HC Deb 10 December 1976 vol 922 cc864-905

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 5, at end insert: 'Provided that no such order may be made in respect of any area within 50 miles of the baselines from which fishery limits are measured for the purposes of subsection (1) of section 1 of this Act'.

The Chairman

With this amendment we are taking the following amendments:

No. 8, in page 2, line 5, at end insert: 'Provided that the areas so designated are in no case less than 50 miles from the baselines referred to in section 1(1) above '..

No. 15, in page 3, line 3, at end insert: 'Provided that any arrangements so made which permits fishing by such boats less than 50 miles from the baselines referred to in section 1(1) above shall cease to have effect one year after the passing of this Act'.

Mr. Watt

In moving this amendment to refuse licences within 50 miles to boats of any country other than the United Kingdom, I am urging the Government to make use of their powers to save the entire near-water fishing industry from extinction.

Despite continual warning from scientists and fishermen that the fish stocks round our shores are at a dangerously low level, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention has continued for various political reasons to allocate quotas which are far too large. The total of these quotas, plus the fact that the quotas are often exceeded, has meant that the total fish caught in the North-East Atlantic in recent years has far exceeded the safety level and many species are now in grave danger.

Everyone who is connected in any way with the fishing industry agrees that quotas have not worked and have failed to guard our fish stocks, yet the EEC Commission goes blindly on advocating quotas. To save ourselves from the madness of the Commission, we must create a 50-mile band round our shores now. If we are to leave any fish for succeeding generations of fishermen, action must be taken within the next few days.

The fishermen of Scotland are absolutely appalled at the lack of action

by the Government up till now. All of them know that, come 1st January, boats of many nations which have been pushed out of other waters will come crowding into the British 200-mile zone.

There is not now sufficient time left—I believe that we have only some 12 negotiating days left—to negotiate with those countries, and they will fish full-out in our waters until they are stopped. The EEC Commission is in no position to license the boats of the EEC countries by the end of this year. It is worth bearing in mind that the EEC had no common fisheries policy until it cobbled one up prior to Britain's accession, and very little work has been done on the common fisheries policy since Britain acceded to the treaty. It is important that we show our partners in the Commission that we in Britain mean business on this matter.

If the fishing industry had not been such a Cinderella in the House of Commons, the Government of the day who took us into the Common Market and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) would not have been allowed to trade away the fishing industry without making adequate provisions for an exclusive band for our own boats.

Mr. Powell

Oh, yes, they would.

Mr. Watt

It really is not surprising that, at the first possible opportunity after that event, the fishing communities of Scotland got rid of their old Members of Parliament and have tried a new breed called the Scottish National Party. It is interesting to note that there is not one amendment on the Amendment Paper today emanating from the official Opposition and designed to create a 50-mile band. This will not go unnoticed in the few remaining fishing constituencies which still return Conservative Members of Parliament.

The Minister had better recognise that the fishing industry has never before been so united as it is now in its determination to get a 50-mile band. It does not grudge our EEC partners reasonable licensing, and I would say that British fishermen are even generous in that they are prepared to let our EEC partners have a fair degree of licensing in the outer 150-mile band, but they are determined that none shall go to anyone other than our own people in the inner 50 miles.

Our fishermen are not selfish men. They are realistic men who know that, if any foreign fishing fleet is allowed into the 50-mile band, any hope of conservation goes out of the door. Only our fleet has made any real attempt at keeping the NEAFC quotas, and it can give instance after instance of foreign vessels exceeding their quotas and of illegal fishing.

If our men have no faith in our fishery protection service adequately to police the activities of foreign boats within what has been the 12-mile band, it is small wonder that they now demand that no foreigners should be allowed to come inside a 50-mile band.

Fishermen in my constituency are in touch with me every weekend in life and are asking me to pass on to the Minister their absolute determination to retreat no further. They give a clear warning that, unless they get 50 miles now, they will not co-operate further with the Government. They will recognise no quotas and they will recognise no bans until the Government come to their senses.

Our men seek only the well-being of the industry and the opportunity to play a full part in helping the economy of the country to recover. It is high time that the Government realised that Scotland can no longer be bought and sold for English gold, nor can our fishing industry now be bought by green pounds from Brussels. Fifty miles is the lowest price that our fishermen will accept. I therefore—

Mr. Clegg

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. In talking about English gold, does he appreciate that the expenditure per capita in Scotland is £200 a head more than in England? It seems to me that the English gold is going north of the border very rapidly.

Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)

The hon. Gentleman is anticipating the devolution debate.

Mr. Watt

If what the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) says is correct, he is making a very strong argument for allowing Scotland to go its own way. It is something that very many Scotsmen will be pleased to hear.

I urge the Government to spell out clearly their intention and to create an exclusive band of 50 miles. I ask the Committee to accept the amendment.

Mr. Grimond

During the Second Reading debate the Secretary of State referred to the clause and said something about the principles on which he might designate countries, allowing them to fish in certain areas. I am not entirely clear as to the difference between Clause 2(1) and Clause 2(6), because Clause 2(6) would also seem to empower the Secretary of State to allow fishing boats from countries other than the United Kingdom to fish in certain waters. It may be that many of my remarks should and will be addressed at a later stage to subsection (6), but the point I wish to make at the moment is that there are, of course, very ancient historical rights concerning fishing in different parts of the North Sea.

The fishing of the waters round Shetland has undergone very many changes. It used to be chiefly fished by the Dutch, who taught the Shetlanders to fish. The Shetlanders in turn taught the Faroese. The Swedes had a church on Unst because they settled there in order to carry on the ling fishing. Now there are enormous new fleets from the countries of Eastern Europe and from Norway, which have been fishing for some time in different parts of the North Sea.

I hope that at some stage in our deliberations today the Secretary of State will spell out further what he began to say on Second Reading, so that we may know what he has in mind about those countries which may be given special advantages.

Mr. McNamara

Before I start my speech, I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wishes to say something to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond).

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Silkin)

I should like first to make a correction which has nothing to do with the Bill. I am not the Secretary of State. I did not want the title. I thought that perhaps my office might be distinguished a little more if I were to retain the title of Minister.

I intervene at this stage because what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has said is relevant to Amendment No. 15 in the names of my hon. Friends. I think it arises out of a rather mistaken view of what is intended and what the history is. Perhaps it is better to get that out of the way and then to deal with the main point of substance made by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt).

Subsection (6) is merely a repeat of Section 6(6) of the Sea Fisheries Act 1968. Its purpose is to allow scientific vessels to do research, as they do in all the waters of the world. They can be of great benefit to us, incidentally, because they can trace the movement of fish, the quantity of fish and so on. Unless we had the subsection in the Bill, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea would be unable to continue what is extremely valuable work.

I think the Committee will accept that there is considerable value in having an impartial international body to advise on conservation measures. That is the only reason why it is included, and it has no bearing or validity on the question of historic rights.

Mr. McNamara

I am sure that we are indebted to my right hon. Friend for the points he has made in explanation. I now turn to the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), which is in almost identical terms to the amendment in the names of my hon. Friends and myself.

We are most grateful that my right hon. Friend has taken this opportunity, during the Committee stage of the Bill, to reply on this most important amendment. I think it is true to say that, although we have had references to and mutterings and questions about the 50-mile limit over the past six to nine months, this is the first occasion on which we have been able to have a debate upon the particular issue in clear and succinct terms, without its being overshadowed by or taken as part and parcel with some other subject. We are able on this occasion to discuss the 50-mile limit and its implications. It is of tremendous importance to the industry and to the House, and we are glad that my right hon. Friend recognises its significance.

The real concern in relation to this matter of the 50-mile limit arose when my right hon. Friend the then Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who is now Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, made a statement to the Council of Ministers in which he said that there were to be two major elements in any successful fisheries policy—a satisfactory coastal regime and a workable quota system. Having laid down these two principles, with which no one would disagree, he went on to explain the policy to be followed by Her Majesty's Government, which seemed to fail in any way to meet those two principles.

It seemed to those of us concerned in the industry that the proposals being made by the Foreign Office at that time looked very nice on paper and might give a reasonable amount of scope for negotiating and bargaining, but that when it came to the nitty-gritty and the practical effect of those policies they would be bound to fail. We felt that in their failure they would lead to a rundown in the British fishing industry which would affect not only the inshore fleets but also the middle-distance fleets and the distant-water fleets, which are themselves at the present moment undergoing a tremendous transformation as a result of actions taken by third party countries not governed by the EEC.

In looking at this matter of the 50-mile limit, therefore, we were looking not merely at isolated fishing communities but at an enormous industry throughout the country. It is concerned not merely with the people who put the nets over the sides of the ships but with the people who build the ships, with the people who supply the ancillary industries and with a most important part of our food industry. Indeed, the frozen fish industry is but the core, the centre, of an enormous frozen food industry dealing with vegetables, fruits and so on, which can exist in many areas only because we have the continuous processing of fish, using the enormous plant and facilities which are available.

It is important, therefore, that people should be able to see that when we are talking about a 50-mile limit we are not merely talking about something which is narrow, selfish and confined to just one small section of the community which may or may not have a loud-mouthed lobby in the House of Commons. We are looking, in fact, at the whole question of the supply of food in the United Kingdom, and many other jobs and much other employment are involved. They will all be at risk when, on 14th December, the negotiations take place in Brussels. It is against that background that we must examine what my right hon. Friend said to the Council of Ministers in Brussels. We want a clear indication of the present position.

12.30 p.m.

What is being said is further underlined by yesterday's statement about the Icelandic negotiations. The Commission seems to promise something, to give a nod or a wink, saying yesterday that we shall have 12 vessels fishing in Icelandic waters and lifting our hopes, when we know that that matter must go through the Icelandic Parliament, its Foreign Affairs Committee and the Icelandic Government. That is the position, whatever the negotiating skills of Mr. Gundelach and no matter how much we are assured he has a grasp of our problem. If he has not grasped it by now he must be thick, because people have been putting it to him for a long time. But it is a question of finding the solution as well as grasping the problem. We were glad to learn earlier that my right hon. Friend may refer to the Icelandic matter when answering this debate. We should like some more concrete information.

My right hon. Friend the then Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs began at Brussels by saying: The British fishing industries ask for a 100 mile limit. We have told them that a belt of that size is unobtainable and I do not even ask for it today for this is not a propaganda exercise. That is a good way to start negotiations—throwing away one's ace. He then said: the 12 mile exclusive zone which the Commission proposes will not meet our needs. We have been looking at the key areas for us beyond 12 miles and have found many of them are within 35 miles and all within 50 miles. Even in this band not all areas are equally important. My right hon. Friend next argued that we wanted a variable belt system. My constituents, fishermen throughout the country and the industry as a whole cannot understand the variable belt argument. If some areas between 12 and 35 miles are not worth having—and that was the basis of my right hon. Friend's argument in Brussels, that we might have 12 to 35 miles in certain places and 12 to 50 miles in others—they ask why we should not claim them anyway. The EEC will not want them, and therefore we can have an area which is clearly definable and easy to police. That would remove many of the problems arising from our present position. We are trying to look at what my right hon. Friend then said in as logical a manner as possible. We think that he was wrong to say that he would not accept a 100-mile negotiating position. To throw that away at the start was to throw away his strongest card.

What are the arguments for a 50-mile limit? Apart from the apparent lack of logic in my right hon. Friend's statement, there are four main reasons—policing, conservation, compensation and preservation. It is easier and more understandable to have 50 miles from a base line rather than a dog's-tooth arrangement around our coast. Even if we have quotas, licensing or a combination of both, which is probably the best method, there would be such a multitude of ships within the 50-mile limit that it would become very difficult to police. Therefore, it is far better to have a straightforward 50-mile limit.

Everyone, including the Government and the official Opposition, agrees that it is impossible to find all the countries in the world, or even within the North-East Atlantic, agreeing on a proper way to enforce the terms of quota agreements. We say that, if the resources, the spawning grounds and the conservation areas are within 50 miles, that area must be controlled, policed and organised by the coastal State which, under the Commission's proposals, will have the responsibility for policing it. If a country is to have responsibility for policing, if it is to enforce the law, it should at least control the law and the operation that is taking place. Therefore, for conservation reasons it is vital that we control the 50-mile limit.

I come next to the question of compensation. Over the past two years the deep-sea fleet has suffered a tremendous number of blows. Whatever temporary agreement we may reach with Iceland, Norway, Russia or Greenland, the shape of our fishing fleet will alter. The size of vessels, the area they fish, the methods of fishing and the number of men employed will change. This is a structural alteration in the British fishing industry. If we are to have any regard for social and economic policy within the Community, there must be proper compensation for the men employed and the firms involved. They will be presented with many problems in readjusting themselves. Their ability to do so, and the ability of those concerned on land to meet the new challenges, will be improved by our having a 50-mile exclusive limit and not variable bands, which may change from time to time.

Preservation is tied up with the matter of conservation. I want to preserve a great tradition, important jobs and important communities in our islands. The depopulation that has gone on in the rural areas—not only in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—has happened because of lost job opportunities. The fishing for the inshore fleets and middle-water fleets in some of the more isolated areas has represented an important source of income, sometimes supplemented by farming. It has kept many isolated communities going. The ability to earn a living in the more remote parts is important in general social terms, apart from anything else.

It is also important to preserve jobs for fishermen in many of the small fishing ports in more urban areas—seaside resorts and so on—where we must maintain the mixture in the economic base. In large and great ports such as Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood, the fishing industry makes a most important contribution to the whole economy of the region, being responsible for tens of thousands of jobs.

That is the basis of our argument for the 50-mile limit. It is why we feel that the statements made in the past have been a cause of considerable concern in many of the fishing areas—though not of panic, because fishermen do not panic. This is why we believe that the Government should be pressing urgently for a 50-mile limit exclusive to British fishermen. If Amendment No. 15 will not suffice, I hope that my right hon. Friend will find the correct wording to ensure that British boats rather than those of any other country are in those waters.

Mr. Henderson

I am pleased to be called to speak following the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). His comments about the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) were entirely in order and, if anything, were slightly understated. The right hon. Gentleman caused dismay in the fishing community when he was responsible for these negotiations. I must also include in those comments the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown)—who has braved the wrath of the House to come here today. He was quoted some months ago as believing that the industry had not a hope in hell of obtaining a 50-mile limit. I am willing to give way to him if he wishes to amend that statement I do not know whether he still stands by it.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Not only am I willing to stand by that statement, with the qualification that I made at the time; I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) was present when I said it, and he will confirm that it was part of an excellent speech.

Mr. Henderson

The Minister condemns himself out of his own mouth. I thought that if the Minister had not said that, this would be an ideal opportunity for him to tell the House that that was the case. I admire his bravery, if not his wisdom.

The crux of this Bill is the issue of a 50-mile limit, which is the reason for the intense concern in all parts of the House on this issue. Whether the fishing industry lives or dies relates to the question whether we can keep our control over at least 50 miles of our waters. This limit is wanted for very good reasons, primarily for conservation purposes. Scottish fishermen have a good record of conserving their own fish stocks. We have seen fishermen from other countries coming into our waters, using industrial fishing methods and destroying many of the stocks, just as they destroy the stocks in their own grounds.

There are three possibilities open to us if we wish to practise conservation. One is to have exclusive control of limits and to determine the way in which the fishing effort is maintained within those limits. The second is the application of quotas. to which I shall come a little later. The third is a combination of the two.

Fishermen in North-East Scotland have no confidence in the international quota arrangements, nor have they any faith in the way in which they have operated in the past. Most of the fish caught by them is for human consumption only, and must be checked, weighed and measured when landed. Our fishermen know that many of the other countries that fish for industrial purposes and pulp their catch will find it easy to escape any form of check or control, in terms of quantity. If the Minister wishes to have a quota régime the alternative of a 50-mile limit will be totally unacceptable to the fishermen of Scotland, and probably to fishermen in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Fishermen laugh cynically at the way in which other countries deal with quotas. From 1st January we shall probably face a shambles. The British Fishing Federation has already said that, thanks to the EEC, we are in a mess. Its spokesman said: If there is no internal EEC agreement, the principles of the present common fisheries policy still apply. That means that after 1st January EEC vessels will be able to fish up to six miles off our coasts in places.

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman will be the first to recognise that the federation is crying "wolf". My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and I, at the time of the original accession and referendum, frequently asked the federation to state its position. It was happy to have the North Sea as an EEC lake.

Mr. Henderson

That was a useful intervention. The federation may be crying "wolf", but certainly the wolves are already on Danish and other vessels heading for our fishing grounds. Unless we reach some agreement fairly quickly, a chaotic situation could arise.

The situation is particularly serious in respect of herring. The Chairman of the Herring Fishing Board, Dr. Lyon Dean, was quoted in the Aberdeen Press and Journal on Wednesday 8th December as saying: In the North Sea there should be no fishing for herring … His point was that stocks had been depleted by the amount of over-fishing. He was asked whether the situation had reached critical proportions, and replied: This is what I have been trying to say, that the situation in the North Sea is critical today. Dr. Lyon Dean agreed that it would justify taking unilateral action to protect herring stocks.

That is an extremely serious statement for the Chairman of the Herring Industry Board to make. If Ministers know Dr. Lyon Dean they will appreciate how deeply he feels about this issue and will realise that he felt it necessary to issue that warning to the Government and to those concerned in the EEC.

12.45 p.m.

Originally the Herring Industry Board asked for a 100-mile limit. The board, in its annual report for the year ended 31st December, said, on page 8: In the Board's view a revised common fisheries policy must make provision for a coastal state preference, acknowledgment of which is becoming increasingly recognised as an important element in the current arrangements for conservation of overexploited fish stocks. As has already been indicated, the United Kingdom fishing industry feel that this could be achieved, at least in part, by the application within the Community of the exclusive economic zone principle; with the proviso that, for this purpose, the inner 100 miles should be reserved to the coastal state, That was a measured pronouncement by the board that is concerned with the whole of the herring fishing industry in the United Kingdom. I repeat that it took the considered view that the inner 100 miles should be so reserved. We have called for such a move on many occasions.

In welcoming the Minister to this debate and to the discussions, we hold him in no way to blame for the errors and omissions of those who have gone before, and we look to him to bring some much-needed vitality and determination to obtain proper rights for our fishermen. He will know, if he has read the debates and answers given by his ministerial colleagues, that we have constantly been fobbed off on the subject of limits. The unfortunate Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—he is unfortunate because I am about to quote him—said, on 25th February, when dealing with comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and myself: The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) and his colleagues have repeatedly suggested that we should take unilateral action, but he knows from the example of the Icelandic situation, in which Iceland took unilateral action and went to 200 miles by last October, that this does not give a certainty on which to base future policy proposals … if countries proceed unilaterally, chaos ensues.—[Official Report, Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., 25th February 1976; c. 31.] We are now discussing a Bill that will give us the right to take unilateral action. I welcome that change of heart by the Minister of State. He is no longer saying that we must wait until the Law of the Sea Conference concludes its interminable discussions. It would have been better for the fishing industry if this Bill had been introduced a year ago, which would have shown a lead on our part in taking action.

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman should be fair and have regard to the changed circumstances. We were then in a situation in which we were seeking an extension of the Icelandic Agreement, which expired on 15th November last year. We were critical, as indeed was the House, of the unilateral action taken by the Icelanders, but we said that it would be better to await the Law of the Sea Conference in April to see how things went. Since then the situation has changed because other countries, including the United States and Canada, have declared their intention to go for 200 miles. We have waited until the Community has agreed to go for 200 miles. I think that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that if were not taking this action now, after waiting for the Law of the Sea Conference and getting the Community to act in concert with us, our fishermen would have been put at a disadvantage in that they would have already been in the waters that we are now seeking to include in the British fisheries limit. However, the hon. Gentleman is talking about a different situation.

Mr. James Johnson rose——

Mr. Henderson

I give way to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson).

Mr. James Johnson

My hon. Friend the Minister has taken the words out of my mouth, but as we are both allies today in a common cause—namely, the 50-miles extension—I say to him, because he is not a flat-earther and he knows that the world is not static, that we are now in changing circumstances.

Mr. Henderson

We are every day in changing circumstances, as the hon. Gentleman will recall. In the interim, more and more stocks have been destroyed. I am sorry that the Minister of State has left the Chamber, because I wanted to respond to his remarks. What he has said today makes it quite clear that the Government's judgment on how to deal with the Icelandic situation was totally miscast from the beginning. As we are now saying that we shall go to 200 miles, why was all the effort expended in trying to coerce Iceland?

Mr. John Silkin

The hon. Gentleman is good at catching big fish himself. Perhaps this big fish will have a word with him. I am sorry that he was not present during Second Reading of the Fishery Limits Bill. No doubt he had more important things to do. Had he been present he would have heard what I hope was a fairly well reasoned argument on my part on the question why the 200-mile limit, or the proposal for it, has come now and could not have come earlier, and why it followed, as a matter of logic, the chain reaction following the Icelandic unilateral choice of 200 miles.

Mr. Henderson

The Minister is entitled to put forward his own interpretation. I should dearly have liked to question him last Friday, but many of us, especially from the North of Scotland, have constituency engagements on a Friday. We wondered why the Government decided that the Bill should receive a Second Reading on a Friday. Perhaps that was done because they knew it would be difficult for some of us to attend and participate.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

It is Friday today.

Mr. Henderson

Yes, and a great number of changes have had to be made to many arrangements so that some of us could be present. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has nothing to do on a Friday in his constituency, but some of us have to work on a Friday in our constituencies.

The Minister is putting a particular gloss on the situation, but the Bill recognises that we have to take unilateral action. That is what it is. Let us not conceal from the world that this is unilateral action, although perhaps it is unilateral action on an EEC basis. It seems that that is all right although it it is wrong to take unilateral action to protect individual interests. That is what the Minister is saying today. That is the changed circumstance.

Mr. McNamara

If the hon. Gentleman is to take that line of argument, he should in fairness reply to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said, namely, that if the EEC will not agree to go out, we are going to go out anyway. Let us have all the facts.

Mr. Henderson

If the Foreign Secretary is saying that we are going to go out, I am delighted. If the Minister tells us today, in response to the debate, that we are are going to go out, again I am delighted. I do not think we can continue much longer on the present basis. I asked the right hon. Gentleman about this issue yesterday at Question Time. I asked him whether the time had not come for us to state a deadline, beyond which we would have to make it clear to the EEC that we should take unilateral action. I did not expect him to respond immediately, off the cuff. However, I have written to him on the subject and asked him to consider whether, as a new circumstance, he should tell the EEC "Here is the date. If I do not get an agreement that is fair for our fishermen by this date, the pressure in the House of Commons and throughout the country will be such that I shall be forced to take unilateral action in terms of the powers conferred on me by legislation".

It is my impression of the Common Market—I have some rather unfavourable impressions—that it responds to deadlines. If necessary, people should go there and negotiate constantly against a deadline. After all, the EEC has the device of stopping the clock—a procedure that would hardly commend itself in this Chamber. That is the device that is used in order to reach agreement.

The right hon. Gentleman must recognise that it is felt that the fishing limit negotiations have been going on for far too long. Unless he can assure us that we are likely to get a better deal by letting them stretch out, we hope that he will take the initiative and say that we must give a reasonable period—whatever period he suggests—and that when the end of that period is reached, if we have not arrived at an agreement that is fair and reasonable and takes account of our interests, the Government will have to ask the House of Commons to support them in exercising their powers under this measure—in other words, take unilateral action. That is something that the Minister must consider carefully and seriously.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central spoke not only of the people who go to sea but the thousands who are in jobs on shore—for example, in processing and distribution. Their jobs depend just as much as the fishermen's on achieving control of these waters and the stock in them. The Minister will have our full support if he says today that there is a limit to his patience with the EEC countries and asks us whether he will have the backing of the House if he tells those countries that we must have the 50-miles limit within a certain period or we shall take action ourselves.

Mr. James Johnson

The longer the debate proceeds, the more it is obvious that not only is this the most important item on the agenda but that it is as important as the 200-mile limit, which, of course, the Bill is all about. Therefore, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for taking part in the debate. No doubt my right hon. Friend can sense the feel- ing of the House. He faces a most unusual alliance of the Hull Members en toute force and the Scottish National Party, plus all the other Members that I can see in the Chamber who have shown that they are members of the alliance by their assent or their verbal contributions.

When a Minister goes to an international conference and stands up for his people and his nation and is a hardliner, he is termed a hawk. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be far more than hawkish next week on our behalf. I believe that he will be sharkish. I hope that he will devour all the smaller fish in the EEC pond.

Mr. McNamara

And have a whale of a time.

Mr. Johnson

There is no doubt that, with the waters around us and the size of our fleet, we are by far the biggest nation inside the Nine when it comes to dealing with these issues. Although we have heard about the Soviet Union catching about 800,000 tons of fish in these waters and the Norwegians not being far behind, there is no doubt that our fleet, given the opportunity could catch up to 1¼ million tons of fish. This would make an enormous contribution to our social life, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) spoke so movingly. There are other people who work in the fishing industry besides the fishermen. There are social communities involved. I know that the full support of all hon. Members will be behind the Minister when he is sharkish in Brussels or Luxembourg next week.

1.0 p.m.

I am advised that the Community does not in any way infringe our sovereignty in these matters. However, it prohibits any discrimination of other member States in these waters. We now find that because of this so-called "equality of excess" our partners, whether they be Dutch or Danish, are saying that they must be allowed in, because we have entered into an agreement, and thus Ministers have sworn away our rights by signing bits of paper.

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) spoke of the ownership of fish in these waters and used the word "academic". This matter is of academic interest to his constituents, as it is to mine. The fishermen are realistic about the matter. They merely want to catch fish. I have met some of my constituents to discuss the ownership of fish. They said that to claim ownership of fish in the waters about our shores was about as sensible as our European partners coming here and claiming ownership of land in East Yorkshire.

I accept that one of the main objectives of the fisheries policy is conservation. We do not want other fleets coming here and fishing out the whole of our stocks. Our fishing fleets have contracted. In the 1960s and the 1970s there were 130 vessels sailing out of Hull. There are now probably half that number, and if the contraction continues we shall be down to 20 or less. There must be a fair share of the catch between member States.

I, like other hon. Memebrs, have little or no faith in the catch quota system. I do not believe that the flag States play the game when they attempt to monitor their catches. The coastal State is the authority which should monitor catches and should be the judge in the last instance.

There has been a contraction in the fleet in Hull, Fleetwood, Grimsby, Aberdeen and elsewhere. We cannot be accused of having an excess capacity in fleet fishing. That is why we want to keep foreign vessels out of these 50 miles. That is why we should have the 12-mile limit extended to 50 miles so that we have a band of waters about our shores. There were comments this morning about having variable bands, but there is not much logic in having this wavy line. If we do not want to fix a certain line because there are areas inside it which may have little or no fish, why should other nations fish there any more than ours? There should be some definition which looks logical that can be determined and can be easy to police, such as the six-mile limit was in the old days or the 12-mile limit later.

The system of quotas has been openly and cynically abused by our sister nations, particularly the Danes. That is why we cannot depend upon our partners in the EEC. We must take action to safeguard our people. This happens in other nations. The United States of America and Canada feel that, as coastal States, they are the ones who should monitor, safeguard and enforce law and order within their limits.

Indisputable evidence from the Norwegian fishery protection organisation and from our own fishery protection people show that there is cheating to the ninth degree. That is why we want an exclusive economic zone, which we alone could look after.

The industry itself in the past wanted a 100-mile limit, but now it knows that this is just not on. We are now all convinced of the need for having at least a 50-mile limit. I still believe in the EEC as an institution, but fears have been mounting as the months and years pass that the Common Fishery Policy is one of the weakest parts of it. We must change that. I do not see why people should give up the ghost and think that it is impossible to change it. Therefore, on 14th December we shall all be of one mind in wanting the Minister to do his best for our constituents. There is, no other industry in which people are so united. We shall extend our limits on New Year's morning. This applies to the whole of the Community. Time is of the essence now.

If we do not get something next week or before New Year's morning, we shall feel exceedingly shaky about the future. If we go into the new year without it, other fleets will get entrenched. We must get something definite in 1977. Possession is more than nine parts of the law: it is 10 parts of the law with these people. My right hon. Friend knows that we all speak most solemnly and seriously about the situation.

I have two questions to ask about Iceland, a topic that was raised earlier.

Inspired leaks may have come out of the Community yesterday; I do not know. Mr. Gundelach's name in particular has been mentioned. Are we to have something definite happening in the new year, not merely about the EEC and the 50-mile exclusive zone but also about Iceland? I speak as a constituency Member along with my two colleagues from Hull. Are we to have an interim agreement or a long-term settlement?

Many people in Hull and Fleetwood fear that Iceland will make a unilateral statement and that she will be in a position to tell us what is negotiable or not. I would be aghast if that were so and if Mr. Gundelach and his colleagues have not been able to get an agreement which is suitable and helpful to our people.

We have heard it whispered that the 24 Hull vessels fishing off Iceland—which means almost twice that number going backwards and forwards to the banks—are to be reduced to 12. Is that correct? It would mean that, if and when we get a settlement, the existing number of 48 vessels at work would become 24.

Iceland is one of the third country members which in 1977–78 could be in a position to withhold fishing about her shores to us. Yet Iceland will be in a position to come into the so-called EEC fishpond and have a share, however small, in Community stocks. That would be quite monstrous. I hope that the Minister will set his face firmly against such a situation next week.

Mr. Powell

I would first refer to the point dealt with by the Minister in his brief intervention. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the intention of subsection (6), in particular in respect of the words "special provision", is a very narrow one indeed and relates not to commercial fishing but to boats that are sent on special errands of international importance.

I wish to put to the Minister a proposition which would save our returning to this point. I hope that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will agree, since we both tabled amendments on this matter. My suggestion is that the Bill ought to contain a definition of what is meant by "special provision", which should not be beyond the power of the draftsman to excogitate. It could be put somewhere in the interpretation clause and would remove misunderstanding about the meaning of the subsection, to which, I concede, there can be no objection.

The Minister will appreciate that at the moment, "special provision" conveys no meaning to any ordinary reader of the Bill and appears to be in contradiction or overlap with the remaining parts of the clause. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to dispose of that.

Mr. John Silkin

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has an important contribution to make on the major point. We are not differing in principle on this matter. I shall certainly look into this and see what can be done.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Powell

I am much obliged. In that case I shall not move my later amendment. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will not move his, either.

On the main point, I was delighted to hear the admirable and cogent speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), with its demonstration of the widespread effects of anything which influences our fishing industry. I would only add that there is a considerable and growing export potential behind some aspects of the fishing industry. Many other considerations are of relevance to Northern Ireland, with its high and problematical unemployment.

There will be no difference of opinion between us. But we are not merely talking about the fishing industry this morning; we are talking about a great sector of the economy of the United Kingdom. What we are concerned with in the debate is the attitude of the Minister. The purpose of the amendments is to provide the Minister with weapons that he can use because some of us, at any rate, have formed the opinion that he is minded to use those weapons.

To a far-reaching extent, we feel that the pass has been sold on the matter of the exclusive control of the essential waters around these islands. The pass that has partially passed out of our control in the previous formulation of our position has got to be won back. That is what these amendments are about.

The theory of a variable zone, ranging up to 50 miles from the coast and including the key areas, is illogical in itself. As has been pointed out, it is an invitation, inside the framework of the EEC, for us to lose the essential battle for what we have to have.

There is no reason to suppose that the areas which were key areas at one time and in one period will be key areas in the future. After all, the long-term background to this debate is the immense change that has taken place in the location, movement, and so on, of the fishing stocks. It is therefore intolerable that we should be bound to a specific pattern which appears to correspond to the key areas just at this moment. If it be such, the key areas will be renegotiated and renegotiated, and the variable zone will be varied. We would rather have this matter settled once and for all. We do not want to be dragged back, or attempt to drag others back, to the negotiating table, year by year. We want to have certainty, and certainty means that we have to have exclusive control over a defined limit that is the same the whole way round the coast of these islands.

The Minister has to find the means of regaining a bargaining position that will enable him to end up at the close of the day, with a definable, logical, permanent fishing zone that will include all the waters of which we can reasonably require control for the future in order to secure the conservation and re-creation of the stocks that are essential to this country.

As I said on Second Reading—I received the Minister's assent—we must exercise the power that we intend to give ourselves by the Bill. One does not necessarily use that power by going up and knocking on the front door. It is not for this House to be concerned with the tactical stages through which it may be desirable to go to reach the conclusion. It is for us unitedly to tell the Government what that conclusion has got to be, so that the Minister can say to the rest of the world that he has a House of Commons that is not going to accept less than an exclusive 50-mile fishing zone.

They can play it as they please. The stages of the negotiation can be designed so as to secure that result most effectively and with least loss in other directions. But the Minister must go from this Chamber this afternoon—I am sure that he will do so—with the certainty that there is behind him a united House of Commons, and a House of Commons expressing interests other than mere fishery interests—a House of Commons that is determined to have nothing less than a 50-mile permanent and exclusive zone for this country.

Mr. Clegg

I want to echo the points that have been made in the cogent speeches to which we have listened. There has been very little difference of opinion between all the hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, and in Fleetwood we view the necessity for a 50-mile limit with the same degree of concern as that which has been expressed by other hon. Members.

I wish to take up one or two comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. MacNamara) which appealed to me. He spoke about the deep-sea fleet and the affliction of uncertainty from which it is suffering. The sooner we get some certainty into the situation the better. Apropos that, I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on Mr. Gundelach's statement on two counts. First, has some agreement been reached with Iceland that is subject to the approval of the Icelandic Parliament? The second is more relevant to this debate, namely, whether the EEC proposes to limit the catches of third countries to 50 per cent. during the coming year, to start with. That would help.

I return to the main problem of the 50-mile limit. Both inshore and deep-sea fishermen in the port of Fleetwood are resolved on this matter. As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, we want the Minister to go to the negotiations in the full knowledge that there is deep determination in this country to get what we want. In last week's debate, the right hon. Member for Down, South and I both said that there were powerful weapons that this country could use in the negotiations. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, the way that these powers and arguments are used is tactically a matter for the Government to decide. We want the Government to know that we are united in what we want and that we hope this will give the Government a stronger bargaining position than that which would exist if they had a divided House behind them.

Mr. Prescott

I intervene only briefly because most of the arguments have been advanced already on this and previous occasions. In addition, I have had opportunities on the European scene to discuss some of the arguments about the fishing industry. I wish, however, to repeat one or two of the remarks of other hon. Members, and first I deal with some of the references by Mr. Gundelach to the British fishing industry.

I treat with a considerable degree of scepticism anything that the British Trawlers Federation says about the fishing industry. A great deal of the bad advice about Iceland which the Government have acted upon in the past came from that industry. However, everyone with any knowledge of that industry knows that it is one of the most reactionary, backward and investment-lacking industries in the country with some of the worst working conditions. This is evidenced by the terrible accident and death records——

Mr. Wall


Mr. Prescott

I am sure that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) will be able to prove that I am wrong with figures, and then no doubt we shall hear more from him about the facts. He and I debated these matters during the period of the referendum, when we discussed the problems of entering the Common Market. Constantly I warned of what would happen to the fishing industry. I did so on television and in public debate with him, but not one word came from him about these problems. There was some talk of possible vetoes, but anyone who read the treaty and the conditions being offered at that time knows that it was almost inevitable that this debate would have to occur on the problems arising from it.

Mr. Wall

The hon. Gentleman said that there was not one word from me about this and that I talked about vetoes. That at least is one word.

Mr. Prescott

The veto does not apply. That intervention shows the hon. Gentleman's ignorance about the conditions which obtained at the time of the referendum and about the problems which in his mind exist at the moment. If he still believes that the veto has a part to play in this, I can only advise him to read the record and see what the problem is. It is not a matter of the veto. We are left with certain circumstances, like it or not, which arise out of the decision at the time of the referendum. That is now past history. We are part of the Community, and it is not conceivable that we shall leave the Com- munity. The only argument that we are left to deal with here is whether the parameters allow us in this decision-making to argue the case for an exclusive zone.

A number of hon. Members have said that the Minister should be assured that this House demands an exclusive area. My experience of the Community in the last 18 months as a Member of the European Parliament leads me to believe that it is highly unlikely that that position will be brought about. There will have to be an agreement between all the nations on the policy to be pursued.

Let us have the facts clear. We have a delegation which at the moment is discussing the fishing agreement. The present agreement means that we can continue until 1982 with a 12-mile limit but that it will be up to the breach after that. Clearly certain factors have now changed, though not in any legal sense because the Law of the Sea Conference has not yet reached any conclusions. But the arguments which I put forward in support of the case of the Icelanders are those which we are using now to justify our case. It is on record that I predicted that we would be bound to do that. It was part of the nonsense of our position at that time. However, that is all history.

The argument now is whether the Minister can achieve an exclusive limit in the Community negotiations. I do not think he can. It will require the agreement of all the Community nations. Unless we are prepared to say to the Community "If you do not do this, we shall stop the clock. We shall leave the Community. We shall not agree to anything unless you accept the position." the matter can only deteriorate, and for a number of reasons. I do not think that the Government can accept that position.

Mr. James Johnson

This is a very important statement. Are we being told that in no circumstances will our partners in the EEC accept any change which obviously is to our benefit?

Mr. Prescott

I am not in a position to say what they will agree, any more than the Minister is. I merely give my opinion from my 18 months' experience that it seems highly unlikely that all the nations in the Community will agree to an exclusive limit of 50 miles round our coasts.

Let me give one small but practicable example. Denmark gets major quantities of her fish, albeit for industrial purposes, from waters round our coast. Is it conceivable that the Danish Government will agree voluntarily to any exclusion of their fishermen from that water? We have to remember that the majority of Danish people are employed in some capacity in fishing. It is not possible for Denmark to agree to that.

It is essential for us to understand that all the nations have to agree. This is not a matter of a majority decision. We all have to agree. The veto argument comes into play only when we are dealing with a new policy. In fishing there was already a policy before we entered the Community.

I return to the exclusive limit. I have always been convinced that to deal with conservation it was necessary to agree to the principle—a view to which the United Nations is beginning to come in the Law of the Sea Conference—of a coastal State having exclusive control over its area. That is why I thought Iceland was justified in her action. I am in no doubt about that and about its importance to conservation.

But that is not the argument. I think that we are all convinced about that, though many in the Community are not. The argument is whether we can convince other members of the Community to accept an exclusive limit of 50 miles round our coasts. I have given my own opinion as one who has tried to argue these matters in the European Parliament with politicians of the respective countries involved, and they would not accept the principle.

I have referred to the amendment as being a compromise. We could have exclusive conservation zones where the State concerned would have the power to stop any fishing beyond a certain limit if it felt that that was a direct threat to the conservation of fish stocks. The main fear of our fishermen is that fish stocks will continue to decline whatever quotas may be decided. However, the main fear of other Community nations is that 60 per cent. of Europe's fish is caught round our coasts and that they may be excluded from those areas.

There are two main objectives in any agreement. One needs the wisdom of Solomon to know what will come out of the negotiations. But I hope that my right hon. Friend is able to say what will be the legal position. As I understand it, when the Bill comes into force we shall have a 200-mile limit. Presumably the 12-mile limit will continue and whatever we do beyond the 12 miles will be determined by any new fishing policy that is agreed.

1.30 p.m.

If we do not have a fishing policy, what will happen? I presume that the coastal State—Britain—will take on the rôle of conserving fish stocks in that area. I presume that Britain will continue to say that certain ships shall not fish in that area if conservation stocks are threatened. It is easier to deal with third party countries in this respect than EEC countries. But what is the position of Community nations' ships which fish in those waters? Do we say that they shall no longer fish in that area beyond 12 miles or up to whatever range it may be within the 200-miles? Do we actively discriminate against them? If we discriminate against Community countries' ships, we shall be in breach of the Treaty of Rome. If so, we have no law unless we impose one and let other Common Market nations take us to the International Court.

I predict that no agreement will be reached in the Community by 1st January. What do we do in the period between now and when the Community reaches a decision? If we have the power and are prepared to exercise it in discriminating against other Community nations' vessels in that area, we shall establish an important precedent and our fishermen are unlikely to say that we should give it up. If we enforce an almost unilateral position within Community waters, we shall establish an exclusive zone and in negotiations it will be difficult to get our fishermen to accept that we must give it up because no agreement has been reached between the Common Market countries.

I have always been impressed by Mr. Gundelach's abilities. Some of the criticisms made by the trawling industry about that Commissioner are unfair, because he is in an extremely difficult position. We were not able to force our view on Iceland. Therefore, why should we think that, without the blessing of the Royal Navy—God knows what it did for us—he should be able to get the Icelandic Government to accept any agreement? It is amazing that we should express surprise that the Icelandic Parliament will not accept our terms. Parliaments either accept or reject what is put before them. That is an important political process in any democratic country.

The criticisms of Mr. Gundelach are not warranted. He is doing his best. If when Mr. Gundelach comes back, he says "I have negotiated for you on behalf of the Community"—not on behalf of Britain—"an agreement under the terms of which Community ships will have a presence in Icelandic waters", he will no doubt tell my right hon. Friend "Surely you cannot expect me to accept an exclusive zone Icelandic argument for Britain against the rest of the Common Market nations." It will be difficult to get any agreement because of the soundness of that argument.

I am somewhat pessimistic. My pessimism has been confirmed by my experience of 18 months in the Common Market. Whatever we might feel about exclusive zones, that is the reality of the situation. We are now in the Community. We must live with the reality. I hope that a compromise might be reached on an exclusive conservation area that will satisfy the various nations in the Community.

Mr. Wall

No doubt the British Fishing Federation and the Government will take note of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). However, I expect that the Government will continue to take their advice primarily from the British Fishing Federation and not from the hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East referred to the power of the veto. There is no negative veto, but it has been shown by others in the EEC that the veto may be used on one area in agriculture in order to obtain what is wanted in another area. Sometimes horse trading rather than logic seems to be predominant in negotiations in the EEC.

The Government's negotiations over the Icelandic dispute were not markedly successful. I make no complaint, because they were in a difficult position. But it is more likely that the EEC negotiations will have greater success, because they will have more leverage than the Government had. Therefore, from that point of view we are better served by being in the Common Market than out of it.

I turn now to the question of the 50-mile exclusive zone, which is the subject of the amendments. If these amendments were tabled to ensure this discussion—it has been very good and interesting—or, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, to give the Minister a weapon, they have my full support. However, if they were tabled with a view to altering the Bill, I suggest that they are unnecessary.

I remind the Committee that on 8th December, in the First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, when we discussed fisheries, I asked the Minister of State whether, under this Bill, it would be possible to introduce a 50-mile exclusive limit, to which he replied "yes".

Only yesterday, as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will recall, I asked him if he had these powers, and he said: I think I carry the hon. Gentleman with me when I say that it is vital to have the necessary powers. As for the 50-mile limit as an exclusive zone, the powers lie within the Bill."—[Official Report, 9th December 1976;Vol. 922, c. 608.] The Minister has the powers. The question is: on what grounds will he use them?

We are delighted to see the Minister here. I am cognisant of the reasonable and co-operative way in which he addresses himself to difficulties affecting the fishing industry.

Two points arise from the amendments. The first concerns access and the second concerns control.

I remind the Committee that the industry started by asking for a 100-mile exclusive limit and that it then went for a 50-mile exclusive limit when the Government refused to consider 100 miles. That was logical, as it could be seen on a chart and be easily patrolled. However, I understand that the Government have proposed a variable or zigzag limit.

The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), East (Mr. Prescott), West (Mr. Johnson) and I are particularly concerned about the North-East Coast, off Yorkshire. The Government's proposal is for a 50-mile limit from the North of Scotland to Flamborough Head, near our constituencies, then suddenly cutting back to 12 miles. How we shall manage to patrol an area extending out 50 miles and then coming straight back to 12 miles I do not know.

The 12-mile limit from Flamborough Head to Portland Bill is unacceptable. I accept that it cannot be 50 miles the whole way, for reasons which have been given—the median line, and so on. However, I suggest that a 50-mile limit at Flamborough Head tapering to 12 miles at the Thames Estuary would be more sensible. This is, of course, a local issue, but I hope that the Minister will give it serious consideration. Whatever the industry and the Government may think, the Community is still thinking of 12 miles plus quotas.

That brings me to the question of control. As I said on Second Reading, I understand the methods recommended or adopted by the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference that the coastal State would decide the total allowable catch, that it would then decide its own capacity and subtract one figure from the other, permitting the remainder to go to third parties. That seems a sensible suggestion, and one which fits our requirements.

However, I understand that the EEC system is different. Let me quote from a letter I have received on the subject. It says: The Commission's approach is to set a total allowable catch (TAC) for each species in the light of scientific advice, to deduct from it anything allowed to third country vessels and to add anything available to EEC vessels in third country waters. This provides the amount of that species available to Community vessels in all waters. A small percentage—as little as 5 per cent. has been mentioned—is then deducted to provide a Community "reserve" from which would be met the special needs of fishermen in "the northern regions of the UK" and in Ireland. The balance is then distributed on the basis of fishing activity in some past reference period.

If that is the definition of what the EEC is to do, it is not at all satisfactory. First, there is the problem about the starting point. The Irish Government have vastly increased their fishing fleet in recent years. The Danes have increased their fleet because of their activities in industrial fishing. The British fleet in all distant and middle-water ports has dangerously decreased in number in recent years, for reasons we all know. This type of assessment would give no thought to conservation and would apparently allow indiscriminate industrial fishing. That is thoroughly unsatisfactory, and that is the basis of our demand for a 50-mile zone.

If that is how the EEC will calculate the amount of catch available to various members of the Community, I hope that the Minister will fight it very hard indeed, because it is obviously completely unacceptable.

Let me turn now to the immediate future. As I understand it, the coastal State will in general have control over the legislation in its "pond", or area, but not during the interim period. Am I correct? If I am, and if the EEC exercises this control and jurisdiction over quotas, mesh sizes, and so on, during the interim period, the situation will be very dangerous. It will mean that Community vessels can come straight in on 2nd January and fish anywhere up to 12 miles, and in some cases where historic rights exist up to six miles. Since the Community has laid down no special mesh sizes or other special regulations, the result will be a free-for-all. That would be very damaging for our fisheries. I hope that the Minister will give me a reply to this point, or, if he is unable to do so, will look into it immediately.

The key date is 14th December, by which time we hope for some form of policy to emerge from the EEC. As has already been said, there is a danger that the so-called policies which exist today will be continued into 1977 and will therefore become the norm. That would be dangerous for our fisheries.

I end with one quotation from the Chairman of the British Fishing Federation, who said, in talking about the negotiations which will come to a head on 14th December: The situation which faces us now affects not only the deep-sea ports of the Humber and Fleetwood, as the Icelandic situation did, but every port in the land and with it the livelihoods of more than 100,000 people in the UK dependent on the fishing industry. This is obviously a major national concern and therefore I support the views of hon. Members on both sides who have said that it might well be advisable for the Minister to say that his patience is not inexhaustible, and to impose a time limit by which the EEC must work out its proposals. He must say that if the EEC does not do so he will, under the powers conferred by this Bill, take unilateral action.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. John Silkin

I should like to start with a reference to what I heard for the first time in a radio broadcast this morning, which was an account of what Mr. Gundelach may or may not have said. Perhaps he has said it for all I know, but I have no official indication on that. My honest advice to the Committee is the same advice as I gave a week ago on Second Reading. Mr. Gundelach is doing his best to negotiate this delicate job. Let us leave him alone. I wish sometimes—thank heaven this does not apply to hon. Members—that people outside the House of Commons were a little more patient. They seem to bite before something has taken place instead of waiting for the result. I know that I have not been able to give a definite statement to the Committee, but I have no information whatever on the subject.

Let me now deal with Amendments Nos. 7 and 8. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) had it absolutely right when he said that what the House of Commons said would be taken note of outside the House. I am grateful for the strength of feeling that has been demonstrated here today. It is helpful in negotiations such as this that those with whom one is negotiating should know what the House of Commons—by that I mean all parties—thinks. There has been remarkable unanimity, for which I am grateful.

On the objectives, I see no difference of feeling whatever between the objectives stated in the amendments and those stated by my hon. Friends who represent the various parts of Kingston upon Hull or by any other hon. Member who has spoken today. The statement by my right hon. Friend the then Minister of State on 4th May clearly contained exactly the same objective. Whether we proceed by means of zig-zag lines or by a 50-mile area up to the median, which may be more tidy on a map, it is the objective which is important, and we must keep to that.

If I have a criticism of the amendment and if I advise the Committee to resist it, it is in two respects, not on the principle. I have a criticism of the timing and in respect of difficulties which would be implicit in the amendment were it to be carried.

Let me deal first with the timing. The powers of the Bill are immense and I think that the Committee has understood that. The Bill gives powers to regulate, to license, to use a quota system, to use what I have become more and more convinced is the better way of doing what must be done. All these things are implicit in the powers of the Bill. In addition, it allows the coastal State—that is ourselves—to decide which areas may or may not be fished, to decide which vessels may fish and which may not, which species may be fished for and which may not. These are the powers which it seems to me we need. Should we therefore at this stage decide here and now to impose a 50-mile exclusive limit?

The timing is wrong for another reason. I am not in any way going against the objective of negotiations which will need to be done. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 have the same effect, so it does not really matter whether the argument comes from Hull, Banff or Aberdeenshire, East. The same problem exists.

The fishermen of Britain sail into Norwegian waters. They used to sail in Icelandic waters, and one hopes that they will return to Icelandic waters. Let us take Norway as an example. Out of Norway comes each year 100,000 tons of cod and 50,000 tons of haddock. I have had a strong national briefing about the eating habits of the Scots. I understand that whereas cod and chips are perhaps more popular in England, haddock and chips are the number one priority in the constituencies of Banff and Aberdeenshire, East. If we are to preserve 100,000 tons of cod and 50,000 tons of haddock, it may be that in our own exclusive zone we may have to give something in return.

Mr. Watt

Does the Minister recognise that, conversely, the Norwegian fishing fleet takes 36.2 per cent. of its total catch from the waters around our shores?

Mr. Silkin

That is precisely the point to which I was coming. What is interesting about it is the sort of fish that primarily is taken. Haddock and cod are very important to us, whether we are English or Scots or from Northern Ireland. However, I have looked up Norway pout, which is the enormous attraction, I gather, to our Scandinavian friends. The scientific name of this fish is Trisopterus Esmarkii. It was once known to fishermen as "Archbishop Makarios".

Collins' "Guide to Sea Fishes" gives the following account of Norway pout: Lower jaw protruding, with a small barbel, eyes large, diameter greater than its snout length. Norway pout are usually sexually mature at the age of 2 years; however, off the Shetlands and the Moray Firth a proportion of the 1-year-old fish are sexually mature. This is the most abundant species in the Cod group and, although they are not suitable for human consumption on account of their small size, they are indirectly of great importance to the fishing industry as they are eaten by haddock, whiting, cod and hake. They themselves feed on euphausians and small fishes. They are mainly caught in trawls by the Danes"—and by the Norwegians—"and are processed into fishmeal.

I do not know that the people of Banff or East Aberdeen would be altogether delighted by a change from haddock and chips to pout and chips, or perhaps to sand eel on toast, with or without chips. I am sure that I can speak for my hon. Friends the Members for the various Hull constituencies and say that in Hull neither of those things would be preferable to cod and chips.

Mr. Henderson

I am delighted by the Minister's display of erudition on different species of fish. Will he come to the question of herring, which is a much more serious matter for many of the fishermen of our North-East Coast?

Mr. Silkin

It is not as serious as the matter of what could be lost to Scottish as well as English fishermen in regard to the haddock fisheries.

I have looked into this matter at some length. The hon. Gentleman might perhaps talk to his own people about this. They are important. They are part of a negotiation that we might have with third countries. As to our EEC partners, on the same point of an exclusive zone, the House of Commons has very often registered its view about the phasing out of historic rights. I have no positive objection to that. What I am talking about is the negotiations that may be necessary. Merely to have an exclusive zone without any such negotiations would mean that we are eating perhaps rather peculiar fish.

Mr. McNamara

My right hon. Friend may have made a slip of the tongue. He may not have meant it, but he said "This is important when we come to the question of negotiations with third parties." Did he mean "we" as being Her Majesty's Government or "we" as being the EEC Commission?

Mr. Silkin

I meant it in the sense of Her Majesty's Government in this country. A negotiation, whoever conducted it, that gave us nothing would be totally valueless, so of course I meant us. This is our fishing industry. My hon. Friend made a very strong and moving plea for the industry, and not only for the people who fish but whose livelihood depends upon the various activities on the high seas. There is here something that needs to be negotiated.

The trouble with these amendments is that they are entirely exclusive. I have looked into this matter hard. They would not permit one to come to an agreement with a third country at all. It would have to be either British ships or none at all. For the reasons that I have given, this would not be the most desirable way of doing it. For the reasons that I have tried to give, this will be a question of timing. We have the powers to achieve our objectives.

I am enormously impressed by the strength of feeling in the House of Commons. Perhaps I have been impressed because it so much mirrors my own feelings, which are at one with the House on this matter. I believe that that strength and that impression will go way beyond the bounds of Westminster and be heard further afield. I am grateful that it is so. At the same time, I recommend to the Committee that the passing of amendments which are not effective and which would give the reverse effect to what one would wish is not as effective as giving a strength of feeling, which I regard as the mandate that the House of Commons will have given to me.

Mr. Hurd

The Minister wanted to speak when he did because he wished specifically to reply to right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate and who, for reasons that we all understand, may wish to leave the House before long. I make no complaint about that. However, I hope that with the permission of the House the Minister will be given a few more minutes in order to answer one or two points that have arisen from the debate and that he has not covered.

I think that we are all delighted that the Minister has been able to be present. He has listened to a very sober and tightly argued debate about the revision of the common fisheries policy. There have been questions about the negotiations on Icelandic waters, but the debate has really been about the revision of the CFP. The Minister has emphasised, rightly, that this is a negotiation in which he is aiming at an agreement. That might seem a cliché or a platitude, were it not for some impression in some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) and the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), representing the Scottish National Party, that it did not seem to them particularly to matter whether there was agreement or whether it was done unilaterally. That seems a rather unrealistic point of view.

Whatever may be the difficulties in 1977, there can be no doubt that we can operate successfully in this matter only by agreement. A situation in which all kinds of local fishing disputes broke out as foreign fishermen tried to assert historic rights and we tried to impose the provisions of the Bill would not be a satisfactory situation in which to conduct the affairs of the industry. I do not think that the constituents of those two hon. Members would bless them if that was the position that was arrived at. It may be arrived at. The whole effort of agreement may collapse. It may be necessary to act unilaterally. However, let us not deceive ourselves that that could be a satisfactory outcome or a satisfactory substitute for agreement.

Mr. Henderson

I do not think that there is any dissent on this matter between my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) and myself, on the one hand, and the hon. Gentleman on the other. What we are saying is that it may be the only resort left to us if we do not get a satisfactory answer the other way. The hon. Gentleman must face the fact that we may not get a satisfactory answer the other way. What would he recommend doing in those circumstances?

Mr. Hurd

That is an entirely fair question. I was really thinking more of some of the remarks that the hon. Member for Banff let slip. We are talking about a negotiation and, as we did on Second Reading, about bargaining strength. The Opposition have been worried for some time about the run-down of our bargaining strength. We have been critical of the conduct of the Minister's predecessor in the preliminaries to these negotiations. From the Government Benches we have constantly reaffirmed the 50-mile negotiating objective.

2.0 p.m.

The question is whether passing the amendment would enable the House to add to the Minister's bargaining strength. It does not add to his powers, because, as he made clear and as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) established at Question Time yesterday, the powers in the Bill are wide and give the Minister full power to act in the spirit of the amendment should he decide that that is necessary. The amendment does not add to the Minister's power. It seeks to strengthen his bargaining position by restricting his powers but, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, the tactical playing of his bargaining hand is not something that the House can lay down for the Minister; it is something that he must work out for himself and tell us about—and that he has fairly done.

Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not feel that we shall strengthen his bargaining hand by passing the amendment. Indeed, we may impede him if, at this stage, we restrict the powers available to him and prevent him from concluding as good a bargain as might otherwise be open to him. That is my view of the amendment.

There is, however, the point raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East, with some force by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), and by my hon. Friends the Members for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) and Haltemprice. What is to happen after 1st January if, as seems likely, it is not possible to reach a definitive agreement in the negotiations to which the Minister is going next week? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will deal further with that matter, because that is the practical issue that is worrying people more than any other, and the reason for the somewhat explosive statement issued yesterday.

What is to happen after 1st January in our relationship vis-à-vis the boats of our Community partners? On Second Reading the Minister referred to proposals from the Commission for a régime for 1977. He said quite fairly, a week ago, that he had not had time to study the proposals, but added that if we believe they"— that is, the Commission's proposals— fall short of the measures we think necessary then it is our own measures that we shall impose as we are perfectly entitled to do in default of the agreement."—[Official Report, 3rd December 1976; Vol. 921, c. 1353.] That was the point with which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was dealing, and I think that it requires a little elaboration by the Minister.

The Opposition agree with the Minister's statement last Friday, that if there is no agreement inside the Community next week on a matter that is clearly vital, to so many people—as so much of this debate has vividly illustrated—it will not be tolerable from the point of view of this country that temporary arrangements should be imposed upon us. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would be entitled, to use his own words, to impose our own measures, as we are entitled to do in default of agreement.

I do not want to urge the right hon. Gentleman to say anything that will make his task next week more difficult, but, in order that people may know a little more clearly where they will stand in a situation that is only three weeks away, I hope that the Minister will say a little more about what is the nub of the matter.

Mr. John Silkin

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), as I have been to everyone who has spoken in this debate, for the views that have been expressed. They have been very helpful to the position that we all want to adopt.

The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon raised one point that has been brought up before. I thought the Committee might notice that I had not dealt with it as fully as I had with other things, simply because this is part and parcel of the general position. What I told the House on Second Reading was, as I saw it, the plain unvarnished truth, which is that 1st January is very nearly upon us. I said at the time that the Commission had left itself woefully little time in which to reach an agreement. We are now a week on from that position. I cannot therefore say that, suddenly, on 1st January, the sun will shine on all mankind. I do not believe it and, anyway, 1st January is a Saturday and we have the weekend, and so on, but the orders that will flow from this measure, assuming that it gets the Royal Assent, will come after 1st January, and one may have a difficult period then.

I stand by every word of what I said on Second Reading. We were then dealing with what conservation measures there might be. Since then I have seen the Commission's proposals, and to my mind they are not satisfactory in a number of respects. Therefore, I stick by what I said then. If there is an interregnum because the Commission's proposals have not been accepted and are not acceptable, we shall have to impose our own. I ask the Committee not to ask me to say what will happen on 1st, 2nd or 3rd January. It must take its place in what will be a difficult and ragged period.

Mr. Watt

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has been unable to give the House, the industry, our EEC partners and the world at large a clearer indication of the way in which he intends to go about his negotiations in the forthcoming weeks, but I am sure he will agree that it has been useful to have this debate. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman

We now come to Amendments Nos. 13 and 14.

Mr. Grimond

In view of what was said earlier, I should not want to pursue Amendment No. 14 if it is clear that an undertaking has been given that the true intention of the subsection will be made clear in the final Act.

The Chairman

Is that assurance forthcoming?

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Yes. I give that assurance.

Amendment made: No. 16, in page 3, line 3, at end insert— '() Orders made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'—[Mr. Hugh D. Brown.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

I put down an amendment to the first words in the clause, which provide that Ministers "may by order designate". I proposed to add "annually". What we were worried about was whether, if we once gave permission, that permission would carry on indefinitely and that a country which received that permission might feel that it built up a historic right in a comparatively short time. We should like an assurance from the Minister that it may be that the orders will not last for as long as a year. If that is the case, it will allay our fears.

Mr. Wall

We are discussing the control of access. I understand that under Community law one member of the Community can set up firms in the national territory of any other member of the Community. Presumably foreign trawling firms could be set up in this country under Community law. I should like confirmation that United Kingdom regulations will apply to foreign trawling firms which decide to come to this country, and that Community law and the provisions of the Bill will apply to those firms.

When the EEC has completed its negotiations, it will make an allocation of quotas to third parties outside the EEC. Some which are fishing now within the 200-mile limit will not receive quotas. Is it intended that there shall be a phasing-out period for those fishermen, or will their rights simply be extinguished when the Community has made up its mind about the quotas for the various cuuntries?

There are historic rights which are enjoyed, mostly by members of the Community but I think I am right in saying not exclusively, within the 6- to 12-mile limit. After the enactment of this legislation those rights will presumably remain, but, once the EEC has decided on the quota system and the allocation of quotas within the 200-mile limit, will those rights automatically be phased out and taken in with the new quotas given to members of the Community inside the 200-mile limit, apart from any exclusive limit we may have?

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I appreciate the reasons for hon. Members being unable to move amendments. The amendments were not of great significance, but I appreciate the difficulties of hon. Members in even being here on a Friday—none more so t han mine.

The answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) is "Yes". They are not permanent arrangements, in the sense that any agreement for a fixed period may require to be revoked. We cannot read into this a permament arrangement until the end of time. The powers are adequate to deal with that. It would be wrong to anticipate what may happen, because we have not seen the form of any agreements, but I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) raised an interesting matter. I hate using the word "foreigners". The hon. Gentleman asked whether outside interests, on becoming established in this country as a fishing firm, would be able to get round any of the regulations. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first time that that point has been raised. We shall consider it carefully.

As a first reaction, I think that that would be a bit too obvious and that any country would require to take measures. I am aware that what is happening in the United States is probably the background to the question which has been asked.

I cannot give any detailed information on the question of phasing out immediately. The obvious intention is to phase out as quickly as possible those countries which we have already indicated should be phased out. We are at one in the intention. The timing and how long it will take are matters on which we shall later have to report to the House of Commons.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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