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Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 19: debated on Sunday 4 April 1982

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what stage has been reached in negotiations for a common fisheries policy.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current position in respect of the negotiations for a revised European Economic Community common fisheries policy.

Progress has been made on marketing, on conservation and on the Community's reciprocal fishing arrangements with third countries.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the need for certainty over the future of the fishing industry is urgent, it would be nothing but a hindrance to the successful conclusion of negotiations if a time limit were publicly placed upon the negotiations?

It is extremely important for the negotiations to proceed as expeditiously and constructively as possible. That is important not only to our fishermen but for the proper management of the resources in the sea.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing anxieties of inshore fishermen in the far southwest about the future status of the 6 to 12-mile bands once a common fisheries policy is obtained? Is he aware that local fishermen believe that in future that area should be fished exclusively by United Kingdom fishermen?

I am aware of that. My hon. Friend has been vigorous in the House in expressing that view. Our objective is to obtain a 12-mile exclusive zone. In the negotiations it is necessary to take account of the historic rights of people who have fished in that area. That we have not reached a conclusion to the negotiations yet is a sign that we are not prepared to settle for just any settlement.

Earlier the Minister said that he had met the industry's leaders on 17 February. Is he aware that the leaders met hon. Members in Westminster Hall before he met them, when there was an air of solid, 100 per cent. inspissated gloom? Did the Minister manage to convert them? Were they persuaded by what he said about the common fisheries policy?

Of course the fishing industry is anxious about its future, just as the Government are anxious about its future—[Interruption.]—I share the hon. Gentleman's genuine concern about the opportunities that our fishermen will enjoy. That is why it is important to get the right settlement. The fishing organisations have been represented throughout the negotiations and we shall consult them fully before any conclusion is reached.

I assure the Minister that this Government have a future. During that future will he press on with determined negotiations with the European Community, and, in those negotiations, make sure that we have beam trawling regulations that are no less favourable to our fishermen than they are to those on the other side of the North Sea and the Channel?

The fishing industry would have been perfectly justified in wondering whether it had any future under the Labour Government. From this Government it has received considerable aid and considerable progress has been made in many aspects of the common fisheries policy, such as those that I mentioned, including marketing and conservation. In answer to the specific matter that my hon. Friend raised, we have issued a consultation document, and I am considering the representations that have been made following those consultations.

Does the Minister realise that our only anxiety about the future of this Government is that it should be as short as possible? It has already been pretty nasty and brutish, for a start. May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the future of the British fishing industry, instead? Time is running out. We are moving into dangerous waters and, by the way, we are not leaving ourselves many dangerous waters to get into. Will the Minister assure us that there will be no agreement short of a 12-mile exclusive and a 50-mile dominant preference? Will he follow the excellent example of Greenland and get out of the market so that we may settle our own water limits?

I should have more respect for the hon. Gentleman's comments if he at least acknowledged the progress that has been made and the way in which this Government have helped the industry. Instead of being a prophet of gloom, he should show a constructive, not a destructive, spirit. Then I would more easily appreciate what he says.