HC Deb 01 December 1971 vol 827 cc445-57
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a Statement about my meeting with the European Community in Brussels on 29th November.

The main purpose of this meeting, which was attended by Ministers from the other applicant countries, was to seek to settle the vital problem of fisheries. On this occasion I was accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture as well as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

We made useful progress in some respects. The Community proposed that there should be, for 10 years, an interim régime based on a 6-mile limit with special areas going out to 12 miles. In addition to the Orkneys and Shetlands, it offered to consider the possibility of some other special areas for the United Kingdom.

I had to make it clear, however, that its proposals did not go far enough to safeguard the legitimate interests of the fishing industry and did not, in our view, provide a fair overall balance of mutual advantage. In accordance with the assurances which I have given to the House, I explained that an initial period of 10 years by itself was not sufficient; and I was disappointed that we were not able at this meeting to reach agreement on how to deal with the situation after the 10 years.

We have agreed to meet again on 11th December, when I very much hope we will settle this important and difficult problem. I believe that we have now achieved enough understanding and clarification of all the issues to make this possible.

In the course of the Ministerial meeting I took the opportunity to raise three other matters.

First, Papua and New Guinea. The House will recall that in my statement on 11th November after the previous Ministerial meeting I said that I had reminded the Community of the need to make arrangements for the territory.

The Community proposed at the meeting of Deputies on 24th November that until 1st January, 1978, the trade arrangements for Papua and New Guinea imports into Britain would remain as they were on the date of British accession with a provision for review. I thanked the Community for this proposal and explained that I had communicated it to the Australian Government. I said that I was confident that the enlarged Community would make reasonable arrangements for Papua and New Guinea when the time came to review this question.

Next, nationality. The Community had made it clear to us that it would be helpful if we were to give a definition of a United Kingdom national, since the term "nationals of Member States" and like phrases, appear frequently in the Community treaties and legislation. I accordingly gave the Community the following definition for these purposes: Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies or British subjects not possessing that citizenship or the citizenship of any other Commonwealth country or territory, who, in either case, have the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and are therefore exempt from United Kingdom immigration control. Finally, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. I told the House on 11th November of the Community's proposals for them. I informed the Community that I had visited the islands in order to commend the arrangements which the Community had proposed. I promised to let the Community know the decision of the respective islands as soon as possible.

Mr. Healey

While thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that statement, may I concentrate on his failure to reach agreement on the fisheries matter, which I think both sides of the House regard as vital to our final entry into the E.E.C.? Will not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this continued failure to reach agreement on this major issue shows how unwise it was of the Government to seek the approval of the House to British entry on the terms arranged while leaving major questions totally obscure?

Secondly, does it not throw an odd light on the newly established entente cordiale that the French Foreign Minister did not bother to attend the meetings and gave his representative no authority to reach a settlement?

Is it still the case, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman informed us on 25th October, that there is a clear understanding that one of two things must happen: either there must be a satisfactory settlement, or the status quo should continue until after enlargement, at which point the British representatives would have a veto on any change in the status quo? As I understand it, that is precisely the arrangement that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just reached on Papua and New Guinea.

May I also ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether it is the case, as reported in this morning's newspapers, that he suggested that 95 per cent. of Britain's coastline should remain under British control up to 12 miles? I think that that will commend itself to the House as a very reasonable suggestion. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how his partners reacted to it?

Finally, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us why he is optimistic about a settlement on 11th December, just after representatives of the Six have been officially briefing newspapers that their offer last night was the final one and that any further concession has to come from the United Kingdom?

Mr. Rippon

I think that everyone knew, when we had our vote in the House, that it was necessary to deal with the question of the fisheries. I spoke about this at some length in my speech, as did my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in his. I do not think that there is any real doubt about that.

The French Foreign Minister was present for the meeting with the Community, and so he was, in fact, present at the talks, but, to my regret, he had to leave early because of engagements in Paris. Certainly we missed the valuable help that he would have been able to give on this occasion, as he has so often done in the past. However, there was a French delegation there, and I have no doubt that it was left with appropriate authority in the French Government's view.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether we have to have either a satisfactory settlement or agreement on the status quo before we can sign the Treaty of Accession. That, of course, remains the position. I think that the satisfactory arrangements that we got for Papua and New Guinea show that, whatever initial arrangements may be made, it is necessary at the end of the day to have suitable provisions for an open review. It is perhaps the tendency in these negotiations to take sometimes a rather formal, legalistic, or, as some would say, theological point of view. But, with common sense, we should be able to get review procedures at the end of our negotiations which ensure that legitimate interests are protected.

The suggestion that 95 per cent. of our coastline should be protected up to 12 miles really arose out of the form of words being put about at that time. I will pot now go into all the details of the various suggestions which have been made at various times, which were really not offering any satisfactory arrangements up to six miles. We said that if we could not reach satisfactory arrangements as between six and 12 miles, the Community must offer, in terms of 12 miles only, virtually the whole coast.

I am sure that the reports about final offers are derived from off-the-cuff personal comments by people who do not speak with the authority either of the Commission or of the Council of Ministers. What we agreed at the end of the day was that we should have another meeting on 11th December, when I hope we shall be able to resolve this matter satisfactorily.

Mr. Wall

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his defence of the interests of British fishermen. Are any high level talks or action proposed to try to clear the log jam before 11th December? On the Community's counter-proposals, is he aware that if, rightly, special protection is given to areas in the North and West, it will also be expected for the Yorkshire coast?

Mr. Rippon

Our discussions will continue through the usual channels that obtain in these negotiations. My hon. Friend asked about particular areas for which we are seeking special treatment. We are negotiating about this matter, and I would not like to make specific promises to specific stretches of the coastline at this stage.

Mr. Grimond

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman once again make it abundantly clear to our European friends that if they insist upon free fishing up to a six-mile limit they are going to destroy the fishing industries for all countries on the North Sea to no advantage whatever, and that all who consider themselves good Europeans will stick on this point? What are these special areas to which he refers?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the question of nationality. How does this definition affect, for example, Kenya Asians? I understand that their case is before the European Commission.

Mr. Rippon

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the position about fishing limits is that there are certain historic rights already between six and 12 miles and the position varies very much around the coast. We have said that the six-mile limit is important but that between six and 12 miles there is an element of flexibility. But regard must be had for the fact that certain areas—including his own constituency—have very special problems. So we said that there was a case for a 12-mile limit and we said that Orkney and Shetland does not represent a sufficient area for that purpose in our view.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Kenya Asians. All holders of United Kingdom passports from East Africa will qualify for free movement after five years' ordinary residence in the United Kingdom—that is, if they are admitted for settlement on arrival in this country.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

On the fisheries aspect, can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is still the policy of the Government not to accept any settlement less favourable than that achieved in the case of Norway? On the nationality aspect, has the definition which he has propounded been definitively accepted by the Six for the purpose of Article 48 and other provisions of the Treaty dealing with the free movement of workers, or is it still subject to discussion and exploration?

Mr. Rippon

We have always made clear that we must achieve arrangements on fisheries which are broadly comparable between all the applicants. Our purpose is to achieve what we have always described as a fair balance of mutual advantage between the existing members of the Community and the new members. On the question of nationality, what I have done is to make a statement of our position to the Community. It is for the member States to state their view.

Mr. James Johnson

In view of the pledge given by the Prime Minister at Scarborough a few weeks ago to leading North Sea coast members of the fishing industry, including Colonel Dunne, of Scarborough, and Mr. Tom Turner, of Whitby, what does the right hon. and learned Gentleman intend to do about it? Does he intend to sign and then exercise a veto? In that case, how does he intend to maintain the 12-mile limit?

Mr. Rippon

What I intend to maintain is the position which I have stated in this House on numerous occasions. I have neither subtracted from it nor added to it in the course of my discussions, and I do not think I can take the matter any further now.

Mr. Temple

I offer my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend and to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the tenacious fight they have both put up on behalf of fishermen in England and Wales. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the great importance of the protection of fishery limits once these limits have been established? What plans has he for strengthening the fisheries protection squadron?

Mr. Rippon

I think it is clear that we must make an arrangement now which will cover the next 10 years. That seems a reasonable initial period. What we need to be assured about thereafter is that there will be provision for a fair review of the situation in the circumstances of the time which will have regard to economic and social as well as conservation interests. The question of strengthening the fisheries protection squadron at present is not a matter for me. It is not really a matter which arises in the negotiations. I am sure that those of my right hon. and hon. Friends responsible will have taken note of my hon. Friend's concern.

Mr. Crawshaw

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that there are many hon. Members on this side who, while accepting British entry in principle, are not prepared to accept anything which detracts from our fishing rights, and that the least we can expect is that either a favourable agreement is entered into beforehand or at least the existing arrangements continue until such time as we can exercise a power of veto?

Mr. Rippon

It is a mistake in negotiations between friends and allies to talk too much about vetoes. I do not think this situation should arise if we approach the matter on the basis of common sense. What I have said both in Brussels and this House is that British fishing interests must be adequately and satisfactorily safeguarded. That is our purpose, and we intend to pursue it.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that one newspaper report today said that the ball was now firmly in the Six's court? Will he kindly ensure that it stays there by volleying back any further return? Can he state, either in HANSARD or in a letter to me personally, those areas where agree- ment in the fisheries negotiations has already been reached?

Mr. Rippon

I do not care in whose court the ball is, but I would say that it is in the long grass and I want to see some way of getting it out and seeing that the game ends satisfactorily.

Mr. Mackintosh

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that most inshore fishermen appreciate that there are traditional rights of Community fishermen to fish up to six miles and that they would not expect them to give up those rights? At the same time, 70 per cent. of the inshore fleet's catch is outside the 12-mile limit, and our fishermen have to be assured that between six and 12 miles there will in future be no extra foreign fishing in these limits. If that can be assured, particular details are not so important.

Mr. Rippon

We have never gone so far as to suggest that between six and 12 miles there should be no additional fishing by the Community. I have had some difficulty in ascertaining where exactly they want to fish where they do not fish already. This would not affect the position vis-a-vis third countries which are not members of the enlarged Community.

Mr. Baker

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. and learned Friend did not answer the second part of my question.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Rippon

I am sorry if I missed that point. Could my hon. Friend repeat it?

Mr. Baker

What are the areas where agreement has already been reached?

Mr. Rippon

I have indicated to the House the points where we have begun to make progress, although any agreement at that stage is provisional until we reach a satisfactory conclusion at the end of the day. But we appear to have general agreement on the length of the interim period of 10 years; we have agreement on the need to make provision for special areas between six and 12 miles; we have made considerable progress on the amendments necessary to the marketing regulations about frozen fish and the rights of our producer organisations and the adjustment of withdrawal prices having regard to the remoter areas. Quite a lot has been going on, but all these matters are provisional until we reach a final settlement.

Mr. Warren

As continuing support for British entry is much qualified by the success of the outcome of the negotiations on fishing rights, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to use the time—as I am sure he will—between now and the next meeting to impress upon the French Government the fact that we have a much higher regard for our inshore fishing industry than the French have for theirs, which has fished out its home waters, and that we do not want an agreement with France which merely allows French fishermen to come here and take that which we have so carefully conserved?

Mr. Rippon

We must be clear that I am negotiating with the Community as a whole and that I am making our case to the Community as a whole.

Mr. McNamara

First, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be kind enough to tell us categorically whether it is the Government's intention to sign the Treaty of Accession before or after we have agreement on fisheries?

Secondly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take the opportunity to deny the speculation in the Press that, if necessary in order to get agreement on fisheries, the Government would ditch Norway and the stand that Norway is making on this issue?

Thirdly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House what arrangment he has made about the importation of frozen fish fillets and the effect that that will have on the Humber and Fleetwood fleets if Iceland is allowed to have her 50-mile limit?

Mr. Rippon

I have made it perfectly clear that we will not sign the Treaty of Accession until we reach a satisfactory settlement in this matter.

Concerning Norway, I have said that we could not settle this matter until we have a multi-national discussion and know the nature of the offer which the Community is putting forward to all applicants. I cannot bind the Norwegian Government about the way that they conduct their own negotiations.

Concerning frozen fish fillets and some aspects of the marketing regulation, I have already made it clear that at this stage these are provisional agreements. We are still discussing the precise details. It might be misleading if I indicated that there had been a definite settlement on any particular issue at this stage.

Mr. Hicks

In his talks in Brussels on 11th December, will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the particular vulnerability of the coastline of Devon and Cornwall not only for the landing of wet fish but for shell fish, and the necessity, therefore, from both the economic and the social point of view, to make certain that the present situation is not disturbed in any way?

Mr. Rippon

Yes, Sir. I am well aware of those matters and have brought them to the attention of the Community. I am glad to say that, concerning crustaceans the Community has shown an understanding that this is a special problem requiring special treatment.

Mr. Ross

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that during the debate on this matter the Prime Minister told us that the important matter to remember was that we had the right of veto. Will he bear in mind that more than we have the right of veto and that it is all the more important now, before we become members, to get the agreement on fishing right? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman pledge to stand by the fishermen of Britain?

Mr. Rippon

I have already pledged to stand by the fishermen of Britain and to safeguard their interests. That is what these negotiations are about. I agree that it is important to get this matter as clear as we can before going ahead.

I do not think that there will be too much difficulty about the 10-year interim period, but I cannot say that at the end of the 10-year period there must automatically be continuation of the same arrangements. We are not asking for anything which is necessarily permanent. However, it must be clear that when we have a review it must be a genuine review in which full regard will be paid, in the circumstances obtaining at the time, to the social, economic and conservation aspects of fishing.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind, having said that he will sign only if he gets a satisfactory settlement, that, in view of the stand which he has taken and the evidence which has been produced in support of that stand, anything less than a 12-mile limit would be looked upon as our giving way, and that would completely disillusion people in this country?

Mr. Rippon

I do not think that that is so, because that is not something for which we have ever asked.

Mr. Callaghan

Reverting to the important question of citizenship, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what I hope is a simple question: what is his authority for this definition which he has given to the Community, what is the legal status of it, and from which Statute does it derive?

Mr. Rippon

It is a statement which we have made about the view we take for the purpose of accession to this treaty. I understand that these definitions vary from time to time. If there are anxieties about exact legal definitions, I will communicate with the right hon. Gentleman on the point.

Mr. Callaghan

With respect, is that sufficient to be put to the House? Surely the Chancellor has some authority for imparting his own definition of citizenship. As Parliament itself has taken the trouble to define it extremely closely in 1948 and, to some extent, again in the recent Immigration Act, is he telling us that he put this statement forward without any statutory backing at all? Is he aware that I cannot recognise this definition in any way and that he owes it not to me but to the House and millions of subjects to tell us his authority for making this definition statement?

Mr. Rippon

The authority of the Government in relation to the negotiations respecting this particular treaty and the problems which arise on the free movement of labour. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find, on study, that it derives from similar provisions and definitions which have been made in the past for similar purposes. As has been made clear before, there is nothing in the arrangements that we are making on the free movement of labour which affects definitions in the Immigration Act, 1971, or earlier legislation.

Mr. Thorpe

This is an important question. Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows as well as anyone in this House that law cannot be made by Government statement, may we have his confirmation that, that being the case, this has no legal effect in the courts?

Mr. Rippon

It is really for negotiation at the moment. There comes a point eventually of definition for the purposes of treaties, and the legislation stage, if necessary, comes later.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. W. Baxter

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The statement read by the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: The Community had made it clear to us that it would be helpful if we were to give a definition of a United Kingdom national". In my opinion, as this is the most important question in the Minister's statement, it is a matter of great concern not only to right hon. and hon. Members of this House and the people of England, but especially the people of Scotland, where, under the Treaty of Union—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a matter of substance, not of order. I have now decided to move on to the next business. That is a matter for me, not of order.

Mr. Baxter

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I am asking for your guidance on a very important matter which is causing considerable concern in the legal profession in Scotland; namely, whether this Parliament has the right to commit Scotland in view of the conditions laid down in the Treaty of Union. I think that a definite decision should be made, but we cannot be bound by a Minister of the Crown—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Without doubt it is an important matter, but the hon. Gentleman must find other ways of pursuing it.

Mr. Marten

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the statement contained a reference to the Channel Islands and as not one supplementary question was asked about the Channel Islands, might I have permission to ask one?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid not. I have decided to move on. We have had 22 minutes devoted to the statement and supplementary questions and answers. We have an important debate ahead of us. The decision is mine.