent. of the fish. It shows remarkable insensitivity. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said that Common Market countries have political pressures placed on them, just as we do, and that may be true. None the less, there is a limit to the pressures that we can accept. It seems insensitive to say that we should accept only 21 per cent. of the quota because the Danes, Germans and Dutch have political pressures on them.

The present quota system is not backed up by a proper licensing system. This key point was made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, and my hon. Friends the Members for North Angus and Mearns, and Scarborough (Mr. Shaw). We know from the example of Iceland that licensing works. Unless we have some sort of licensing, the quota system will not work.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) rightly said that certain hon. Members should not suggest that other countries are no worse than us, and that there is no reason to suspect that the French, for example, are worse than we are. In fact, there is every reason for thinking that. The British fishing industry would be very sceptical if it were told that the French were not breaking the regulations. It may be unfair to suspect that the French are breaking the regulations, but that is what the British fishing industry believes, and I think that the industry is right.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) pointed out that we have recently had the example of the French grabbing disastrously more than their share in the North-East Arctic. It may have been partly the Germans, but everyone believes it was the French. The French were given a specific quota and broke that quota shamelessly. As a result, British fishermen have suffered. I am not plucking Chauvinistic figures out of the air. The French defined those quotas. The British fishing industry should be extremely sceptical. I shall be as polite as I can about the tactics and the honour of certain of our Continental partners.

We had the even more extraordinary case six months ago of a French skipper who was caught and, instead of having 20 per cent. by-catch and 80 per cent. trash, it was exactly the reverse. He had the nerve to present to the British authorities an official French document which said that as long as he had 20 per cent. Trash he could catch 80 per cent. table fish. This was not just a case of one skipper defying the agreement. The official French document appeared to be defying the whole concept which other members of the Common Market have agreed.

The position was even worse than that. A French trawler was arrested and brought to Hull six months before the incident to which my hon. Friend refers. The French Government were therefore aware, six months before the incident he describes, that their rules did not coincide with ours.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has emphasised my point that the French authorities appear determined to get round, by fair means or foul, what the rest of the Community has agreed. This accounts for the scepticism that the British fishing industry rightly feels.

Of course, we accept that there is progress here. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said this in his splendid speech, and other hon. Members said so as well. These are conservation measures, and in so far as they go a certain way towards conservation, we accept them. In particular, we are interested in the derogation measures for the French fishermen in regard to herring. I hope that when he goes to Brussels the Minister will point out that the Community is here granting the principle of the coastal State's having the right to say how the fish off that country shall be dealt with. I know that it is a small amount and a small distance offshore, but it makes the principle.

If the right hon. Gentleman had listened he would have heard that I was saying that the principle had been established, and it should be applied across the board.

I wanted to know why the derogation was made for the French and not for the Mourne fishermen.

As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the reason is precisely that the French are having far too much say in the ways in which the common fisheries policy is being decided.

The right hon. Gentleman might bear in mind that they have been here slightly longer than we have and helped cobble together the CFP before we joined. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman's Government failed to renegotiate it. It is no use for either side of the House to try to appear as pure white in this matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) took us in under the straight agreement that, as he has since made clear, before 1982 the whole question of the CFP would be renegotiated. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, who conducted the renegotiations on behalf of the Labour Government, believed that he could change things afterwards.

I do not think that there is a fisherman in this country who gives a cuss about it either way at this stage. The fishermen know the truth—that both major parties felt that it was more important to get into the Common Market and negotiate once we were in. The Conservatives said it, and the Labour Party did exactly the same. [InterruptionThe hon. Gentleman can fool himself. He cannot fool the House. It was the Labour Government under the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) who renegotiated our membership when the referendum was held.

I pass on from that acrimonious point, as I want to keep the debate at an amiable level. Whatever temporary acrimony may have been introduced, I am sure that hon. Members are united in this, that if the Minister cannot secure agreement in Brussels next week he would have the backing of the House if he were to take unilateral action.

In a very thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said that we must not regard the 50-mile limit as the be-all and end-all and that we should try to think beyond it. We would all agree, but the fact is that we are not saying that the 50-mile limit is the ideal solution. It just happens to be the best means by which, if we are forced to it, we can control the conservation measures within that area.

I would rather not give way, because I must conclude soon. I have given way to hon. Members several times.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) was right to say that the industry must be clear in its own mind what it meant by a 50-mile limit. What I understand by it is exclusive control within the 50-mile limit. I believe that we must have exclusive control for the United Kingdom within the 50 miles, with power to make what derogations we like and what reciprocal swaps we want. We should make that clear to the fishing industry in this country.

Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns said, we must consider the housewife, not just the industry. What the housewife wants is stable prices, and I say to those hon. Members who may have been so excited by the sound of their own voices that the only way to get stable prices—

Order. The hon. Gentleman should be addressing the Chair.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What the housewife wants is stable fish prices, and what the industry wants is general stability so that it can attract investment once again after the difficult period it is going through now. We must preserve the jobs in the industry, both at sea and on shore, we must secure stability of prices for the housewife, and, as several hon. Members have said, we must preserve the way of life of our fishing communities. This also is important, and anyone coming from Aberdeen who knows the inroads which the oil industry is making sees the value of maintaining the way of life which the fishing industry represents.

The only way to do that, if we are denied what we want at Brussels, will be by an exclusively controlled 50-mile zone. There can be no adequate satisfaction apart from that. If the right hon. Gentleman will fight for that at Brussels, he will find that the Opposition are united behind him.

11.12 p.m.

I am glad to know that the House is so united on this matter. It makes me wonder why on 23rd June, a Supply Day, the last time we had a debate about fishing, the Opposition took the trouble to vote against the Government, for reasons which were not very clear then and are a lot less clear even now, when—

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. I have hardly finished my first sentence yet. I said that the reasons were not clear then and they are even less clear today, in view of what has been said by hon. Members on both sides and the fact that the view and stance of the Government today is exactly the same as it was on 23rd June.

The right hon. Gentleman may think that the Government's stance is the same, but very many of us on this side feel that as a consequence of our vote then we succeeded—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, we succeeded in greatly stiffening the Government's attitude, and we believe that we are reaping the fruits of that tonight.

The hon. Gentleman's self-deception knows no bounds. He will be telling us soon that it was not a Conservative Government who took us into the Common Market with completely inadequate protection for our fishing industry. It is that, of course, which is the basis of the difficulties which we face in the present negotiations.

I was about to say that I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was not able to stay until the end of the debate—he is slightly indisposed—and I was going on to congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on what I believe to have been his debut on the Opposition Front Bench, certainly on the fishing industry. We are used to his speeches from the Back Benches.

The debate today is about very serious issues, and it comes at an opportune time because we shall be taking up again in the early part of next week the discussions at Brussels on the internal régime. I say at once that I appreciate the support which Ministers have in the House. This is an important element in the situation, because we have made clear to the Community on numerous occasions, and we shall be making clear again next week, that fishing is an important national interest for the United Kingdom and we intend to see that that national interest is protected in these negotiations.

We shall make clear also to the several Ministers in the Community that although we consider it to be highly unsatisfactory and worrying to out industry that a solution to these problems is taking so long to achieve, we shall not allow ourselves, because of our concern about the uncertainty in the industry, to be rushed into an unsatisfactory settlement of these difficult issues. When I say that, I know that we have the support of the industry itself, because it has said that it wants to see an early solution. More than an early solution it wishes to see a satisfactory one. But any member of the Community who believes that we shall be forced into an early solution for the sake of getting some solution at all is guilty of deluding himself.

The first matter with which I should like to deal tonight is the question of the internal régime and, in particular, the question of quotas. Let me pick up a point that was made a few moments ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). There is nothing wrong with quotas in themselves. Indeed, no system can be satisfactorily established without the allocation of quotas. What we have been saying, and what the House has been saying, is that quotas by themselves are ineffective unless they are buttressed by inspection, by licensing, by monitoring and by effective measures to make sure that the quotas are being enforced. We have that very much in mind in approaching the Commission's proposals for licensing, and so on. So far as the Commission accepts our views on these matters we welcome the advances that have been made, but we have a long way to go before, even if we get satisfactory quotas, we can be sure that in the event they will be carried out. We have that very much in mind.

In looking at the question of quotas and the allocations proposed by the Commission for next year—this is Document R/2434—we take account of two significant factors which we do not believe are adequately reflected—or indeed reflected at all—in the Commission's allocations. The first of these is that the United Kingdom contributes about 60 per cent. of the fish resources available in the waters within the jurisdiction of member States. No member of the Government has ever used the term "Community pond". We are talking about 200-mile limits, which are national limits which we put through the House for the United Kingdom in a piece of national legislation. If one looks at the total fish resources within all the waters of Community States one sees that 60 per cent. of the resources are contributed by the United Kingdom, and we are not willing to accept any quota allocations that do not recognise that fact.

The second fact that we believe must be taken fully into account is that this country has lost more than other countries. We are not absolutely exclusive in this, because there have been losses of third-country fishing opportunities by other members of the Community as well, but this country has lost more from the reduction in third-country fishing than has any other country within the Community, and that again must be recognised in any allocation of quotas.

The Commission's proposals do not recognise that. They are completely inadequate and, as has been said in the course of the debate, acceptance of the Commission's quotas—and it depends on how one does the calculation—would mean that the United Kingdom was being offered 26 per cent. of all the fish that the Commission is now proposing to allocate among member States, and only 20 per cent. of the total catch available to the Community, including possible allocations to third countries. Set against a 60 per cent. contribution and our losses from third-country waters those figures are completely inadequate.

That is not all, because we believe that the basis on which quotas are to be established should pay very much more regard than the Commission's proposals do so far to the rights of the coastal States. We have expressed that in three ways: first, that there ought to be an exclusive 12-mile coastal belt from which existing historic rights would be phased out; secondly, that the share of the fish within the 12 to 50-mile zone that is allocated to the United Kingdom should reflect our special coastal position and our contribution to the resources available to the Community—that is the dominant preference concept—and, thirdly, that we should get a satisfactory share of the remainder of the fish resources available to the Community, either within the waters of member States or elsewhere, and that takes account of the waters of the United Kingdom between 50 miles and 200 miles.

I emphasise a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes). The 50-mile zone is crucial for us since, although we can obtain all we require of some species within that zone, the 50-mile zone by itself will not be enough. We must not over-emphasise the 50-mile zone and ignore the opportunities that we must have between 50 and 200 miles and, where available, in third-country waters.

This is a variation on a concept that we put forward in May 1976 for a variable belt extending up to 50 miles. This was put forward in the belief that it would provide a satisfactory solution to the problems of the United Kingdom industry and a sufficient recognition of our interests as a coastal State. We shall be continuing to argue for these proposals at the meeting next week.

I agree with some of my hon. Friends that in conservation, the British industry, like others, has not been blameless. However, we have a rather better record than most other countries in Europe and successive British Governments have a better record than most other European countries.

We pressed for many years within NEAFC and recently the EEC for adequate international conservation measures to protect fish stocks. We shall continue to press these proposals until effective steps are taken by Community measures or otherwise to ensure that we shall have an adequate quantity of fish for human consumption. There is no doubt that certain species are extremely vulnerable and that without effective conservation, there is a danger of running them down to a wholly inadequate and dangerously low level.

The Commission proposals in Document R/2429 go a step along that road, but there are some serious omissions, including the right to take national conservation measures in the absence of a Community agreement. There is no satisfactory provision for the carrying of nets of different sizes. I note what the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said about the problems associated with this, but I am sure that he will agree that the practice of carrying nets for human consumption fishing and industrial fishing on the same vessel is highly unsatisfactory and we shall not be able to get satisfactory control over industrial fishing fleets until we can do something about that. The Commission's proposals do not take care of it.

On the question of by-catch limits for white fish taken in industrial fisheries, the percentages in the Commission proposals are wholly inadequate and should be considerably reduced. There are also a number of other omissions in the proposals that have come from the Commission so far.

We recognise that in some respects the Commission's proposals move a little forward from the very unsatisfactory situation that we had in NEAFC. It would be in the interest of the United Kingdom and our fishermen generally for us to attempt to improve the Commission's proposals, always with the reservation that we stick very firmly to the agreement reached in The Hague which allows national conservation measures to be taken in the absence of effective Community measures. We have used that provision on herring fishing in the North Sea and with the Norway pout box.

I repeat here what I have said to the Community—that we shall not hesitate to use these national conservation measures in the absence of effective Community provision. But I agree with those who have said today that, given the movement of fish stocks in different parts of the North Sea, for example, Community conservation, if it can be made effective by collective licensing and the rest, would have considerable advantages over national conservation measures. That is why, while we reserve our right to take national measures, we are anxious to build up the Community provision, too.

I was asked about the actions we have taken in this regard over herring and Norway pout. First let me deal with herring. We have a general ban on North Sea herring fishing until the end of the year. Our view at the moment, subject to whatever scientific advice we may receive, is that there is a strong case for continuing that ban into 1978 for a considerable period. That is the attitude that we shall be taking at the discussions next week.

I was asked about the French derogation. I do not believe that it can be justified on merit. I said so at the penultimate meeting in Luxembourg when the matter was argued by the French. The derogation is very limited. It affects only a comparatively small number of vessels which are not able to fish more than about three miles from the shore.

But if one is to have a complete ban one should ensure that it is complete. If there have to be derogations or exceptions, particular fisheries which are of concern to the United Kingdom must be considered. A number of local fisheries have been mentioned, so perhaps I should refer to the claims of the Shetlands. They have made very strong representations to us. We are considering whether we can make exceptions or whether it would not be better to stick to the complete ban. This matter will come up next week. I should not like to say what the conclusions of the United Kingdom Government will be on this, but I accept absolutely that it cannot be right to have small exceptions for the French and nobody else. That will be our attitude in next week's discussions.

I come now to the Norway pout box. We believe that the box is already too small for effective conservation. The present box conserves about 25,000 tonnes of white fish. If it were extended one degree eastward the saving of white fish could be doubled to 50,000 tonnes. Attempts were made at the last meeting of Fisheries Ministers in Luxembourg to persuade us that we should reduce the box even further. We said that in no circumstances were we willing to agree to that, and in the absence of an agreement in the Council of Ministers we have continued the box as a national conservation measure.

I say again that we shall be willing to do that as long as there is no effective Community conservation measure on Norway pout. There is a very important human consumption fishery to be preserved here. While we are not in principle opposed to industrial fishing, we are certainly against it where it is done at the expense of human consumption fishing.

I hope that I have covered some of the main points raised in the debate. I welcome the virtually unanimous support for what the Government are trying to do in these difficult negotiations, and I give every pledge that we are determined to get a satisfactory settlement because we believe that fishing is a vital British national interest.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/2147/77, R/2428/77, R/2429/77, R/2434/77, R/2521/77 and R/2642/77 on Fisheries.