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Fisheries Council

Volume 31: debated on Tuesday 9 November 1982

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4.1 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers held in Brussels on 8 November. I represented the United Kingdom, accompanied by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State.

The Danish Minister told the Council that his Government were unable to accept the package of measures which had been proposed by the Commission and agreed by nine member States at the Council on 25–26 October, and specifically informed the Council that they required licences in the north of Scotland box, quotas of west coast mackerel and improvements in their quotas of cod, haddock and saithe in the North Sea. The United Kingdom and eight other member States informed the Danish Minister that there would be no way in which they would agree to change the agreement of 25–26 October. The Commission suggested talks with the Danish Minister on any matters outside the agreement that could enable the Danish Minister to approve the package.

At the conclusion of many hours of talks the Danish Minister informed the Council that no suggestions had been made that would enable the Danish Government to give their agreement. The Commission and all the nine other member States expressed their strong disappointment and disapproval at the Danish Government's attitude. Following these expressions of disapproval, the Danish Deputy Prime Minister, who presided at the Council, proposed a suspension to enable the Danish Government to consider their position further. The Danish Minister then informed the Council that his Government would consider approval of the package at a meeting tomorrow, 10 November, and would then tell the Commission whether they could approve the package agreed by the other nine member States.

I hope that the Danish Government will approve the package, but if they do not the Council agreed to resume discussions before the end of the month to consider what national measures would be necessary to implement so far as possible the package agreed by nine member States to conserve Community fishing stocks and to allocate them fairly between member States.

Two weeks ago we discussed the British Government's surrender, which is no longer in dispute. If the Minister does not accept what I say, let him read the chorus of disapproval from every British fishery organisation.

That includes Austen Laing of the British Fishing Federation. We must now deal with the effects of that surrender.

Unfortunately, the statement is brief and leaves much unsaid. If the Danes continue to refuse to agree, precisely who will legally be involved in taking the necessary national measures? Will they be implemented by the other nine member States? Will the procedure be the equivalent of a majority vote, or will individual member countries undertake to police national measures?

The Minister said that if the Danish Government did not approve the package the Council would
"consider what national measures would be necessary to implement so far as possible the package agreed".
What is the significance of "so far as possible"? Does it mean that the Minister is not capable of taking the practical and logistical steps to protect our fishermen? Why did he tell them two weeks ago that he could not protect them if they did not accept the deal? If he is talking about legal problems, will he spell them out?

May I assure the Minister that if he brings measures before the House to give our fishermen full protection, even under the inadequate deal that he has secured, he will have our full support?

What does
"talks with the Danish Minister on any matters outside the agreement"
mean? Were futher concessions suggested? If so, were they perhaps related to third country waters, or did they involve matters other than fishing?

The Minister mentioned the Danish Government's attitude. May I remind him that, unlike our Government's attitude, it is determined by the right of that Parliament to see Common Market measures before implementing them? To ensure that the contingency plans to protect our waters—about which he will presumably shortly be telling us—are made known to the Danes and others, do we not need an early debate in Government time?

This is not a case for a majority vote. As has frequently happened under a Labour Government and under this Government, national fishery measures are approved by the Commission. The measures for Danish territorial waters cannot be imposed on the Danish Government in those waters. Labour and Conservative Governments have always believed it right to adhere to the Luxembourg compromise. I would not participate in a vote on the issue.

I understand that the measures discussed by the Commission with the Danish Government outside the agreement included measures within the marketing regulation, for which the Commission has a management right, for example, on providing a penetration premium on mackerel, which would be of advantage to the Danish industry and also to our mackerel fishermen. For 1982 alone there was also an offer by the Norwegian Government of 2,000 tonnes of cod. Those matters could not in any way affect the principles of the package agreed to by the Nine.

Because of the views of our fishing organisations, I am sorry that the Labour Party is not doing more to suggest that it is correct for the Danish Government to agree to the package. If it did so, that would be in the interests of Danish and British fishermen.

The hon. Gentleman says that there is a lack of support from the fishing organisations for our efforts. I have spent the past 24 hours with the leaders of those organisations and have no doubt about their deep desire that agreement should be reached. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the resentment expressed by the president of one organisation about his—the hon. Gentleman's—performance. He stated:
"Our decision was not influenced by the promise of money but was made after carefully weighing the facts and assessing the consequences of alternative actions. To suggest otherwise"—
which the hon. Gentleman did—
"is a slur on the integrity of myself and my colleagues and is deeply resented."

I was expecting that. I shall now quote what the director of the British Fishing Federation, Austen Laing, said about the deal:

"We have come out extremely badly indeed. … Our only real hope in distant waters is to expand the quotas available, but it is an extremely poor outlook."
He summed up the deal by saying that there was
"Nothing in it for deepsea men and there had not been all the way along."
Will the Minister tell us what contingency measures he is prepared to take? He has still not told us, and fishermen need to know. He will have read the letter from the Shetland council, which demands that the protection should be based on Shetland waters and not left to the capitals of the nine member countries of Western Europe.

As the hon. Gentleman wishes to quote Mr. Austen Laing, I am only too happy to do so. After the agreement he said:

"None of them should be allowed to obscure the great skill and nice judgment that Peter Walker and his ministerial colleagues have exercised."
He went on to say, accurately:
"The hand which he was obliged to pick up when he assumed office was a yarborough.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect carefully upon Austen Laing's words.

With regard to the national measures, as there will be no common fisheries policy, and presumably no Community legislation, will this country be legally entitled to modify those measures, as it thinks fit, in accordance with the interests of our fishing industry?

We have reached agreement with the nine member countries on the pattern of fishing that we think is sensible to conserve and therefore enhance fishing stocks and to provide British fishermen with fair quotas and access provisions.

We believe that the Commission and the nine member countries will agree to national measures that will enable us to keep to the spirit of that agreement.

Order. I propose to allow 20 minutes for questions. If hon. Members are succinct, we should get everyone in.

Have we not been generous to the Danes already? If they do not accept the agreement and we have to take national measures, is it intended that they should be allowed to fish up to the quotas already allocated, or will they be banned from our waters altogether?

That is something that must be discussed at the next Council of Ministers. My view is that they should be allowed to fish within our waters the quotas that have sensibly been allocated to them. I have no desire to have hostilities or war of any description with Denmark over fishing.

My hon. Friend says that we have been generous to the Danes. My view and that of the Commission and the other eight member States is that what is on offer to Denmark is a fair reflection of its historic fishing pattern. I am certain that the acceptance of such a package would be to the benefit of Danish fishermen and that its rejection would be to their disadvantage.

Is the Minister aware that there is some anxiety in my constituency about licences? People are worried about the size and number of boats to be licensed. Will the Minister make a statement about the number and size of boats that will be allowed to fish in the Shetland box?

I understood the Minister to say in his last statement that the measures agreed by the Nine would be enforceable against the Danes and that Danish fishing vessels transgressing would be liable to arrest. Will the Minister confirm that that is still the case?

There will be enforcement on Danish fishermen in all the European waters of the eight other member States. The measures would not be enforceable in Danish territorial waters.

The right hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone in the House that 80 per cent. of the fishing catch of the Shetland fishermen is within the 12-mile zone, which, except for one small area, remains exclusive under this arrangement. The Shetland area is the only area in Europe where there will be special licensing arrangements to conserve the fishing stocks of that area.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already had considerable discussions with the Shetland people, and I know that he is only too willing to continue to do so and to provide all the facts and details required.

Does the Minister recall that in his last statement he said that the proposed agreement was intended to run for 20 years? Since we have no agreement, but only a number of national decisions, what is to stop other countries from ganging up against us next year, as we appear to have ganged up against Denmark?

I hope that at tomorrow's meeting of the Danish Government the package will be agreed to. They received a firm message from the nine member States and the Commission that that is what is hoped and expected. In the interests of our fishing industry, and of all those of Europe, I hope that there will be agreement shortly. If there is not and national measures have to be undertaken, they will be undertaken by the nine member States and the Commission in agreement. That is a much safer and more secure position than would have obtained previously. However, it is obviously not as safe or as good as having an agreement that will last for 20 years. That is why we are seeking an agreement.

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that the package agreed by the Nine will be inviolable? If the Danes refuse to agree, will he ask our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to raise the subject at the summit meeting later in the year?

Not only the United Kingdom Government, but the eight other member Governments, made it clear yesterday, both at the beginning and end of the meeting, that there was no possibility of undoing the package agreed by nine countries. Those nine countries have made considerable efforts to reach an understanding, and I do not believe that any of them would find it possible to change the principle and detail of the package.

We made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that there was no possibility of Denmark's having a quota for mackerel on the west coast or licences in the north of Scotland box, because it has never had any historical right to either of those. It was made clear to the Danish Government by the member States around the Council table that if the Danes blocked such an agreement it would almost certainly become one of the major issues at the Copenhagen summit at the beginning of December.

In the light of the Minister's self-satisfaction about the agreement, may I ask whether he has read last week's issue of Fishing News, where one sees the contrast between the two columns of what we wanted and what we got? Is he aware of the report that the Danes are fishing in areas that have not been allocated to them? Will he confirm that and say what action he will take?

Having recently read Fishing News, when the whole of its front page described a meeting that I had with the National Federation of Fishermens Organisations and gave great detail of what happened, though the subjects that it mentioned were in fact not even discussed, I do not place too much reliance on what I read in Fishing News.

Having spent the whole of yesterday with the leaders of the Scottish fishing industry, and having read the comments about the statesmanlike qualities with which they supported the agreement, I am only too happy—for purely party political reasons—that the right hon. Gentleman's views on the subject are so different from those of the fishing industry.

Is the Minister telling the House that there is no possibility of what many of us term "the CFP charade" fading out at the end of the calendar year? If it does, the Minister will need a much larger fisheries protection squadron. In that event, will he consider converting and using along our coasts some of the vessels that are lying in Hull?

Irrespective of what happens at the end of this year, we have obtained a Community enforcement procedure which comes into force on 1 January. That will apply whether or not there is full agreement, because the Danes have already agreed the enforcement procedure. That means that supervision within our territorial waters—that is, up to a 200-mile limit, or the median line—is the responsibility of the British Government. The duty of the Minister responsible for fisheries is to ensure that adequate vessels and aeroplanes are available so that the job is well done.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Community of Ten agreed to conservation and associated measures such as supervision and policing? Irrespective of what transpires between now and January 1983, may we have an assurance that the measures will be introduced on that date and that they will involve the Commission's own input in terms of policing and enforcement?

Yes. I am pleased to say that when the British Government put forward a draft regulation, which became a Commission proposal, it was agreed that the date for enforcement should be either the date of a common fishing agreement or 1 January 1983. The measures will come into operation on 1 January 1983, irrespective of agreement being reached.

I may have misunderstood the Minister's last answer. If national measures have to be implemented, will the restructuring package go through, or is that an integral part which falls if there is lack of agreement among the Ten? If we have to consider national measures, will the Minister reconsider specific licensing proposals for the Shetland box, because there is great anxiety that the exclusion of vessels under 80 ft will render the licensing system meaningless and ineffective?

Certainly. The countries that have licences in the north of Scotland box genuinely share our desire that the fishing stock there should increase, not decline. Therefore, in the management of that box we do not have to face a country that wishes to exploit the box or decrease fishing stocks. We shall discuss with licence holders sensible arrangements to ensure that the box continues.

Restructuring aids are part of the total package. I suppose that in the event of a total package not being agreed there could be discussions between member countries about whether individual aspects of the package, such as some of the third country agreements and the restructuring package, could be agreed in isolation. We shall look into that with our colleagues.

Is the Minister aware that we prefer vessels to be used for fishing rather than protection, so that they can obtain food for people from the deep water? What compensation terms will he fix for the deep water fleet, which has lost heavily from the negotiations and the 200-mile extension, to ensure that ports such as Hull can maintain a viable deep sea fleet?

We shall have to examine the restructuring proposals, particularly in terms of the problems encountered by the long distance fleet. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the loss of the Icelandic waters was a considerable blow. Negotiations on the 200-mile limit were conducted in 1976 by a former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there is to be no majority voting in the Council, and that, if no agreement is reached with the Danes, there will be no common fisheries policy? In that case, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the pledge given in the House by the Minister of State on 21 October that fishing up to our shoreline by foreign fishermen to the detriment of our industry would not be allowed?

Yes. I repeat that pledge. One of the important features of obtaining an agreement with the eight other countries is that there will be no difficulty in the Commission's approving national measures to ensure that proposals on access which have been successfully negotiated come into force on 1 January.

Unfortunately, but as many of us predicted, it seems likely that it will be necessary to enforce the protection of our fishing grounds. Does the Minister agree that that will cost money? Since a Community package is involved, will the Community foot the bill for that enforcement? Will the Minister say more about the legal position here and in other Community countries?

Enforcement is a matter for national States. We are happy to take on our responsibilities to ensure proper enforcement in British territorial waters.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that what he said briefly about 2,000 tonnes of Norwegian cod will have no adverse effect on east of Scotland fishermen, who are accustomed to fishing in Norwegian waters? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we warmly welcome his assurance that if the Danes do not agree to the policy tomorrow the Prime Minister will take up the matter at the summit? Does he agree that that must have serious implications for the long-term health of the Community?

I shall convey to the Prime Minister my hon. Friend's views about the importance of the summit. My hon. Friend is talking about a quota of cod in a joint stock in the North Sea that belongs to the Norwegians. I understand that yesterday the Norwegians said that for 1982 they would transfer 2,000 tonnes of cod to the Danes if that would help the settlement. If that had been done, it would have made no difference to the quotas of cod agreed in the package that will apply for the next 20 years.

Is the Minister aware that the sell-out of the Shetland interest is unacceptable? Has he read the letter sent to hon. Members by the convenor of the Shetland council, which describes the proposals as disastrous? May we have an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman will not seek to implement the proposals in relation to Shetland and Orkney and that the indigenous fishing industry will be adequately protected, because it is crucial to the Shetland economy and will be necessary long after North Sea oil has run dry?

I note the hon. Gentleman's views. I suggest that he also takes the trouble to read the letter sent by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, commenting in detail on the Shetland position. Before the hon. Gentleman comes to a conclusion he should read that letter carefully. It shows that what we negotiated for the Shetland Isles is probably better than anything negotiated for any other part of Europe. Before the hon. Gentleman leaps to make suggestions on the basis of a letter from the convenor, he should consult some Scottish fishermen about what they think of the suggestions.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the Danish Government how much their agriculture depends upon housewives liking Danish bacon? Will he make it clear that if they stop the British housewife from obtaining fish she may go sour on the taste of bacon?

It is not for me to comment adversely upon our imports of foreign bacon, but I am pleased to say that the new Charter bacon campaign in Britain promoting a much better quality of British bacon already gives the Danes enough problems.

Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members who still wish to ask a question.

Is there any danger that British fishermen will be stopped from fishing in Norwegian waters, either because the Commission cannot now agree to allocate catches there or because the Nowegians will not enforce Commission measures against the Danes? What is the legal position of national conservation measures? I understand that national measures can be taken only if they are non-discriminatory. If a Danish skipper is brought before a British court on an access charge, will he be able to argue that the measures discriminate against the Danes or, as a second defence, that Community law supersedes British law and that the only Community law on access after 1 January is equal access up to the base line of the territorial sea?

No. That is not the view of the Commission, the British Government or the Danish Government, who have circulated advice to their parliamentary committee which makes clear their judgment of the legal position. Our view, and I think the Commission's view, is that if a Danish vessel went against a Commission-approved national measure it would be subject in British courts to a £50,000 penalty and the confiscation of fishing gear. That would be a legal right.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that Conservative Members will fully support him if he has to take national measures? He can do nothing else, even though it may be costly. In considering national measures, will he bear in mind the problem in the South-West of the Spanish boats that are registered in that area? That may be a way for the Spanish Government to get round the common fisheries policy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. What he said about Spanish vessels obtaining licences as part of the British fishing entitlement is of deep and real concern to me. I am discussing with the Commission and other countries in the Community what action can be taken speedily on this problem.

May I take up with my right hon. Friend the question of restructuring, which has already been mentioned? It was an integral part of the package which appealed to the fishermen. If it is not possible to get the money from Europe if we take national measures, will the Government then step in to make sure that the fleet is properly restructured?

Obviously, I hope that the restructuring package will be carried out on a European basis. I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the grants that are involved, and 50 per cent. of those grants would then come from Community financing. I hope that, irrespective of what happens in the next few weeks, we can reach agreement in that respect. Clearly it is the duty of the British Government to consider and decide what is necessary on restructuring.

I am sure that the House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for the resolute stance that they have taken in the European Economic Community to ensure that the package goes through. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Danes do not accept the package tomorrow they should be advised in no uncertain fashion that we have the necessary protection vessels to secure the waters around our shores and that, if necessary, we will use gunboats, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said, to keep them away from our waters?

I hope that the Danish Government will agree to this package tomorrow. I have no desire whatever to see gunboats operating against a close friendly country such as Denmark. We have a perfectly legal right to ensure proper enforcement and I assure my hon. Friend that that will happen.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Community, not the British taxpayer, will pay for the additional Nimrods and gunboats? Secondly, can he assure the House that under the terms of the Treaty of Accession—I am being fairly precise—and the Luxembourg compromise this House can take decisions which will not be referred to the European Court about the validity of any action that he may wish to take or introduce in this House to confirm British fishing rights? Otherwise, the proposals will be empty. We need a clear statement that we are empowered to take the necessary legal measures and that they will not be subject to the authority of an extra-British court. Will he urge on his colleagues the need to have a debate on this matter?

I should welcome a debate at any time. Now that the basic negotiations have been completed there is much that I should like to say in a debate in this Chamber about what has taken place throughout the negotiations.

The hon. Gentleman's first question was about enforcement in territorial waters. That is the responsibility of national Governments. This Government is happy to accept that responsibility, and we expect other countries to accept their share of responsibility.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's comment about the legal position and the European Court is that any person, organisation, Government or group can refer anything to the European Court. That has always been so, and nothing has changed in that respect. I am convinced that the Commission will approve national measures along the lines of the agreement of the Nine. That will make things completely legal.