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Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 21: debated on Thursday 1 April 1982

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what stage has been reached in negotiations for a European common fisheries policy; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Mick Buchanan-Smith)

Before answering the question, I apologise to the House for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister. Hon. Members will realise that he is at the Council of Agriculture Ministers' meeting which is continuing in Brussels.

To answer the question, progress has been made on marketing, conservation and the Community's reciprocal fishing arrangements with third countries. I reaffirm that the Government intend to continue to seek a satisfactory agreement on the outstanding issues as soon as possible.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In spite of the urgency, does he agree that it is crucial to achieve an agreement that is absolutely right in the interests of fishermen, consumers and the nation? Will he bear in mind that that decision must stand on its own merits? Does he agree that that is equally true for fishing and the price review? Does he hope for a fairly early decision on both those matters, even though other problems in the Community may arise?

I agree with my hon. Friend that fishing is such an important industry in Britain that the issue must be decided on its merits. We have made considerable progress on many issues. The fact that some are still outstanding demonstrates the strong line that the Government are taking on these extremely important matters.

In view of the advantageous position that will exist for our Common Market partners if no agreement is reached by the end of the year, may I ask what incentive they have for agreeing to anything less in the meantime? If that situation arises, what arrangements has the right hon. Gentleman made for the protection of our fleets?

The right hon. Gentleman should examine article 103 of the Treaty of Accession, which lays down that there should be new arrangements about the limitation of access. It is precisely on the matter of limitation of access that we are negotiating.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be no sell-out of fishing interests to obtain a satisfactory arrangement on the budget or prices, or something of that type? When will the Council of Fisheries Ministers next meet? Will he give an unequivocal undertaking that there will be nothing less than exclusive access for Britain up to a 50-mile limit?

The hon. Gentleman might acknoledge what I said earlier. We have already made considerable progress in several areas—progress that was not made under the Labour Government.

The Government had hoped that there would be a meeting towards the end of April, but that is not certain. There may be a delay. Nevertheless, we shall negotiate as strongly as we can in the interests of our industry.

I am aware that progress has been made, but is my right hon. Friend aware that most fishermen have given up hope of obtaining a satisfactory solution to the CFP before the end of the year? What actions do the Government propose to prevent foreigners from fishing right up to our beaches in the future?

No one should give up hope of a satisfactory settlement. We shall conserve and manage fishing resources properly only if we do so internationally, applying to fishermen everywhere. It is important for Britain's industry that we reach a satisfactory arrangement. If it should happen that there is no arrangement by the end of this year, I cannot imagine any British Government tolerating fishing up to our beaches.

Has the Minister seen the front page headlines in the Fishing News in the past two weeks, saying "Walker's got it wrong" and "Ministers are out of touch"? Has he no idea of the despair in the fishing industry? Does he recognise that the minor measures to which he refers are totally inadequate to meet the situation? When will the Government stop pussyfooting about in Brussels and bring forward a national programme to support our industry?

I should have more respect for what the hon. Gentleman says if he acknowledged that the Labour Government made no progress on marketing, reciprocal fishing arrangements or the national conservation measures agreed on a Community-wide level. He is taking a sour grapes attitude because he achieved nothing. It is the hon. Member who has got it wrong yet again.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the allegation that there is no confidence among fishermen is certainly not true on the South Coast, where we have every confidence that my hon. Friend will achieve a good and satisfactory negotiation? Will he reaffirm that the 12-mile exclusive limit—an object that we applaud—is still the Government's aim?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) were more in touch with the fishermen themselves, rather than merely with the organs of the media, he might get a truer picture of the situation.