HC Deb 10 June 1976 vol 912 cc1653-7
11. Mr. Luce

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether the Government's stated aim for an exclusive fishing zone of 50 miles is an irreducible minimum or a preliminary negotiating position.

13. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on fishing limits.

26. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what new proposals his Department has submitted to both the EEC Council of Ministers and the Commission concerning the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy, with specific reference to the concept of exclusive fishing rights for coastal States.

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs told the EEC Council of Ministers on 3rd May that the United Kingdom would be ready to consider a variable coastal belt as little as 12 miles or as much as 50 miles in different areas. He emphasised that this was a definitive statement of our needs. Discussions are continuing with our Community colleagues on this important issue.

Mr. Luce

Will the Minister think again on this in view of the entirely changed circumstances since the common fisheries policy was originally devised, notably, the Icelandic settlement and the trend towards 200-mile limits? Will the Minister and the Government make clear that it is essential in the interest of the British fishing industry to have an exclusive 50-mile limit, and will he stick to that?

Mr. Peart

I stand by the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. I am well aware of the concern of hon. Members who represent fishing ports. This is a matter for negotiation, but we have stated our position.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Has not the position changed in that when we went into the Common Market we were repeatedly assured that the EEC common fisheries policy would be renegotiated, whereas the EEC Commissioner, Mr. Lardinois, has repeatedly said that there will be no renegotiation of this policy?

Mr. William Hamilton

He has not said that.

Mrs. Ewing

He has said it. It is on the record.

Mr. Hamilton


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) must not continue to interrupt from a sedentary position.

Mrs. Ewing

I congratulate the Minister's colleague who agreed with me that a 12-mile limit was not enough. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a 50-mile limit is an absolute minimum if our fishing ports are to be viable communities?

Mr. Peart

Sometimes a 35-mile limit in a particular fishing area may be adequate. I assure the hon. Lady that we shall have an opportunity of negotiation. I did not negotiate the common fisheries agreement—indeed, I was critical of it. But we face a new situation and there will have to be negotiations.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Treaty would first have to be renegotiated if we demanded a 50-mile limit? Does he accept that there are more ways of opening the gate than by taking it off its hinges, and that variable limits would serve our inshore fishing interests better than the renegotiation of the Treaty for a 50-mile limit?

Mr. Peart

I accept what my hon. Friend says. Being a Member of the European Parliament, he follows this matter with interest. This will have to be negotiated.

Mr. Powell

How can a statement of requirement be definitive when it is contained in a series of proposals which have not yet been disclosed in order to preserve the Government's bargaining position? How can there be a bargaining position about a definitive requirement?

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman loves semantics. I am going to negotiate in my field and the Foreign Secretary will also do so in the Council of Foreign Ministers.

Mr. Pym

Since the meeting in Brussels at which the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was present, that same Minister told the House that 50 miles was the minimum which could be said to meet the requirements of the British fishing industry. Since then there have been further events of a dramatic nature, and the Foreign Secretary was very clear about the urgent need to complete the revised common fisheries policy. The 50-mile limit must be negotiated on that basis. It is fantastic to contemplate anything less than that. When will the Minister make a statement about fishing policy as promised by the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Peart

The Foreign Secretary said that I would make a statement very soon. I cannot say anything more, except that I shall keep the right hon. Member informed through the usual channels. [Interruption.] Well, if the right hon. Member does not want to use the usual channels I shall contact him and talk to him personally as he is an eminently reasonable man. I cannot go beyond the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us regard it as ludicrous to have the hound's tooth of gunboats and protection vessels rushing in and out of and up and down agreed fishing areas? To revert to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), will he confirm that part of the Government's scheme for immediate help to the fishing industry and for restructuring it will embody the decasualisation of the industry?

Mr. Peart

That has nothing to do with this Question. I have told the House today—and I have repeated the promises which my right hon. Friend gave the Opposition the other day—that this is a matter which we will have to look at.

Mr. James Johnson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the grievous blow suffered by the deep sea fleet on Humberside over the Iceland settlement has changed conditions? If we are talking in terms of converting vessels to come back nearer to shore, we must bargain hard and tough over the common fisheries agreement. We should try for a 100-mile limit and then go back when they push us back.

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend knows what the settlement which was negotiated in Oslo meant. The main problem here is to adjust the industry to the changed situation—I accept that. It is important that we should pursue vigorously the negotiations in Europe.

Mr. Taylor

While accepting that the Minister has inherited a very difficult negotiating position, may I ask whether he accepts that something along the lines of a variable 12-to 50-mile limit would be regarded by the industry as an indefensible sell-out of British interests? Is it a factual position that we cannot get any exclusive limits in Britain unless our partners in Europe agree?

Mr. Peart

This is a matter for negotiation, and I cannot negotiate here in this Chamber. I believe that we must pursue our negotiations vigorously. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State announced what he thought was the right approach, and I support that.

Mr. Hicks

Does not the Minister agree that the Minister of State's negotiating statement was made before the Icelandic agreement? This agreement changes the whole situation, because it will result in increased pressures on inshore waters around these islands. Therefore, we are justified in going for an exclusive 50-mile coastal belt.

Mr. Peart

I know that the hon. Member has argued this point before. I cannot repeat again what I have already said, but it is the Government's intention to move in an orderly way towards the adoption of a 200-mile limit. We believe that we will have to go to that.