HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc647-50
11. Mr. Jasper More

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet the Irish Fisheries Minister.

Mr. John Silkin

I have no formal plans to do so at present, but I meet him frequently.

Mr. More

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Atlantic salmon is in serious danger of extinction? Will he take an early opportunity to meet the Irish Fisheries Minister with a view to producing a scheme to cover the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England as well as other countries concerned, with the object of stopping the terrible drift-netting on our shores, estuaries, seas and oceans, since this is doing dreadful damage to this valuable species?

Mr. Silkin

All questions of conservation are matters of importance, not just to the United Kingdom but to the whole Community. There is a special interest, obviously, between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, because of the Atlantic Ocean. The best form of conservation is for the coastal State to be able to do the conservation work in the waters around its shores. That seems to be the way in which this matter should be dealt with, not only in the case of this fish but in the case of all fish that swim around our waters or Irish waters.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend tell the Irish Fisheries Minister, when dealing with the question of the common fisheries policy, that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who negotiated our entry into the Common Market in 1972–73, made a remarkable statement to The Times on St. Valentine's Day about launching a campaign some time next week to smash the Common Market and to form a merger between all the countries of the Market and the EFTA countries? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Tories and Liberals whom we have heard today on these matters, who dragged Britain into the Common Market against our best advice, are now, along with the right hon. and learned Member, presenting a sorry spectacle?

Mr. Silkin

I have so much to read that I find it difficult to keep up with the reports of what is said by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and the denials that inevitably follow the reports. I do detect a slight difference of opinion, compared with the speeches that we heard some years ago from the right hon. and learned Gentleman and others.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his fight on behalf of fishermen, which might have been unnecessary if some of his critics today had done their duty, is meeting with admiration and support from fishermen generally? May I ask him not to be put off by the criticism made yesterday, suggesting that the United Kingdom was behaving like a spoilt child, since most children react violently—in a phrase which he might already know of—when their piggy bank has been rifled?

Mr. Silkin

I could not have put it better myself. If ever there was a case when there was total and complete justice in the views which I think everyone in the House now shares, this is it. We intend to keep it that way.

Mr. Ralph Howell

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets his counterpart, the Irish Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, will he ask him to confide the secret of his success? Does he realise that the Irish have almost complete parity between the Irish green pound and the pound sterling while the right hon. Gentleman was unable to get the modest realignment asked for by this House?

Mr. Silkin

When I next meet the Irish Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries I shall comment upon his split personality. There are separate Ministers for agriculture and for fisheries. The hon. Gentleman refers to Ireland and parity. That is a long, interesting and detailed story. The fact remains that this House voted for a 7½ per cent. devaluation. It did not vote an immediate across-the-board 7½ per cent. devaluation because, as I well recall, the whole argument was about the livestock sector.

I direct the hon. Gentleman's mind to a speech made just a few days ago by Mr. Keen, the Editor of the British Farmer and Stockbreeder, in which he said that to go to a full devaluation of the green pound—that is the Irish parity basis or anywhere near it—would be totally damaging to agriculture as well as to the British consumer.

Mr. Peyton

May I, for the sake of accuracy, ask the right hon. Gentleman to remind himself of the terms of the motion which was discussed in the House? It was for a 7½ per cent. devaluation of the green pound forthwith.

Mr. Silkin

That is perfectly correct. But it has always been the case—it was the case with the Italian green lira, which came up at the same time as the green pound—that certain parts of the devaluation are staggered. Sometimes it is done at the opening of the marketing year, and sometimes it is done for all commodities at once, but usually it is staggered. What has happened in this case is that it has been staggered.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, as far as I can remember, he raised no objection at the price fixing last year when I obtained a 3 per cent. devaluation of the green pound. For dairy products, 50 per cent. came in last September, and 50 per cent. in April.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the point of our anxiety is that on this occasion the House of Commons voted specifically for a devaluation of the green pound by 7½ per cent. forthwith, and that in an extraordinary way his colleagues on the Council denied this country what they seem to have given automatically in every other case?

Mr. Silkin

The right hon. Gentleman just does not seem to appreciate the point. Nor does he seem to have read his own motion, or the Liberal Party's Early-Day Motion, or, as far as I remember, the Scottish National Party's motion, all of which drew attention to the livestock sector. His allies on that occasion were concerned to protect livestock. They did not want to protect the cereals producers. A 7½ per cent. devaluation right across the board would have undone all the good that was done in giving a devaluation to the livestock producers.

Back to
Forward to