HC Deb 13 December 1971 vol 828 cc51-65
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 11th and 12th December.

At this meeting, which was attended by Ministers of the other applicant countries, I was accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as well as by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office.

The two main subjects on the agenda were fisheries and animal health.

On fisheries the United Kingdom together with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark have now reached agreement on the outstanding problems.

We have persuaded the Community of the need to safeguard the essential fishing interests of the applicant countries in order to ensure conservation of fishing stocks and the protection of the livelihood of our fishermen.

As a result of the agreement that we have reached the position would be as follows:

First, it is clear that we retain full jurisdiction over the whole of our coastal waters up to 12 miles. In other words, we have power to control on a nondiscriminatory basis the conservation of stocks by such means as the regulation of size of nets, types of trawl and methods of fishing.

Secondly, access to our coastal waters within six miles from our baselines is limited exclusively to British vessels. Next, in areas between six and 12 miles, where the baselines are not in themselves a sufficient safeguard or where the stocks are already fully exploited, the fishing will also be limited to British vessels and to those with existing rights to fish there for certain species of fish. The areas covered in this way out to 12 miles are the Orkneys and Shetlands, the North and East Coasts of Scotland, North-East England from the river Coquet to Flamborough Head, Devon and Cornwall, including, of course, the Scillies and Lundy Island, and County Down.

The effect of all this is that there is no change at all in the protection now afforded in areas from which about 95 per cent. by value of the total inshore catch is taken. As far as the remainder is concerned—that is, those areas that I have not mentioned earlier—there will be a generalisation of existing rights between six and 12 miles only.

We have also sought and obtained a formal assurance from the Community that the legal application of the common fisheries policy would not permit, either in form or in fact, any discrimination by a member State in waters beyond 12 miles over which it might exercise fishing jurisdiction against the fishing vessels of other member States operating in such waters. This is a valuable safeguard for our deep sea fishermen.

As to the future of the fisheries policy, we have urged upon the Community the need for common action in all our interests to ensure conservation of stocks. In consequence, we have agreed with the Community that as soon as practicable, and by 1979 at the latest, the Community will attempt to determine conditions for the preservation of the biological resources of the sea.

We have further agreed that before the end of 1982 the enlarged Community will, after studying a report on the situation then obtaining with particular reference to the economic and social conditions of inshore areas and the state of the fish stocks, examine the arrangements which could follow what we have negotiated for the first 10 years.

Here I must emphasise that these are not just transitional arrangements which automatically lapse at the end of a fixed period.

In substance what we have achieved can fairly be described for the most part as a maintenance of the status quo for a decade followed by a fair and open-ended review taking account of all the circumstances of the time. I am confident that when that review takes place Her Majesty's Governmena will continue to safeguard this vital national interest.

Before leaving this subject I would like to bring to the attention of the House the advantage we have secured in regard to marketing arrangements which are designed to secure better and more stable conditions in the fishing industry and to which I referred in my statement to the House on 11th November.

Finally, I know the anxieties that exist about conservation and effective measures of policing. As I have already explained to the House, we will retain full jurisdiction over our 12-mile limit. The Fisheries Protection Services of the Royal Navy and the Scottish Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will continue to be responsible for the enforcement of our regulations, including those governing fishing methods and for ensuring that vessels of other countries are excluded from the inner six miles and that limitations on access in areas between six and 12 miles are strictly enforced.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Scottish Department is already ordering a new fisheries cruiser, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has undertaken to strengthen the forces at present employed by the Royal Navy on protection duties in coastal waters. My right hon. Friend will be making a further statement on this in the near future.

The other major issue on which we were able to reach agreement was animal health.

The Community has adopted a number of directives which, if applied to Britain, would have involved a number of important changes in our animal health arrangements.

We therefore asked for and secured agreement that, pending the establishment of a common veterinary policy, we would not be required to accept any animals whether for rearing, breeding or immediate slaughter which have been vaccinated against foot-and-mouth disease. We shall similarly be free to continue our existing methods of testing for brucellosis and tuberculosis. Imports of non-vaccinated animals from other member States will continue to be covered by national rules, and imports of meat will be subject to animal and public health controls in accordance with the Community's provisions.

These arrangements will apply for five years. Well before the end of that period the Commission will review the whole situation and the veterinary developments which have taken place and, to the extent necessary, make appropriate proposals taking account of those developments.

These arrangements, which take account of the existing differences in standards and practices, will ensure that progress towards common veterinary arrangements throughout the enlarged Community will involve no increase in animal health risk.

I am therefore satisfied, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that our essential animal health requirements are fully safeguarded now and will remain so in the future.

Mr. Healey

First, is it not clear that anyone who studies the Minister's statement will be unable to agree with him that the agreement that he has reached on fisheries is not a purely transitional agreement giving no guarantees whatever after 1982? Is it not the case that the Minister has abandoned the undertaking to secure continuing arrangements subject to a review in which Britain would be able to veto any changes in these arrangements? Yet these are undertakings that he gave to the House in the last debate, and, indeed, at his own party conference a few weeks earlier. Is he aware that the French Government are reported as claiming that they will be able to ensure the application of existing Community fisheries policies in 1982 by vetoing any alternative proposals?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make clear to the House beyond equivocation which side has the veto in 1982? Until this weekend this was the main substance of the argument. Is it not clear that he has capitulated to French intransigence and that it really is not good enough to try, as his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did on an earlier occasion, to justify a sell-out simply by arguing that nothing better was obtainable? Is it not a fact that the Norwegian Government have refused to accept this agreement, using exactly the same arguments as Her Majesty's Government have earlier used in this House? Will he, therefore, assure the House—I take up again the question I put during Foreign Office questions earlier—that the Government will give the House an opportunity to debate these arrangements before any question arises of Her Majesty's Government signing the Treaty of Accession?

Mr. Rippon

I will try to answer one by one the questions which the right hon. Gentleman has asked.

He is quite wrong in saying that these are purely transitional arrangements which give no guarantee, or that they are in any way out of line with the assurances I have given to the House in the past. As I said to the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) on 1st December, 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1971; Vol. 827, c. 454–5.] This is what we have done. The dispute which I had at the earlier meetings with the Community was on the areas to which the review was to be applied. They were arguing that a review should apply only to certain special areas such as, for example, Norway, Greenland, the Faroes and Orkney and Shetland. I said that was not sufficient, that we should not have the review limited in that way, and it had to be an open and general review; and that is what we have got. The review, therefore, will cover the whole of our coastline in the circumstances of the time.

Then the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of veto and said that the French Government have been claiming that they have been relying on the veto. Often in this House, and certainly as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition used to say, one has to have regard to the provisions of a treaty according to the way in which it is applied in practice. We must take note of the fact that the Community has never failed to reach an agreed solution to the problems of member States which are of major importance, and it has never imposed, quite apart from the provisions of the Luxembourg agreement in 1965, arrangements contrary to the vital interests of member States. This is clearly a vital interest for us and will be treated as such, I am confident, in 1982.

As to the French, it is interesting to note that French fishermen have sought protection for their 12-mile limit, and I have no doubt that the French Government in 1982 will be no more anxious to have Breton fishermen marching on Paris than we shall be to have our fishermen marching on London. We have obtained the status quo for 10 years with a fair and open review at the end.

With regard to Norway, I would have hoped that they would have found these arrangements broadly satisfactory [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] They have been found satisfactory by Denmark, Greenland and the Faroes. Greenland and the Faroes have the same sort of problems as we have in this country. I would hope that Norway will receive treatment as good as the treatment we have received, so far as her own 12-mile limits are concerned. There should be no problem about that.

As to the question of a debate, that is, of course, a matter for the Leader of the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that rather than attracting—[Interruption.] Oh, keep quiet. Rather than attracting ungenerous niggling from the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), my right hon. and learned Friend deserves the congratulations of the House on the skill and integrity with which he has reached an agreement which is fair to the Community and protects vital British interests? Is not the heart of the matter that when these matters come to be reviewed in 10 years time Britain will be a member of the Community and able effectively to protect her own interests?

Mr. Rippon

Yes, Sir.

Mr. James Johnson

As the East Yorkshire fishermen have stated that they are completely satisfied with the 12-mile limit, as a Humberside Member of Parliament I find it difficult, perhaps even foolish, at this stage to use the expression "a sell-out". Nevertheless, there are anxieties about the 10-year period and about the pledges given over the past month by the Chancellor of the Duchy and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who said that they would stand fast by Norway. In the context of my Question on the Order Paper, may I ask why has the right hon. and learned Gentleman not stood beside Norway in this matter of the 12-mile limit for the whole of our shores, and not just for certain parts of Northern Scotland and so forth?

Mr. Rippon

We have said that we would seek comparable treatment to that afforded to other applicants. There is no problem about the comparable treatment afforded as between ourselves Ireland, Denmark, Greenland and the Faroes. Norway has still to enlarge her own 12-mile limits but, in view of what we have received, I see no reason why she should not have generous treatment from the Community.

So far as the review is concerned, we have always made it clear, as in other matters, that we do not seek permanent arrangements but we do insist on arrangements which are not just transitional but which provide for a genuine open review in circumstances in which not only we will be a member of the Community, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has pointed out, but Ireland and Denmark as well, and I would hope Norway too.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

How is my right hon. and learned Friend sure that he can achieve his aspirations? How can we be sure that, the arrangements for the transitional period, on the terms of which I warmly congratulate him, will last beyond the 10-year review? Is this merely a suspended sentence for our inshore industry?

Mr. Rippon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said in the first part of his question. I can assure him that this is not a suspended sentence, and we shall be able adequately to safeguard our vital fishing interests in the future as we have safeguarded them now. [Interruption.] I should have thought that we would have found it easier to safeguard them inside the Community than I have found it to negotiate them from outside.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In the Minister's original—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am trying to call those hon. Members who had Questions down on this matter.

Mr. Lewis

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In his original statement, the Minister, no doubt by accident, made no reference to Norway. If this is such a good agreement, why was not Norway included in what he had to say? Apart from whether this is to be the biggest success the Government have ever had or whether it is to be a sell-out, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a definite assurance that in the Treaty of Accession there will be a clause giving us the right in 10 years, if we so wish, to veto any negotiations which are not satisfactory from the then Government's point of view?

Mr. Rippon

Norway's negotiations are carried on by the Norwegian Government. I cannot answer in this House for why the Norwegian Government are not yet satisfied. They have not yet concluded their negotiations. The Norwegian Government will, I hope, go on negotiating with the Community. If any new proposals are put forward, all the applicant countries have an opportunity of commenting and expressing their views at that stage.

As regards a veto, I should have thought that the position had been made fairly clear over the years. It is not wise to talk in terms of a veto. Apart from the provisions in the Treaty of Rome, there exists also the Luxembourg agreement of 1965, and, moreover, one can find no occasion in practice when the Community has ever over-ridden a major national interest—probably for the simple reason that it could not do it.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Why did my right hon. and learned Friend abandon the 12-mile limit in certain areas, notably Liverpool Bay and Cardigan Bay? Will this not result in a concentration of foreign fishing in these areas?

Mr. Rippon

I referred particularly to the need for protection in areas which are not already adequately covered by the base lines or in which there was very little fishing between six and 12 miles. Cardigan Bay is totally protected by the existing base lines.

Mr. Maclennan

Is the Chancellor of the Duchy aware that I represent the constituency with, I believe, the longest coastline in the United Kingdom, and that two-thirds of it will be subject to the 12-mile limit? On the question of the Minches—this is not clear to me—what is the position with regard to the drawing of the base lines and its effect upon fishing in the Minches, since the most valuable landings in Scotland, outside Aberdeen, Fraserburgh and Peterhead, are on the West Coast? Further, can he say whether the arrangements for the transitional period and the review which he has described have been accepted by Denmark for Greenland and the Faroes and by France for Brittany?

Mr. Rippon

I fully recognise the vital importance of the Minches to West Scotland. The whole of the Minches, and the Clyde also, are entirely protected by the existing base lines.

The review procedure has been accepted by the Republic of Ireland and by Denmark on behalf of Greenland and the Farces, and also by the French, who have considerable interest in the agreement which we have reached.

Mr. Powell

As the Government have shown that they are prepared to go back on their general commitment not to enter the Community without the full-hearted consent of the British Parliament and people, was it really necessary for my right hon. and learned Friend to make such heavy weather over breaking the pledges on fisheries?

Mr. Rippon

I must say, with respect, that I consider my right hon. Friend's question wholly unjustified.

Mr. Pardoe

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement on fisheries policy falls far short of the Government's promises, but will he take it that, since I never believed a word of those promises, I am not overburdened with surprise? May I draw his attention to the second part of his statement, that relating to animal health, which omits rather more than it says? When he was discussing the question of the diseases covered in his statement, did the Chancellor of the Duchy recognise also that it was a matter of keeping out animals which are reared in animal welfare conditions different from those we have here? Was this matter discussed?

Mr. Rippon

That is what the negotiation was about. There are these essential differences, and we wanted to ensure that our standards and practices were protected.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on this further success. May I stress even further than he has done so far the need for better conservation measures? Would it not be better at this stage to ask the Royal Navy to provide a few more of those faster and smaller "floating gin-palaces" which were referred to on Question No. 1 today to help conserve the breeding areas?

Mr. Rippon

I shall not say anything about what goes on inside those vessels, and I make no comment about that, but I certainly agree that there is need for a conservation policy. That is why, among other things, we have reached an agreement that at the earliest practical moment, and certainly not later than 1979, we should try to consider all these matters together in order to strengthen existing practices. Meanwhile, we retain our full jurisdiction over our own 12 miles. As I said, my right hon. Friend will be making a statement before long about additional fishery protection measures.

Mr. Milne

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the real architect of this betrayal of the long-term interests of Britain's fishing communities is his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whose intrusion into this matter laid the foundations of the agreement? In a metaphorical sense, ought we not to have the organ-grinder at the Dispatch Box today rather than the monkey?

Mr. Rippon

I suspect that, whatever statement I might have made, the hon. Gentleman would have been somewhat dissatisfied. I do not think that any useful comment can be made on his observations.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that within the next 11 years, while we maintain the status quo, there is no reason whatever why investment should not continue in the inshore fishing industry? Second, will he confirm that the arrangements obtaining now for the Minches are perfectly satisfactory to maintain both the breeding ground and the catching ground for herring?

Mr. Rippon

I am glad to give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks as regards the Minches. We are quite clear about that. I hope that investment will continue. Indeed, one of the reasons why there are objections to permanent arrangements in many of these fields is that one wants some flexibility for the future. I know that the Republic of Ireland is anxious to develop its fishing industry. There may be more to protect in 10 years than we have now. I hope that that will be the case.

Mr. McNamara

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take it that in at least parts of Humberside and the East Yorkshire coast the agreement which he has brought back will be viewed with great hostility? He has not yet been able to say whether, after 10 years, the status quo as he has agreed it will be maintained if the British Government want it against all the odds. He has yet to make that point. Further, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that his statement about preserving the rights of the deep-sea fleet will be of little consequence if Norway does not sign the agreement and goes for the 50-mile limit, and if the Faroes and Greenland seek to follow the example of Iceland and go for the 50-mile limit? Will he realise that the threat to our deep-sea fishermen which he has brought back is, if anything, greater for them than it is for the inshore fleet?

Mr. Rippon

That is an extraordinary, mixed up statement, which is very far from the real facts of the situation. From the Humber to the Wash, for example, as far as we can estimate the position, between six and 12 miles, the total value of the catch is £12,000 a year. That would have to be generalised by existing members of the Community, subject to our retaining full jurisdiction over the 12 miles. I do not think that there is any great practical difficulty there. As to Norway, we have to have regard to the existing state of international law and the arguments that will go on in regard to Iceland in any event about the position in international law on unilateral extension of rights. Our deep-sea fishermen would clearly be in a better position if there were general agreement not to extend rights beyond the 12 mile limit. That must improve the position.

Sir Robin Turton

Did my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear to the Six that we could not abandon our slaughter policy against foot-and-mouth disease, nor could we import vaccinated animals in the next five-year period or in any period after that without damaging irreparably our livestock export trade?

Mr. Rippon

Yes, Sir. That is what we were seeking to do. We asserted both those statements, but as practice is developing all the time and people are seeking new methods, we have agreed that before the end of the five-year period there should be a general review, but the object is to raise standards, not in any sense to lower them. Unless there is agreement at some time that a change is desirable, we shall maintain our present standards.

Mr. Shore

Is not the situation that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has negotiated a derogation from the Common Market regulations on fisheries and that at the end of the 10-year period the normal rule will be reimposed unless a new agreement is reached by unanimous consent? The right hon. and learned Gentleman tells us that we can exert our national veto on overriding national interests, but surely other nations can also say that it is in their overriding national interests that the existing fisheries regulations should continue? How do we then resolve a situation in which two nations each claim that a vital national interest is involved?

Mr. Rippon

In effect it would have to be resolved, as all other issues in the Community have been resolved, by a long negotiation in which every country seeks to protect its national interests as it sees them. The right hon. Gentleman is correct when he says that what we have negotiated is a derogation from the fisheries regulations, which amounts in effect to an amendment in the regulations to meet the needs of the applicants. That is why I think there was, as I said last time, so much theology about the matter, with the use of words like, "continuing subject to review", or "derogation", or whatever it may be. In practice, whatever the legal position, we will be able in 1982 to assert in the light of the Luxembourg agreement—that is, all that has happened since the Treaty of Rome was signed—the protection of our vital interests.

Mr. Evelyn King

Is it not a fact that nearly 80 per cent. of the fish we consume is deep-sea caught? If we add to that the concessions my right hon. and learned Friend has secured in respect of inshore fishing, is not it clear that over 90 per cent. of our fish is being covered, and that where a Minister secures at any international negotiations 90 per cent. of what he sought he is doing well—and so the electorate will judge?

Mr. Rippon

As far as can be judged, the figure is about 98 per cent. of our total fishing catch.

Mr. Harold Wilson

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the debate about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) asked him? Will he confirm statements that have come from Brussels following the negotiations that the intention is to sign the Treaty of Accession between 12th and 17th January, which would mean that if there is no debate on today's statement the Treaty would be signed without the House having had the opportunity to debate fisheries?

Recalling that in the debate on 28th October the subject of fisheries was largely left over until the negotiations had gone further, and recalling the very clear commitments he gave to the House as well as to his party conference, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should press the Leader of the House, who might like to rise to give the House some advice on the matter now, that we should have a debate, preferably before the House rises. I mean a proper debate, and not just having the matter raised in a scrappy way on the Consolidated Fund Bill. If such a debate has to be postponed until January, there should be an assurance that no signature will be put to the Treaty until we have had it.

Mr. Rippon

Questions of debate are not for me, but the agreements we have reached in Brussels over the past weekend, like all the others we have reached, are all subject to legislation which will be required after the signing of the Treaty.

Mr. Harold Wilson

That answer is not good enough. In the debate on 28th October a number of hon. Members on both sides made it clear that they were not only suspicious but had good reason to think that the question of fisheries had been deliberately postponed until after that debate. This statement had been put out from Brussels sources not from the Government. No attempt was made to gainsay what was said by hon. Members on both sides. That means, therefore, that the debate on 28th October was incomplete in respect of fisheries. Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman has manifestly not satisfied the whole House on the question, which is something of an understatement about the reception of what he said, will the Leader of the House tell us that he is willing to have talks immediately through the usual channels on the matter?

Mr. Rippon

May I first say that the right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in saying that the matter was deliberately postponed. I think that everyone fully understood the position in October. It was a difficult matter of great importance not only to our fishing interests but to the applicant countries, and therefore had to await the opportunity for a multinational negotiation.

Mr. John Mendelson

On a point of order. As this is the last time we shall have an opportunity to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to speak to the Leader of the House before the Government propose to take executive action to sign the Treaty of Accession, denying the House a further opportunity to pass judgment on this development, is not it incumbent on the Leader of the House to rise now and answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The answer quite briefly, within the rules of order, is, "No".

Mr. Harold Wilson

On another point of order. Whilst what my hon. Friend said may not be a point of order, as you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, the House will wish to proceed to the very important business from now until the Adjournment next week in the most orderly and procedural way, which will be extremely difficult if the Leader of the House cannot agree at least to enter into talks through the usual channels for either a debate before Christmas or an undertaking that the Treaty will not be signed until we have had the debate.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

At this stage may I say that I am always prepared to enter into discussions—always have been and always will be.

Mr. Nott

On a point of order. I realise that there is a great deal of business to conduct, Mr. Speaker, but I represent much the largest fishing port in the South-West—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It looks very much as though the hon. Gentleman is about to complain that I did not call him to ask a supplementary question. That is not a point of order.