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Fish Guide Prices

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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10.13 pm

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

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10701/82 on fish guide prices for 1983 and supports the Government's intention to seek to secure improvements in the level of prices proposed.

The motion makes it clear that the Government found the Commission's proposals for guide prices to apply in 1983 under the Community's fish marketing regime unsatisfactory and that we are determined that they should be improved.

I should like to say a word about guide prices generally, what they are and why they are a matter of so much concern to all those with interests in the fishing industry. As the House knows, guide prices have to be set by the Council each year. The Commission's proposals for 1983 are set out in the papers that we are discussing tonight. But agreeing on guide prices is not the end of the story. Once they are settled, they are used to calculated Community, or official, withdrawal prices and reference prices.

Official withdrawal prices are operated by producers' organisations. Members of producer organisations which choose to operate the EC support system for any or all of the species covered by the EC marketing regime must withdraw fish that cannot be sold at or above the official withdrawal price from the market. They then receive FEOGA compensation for doing that.

Reference prices apply to imports from third countries. If prices of imports into the Community market fall below the reference price level and significant quantities are being imported, measures may be taken to require that the reference price is observed. Those prices are set by decisions in the management committee, which cannot, of course, be taken before the Council has reached its own decision on guide prices. I emphasise that point because it is evident that if no agreement is reached on guide prices in reasonable time during December in each year it becomes impossible to complete all the stages in time for all the new prices—the new official withdrawal prices, and reference prices—to be applied from 1 January, the beginning of the fisheries marketing year. We are now coming up against the deadline.

Returning now to the Commission's proposals, I have already said that we found them unsatisfactory. The proposals cover a fairly extensive list of species. Some of them are species in which our industry has no particular interest—anchovies, for example. In some cases, we found the Commission's proposals satisfactory—for example, those for herring and mackerel.

I shall therefore confine my remarks to the proposals for the principal white fish—cod, haddock and so on—which are of particular interest to our fishermen. Our position has been—and we have pressed this very hard in negotiation—that the increases proposed for the principal white fish species were too small. The Commission's proposals originally envisaged increases ranging from 2 per cent. for haddock to 5 per cent. for cod.

In our view, the implied corresponding increase in official withdrawal prices was far less than was needed to provide effective support for our catchers. Because withdrawal prices have in the past been set well below the normal level of prices in our market, we took the view that much bigger increases could be made without damage to the consumer's interest, which is important, and without risk of any dramatic increase in the level of withdrawals.

I have to tell the House, however, that that view was not shared by a majority of the other member States, many of which found the Commission's proposals broadly acceptable. Some, indeed, suggested that they were over-generous.

In the negotiations we found ourselves in a minority position in the discussion of the price changes to be made for the species of most importance to us. One of the reasons why we face such difficulties in securing agreement on withdrawal prices at a level that we would like to see operating in our market is that for some key species our prices tend to be higher than the Community average so that a price that our producer organisations could readily defend might mean increased withdrawals in some other member States. That is why we were so determined to get agreement to a new arrangement—called "a fourchette"—in the new EC marketing regulation, which we negotiated and which comes fully into effect on 1 January. That new arrangement allows a producer organisation to operate a withdrawal price somewhat higher than the official withdrawal price, without loss of title to FEOGA compensation for withdrawn fish, if the situation in its local market makes that seem sensible. I shall return to that point later.

I have tried to outline the background for the information of the House. Against that background, I am pleased to tell the House that, despite all the difficulties, we have been successful in securing a substantial improvement in the Commission's proposals. That means that it is now proposed that the increase in the guide price for haddock should be 5 per cent. instead of 2 per cent. as originally proposed. For whiting the increase now proposed is 6 per cent. For cod we are talking about an increase of 9·5 per cent. instead of 5 per cent.

I readily admit—I make no secret of this—that this does not give us all that we would have liked or all that we first asked for. However, I believe that if we tried to go further in the negotiations we should be unlikely to secure anything better. If we went further, we should be without effective support from other Community countries. Indeed, in the final stages of the negotiations Ireland was virtually the only country to support us.

In my judgment, the effect of insisting on a further period of negotiation would be to delay the introduction of the new prices so that our fishermen would go into next year having to operate the current year's prices. My consultations with the industry suggest that the fishermen would rather be sure of having the new increases from 1 January than hope for a rather better but hypothetical increase later. Moreover, if we allowed the matter to continue beyond 1 January negotiations would have to be resumed under a new presidency—on the basis of the Commission's original proposals and not necessarily on the basis of the improvements that we have so far succeeded in negotiating and which are now on the table.

My judgment, for which I ask the consideration and support of the House today, is therefore that if we pressed the matter any further there would be a real risk of losing the gains that we have managed to make. In our view, therefore—this is why we have brought the matter before the House—the time has now come to settle.

Although I freely admit that the increases that we have negotiated are not as great as those that I should have liked, I do not think that the present proposals are particularly poor. They represent a considerable improvement on the Commission's original proposals and their value to our producer organisations is clearly enhanced by the fact that it will be open to the producer organisations, if they think that the market will take it, to add 5 per cent. to the official withdrawal prices. We are, therefore, now effectively talking about increases of 10 per cent. for haddock, for example, and 15 per cent. for cod.

I wish to make two further points. First, in the course of this year's negotiations and in the face of widely conflicting views about where guide prices should be set, the Commission said that it was considering setting in hand an in-depth study of these prices and their effect on prices in the open market. The aim is to provide a better basis for future decisions. We welcome that proposal and we shall give the Commission all the help that we can in seeing that it is followed up. We are confident that it will help us in our future negotiations and in our efforts to see that guide prices are set at realistic levels.

Secondly, decisions on guide prices and withdrawal prices, important as they are, are only part of the story. The withdrawal prices system can never aim to do more than to put a floor in the market. There will always be arguments about where floor prices should be set. Some want them set high, with the ever-present risk of encouraging "fishing for the guarantee", which I do not think that any of us really wants. Others want them set so low that they provide no real support for the industry. Striking the right balance can never be easy.

Wherever the prices are set, however, the real key to improved returns and to improved profitability is for the catchers to get the best possible prices for their fish in the open market. This means paying attention to quality., the way in which the fish is handled, better phasing of landings—in short, improved marketing. These are problems that the industry has to tackle for itself. The producer organisations have a role to play which, I am glad to say, most of them accept constructively and positively. The Sea Fish Industry Authority, too, has a key role to play. At the end of the day, however, no organisation can achieve all that it could without the full-hearted and consistent support of the many thousands of individuals who go to make up the fishing industry.

Will the Minister say a word about two items which have for the first time been brought within the marketing scheme—edible crabs and particularly nephrops, which he will be aware are an important and valuable catch for Northern Ireland? Why have those two species been brought in at this stage and do any difficulties or problems attach to them which the Minister expects to be affected one way or another by the new marketing scheme?

I did not mention that earlier, for the sake of brevity in trying to explain the background. The new species—particularly dogfish and ling—are covered, and for the first time compensation is available for those. Salmon and lobster have also been covered. The new marketing regulations provide for compensation to community producers on the basis of a deficiency payment system.

Details of that system have not yet been worked out and we are pressing the community on that. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) mentioned two other species—edible crabs and Norwegian lobsters. Setting up guide prices for each of those species provides a basis for activating article 16 of the new marketing regulations by means of private storage aid where the price of the Community product falls below 85 per cent. of the guide price and there is a trend towards a disturbance of the market. We have not yet worked out with the producer organisations how that storage aid will work. We hope to be able to do so in consultation with them in the weeks and months ahead.

The Government believe that this extension is worthwhile. We worked for it in relation to the original marketing regulations. However, we shall have to wait to see how it will work in practice. We want to see it working satisfactorily, if possible.

10.27 pm

We have had our conflicts with the Government on the fishing industry over the past few months, but I do not think that this is such an occasion. However, I do not think that it would be right merely to let matters pass without comment, especially as they concern an industry whose future is in fairly grave difficulties as a result of our presence within the EC.

In considering the future floor for our fish prices, it is as well to keep in mind some of the difficulties which we will still have to debate before there is a satisfactory solution. It is wrong that we should be discussing fish prices today before we have had an opportunity to debate the wider issues which affect the British fishing industry. Prices, and any other aspect which affects the fishing industry, should be discussed in the exact knowledge of what will happen to the industry and with the confidence of obtaining a better deal. Both points necessitate debate.

The Minister will understand if I first express my astonishment at the Prime Minister's remarks this afternoon. I listened carefully to what she said and I understood her to say that there would be no debate in the House on the deal that has been agreed in Brussels in relation to quotas, limits and the common fisheries policy for the next 20 years until that deal is wholly accomplished.

The difficulty is that we do not know whether the deal will be accomplished. The Danes may not accept it and we may be placed in a tricky legal position. If there is agreement, I should have thought that at least the House, the country and our fishermen should have the same assurance that Denmark has, that the deal will be reported back to and discussed by Parliament so that a mandate may be given to the Ministers before there is agreement or otherwise.

I was astonished to hear the Prime Minister say today that there would be no debate until agreement had been reached because the agreement might be jeopardised. The agreement was no good in the first place, and we do not mind placing it in jeopardy because then it may be improved.

My next point is more favourable. The Opposition have always taken the view that our industry should have a proper support system. Unfortunately, however, it is difficult to have a support system for an industry that is much smaller than the one we would have had if we had received a better deal from the Common Market. Our greatly reduced fishing industry is even more keen to have a proper support system comparable to that existing for agriculture.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has managed to improve the level of price increases. The price increase for cod has been improved by about 5 per cent. and that for haddock to 5 per cent. The Minister will understand that I give a limited welcome to his achievements. We must accept, however, that a system of minimum prices for fish has never applied to the fishing industry in the way that a price structure has applied to agriculture where support starts below market prices and occasionally below minimum prices.

In view of the condition in which the Government have left the fishing industry at ports such as Humberside, we believe that we might have achieved more if we were not in the Common Market.

I understood the Minister to say that he considered the prices insufficient but that he could not negotiate further because we might have lost everything. He says that the proposals were not good enough for our industry but that they had to be accepted. I congratulate him on achieving something. It was the best he could do in the circumstances.

The Minister said that help was to be given to local areas to operate their own producer schemes. I understand that there are virtually no producer schemes operating south of the border.

According to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, most of the producer schemes have collapsed. When we talk about those that are left, we should talk also about what the position should have been. There is no point in reacting in the way that hon. Members have. The Scottish fishermen tell me that all autonomous producer organisation support schemes in Scotland have been abandoned because it is no longer possible to support them.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the extra 5 per cent. is new and that the industry must consider it?

I understand that, but the Minister has not justified the claim that the new price level will make it easier for any producer-supported scheme. It is no longer possible to support producer organisation support schemes, and everyone in Scotland is now working to official withdrawal prices. I assume that that must apply even under the new scheme. However, we shall give every encouragement to any improvements.

Certain anxieties have been expressed. Perhaps the Minister would comment on the recent incident at Stornoway, in the Hebrides. About 200 tonnes of fish were caught. FEOGA prices were paid for withdrawal and the fish were dumped in the sea. I was there when it happened. I understand that the incident was due to the inadequacy of fishmeal factories in the area. There is no point in having a withdrawal price structure if there is no means of coping with the withdrawal and if 200 tonnes of dead fish are dumped into the sea.

We accept and support the measure for the industry, but the industry's position must be understood. I should have like to know to what extent protection is given by the minimum import effect of the support structures and prices, when there is a £250 million deficit for fish and fish products for human consumption. The figure has been high in previous years and is high now. What support can we expect to alter the position if the prices are put into operation?

I do not want to start a major conflict now about fishing in general. We have had our say, but the Minister should communicate to his right hon. Friend the Minister and the Cabinet the imperative demand that is made by fishing organisations and by us. I refer to the demand that the deal negotiated so far should be presented to the House. We are only three weeks from the end of the derogation. We do not know whether the deal made for nine countries will stand up to European law, or whether British law will prevail. We do not know under what conditions our fishermen have to accept the prices.

We congratulate the Minister on achieving some improvements. We recognise, however, that nothing compensates for the massive loss of potential quotas and of British waters under the deal agreed so far.

10.35 pm

As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, the guide prices determine the level of withdrawal prices that are operated by the Yorkshire and Anglia Fish Producers Organisation, which is still in operation. Therefore, they are vital to fishermen in the Bridlington constituency, particularly in years such as this, when the markets have at times been unstable and in disarray. During the past year, substantial quantities of fish have been withdrawn from sale because of the failure to reach withdrawal prices. There is no sign that the instability of markets will lessen in 1983. Therefore, withdrawal prices will be just as important to my fishermen next year as they have been this year.

Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome aims to guarantee a fair income to agricultural producers, including fishermen. One of the main ways of achieving that is through withdrawal prices. The criticism of Bridlington fishermen is that the withdrawal prices that were in existence when we entered the EEC in the 1970s were too low. Those problems have been made worse as each year, at the annual review, they have not been increased in line with inflation. Thus, they have become progressively unrelated to the market price and to the cost of production. Almost all the boats that sail from Bridlington benefit at some time from withdrawal prices, and so the low level has had an adverse effect on our fleet. Although it is very efficiently operated and catches species that are in public demand, it is in a parlous financial state and is not generating sufficient profits to finance the renewal of an ageing fleet.

My right hon. Friend gave us details of the Commission's original proposals, which were completely unrealistic. Had they been accepted, it would undoubtedly have led to a reduction in the real earning capacity of our fishermen. During the past four years, fishermen have had to meet increased costs of almost 50 per cent. It is grossly unfair that, year after year, the Commission's proposals for increasing the guide prices are considerably lower in percentage terms than its proposals for increasing farm prices. If my right hon. Friend knows the reason for the difference, perhaps he can inform the House about it in reply.

The fishermen of Bridlington believe that a reasonable increase in cost for the various species would be about 10 to 25 per cent. At first sight, that may seem to be a rather large increase, but, bearing in mind that it would merely bring the level of withdrawal prices back to what it was three to four years ago in real terms, it is not unreasonable. The increases would not be transferred to the consumer. Although the Government have not achieved those levels, I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on making significant improvements. To have almost doubled the increase in cod prices, which is an important species to Bridlington fishermen, to 9½ per cent. is much better than one may have expected. Haddock prices have been more than doubled. If one adds to that the ability of the fish producers' organisation to add a further 5 per cent. to the price when the new marketing arrangements begin on 1 January—with the FEOGA grants still being available—there will be an increase of about 14½ per cent. on North Sea cod, which is still the most important species.

I know that my right hon. Friend would have wished to see a larger increase this year, but I accept that it is important that the new prices should be in operation by 1 January. We cannot forget the fact that we are at a critical stage in the negotiations on a common fisheries policy. My right hon. Friend has probably screwed out of our EC partners as much as anyone could manage this year. My right hon. Friend's record during the past three years has not been bad. He has secured increases that were 50 per cent. higher than the increases secured by the Labour Government in their last three years in office.

Another matter to which my right hon. Friend might reply, because it has caused some anxiety in Bridlington, is the report in Fishing News that the number of EC inspectors who will be responsible for enforcing the new conservation regulations will be 13 and not 30, as was originally announced.

Was the hon. Gentleman present at Prime Minister's Question Time today when she insisted that 13 was an adequate number—a view that neither he nor share?

I was present at Prime Minister's Question Time and I shall wait with interest to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say about my point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wait with equal interest.

Despite the congratulations that are being given to the Minister, apparently by both sides of the House, I hope that he will be able to assure us that next year he will go into the negotiations determined to get an even larger price increase for our fishermen to offset the low increases in previous years. If he is able to do so, he will play a significant part in increasing the profitability of our fleet so that we can embark on a policy of progressively replacing the older boats.

10.46 pm

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), even though I took issue with him about the inspectorate, to which I shall return in a moment, I agreed with most of what he said. Perhaps it is a good thing that from time to time some emphasis is placed from both sides of the House on the importance of the East Coast of England part of the fishing industry, where the producer organisations operate—both the one to which he referred and the Anglo-Scottish Fish Producers Organisation—and have an important part to play.

I thank the Minister for his explanation and for the negotiating effort he has put into the business of withdrawal prices, while so much else was going on. There has been a significant improvement, although I take the view, as do most fishermen, that the withdrawal prices are ludicrously out of line with the realities of the market and compare unfavourably, as has been pointed out, with the rate increase in farm prices in a number of commodities. There does not appear to be the political steam in Europe behind the market mechanisms for fishing that there is behind the market mechanisms for farming.

When the Minister referred to the additional 5 per cent. that the producer organisations could add to the price and seek to support out of their own funds, I assume that he was presuming that this would not lead to massive disbursements from those producer organisation funds which are still operating.

The great difference between the new scheme and the old one is that withdrawals are then eligible for funding out of compensation under FEOGA.

I had assumed—perhaps I shall receive the right answer by this process of exchange—that the additional 5 per cent. levels, to which the Minister referred, which would be going beyond the European price, would not be eligible for reimbursement from FEOGA funds. If I am wrong in that assumption, perhaps the Minister will clear the matter up, but if I am correct that they will have to find that money because they are going beyond what the Community considers necessary, are we to assume that this will lead to a substantial drain on funds? Alternatively, are we to assume that the gap remains so wide between real prices and withdrawal prices plus 5 per cent. that it will not have any great practical effect at all, in which case the discussion is academic?

The Minister will not be surprised if I refer to substantial landings that take place outside the ambit of producer organisations and outside the influence that they can have on the market. If substantial numbers of non-members land catches continually below withdrawal prices, they are thereby able to influence the market in that area. Will the Minister bring us up to date on his thinking and the Government's thinking on market management, where large numbers of non-members are landing? I mention that particularly because of the extensions that have been talked about involving, for example, edible crabs. In that sector of the industry one finds a particularly large number of small fishermen—the backbone of the fishing industry in many of the smaller villages—who are often not members of producer organisations. That must be a more difficult market to manage.

I thought for a fleeting moment that the Minister had mentioned salmon. I do not know whether I was correct in that. I have combed the documents for this reference to salmon. Perhaps, when he replies, he will say a little more about it. Operating arrangements of this type in the salmon market would be about as difficult as anything we do in salmon fishing, which is about the most controversial subject with which I have to deal in my work as a Member of Parliament. It may surprise those Members who do not have fishing interests to realise that there is no more controversial and difficult subject than that of the salmon fishery. It involves large numbers of people in different types of fishery, most of whom do not belong to producer organisations. It would be a difficult area in which to operate a withdrawal scheme. I hope that the Minister will clarify, generally, and in respect of new species, the area in which this sort of marketing system might operate.

Earlier today we were discussing the inspectorate system which was supposed to be part of the common fisheries policy package and which was part and parcel of Britain's acceptance of it. I was worried by the announcement that the number of inspectors to be employed at the European level is to be more than halved, and by the Prime Minister's blanket endorsement of that decision this afternoon. She seemed to say that she was entirely satisfied that 13 men could do the job more than adequately. That was not the Government's view when they agreed to 30 in the first place. I ask the Minister to clarify that issue when he replies.

10.51 pm

I am pleased to make a brief speech on a subject that is important to my constituency. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on staunchly supporting the British fishing industry throughout the difficult years of negotiations. I am sure—I know that there are Opposition Members who take the same view—that no one could have done any better. It is rather sad to hear an Opposition spokesman on fisheries, especially with a name such as Buchan, who represents an area from which so much fish comes—I refer to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan)—representing the fishing industry's views so poorly, especially this section of the industry. I pride myself on knowing just a little about what the fishermen are saying.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the prices are not high enough. They will, of course, never be high enough to meet all demands. The livestock compensatory allowances are never enough and neither are the other guaranteed prices for farmers. Comparisons between farm intervention prices and fish withdrawal prices are rather curious. That is not comparing like with like and we should not try to compare the respective levels.

The term "withdrawal prices" is rather unfortunate. I should much prefer "residual prices". I do not wish "withdrawal prices" to alienate the buyers in the market. Buyers are sometimes annoyed when there is a great amount of fish withdrawn, especially if the price is at about the market price and they do not get the benefit. That is why I welcome the sheepmeat regime that my right hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, were able to secure in Europe. It uses a deficiency payments scheme and a similar scheme would be better for fish. I welcome my hon. Friend's statement that there is a degree of deficiency payment in the new scheme.

Marketing is tremendously important and we must not encourage the catching of fish for withdrawal prices. That is the difficult decision that has to be made in determining the level of prices. The marketing of fish is far more important than the withdrawal scheme. It is necessary to retain something of that type to level out the fluctuations that may arise in supply and demand in the fish market. I hope that a means of doing something with the fish that are withdrawn can be found rather than good fish being made straight into fish meal. I hope that there will be some way of preserving them so that they can be put on the market at a time of more scarcity, so that their numbers do not disrupt the market.

With those few remarks, I shall allow the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) to have his say as usual. I am sorry that it may prove not to be constructive.

10.55 pm

How can I live down such a claim as the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) made? Deeply moved as I am by the lemming-like loyalty of Conservative Back Benchers for untenable positions, I must express my disappointment at the Minister's statement.

I was disappointed by the low increases of the guide prices that the right hon. Gentleman reported. I was also disappointed by his reaction, which was the ritual wringing of hands. The Minister is congratulated on his record, but that record essentially comprises a refrain as on a pop record. It goes "It is not good enough, but if we try to get anything better we shall endanger the whole thing."

That has been the Minister's refrain throughout the Common Market negotiations. That is what he is saying now. He is saying that the prices are not good enough, that they will be of little help to the industry but that if he attempts to improve them we shall lose even the minimal gains that have been made. The fact that Conservative Back Benchers bleat their congratulations on such a dismal report shows how out of touch they are with the realities of the industry.

We have an incomprehensible document. It is written in Eurospeak. We are given definitions of ecus per tonne for guide prices which mean nothing to the fishermen whom I represent. The terms are not adequately translated for those fishermen. Moreover, the promises in the explanatory memorandum are not kept in the text of the document. It refers to the stabilisation of market prices and support of the producer's income, neither of which will be attained by the low increases that are set out in the memorandum.

The essential point is that the prices are too low initially and that the increase is much too low. If the market has stabilised in the past year—fortunately, it has to some extent—it is a stabilisation that is largely due to accidental factors and hardly anything to do with Common Market machinery and market management of which so much has been promised, but which has delivered so little.

The subject is vital. It is as important as the battles that are being fought over the common fisheries agreement and the tirade of denunciation against Denmark.

I listened with horror to the Prime Minister's announcement of the Euroforce—or the Eurofarce as it will probably be. It has been reduced from the original 40 to 13 inspectors to police so many countries, administrations, ports and square miles of ocean. It is ludicrous. She did not stop there but went on to say that, from 1 January, there would be fishing up to the beaches. She said that as a rebuke to the Opposition.

It is the first time that that has been stated officially from the ministerial side. It denies all the promises about derogation that were made during the negotiations in 1972 by Ministers in the Government that was formed by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). What the Prime Minister said this afternoon does not accord with what the Minister has been saying throughout the negotiations—that we do not accept that position. This afternoon, the Prime Minister seemed to accept it. In doing do, she is saying that we have no means of policing Danish catches by national measures. If that is accepted as the position under the 1970 regulation, we are agreeing that there is no legal validity for national measures. I was horrified by what the Prime Minister said.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst aspects of the Prime Minister's statement was that it was made in defence of her refusal to have a debate in the House on the grounds that this might affect the agreement and that, without an agreement, there would be fishing up to our beaches?

My hon. Friend has underlined the point I made. In considering the guide prices, it is necessary to refer to the basic regime determined for agriculture by the Treaty of Rome. Article 39 of the Treaty states that the aim is

"to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture"
"to stabilise markets."

Article 38 states that fishing is to be treated in the same way as agriculture. The result has been enormous expenditure and the turning of the EC into essentially an agricultural protection society, devoting two-thirds of its revenue and next year, following this year's harvest, more to agriculture. That has not been done for fishing. The aim of
"increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture"
while achieving a fair standard of living for the fishing community has not been achieved. The amount of support given by the British Government to fishing is pathetic compared with the support given to agriculture. A book written by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) and published this week entitled "Agriculture: The Triumph and the Shame" assesses the aid given to agriculture domestically at £3·3 billion a year. The Government are pouring in two days into agriculture more than they are pouring in a year into fishing, which has been badly battered particularly by the Common Market, to which the Government attach so much importance.

It is not only the Common Market that has failed to fulfil its promise to fishing. The Government have not fulfilled their obligations to fishing, to redress the problems caused by the Market itself. Both the Government and the Market have failed over fishing. There has been no recompense for the losses sustained in Iceland. There has been increased competition from fleets more heavily subsidised than ours for a diminishing catch in the North Sea. Fishing is in a desperate situation. The collapse within the past fortnight of Consolidated Fisheries in Grimsby is a major blow to a port where survival is becoming a house of cards scenario. More losses could endanger the whole structure of fishing and associated industries.

The industry is burdened with debt. It is not making sufficient money to invest or to replace the old vessels that are the basis of the industry. Interest rates have also increased again. There is need for aid and restructuring. There is need for orderly marketing and assured markets, which will stabilise the income of fishermen and bring the cost of catching fish and the prices for which it is sold into sensible relationship. The regime now under discussion is totally inadequate. The guide prices are far too low. They started off too low. The industry was told that there would be an adjustment upwards. That promise has not been fulfilled. Based on a three-year moving average, the prices move up very slowly. They have not kept pace with inflation.

The over-valuation of the pound sterling therefore makes the United Kingdom very attractive to imports. The fact that the guide prices are too low leads to other problems. It leads to official withdrawal prices that are too low. The whole structure is based on the guide prices. I am not sure how much the official withdrawal prices amount to in Grimsby, but I would be surprised if they amount to more than £20 a kit. They are totally inadequate to support the market. If the official withdrawal price is too low, it does not hold up prices but it brings them down. Prices come down towards the official withdrawal price. Far from supporting the market, it is a drag on the market.

Our experience in Grimsby has been very unfortunate regarding withdrawal prices. We did have an autonomous scheme of withdrawal prices a decade ago, that autonomous scheme of withdrawal prices worked well. Britain was making big catches in Iceland, and the catches from British vessels contributed to the levy to support the withdrawal price scheme, as a result of which there was a good financial reserve. When the reserve had to be invoked, the money was available to pay for the scheme. In February 1980, that autonomous withdrawal scheme collapsed. The prices for withdrawal were better than those being offered in the Common Market. It collapsed because an increasing part of the market was filled by imports that were not contributing to the scheme. The domestic landings were not enough to finance it, the strain was too much and the scheme collapsed. It cannot now be revived. The Minister called it the "fourchette". I am not sure why. Will the extra 5 per cent. payable under that scheme be paid by the local producers' organisation or will it be payable out of the FEOGA grant? If it is paid by the local producers' organisation, it will face the same problems as the autonomous scheme in Grimsby, which has already failed.

Far from being the great innovation, the fourchette may turn out to be a repetition of the scheme that has floundered already. We do not now operate an autonomous withdrawal scheme in Grimsby. We should, but without adequate withdrawal prices and the finance to back it, we cannot provide the basic support for the market.

Each time there has been a flood of imports, Ministers have promised that they will fight hard to get official withdrawal prices pushed up, yet they are never pushed up to a level that is anywhere near adequate to support the market.

I can see why. The Germans are interested in the processing side, which dominates the catching side, and do not want the official withdrawal prices pushed up. They are big contributors to the budget, and they do not want to spend more money. The French are interested in the fuel subsidy, which keeps down their catching costs. The French also have a central agency for fish sales, which guarantees and tops up prices. They do not want official withdrawal prices put up. Our industry desperately does. In failing to achieve that, the Minister is failing the industry. Fishing needs the same amount of provision, the same kind of adequate marketing and the same withdrawal prices as agriculture if it is to prosper in the way that agriculture is prospering. It is unreasonable that a structure so patently devoted to agriculture is not paying out benefits to fishing as an industry that has been severely hit. The same problem affects reference prices, which allow imports to come in at far too low a price for the health of the domestic catching industry.

Fishing is not getting the support that it was promised through these pricing and marketing arrangements. We were told that the Common Market would agree to proper and orderly market support. We have not got that. It is not working. It cannot work. Having failed to get it, the responsibility falls on the Minister to compensate out of national funds for the failures of the Market.

The Minister cannot have it both ways. If the Market, from which so much is promised, does not provide adequate prices or some relationship between the price at which the fish is sold on the market and the cost of catching that fish, the national Government must step in to redress the balance and compensate the industry for what it is not getting from the Market.

If the European Community will not do that, the Government must. Instead, the Government have failed on both fronts. They keep telling us of their failure to get a better deal, better prices and better official withdrawal prices and then say "We have failed there, but we shall not provide adequate domestic finance either". That shows that the future for the industry will be as tough as the last two years have been.

11.10 pm

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) is rarely wrong, and he certainly was not wrong tonight when he predicted the speech of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). What an absolute travesty of the truth! We heard about up-bidding, but the hon. Gentleman merely plays and toys with words. He called on the Government to help the industry through national aids, but he did not say a word about the £15 million aid scheme—

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman can play with words to his heart's content, but so long as he deals only in the froth we cannot accept that he understands the industry.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) raised a number of wider issues. He heard what the Prime Minister said earlier today, and I stand absolutely by that. The reason he complains is because of sour grapes arising from the fact that the industry has supported the package that nine countries of the Community have agreed. It is in that sense that I respond.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) and others asked whether fishing and agriculture were dealt with differently. There is a different way of dealing with these two subjects, because the machinery, mechanics and institutions for dealing with fish prices are different.

We must get this argument in perspective. If one compares different commodities in agriculture and fish, one finds that some are similar. For example, pigmeat does not enjoy the advantages of an intervention system, and I constantly receive complaints from that industry of the kind mentioned tonight. The same is true of fruits and vegetables. They enjoy a withdrawal system which in many ways is not that much different from fish. Therefore, while certain agriculture products enjoy the intervention system, other agriculture products are treated similarly to fish.

Does my right hon. Friend concede that there are many agriculture products which do not enjoy any support system at all?

Indeed there are. That is why it is dangerous to generalise. Here I exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington, who did not generalise but was particular in his points.

A number of other issues were raised. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West talked about dumping, where fish is withdrawn and then dumped. I share his feelings. He saw it happen in Stornoway, and it was most unfortunate. I do not know the circumstances of the incident, but perhaps I can reassure him to the extent that dumping of that kind happens very rarely. Normally, when fish is withdrawn, it goes for other purposes, such as fishmeal or petfood. I do not want to be dogmatic, because I do not know the full circumstances, but I guess that a port such as Stornoway does not have the facilities. I understand that my noble Friend who is responsible at the Scottish Office is endeavouring, in conjunction with producers' organisations and others, to ensure that where there is a danger of fish being landed in excess it is landed in areas and ports where there are alternative outlets. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if dumping can be avoided, it should be avoided.

The Minister is absolutely right, and he has said some of the things that I had hoped he would say on this subject. I understand that the difficulty was getting across the Minch, and there was no fishmeal factory, or none that was open at the time. The lesson we should learn from the incident is the need to develop processing, such as the fishmeal factory that is proposed for Barra, or better freezing facilities in and around Stornoway itself.

However, I come back to an earlier point. The Minister said that he agreed with everything that the Prime Minister said at Question Time today. Does that include the numbers of inspectors? Does it include her conception of what will happen if there is no agreement—fishing up to the beaches?

I shall be happy to return to both those matters later. Meantime, I rest in the glory of the hon. Gentleman's support for the first time in our abhorrence of fish dumping.

The hon. Member for Berwick-uopn-Tweed (Mr. Beith) asked for clarification of the way in which the new fourchette arrangement works in the withdrawal of fish. I do not want to mislead or confuse the House in any way. The hon. Gentleman is right that the 85 per cent. applies to the official withdrawal price. The difference between the new arrangement and the earlier one is that if the producers' organisation did not operate its withdrawal rigidly at the official price, it disqualified itself from any compensation. Now it can go five per cent. above. That gives greater discretion locally and does not disqualify the organisation from the 85 per cent. compensation of the withdrawal price. I apologise if I misled the hon. Gentleman earlier.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West spoke about the autonomous schemes collapsing. It is true that some of them have collapsed—partly, in some cases, because the prices were set too high. I hope that the new discretion that is now available to producer organisations will help. It is a matter that we shall want to monitor. We believe that it will help, and we want to know whether it does help.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed mentioned extension of discipline. It is a matter that he and I have debated a number of times, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. No final decisions have been taken. I make no apology for saying that, and I must reiterate that, although many of the producer organisations asked for this, it raises many issues of principle. There are questions of intrusion on individual freedom, in forcing them to join an organisation. Different views are held in different parts of the country. If we were to implement it, it would require primary legislation in this country. That illustrates the kind of difficulties that are involved. We cannot enter into it lightly. We would not enter into it without full consultation with the fishing industry and producer organisations. I freely admit that among producer organisations there is concern and a desire for an extension of discipline. I understand why.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed also talked about additional species, which were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I mentioned other species. There is the extension to salmon, which I mentioned earlier. It was in the original new marketing regulation. However, the implementing regulations have not yet been worked out. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff said, it is based on a deficiency payments system. We shall wait with interest to see what the Commission's proposals are.

Many hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington, raised the serious question of the inspectorate of the Commission. I am glad that the point was raised, as it is a matter of real importance, which has caused anxiety both in the House and outside. What matters is that the inspectorate should have the resources necessary for the task that it has to carry out. It is true that initially there was talk of a large inspectorate. I do not recall any specific figure, although a broad range of figures was bandied about. I do not think that hon. Members who mentioned specific figures were correct. The Commission initially had ambitions for a large inspectorate.

The task of the inspectorate is simply to ensure that all member States enforce Community regulations with the same rigour as we do. In other words, what is to be set up is an inspectorate of inspectors, and not a core of primary inspectors, which would have required a much larger number than the number that is being discussed now.

We in the United Kingdom have always welcomed the fact that the basis of the inspectorate is that it is an inspectorate of inspectors, because we have always maintained that a coastal state such as the United Kingdom should be primarily responsible for the policing of its own waters. That objective has been supported on all sides of the House. I am glad to say tat we have achieved that objective.

However, the achievement of that objective has meant that a smaller inspectorate—I repeat, an inspectorate of inspectors—is needed than if the Commission set up a core of all the inspectors for all waters of the Community. As Fishing News stated last week, the Commission said that for that task 13 inspecting officers are to be appointed. It is clear from our contacts with the Commission that it believes that that number is adequate for the task.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been speaking personally today to the commissioner for fisheries, Mr. Contogeorgis. He has impressed upon him the fact that the task must be effectively carried out. My right hon. Friend has made it clear to Mr. Contogeorgis that if the resources prove inadequate, they will have to be increased. We must make sure that the arrangement is effective. Effective policing is essential. We have the capability in our waters. That is the fundamental thing that matters. We must also ensure that the Commission has the means to require the same capability in the waters of other countries. That is what really matters. That is what we shall continue to work for.

The Minister has just told us that 13 inspecting officers were adequate, but subsequently he said that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was pressing for more. Is 13 adequate, or should we press for more? What was the figure in the first place—30 or 40?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not listen, as I was very careful in what I said. My right hon. Friend said—and I repeat it today—that the resources of the Commission and of the inspectors should be adequate for the task and that if they are not adequate they should be increased. We do not yet know what the task is, so the hon. Gentleman is really asking how long is a piece of string. It depends what the task is. Given that the task is far more limited than that envisaged when the inspectorate was first proposed, I believe that 13 is a start. The Commission believes that that number is adequate. I emphasise that we have impressed on the Commission that if the number is not adequate additional resources will have to be devoted to the task. However, it is a new task and we must see how it is carried out.

The central question is whether the Minister regards 13 as adequate. Given that in the past there has been collusion between domestic inspectorates and fishermen, certainly on infringements of the herring ban, is any force able to police national inspectorates that collude in that way?

Yes, I believe that the policing will be adequate. I certainly trust the Commission's word on this. It will work on an ad hoc spot check basis to see what is happening. As I have said, however, it is a new situation. I repeat that I have an open mind on this. If the policing proves inadequate, resources will have to be increased. What matters most, however, is to have the arrangements in operation as soon as possible after 1 January.

May I console the Minister with the reflection that if he cannot solve the old conundrum "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes" it is not his fault but inherent in the logic?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his logic. I shall spend the rest of the evening reflecting on the hidden meanings of that, as I am sure that it is the hidden meanings that really matter.

The hon. Member for Grimsby actually questioned the legal validity of control. This, again, shows his basic misunderstanding of the whole situation. Regardless of any further agreement by 10 or by nine countries, all 10 countries of the Community have agreed to a policing and control regulation that comes into force on 1 January. The hon. Gentleman completely ignores that agreement, which is quite separate from the other negotiations about conservation, quotas and access. Denmark is a party to that agreement, although it is not yet a party to any agreement on the other elements.

The hon. Member for Grimsby and the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West try to twist words and to misinterpret for their own benefit things that have actually happened. When the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West referred to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said today, he did not repeat the qualification that she made. She said that in theory—that is the qualification—there could be fishing up to the beaches. There is a world of difference between that and the actual position. If there is agreement by all 10 countries, a totally new common fisheries policy will operate from 1 January. If there is not agreement by all 10, the other nine countries have decided, and arrangements are now being worked out in co-operation with the Commission, that what has been agreed will be applied through national measures. Those are the two realities that we must face. Instead of operating in the realm of fact and practice, Labour Members operate in a cloud-cuckoo-land of theory and speculation, leading them to woe and despondency simply because they are proved wrong.

The hon. Gentleman talks about Labour Members living in a world of theory, but it was the Prime Minister who talked about theory. What she meant by theory was the law. She is saying that practical measures can be taken, but in theory there will be fishing up to the beaches. We believe that it is time that we had a debate in the House to settle the question for good.

Order. There may be a case for having a debate on this matter, but it cannot be tonight.

There is all the difference between "in theory" and "in law", but the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West is not prepared to make that distinction.

Although I welcome Labour Members' support for some aspects of the document before us tonight, it has been extremely grudging. The Labour Party is not prepared to consider its record in the fishing industry. The hon. Member for Grimsby never likes to hear the facts of what happened under a Labour Government. Although he says how inadequate and useless these proposals are, he should compare this Government's record with that of the last Labour Government.

Between 1976 and 1979 there was an increase in sterling terms of withdrawal prices—which is what matters to the fishermen—of 27 per cent. for cod. Between 1979 and 1982 there was an increase of 44 per cent. Between 1976 and 1979 there was an increase of 29 per cent. for haddock, compared with an increase of 49 per cent. between 1979 and 1982. I should like to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Grimsby on that.

I should like to have seen better increases. I have explained why they could not be better. However, at least I am prepared to stand by the Government's record and not by words and froth.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10701/82 on fish guide prices for 1983 and supports the Government's intention to seek to secure improvements in the level of prices proposed.