HC Deb 15 June 1978 vol 951 cc1195-255

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Graham.]

4.4 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

In initiating what will be a short debate, I should like to give a formal welcome to the Fifth Report of the Expenditure Committee on the fishing industry and to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, and also to the Leader of the House as he is present, that the fact that the Opposition are taking this time today, in no way discharges the Government's obligation to give time at a later date for a full discussion of this important report.

We sought this debate today because, as we see it, the horizon is rapidly closing in on the fishing industry. It is becoming harder, not easier, to sustain confidence in the future of the industry. As time has passed, we have recovered none of the lost fishing opportunities, and we are now not even negotiating with third countries.

I wish to remind the Minister of an Answer he gave the other day on 9th June—column 282 of Hansard—to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). My hon. Friend asked why it was permitted to some member countries to negotiate with third countries and why that opportunity was denied to us. The right hon. Gentleman answered very reasonably that to date he had preferred to hope for an all-round settlement, and added that thus far he had not sought to negotiate bilaterally. Perhaps the Minister would like to take that point a little further today.

Not only have we not recovered any of the lost fishing opportunities, but I would emphasise that the depletion of stocks has continued and time eats away at the strength and heart of the industry.

The Opposition do not think it right to continue to drift. There may have been grounds at one time for hoping that attitudes which seemed to us in this House to have been unfair and shortsighted would change. Unfortunately, events have shown this to be most unlikely. The rush to get fish has not been moderated by either prudence or justice.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

We told you that six years ago.

Mr. Peyton

If the Community is enlarged, it is virtually certain that that rush will be considerably intensified.

There is no point in arguing today how we reached this point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] These cheap jibes by certain Labour Members are much in their character. I think if we could forget them it would be helpful. I emphasise that there is no point in arguing how we got to this point or who failed to achieve what either in negotiation or renegotiation. We have a very good answer to the cheap and characteristic jibes of Labour Members.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Then give us the answer.

Mr. Peyton

It would be a pity if the House today allowed this debate just to decline into one more of those sterile exercises to which we have all become accustomed of late.

What has happened—and we have got to deal with this matter—is that better boats and more efficient, though less discriminating, methods of locating and catching fish have brought excessive pressure on stocks. The 200-mile limits which are now common and which were not dreamed of only a few years ago have totally altered the scene. As a result of these limits, we have lost the right to fish waters in which only a few years ago we took as much as a third of our catch.

Let me briefly remind the House of two sets of figures illustrating what has happened. Whereas in 1967 we in this country caught 350,915 tonnes of cod, that amount last year declined to 147,907 tonnes—a very serious loss to us. The distant water fleet over the same period has declined from 182 boats to 98. We are now offered a share which seems to us to be exceedingly meagre—a share not in a market but, unusually and exceptionally, in a resource.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that this is the only occasion in which it is suggested by the Community that a resource as opposed to a market should be shared and regarded as common. The total allowable catch is to be parcelled out according to criteria —I choose my words carefully and do not wish to exaggerate—which seem to us to have been nicely rigged to suit almost every country, save the United Kingdom. We are asked to share this resource with people who, having fished out their own waters, show themselves now ready and eager to do the same in ours—people to whom conservation appears to be only a word, which is completely unreal in action however useful it may be in debate.

I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's view on Europe, which I regard, and always have done, as negative and unhopeful. However, I hope that the fact that we do not share the right hon. Gentleman's views about membership of the Community will not be taken to mean that we are more ready to accept a deal which I would regard as shabby. Nor does it in any way weaken the support which I now offer to him so long as he resists demands which we regard as unreasonable and intrusive, and so long as he continues to show himself willing to take active steps now to conserve stocks.

The time for mere words has passed. The right hon. Gentleman has perhaps been a little too patient over this matter. On 16th March the right hon. Gentleman used these words: Of course, I shall bring forward measures —he was referring to conservation measures— and tell this House about them at the due moment."—[Official Report, 16th March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 626.] I should like to express to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of Conservative Members the hope that he will shortly bring those measures forward with the intention of enforcing them with vigour.

I do not believe that it will be enough merely to extend the present measure, important as they are. Nor is it wise for people to continue to draw comfort from the notion that no settlement is better than a bad one. That would be most unwise. It ignores the weakness which will be engendered throughout our industry by a prolonged stalemate.

What we need now is either a settlement with which the industry can live or a set of measures to conserve stocks, to be enforced with vigour within our limits against all corners, including ourselves, because so long as conservation measures are taken against all and are not discriminatory there is nothing illegal about them.

The right hon. Gentleman is beginning to run out of time, as is the industry. I was interested to see the report in The Times today of a speech made by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) in the European Parliament. The report of his speech said: Secondly, there was a misplaced belief that there was likely to be an election in the United Kingdom and that there would then be a more amiable and pliable minister than Mr. John Silkin. He saw no such likelihood. In so far as I can speak with any authority about the state of mind of a possible successor to the right hon. Gentleman, I endorse entirely what his hon. Friend the Member for Durham said. Conservation by measures taken unilaterally would, in my view and I think in the view of the right hon. Gentleman, if I have understood him correctly, be second best to an international agreement, the ingredients of which were fairness and prudence.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman made it clear earlier that he thinks that it is now time for action. He has repeated that unilateral conservation measures are second best to international agreements. What positive steps has he to put to my right hon. Friend the Minister for action that can be taken in other parts of the discussions with the Common Market in order to prepare an agreement?

Mr. Peyton

If only I could curtail my natural generosity and allow my judgment to have greater weight, I would never give way to the hon. Gentleman. There is no point in doing so. All he does is to ask me to say what I am going to say in a few minutes' time in any event. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do himself better justice by remaining in his seat.

A regime of comprehensive conservation measures would have certain advantages for us now. First, they would show to all that we are in earnest. Secondly, they would offer a base for negotiating with countries of like mind. Thirdly, they would be the best way open to us to safeguard stocks against the consequences of short sightedness and greed. Such a regime should comprehend a certain number of measures.

I shall attempt to be as precise as it is possible to be from these Benches. The resources of the Government in such matters are far greater than those available to Oppositions, but those measures should be directed both to the total effort and to the fishing methods used.

In the first place there should be licensing of boats and possibly of skippers. In no circumstances would we be prepared to entertain or take seriously the transparently inadequate measures of catch quotas. They are a waste of time. Secondly, we believe that the pout box should be enlarged and the herring ban extended. Thirdly, the fishing of breeding grounds should be considerably restricted.

I turn to the methods, and the suggestions that I am now making are not new. Nor is the list meant to be exhaustive. Vessels should be permitted to carry only one type of gear. Minimum mesh should be increased. Beams should be limited to 8 metres. Purse seining should be strictly controlled. There should he new rules to cover industrial fishing and by-catches.

If the right hon. Gentleman were to introduce such a stringent body of rules, he would be obliged to look again at the means that he has available of enforcing them and giving them teeth. Without such measures, young and immature fish will continue to be destroyed to a point at which it is likely that nothing will be left. Inshore fishermen particularly, if matters are allowed to continue as they are, will become the witnesses of a great disaster to their livelihoods.

I recognise that constraints such as I am now advocating will be unwelcome. There will be those who feel themselves unfairly picked out, that these controls are particularly aimed at them and that they will cause them loss and hardship. I hope, however, that they will pause and reflect that without such measures there can be little hope for the long-term future of the industry.

I understand from the newspapers that Mr. Gundelach has been here over the last few days. I have not had the advantage of seeing him, so I am dependent upon the right hon. Gentleman and the Press for information as to Mr. Gundelach's views. It does not appear that Mr. Gundelach brought anything useful with him or was even very concerned about the opinions that might be expressed in this debate. Certainly, as far as I know, he has done nothing to modify the proposals which have previously come from the Commission and which I and my colleagues regard as totally unacceptable.

For us in this House—and I am bold enough here to attempt to speak for us all—there seems to be no alternative but to show ourselves to be both determined and united and to make clear to those in Europe who have not really made much effort to understand the degree of feeling that exists on this issue in this country that we are neither arrogant nor intransigent newcomers but that we believe and will seek to persuade others to believe, that it would be wiser to cherish rather than to loot a very valuable resource.

I do not always speak in these terms, but on this occasion we wish the Minister well. We hope that he will bring back with him either a settlement or a readiness to act immediately on the lines that I have indicated. We also hope that he will take an early opportunity after his return to allow the House to judge the position that has been reached and the adequacy of the measures that I hope he will then be prepared to propose.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) began his speech in a rather sarcastic and unhappy mood, using phrases such as "sterile debate", "party jibes" and so on. I know that he will not accuse me of adopting that approach, because there are in Hull at least 1,000 fishermen on the dole. We had more than 2,000 men on the deck not so long ago and now we have 1,000 going to sea in the Arctic. This is a serious situation and hon. Members from Hull are not happy about it. However, I agree with what the right hon. Member said about supporting the Minister.

In so many of our debates little new is said and we hear the same things time and again. I hope to include in my speech a number of questions for my right hon. Friend the Minister. I hope that he will think that they are fair, and I shall endeavour to stay within the lines of the debate.

My right hon. Friend knows all the answers, but his job is to convince at least six or seven other Ministers and a gentleman named Gundelach, the Commissioner who, when he was in London, should have paid a visit to the House and had an open meeting with Back Benchers. The reason why he did not come here is his business, but I believe that he should have done so.

I speak unashamedly in constituency terms as an hon. Member for Hull, which has a deep sea fishing fleet. I shall not be chauvinistic, but I shall certainly be nationalistic because the livelihood, happiness and standard of living of at least 1,000 families in Hull have been affected in the past year or two. My hon. Friends in Hull and I feel like the mining MPs who get their pits closed about them in South Wales and elsewhere.

I do not want to speak as a Member of the European Assembly either, because I find that some of my colleagues who go to Europe begin to become statesmen and return with an international view. I do not want to put an international view or an EEC view. I want my people in Hull to be defended by those hon. Members who go to New York, Luxembourg or any of the other "bourgs".

Equal access and fair shares as postulated by the EEC are academic when I look at the geography of the seas about these islands. In passing, may I say, since my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is likely to speak in this debate, that both banks of the Humber are suffering, and I urge the people on Humberside that Hull and Grimsby, as sister ports, should cease any petty squabbling. I mean this sincerely. The industry itself is setting an example to local government and particularly to the town clerk of Grimsby, for whom I have a high personal regard. I do not want polemics flying about the Humber, and I applaud the industry for sending at least six big boats to Hull to do what is sensible—namely, to have a specialised deep sea fleet there and to share the work of catching fish, while the smaller boats like the seiners have left Hull and gone south towards the North Sea to swell the function of our sister port of Grimsby, which is inshore and middle water fishing.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about encouraging understanding and avoiding polemics between the two banks. I hope that, as a contribution to that, the transfer of the six freezers will be cancelled so that polemics can be avoided.

Mr. Johnson

If we are to share the work, we should let one port do the specialised work of deep sea fishing for which it is fitted, with a £1 million dock, and the estuary do its waters of the North to go beyond that this matter in our lsewhere.

The industry is wallowing in a mess. One cannot speak in anything but the harshest and saddest terms about the condition of the industry. The loss of jobs that we suffer is not being suffered by our EEC partners. I bet that Boulogne has not lost 1,000 fishermen to the dole. I echo the views of the Opposition. It is all give and no take in Europe. We are coming off very badly. Ports in Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark are not suffering to the same extent as the Humber, and particularly Fleetwood, which is having a devil of a time.

Conservation is the word of the day. Our people are playing the game. The Lowestoft men have adopted not merely 70-mm. nets but 80-mm. nets, but there are Frenchmen fishing off Sussex and Cornwall with 40-mm and 50-mm nets catching nephrops and other small fish. It is a fact that our people are taking actions that the other side are not observing.

In Hull, the Skippers Guild tells me that the Danes have done a deal with the Norwegians and the Germans have done a deal with the Canadians. Why are we not making such deals? The Danes are in the EEC and they should be observing a code within the team of nine States. We are not allowed by the Commission to do what the Danes are doing, and this continual blockage means that we have a stalemate for our people in this country.

I also understand that the Belgians have made an agreement with Iceland. They have never fished there before, except to the extent of catching 38,000 tons at about 70 miles off Iceland. We were catching 200,000 tons there at one time, so I do not understand why, now that we have buried the hatchet, we cannot get something going. At present we have nothing.

The Norwegian quota for the EEC was about 98,000 tons. That will be exhausted by August. We have had about 50,000 tons to 54,000 tons of that quota and we have had some good fishing in its White Sea in the past few months. However, by August our vessels will be back in dock and tied up. This year we must not allow, as last year, the French and Germans to go in and fish above their quotas, leaving less for us of the 98,000 tons or whatever it may be in the final analysis.

Everybody seems to get a decent deal except the British. There are others who cheat, and our EEC partners well know what is happening. They know that the most fish lie off our shores. The waters of Belgium, Holland and Denmark, for example, are fished out.

We have all emphasised the need for conservation, but I have always argued that overfishing can be stopped only by the direct action of the nearest interested party, which by definition must be the coastal State. It is the British, for example, who want to keep stocks in their waters, not those in Jutland or elsewhere. As the coastal State most concerned, we alone are motivated by the desire or need to protect the fish about our shores.

Formerly, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission paid ludicrous lip service to conservation and paid even less attention to stopping those who were cheating. Various proposals have been put forward that are plain poppycock. A Member of the Opposition, in a handout in the Hull newspapers of all places, suggested that there should be a European fleet flying some sort of European flag. It was suggested that such a fleet would enforce, discipline and stop cheating and poaching in our territorial waters. I will have nothing of that. I do not believe that it is possible to have an international fleet doing a job of that nature.

I end on a domestic note. David Cairns, the national officer of the Transport and General Workers Union, sent all Humberside Members a telegram not so many days ago in which he asked them to approach the Secretary of State for Employment about compensation for all unemployed fishermen over 50 years of age. My right hon. Friend has been considering that proposition, as has my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The reply flung back at us is "Who are eligible?" We are asked who would qualify among the men over 50 years of age. I urge my right hon. Friend and his colleagues to get down to this matter and to make a decision. For example, long service is a factor which might well be taken into account. The union wishes to have an answer.

We are told that much depends on a decasualisation scheme. What is happening about that? Who will finance it? Is it to be financed by Her Majesty's Government or by the industry? I gather that the industry will not play. However, if it is good enough for the Government to give millions of pounds for compensation to car workers and steel workers who are redundant, it is surely not impossible for them to find £¼ million—at any rate, £½ million—for fishermen who are in such serious plight.

I began by saying how difficult it is to say anything new. I end by saying nothing that is new. I end by confirming what was said by the right hon. Member for Yeovil—namely, that the whole of the Chamber is behind my right hon. Friend in all the work that he is doing. It is a pity that Mr. Gundelach did not come to this place to confirm that the whole House is behind him. If my right hon. Friend can succeed in his task next Tuesday of convincing the other EEC Ministers that he is making a good and incontrovertible case on behalf of our fishermen, he will go down in history alongside his famous predecessor in office, Tom Williams.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

It is a short debate and I want only to cover part of the large subject of fishing.

First, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may go to Brussels knowing full well that he has the total support of the House throughout all parties in pressing upon those in Brussels that their present attitude towards British fishing is intolerable to us, and that we are determined to preserve the fish in the North Sea and to ensure that the industry is reasonably treated.

I thought I heard the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) say that he is more amiable than the Minister. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not change his nature. I think that we can rely upon him to show a suitable degree of unamiability on this subject. However, I may have misunderstood him.

Mr. Peyton

The right hon. Gentleman did misunderstand me. I never claimed a degree of amiability. I said that I did not always use such amiable words to the Minister as I was able to use this afternoon.

Mr. Grimond

I am glad to have that reassurance.

I say in all seriousness that Mr. Gundelach should be under no illusion that a change of Government in Great Britain will make any difference to our approach. He should recognise that the Liberal Party—I am sure that this applies to the Conservative Party—wholeheartedly supports the Minister's efforts to maintain our fishing industry. It is no more tolerable that fish in the North Sea should be dredged up than it is for us to cut crops in France or shoot deer in Germany.

I do not want to deal at length with industrial fishing.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

The right hon. Gentleman has now referred twice to the North Sea. I ask him to remember that there is equal concern about the fishing industry in Wales, the South of England and the West of England. It is an all-coastal matter. I hope that he will not leave the impression that we are concerned only about the North Sea.

Mr. Grimond

That is so. Unamiability extends to the Irish Sea, the Channel and the Atlantic. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not want it to be thought that I am being in the least flippant. It is certain that the House resents a great deal of what has come out of Brussels and supports the efforts made to protect the industry. That is true of all the coasts and all the ports around the whole of Britain.

I do not want to go at length into all the matters concerning the fishing indus- try. Industrial fishing is extremely important. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will press upon his colleagues in Brussels that there should be better control over the size of mesh and the extension of the pout box.

I shall say a few words about the situation with which we are faced in the North Sea, as that is the area with which I am principally concerned. As I have said, I agree that the Channel, the Irish Sea and part of the Atlantic are equally important.

Is the Minister able to say anything further about the future of herring? We have heard rumours that there may be a total ban upon herring fishing. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the ban upon herring has had serious effects upon herring processors in Shetland. I should like to know his forecast for the coming year. At one time, the indication was given that there might be a quota for the coming year for processors in Shetland and in Scotland.

Is the Minister able to say whether the conservation measures for herring in the North Sea have been effective? I have been told that there are shoals of herring around Shetland. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman's scientists confirm that.

I emphasise that while many fishing ports have a hinterland some of the ports in my constituency have not. If fishing should fail in the islands of Whalsay and Skerries there would be nothing to do. I am not exaggerating when I say that the islanders would have to be evacuated. There is no question of any other employment being available. That is a point that cannot be made too often.

I maintain my view that we should insist strongly upon an exclusive total limit. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) that if we are to enforce regulations the only people who will enforce them will be those who are the interested parties —namely, those whose livelihood depends upon fishing in their areas. Those from outside are concerned only with dredging up the fish and moving elsewhere. They will never enforce effective conservation.

We hear a great deal about licensing and quotas. It would be possible to divide the North Sea into areas and to set up licensing boards for the different areas, which would be concerned with licensing boats in those areas. The number of licences granted would be related to the quotas expected to be caught in those areas, and the licensing authority might have other powers of a general conservation nature.

I hope that first preference will be given to boats which have traditionally fished in those areas—the local boats. No doubt on second preference notice would be taken of traditional customs of fishing in different parts of the North Sea. Essentially, the authorities should be local, should be concerned with conservation, and should allocate sufficient boats to catch the quotas allocated for those areas.

I am not clear whether these are the types of licensing and quotas which are envisaged. There have been certain other rumours about licensing and quotas. It has been suggested that all boats now fishing in the North Sea should be licensed, but that their licences should be withdrawn if they exceed their quotas.

I think that at the moment the only quotas are those enforced by the fishing industry. The industry is becoming rather concerned about this matter. For instance, there is a haddock quota in certain parts of the North Sea which the industry is supposed to enforce, and does up to a point, but clearly it cannot continue to do that in the long term.

Another point that has been made about licensing causes me considerable alarm. The suggestion is that licences might be bought and sold. That would or might he disastrous for the inshore industry. If it were possible for large firms to buy up licences in certain ports, they could virtually put those ports out of the fishing business. I do not know how serious the threat is. It might work in some places. I should like information about that matter. At first sight, I regard it with considerable alarm.

Does the Minister consider that the preferential policies, which were much talked about a few months ago, are the most likely advance in the Common Market? If so, and if they are to be associated with licences and quotas, will the House have an opportunity to discuss and, if necessary, vote on the Common Market's proposals before they come into force? That is an important matter. We can send the Minister to Brussels with the opinion of the House behind him, but will he come back with some agreement before these matters are enforced?

This is a short debate. There are many other questions concerning fishing which could be raised, but I content myself with those.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I shall make a short intervention because, as has already been said, everything that can be said about this subject has been said, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House want to say it.

I should like to make two constituency points concerning the remarks made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson). I agree that, in the present state of the industry, any squabble between Hull and Grimsby would be disastrous for the industry as a whole.

The second point concerns compensation. A large number of freshers have now gone for good. The men who worked in them are now on the dole and can get no compensation because they did not have long-term contracts. This may be a growing problem. It is a problem about which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and I have already approached the Minister. I hope that the Minister will again look into this very human problem.

I fully support the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). The Minister will go to Brussels with the full support of the House. But he has two alternatives. The first is to reach an agreement. The second, if he does not reach an agreement, is to come back and take some positive measures to protect and conserve British fishing.

I believe that the Minister's predecessors and himself have perhaps already made too many concessions to get an agreement. We started with a 200-mile zone, went back to 100 miles and then to 50 miles. That was in 1975 and 1976, before the right hon. Gentleman's time. Then we had the zig-zag and then the 12 miles-plus dominant preference in the 12-mile to 50-mile zone. There are not many more concessions that the Government can make.

What do we need? We need control over our 200-mile exclusive economic zone and over conservation measures in that area. Also, as the industry has made clear, we need a 50-mile exclusive zone.

We are bound to have quotas. Even if we have an exclusive zone, there will be swap agreements. Therefore, we must have quotas. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil said, there must be effort, not catch, quotas. I hope that that point has penetrated into the heads of the Commission in Brussels. To offer the United Kingdom, which in broad terms has 60 per cent. of the fish in our waters, only some 22 per cent. is not only laughable but insulting.

We must phase out historic rights, particularly on the South Coast. At the moment, there are historic rights of six miles to 12 miles. Those must go. After all, our historic rights in Iceland were phased out. I accept that it might take three years or five years, but I suggest that in any agreement they must go.

If an agreement is reached, I hope that the Minister will allow the House to debate it so that we are not faced with a fait accompli. That could produce difficult constitutional questions, because if the House throws out an agreement already reached in Brussels it will not do this country, the fishing industry or anybody concerned any good. I am sure that the Minister has that point in mind.

What will happen if there is no agreement? First, speaking on behalf of the distant water fleet, we must turn straight away to bilateral agreements. Recently I asked the Minister of State why, if there had already been bilateral agreements between Norway and Denmark in the Baltic, between West Germany and Greenland and between Belgium and Iceland, we could not have similar agreements.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Between Denmark and Sweden.

Mr. Wall

Between Denmark and Sweden in the Baltic. If they can do it, why cannot we? I hope that, if things go wrong and the position today is unchanged, the Minister will immediately enter into bilateral negotiations with some of these countries which are of such importance to distant water vessels—Norway, the Soviet Union, Canada and, after its General Election in a few weeks, Iceland.

Secondly, we must have control of conservation measures. I would emphasise only two points which have already been brought out. The first is the one-net provision. That is the most important of all. I suggest that it would be very effective from the point of view of future negotiations with the EEC.

We must also have enlargement of the pout box. The industry is keen to have that as soon as possible.

The effect of these continued negotiations and the failure to reach agreement is serious for the industry. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West was abroad on parliamentary duties when we had a meeting of the joint fisheries committee of all parties a few days ago. I was particularly impressed by the fact that when the distant water section of the industry was asked whether it was prepared to wait, as the inshore section wanted to do, even for three years for a proper agreement, it said that it would, despite the fact that it needs bilateral arrangements and knows that it will not get them until the common fisheries policy has been decided. That shows that not only the House, but all sections of the industry are united behind the Minister's efforts. I hope that Europe will take note of that fact. We may be in the minority in the EEC, but we are the most important minority on fishing matters. We are united and we wish the Minister well.

The distant water fleet as a whole has contracted by about 67 per cent. in the last 10 years. To quote figures to show the effect on these expensive and important vessels, the Hull fleet in 1967 had 83 freshers and 14 freezers, a total of 97, and in 1977 it had 27 freshers and 34 freezers, a total of 61. That is a big reduction for one port. An even more startling reduction is that of the cod catch. I shall not weary the House by repeating the figures, but the cod catch has been reduced by two-thirds in 10 years, and this is certainly the most important catch for fish and chip shops.

We want action. We wish the Minister well. We hope that he will be able to knock the heads of his colleagues together so that we can come to a satisfactory agreement in Brussels. If he does not reach agreement, I hope that he will come back to the House as soon as possible and tell us that he is taking positive conservation measures, unilaterally if necessary, but, of course, nondiscriminatory.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

It is appropriate that we should be having this debate today, since my right hon. Friend goes to Brussels on Monday to continue discussions on the common fisheries policy. It is right that we should acknowledge our gratitude to the Opposition for providing half a Supply Day so that we can make our views known before our representatives go to Brussels.

The length of time that passes before coming to an agreement is characterised in two ways. First, apparently there is no urgency among the other eight members of the Communilty to come to an agreement. They realise that time is slipping by and that our derogation from the full ravages of the common fisheries policy lasts only until 1982. That date is approaching quickly. Therefore, there is no incentive for them to come to an agreement. Time is on their side, as they see it.

Secondly, there is a profoundly mistaken view that if they carry on in their regular dilatory manner not only will the Government weaken but so will the Opposition and the industry. Their view is that if they delay people will say "For heaven's sake, things are so bad, confused and difficult, and it is so impossible to plan for the future, that we had better accept whatever is offered, even though it is totally unsatisfactory, because at least that will end the confusion and complexity."

Mr. Wall

By 1982, according to the Common Market rules, the limits come back to our shorelines. From that point of view there is no time on our side.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry. I cannot have expressed myself clearly. I was saying that the derogation from the full ravages of the provisions lasts only until 1982. Time is on the side of the other eight members' fishery interests. The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and I are not in disagreement.

Another matter has also characterised the views of the eight. They have seen speculation, which increases from time to time, that there will be an election. They are probably as interested in the outcome of that election as we are. I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) for making absolutely clear that should there be a change of Government following an election—however unlikely a change of Government may be —his side of the House is clear where it stands in relation to its support for the Government's proposals for the defence of the industry.

I do not wish to introduce a discordant note, but I must point out that the assurances which were accepted by the right hon. and learned Member for Hex-ham (Mr. Rippon), that we could discuss the CFP once we were members of the Community, did great damage to the industry. I am pleased about the conversion of those who now say that the CFP is a disaster.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

We should correct the record, because what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) stated was more substantial. He said that Britain regarded its fishing industry as an essential national interest. Essential national interests are subject to the unanimity-of-agreement rule. My right hon. and learned Friend made that absolutely clear, and our acceptance was explicitly subject to that.

Mr. Hughes

I do not wish to prolong my speech by going too far into history. The astonishing naivety of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham is now confirmed. Had he believed that the fishing interests were essential to our national interest he would never have signed the Treaty of Accession, given the terms of the CFP. We said that at the time. The one regret that I have is that the fishing industry as a whole did not accept what we said in the referendum. The CFP was cobbled together in the last days before we joined. Astonishingly, assurances were accepted.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Hughes

I shall not give way, because many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. The longer I speak, the less time will be available for others. I want to make a brief speech.

We have destroyed the idea that we shall weaken if time slips away and the illusion that there may be a change of Government with a different attitude. All the parties are united. Even the Scottish National Party is united in supporting the views of English fishermen. I hope that if a Member of that party does speak he will make it clear that the interests of Scottish fishermen are the same as the interests of English, Welsh and Irish fishermen and all those who depend on the sea for their livelihood.

We must not show division in the House and refer to our parochial interests, important though they are. On an occasion such as this we must stand together. We are united in what is needed. We need proper licence arrangements and exclusive control up to the 200-mile limit, with policing by the coastal State. We are united in our view that the mesh size should be increased. We are united in our view that only one mesh should be carried when a vessel goes to sea. There are no differences in our approach to the central issues.

But there is a difference between us —I had hoped to persuade the right hon. Member for Yeovil to agree with me when I intervened earlier—about the way in which we should go about getting what we want. Unilateral conservation measures and changing the size of the pout box and its alignment, important as they are in the long and short term, are second best to a proper agreement which guarantees our essential interests. Those matters are second best to an international agreement.

How do we obtain an international agreement? It is strange that suggestions have been made that my right hon. Friend has been too amiable in discussions in the Common Market. The charges usually are that he is too intransigent. My right hon. Friend has been amiable. He has tried to play the game by the rules and to negotiate not by saying "I stand here and shall move no further" but by looking for alternative propositions and methods of achieving the same end. He has tried to ensure that our fishermen are secure for the future. He has tried to find ways of coming to terms with the essential fishing interests. He has tried to find alternative propositions and he has recognised the deep-seated fears of fishermen in other countries. He has gone some way to try to meet the others, and yet they have not attempted to meet us.

I was asking the right hon. Member for Yeovil whether he agreed that we should begin to link together the fishing negotiations and other day to day negotiations in the Community.

I have always felt that the weakness of our case is that we approach these matters in compartmentalised negotiations. We discuss fishing one week, agriculture the next, wine the week after, perhaps, and trading or financial agreements the week after that. The time is long overdue when we should tell our EEC partners bluntly that if they do not make serious moves very quickly to come to terms with us—we do not expect them to meet us on every point, although I believe that we have given a lot and we may have to give more—on catch sizes, licensing arrangements, and the types of control that we regard as essential, we shall completely stop discussions with them on all other aspects of Common Market policy. I do not say that we should walk out of the Common Market. That is neither possible nor feasible.

I hope that tonight the Opposition will take the opportunity of saying that if we can persuade the Government accordingly after Monday—assuming, as I assume, that we shall get nowhere then, and that raises further problems—they will give us their backing to disrupt, if necessary—these are strong words to use—the day-to-day business of the Common Market. That is the action we must take unless there is some appreciation in the EEC of our essential interests.

We must put it as bluntly as that. Perhaps it is the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) who will wind up from the Opposition Front Bench tonight. He is not noted for the modesty of his language. He is noted for saying bluntly what he thinks and for taking action to back up his words. I hope that he will say, in his normal robust and straightforward manner, that he will support us if we tackle the Common Market head-on in order to get some movement on the CFP.

What is the position on the haddock quota, which, I understand, is about to run out? We shall have taken our quota of haddock in the next couple of weeks. If there is no movement on Monday, what happens? Do we carry on fishing haddock?

What is the precise position in relation to the herring ban? I believe that it is suggested that this should be enforced off the West Coast as well as in the North Sea. Shall we go ahead with that, or will there be a compromise proposal?

I wish to express on behalf of my constituents—I believe that their view is shared by constituents in fishing ports all over the country—our support and appreciation for what my right hon. Friend the Minister has done. He will have our full backing and will continue to get it if he persists in his firm line. Will he take a firmer line than ever and encourage the official Oppostion as well as all other hon. Members on the Opposition Benches to support him through thick and thin if he has to get tough and showing his iron will as opposed to the velvet glove that he has shown up to now?

5.3 p.m.

Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)

There is such a degree of unanimity on this question that it is difficult to avoid repetition. However, may we be assured by the Minister that this debate will in no way preclude the full-scale debate—perhaps spreading over two days—that we must have to discuss the Government's answer to the Fifth Report of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee? That report and the inquiry took about 16 months to complete. The report contains a great deal of technical detail, of which I hope that the Government will take full cognisance.

I shall confine my remarks to the present totally unsatisfactory situation in the fishing industry. Only British fishermen are prepared to observe conservation measures while our EEC partners are still fishing all-out and indiscriminately. Our fishermen strictly observe the haddock quota. On the whole they abide by the mesh net regulations, although I do not suggest that they are all angels in that respect. However, the Danish, French, German and Dutch boats are still pursuing a policy of all-out fishing, many of them with small-mesh nets. It is particularly galling to read of French trawlers landing in Hull large catches that have been taken from British waters with small-mesh nets.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he will extend the conservation measures that have to be taken? Other hon. Members have said that we need rules on mesh net sizes, but it is important to go further than that and to take total control of all fishing effort in our waters. Other nations have extended their fishing limits to 200 miles—I think particularly of Norway, Canada and the United States —and they have taken total control of the fishing effort in their waters. They and they alone say which boats should fish and how much fish they may take. They determine the mesh sizes which should be used. It is vital for the Government quickly to impose just such a regime on all who fish in our waters. Of course, it is only our Common Market partners who do that now.

I was particularly annoyed to read in Financial Times this morning the statement by Mr. Gundelach in Europe warning the Minister against seeking bilateral fishing agreements. That is a cheek if ever anything was. It is vital that Britain retains the right to negotiate bilateral agreements. Other hon. Members have referred to the fact that other countries have reached bilateral agreements, particularly Denmark and Sweden. There are many other such negotiations. However, it is tremendously urgent that we should reach a bilateral agreement with the Faroes.

Many fishing nations are becoming increasingly dependent upon the stocks of blue whiting. Those stocks are migratory. They spend part of the year off the Spanish coast and then quite a lot of time off the British coast before moving into Faroese waters and then finally on to Icelandic or Norwegian waters. This fish is in great demand in Japan, a country with which it is vital for us to achieve a trade balance.

Our boats must be able to pursue that stock and exploit it so as to sell as much blue whiting as possible to Japan in the form of fillets and fish mince. In order to exploit it, our boats must be able to follow the blue whiting for a much longer time. They must therefore have access to it in Faroese and Norwegian waters. It is therefore particularly galling to find that this spring the EEC failed completely to negotiate any access to those waters for our boats. The Minister must take unilateral action to get this sort of agreement and then tell bully boy Gundelach that he has done so.

I shall not go into detail about the problems facing the herring and haddock fishermen, but I urge the Minister to square up to Gundelach and to tell him that Britain intends to take just such action. Every fisherman agrees that the operation of the pout box has been a great success in helping to ensure that at least some of the haddock, whiting and cod are allowed to mature, spawn and continue the cycle.

However, I urge the Minister to come to the House very quickly and tell us that he is taking measures to extend the pout box. It is vital that we extend it to 2° West, if not perhaps even to 4° West. In that way, the Minister will double the effectiveness of the pout box arrangements. But if the Minister were also to extend it a further 2° North, he would quadruple the tremendous effect of the pout box. This would mean that our fishermen could be almost certain that from now on there will be mature fish to be caught in that area and that the cycle of spawning and growing is allowed to continue.

I turn, finally and briefly, to another part of Mr. Gundelach's statement, in which he appears to have accepted that there will be no solution to the fishing problem until after our General Election. Frankly, this worries me. I should like a categoric assurance today from both Front Benches that neither of the major parties will settle for anything less than a 50-mile exclusive zone.

I for one do not think that Mr. Gundelach believes for one moment that the Conservative Opposition will win the next General Election, but what he is really banking on is that Stonewall Silkin will be moved to another job and that he will get someone weaker with whom to negotiate.

This afternoon I should like the Government and the Opposition to let the fishermen know that they will stand firm on the demand for a 50-mile limit, on stricter control of the pout box arrangement, on stricter enforcement of mesh sizes and, indeed, on stricter control of the total fishing effort within our total 200 miles.

It is one thing, and a wonderful thing, to see the tremendous unanimity in the House this afternoon, but it is a very worrying thing to hear the utterances of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) in the European Parliament, who is saying a different thing altogether. I ask the Opposition whether it is not about time that they curbed the tongue of the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), because he is not saying what the Opposition are saying this afternoon.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Watt

No, I shall not give way now. The hon. Member will get an opportunity very soon to answer my point.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will the hon. Member acknowledge that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), who is not present in the Chamber today to answer for himself, acts as rapporteur for the fisheries group in the European Parliament? Therefore, as such he speaks for the group in the European Parliament. My hon. Friend has said this on many occasions. Will not the hon. Member realise that and acknowledge it?

Mr. Watt

I am sure that the hon. Member will get the opportunity to stand up for the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I have no doubt that the hon. Member will get that opportunity later.

It is vital that the entire House of Commons speaks with one voice on this matter. The fishermen of Scotland are fully aware that the SNP has been the only party that has been consistent in its stand for the industry. I would add that in the European Parliament the SNP is the only party that has been totally consistent in its stand for the industry.

I shall now answer the hon. Member for Aberdeen. North (Mr. Hughes). I can assure him that the fishermen of England, and of Wales also, know that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) has been the only Member of the European Parliament who has been totally consistent about our demand for a 50-mile limit. I bow to no one as regards that statement.

The Tories signed the Treaty of Accession and the Labour Government ratified it. But the basic Treaty of Rome clearly recognises that the Community must accept change. Change there must be. I believe that it must also take account of the vital national interests of its members.

1 should like today to be reassured that both sides of the House are now prepared to take a firm stand in protecting the long-term interests of the entire British industry.

5.14 p.m.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

It is now one year since I took part in my first fishing debate in the House. That means that I intervene in this debate with a sense of déjà vu, because it is amazing how little has changed in the process of negotiations in the course of that year.

In fact, all that has changed has been our negotiating position, in the sense that our demand for an exclusive belt of up to 50 miles has been left on the table and we have added to it a demand for a dominant preference in the 50 miles around the coast. It is a dominant preference which may be acceptable provided that we control who goes in and who comes out through the licensing of vessels, provided that we retain our national conservation measures, and provided that we take a proper share from the increase in stocks due to proper conservation. But I should add in passing that it is a dominant preference that the British Fishing Federation has not accepted. It has reaffirmed its support for a 50-mile exclusive zone.

We have, therefore, shown a willingness to compromise in these negotiations. It is not true, as the Opposition are so often pointing out, that a spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Silkinism. My right hon. Friend has shown his desire to compromise in these negotiations, and that compromise has got us nowhere so far.

1 question how seriously our desire to compromise has been taken in the Common Market, when rumours have been put out by the Commission that our negotiating position is a piece of political window dressing for the General Election. It is not, of course; it is the united demand of the whole fishing industry and of the fishing Members here today. It is a sine qua non. That much is common ground.

I want to deal briefly with three other aspects of the problem today. I want to start with how we got into the present situation in the first place. Much as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) may want to avoid this question, it is a central question. It is an instructive example of how a vital national interest can be ignored in this kind of negotiation.

In part, I blame the industry, particularly the big owners, for supporting entry to the Common Market, but most of all I blame the Heath Administration. In its headlong rush to get into the Common Market it threw away many of our vital national interests in these negotiations. It put us where we are now—in the desperate negotiating position of trying to get back that which was wilfully thrown away in the entry negotiations right at the start of this whole adventure.

Indeed, the Heath Administration did not abdicate our rights: it rushed to throw them away. I quote from a speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) on 13th December 1971, when he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—the Tory Party's Mr. Sell-out. He said then: We have also sought and obtained a formal assurance from the Community that the legal application of the common fisheries policy would not permit, either in form or in fact, any discrimination by a member State in waters beyond 12 miles over which it might exercise fishing jurisdiction against the fishing vessels of other member States operating in such waters."—[Official Report. 13th December 1971; Vol. 828, c. 52.] Some of us thought that it might be in our interests to have national conservation measures. Some of us might have thought that it would be in our interests, when the territorial limits were extended, as surely they were going to be extended, to have the power to exclude other vessels and to control access for those. Some of us might have thought that. The industry certainly thought that. But not the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He rushed to seek assurances that we would not have that control and that power in the areas beyond the 12 miles.

I do not want to rub salt into old wounds. I recognise at once that the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), even after the way in which he threw away the interests of this country, has some supporters still—most of them very still. But it is vital that we recognise where the blame for this situation lies and what was done to put us in the situation that we are now in.

When Opposition Members are bleating—perhaps that it is the wrong word for a fishing debate—or carping about the delay in getting a fishing settlement, they should remember exactly why that delay is occurring. It is because we are now trying to negotiate back what was thrown away in the entry negotiations.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Has the hon. Member complied with the normal courtesies of the House and advised my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) that he would be making this unwarranted attack, or is the hon. Member just doing it behind my right hon. and learned Friend's back when the hon. Member knows that he cannot defend himself?

Mr. Mitchell

I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham might well have been present today, as it is part of the ground that he threw away that is being discussed. I made just a straight quotation from Hansard in 1971.

Mr. Wall

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be fair. He has put his view of what happened during the negotiations for our entry into the Common Market. Will he now tell us what happened when his Prime Minister had, I think, six specific points that he said had to be renegotiated before he would agree to a referendum about our membership, and why the matter of fisheries was not included in those six points? He was urged time and time again to include it.

Mr. Mitchell

The renegotiation is in danger of becoming the Tory Party's fig leaf on this issue. Renegotiation is a different matter from the initial negotiations and what was thrown away in them.

In any case, the crucial question came only with the extension from 12 miles to 200 miles in our territorial limits. This is a crucial issue that we are trying to resolve in the negotiation which is still going on, because of what was then thrown away.

This brings me to my second area of comment. I am delighted that in our meetings of Fishery Ministers with fishing industry representatives those representatives have stated categorically that they are prepared to wait for a settlement. They recognise, as we all must, that a later settlement would be better for this country. The more we stick out, the firmer we show our position to be, the better the settlement we shall get. The industry is certainly prepared to wait, and I advise my right hon. Friend to ignore the voices of those in the industry who have privately been urging that there should be an early settlement, on the ground that they need to know where they stand, and to stick out for the best possible settlement.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Will the hon. Gentleman at least recognise that some parts of the fishing industry simply will not exist if that line is followed? I represent fishermen and an industry that will not exist much longer if conservation measures are not introduced as a matter of urgency. What the hon. Gentleman proposes is not an acceptable line when the jobs of so many people are at stake.

Mr. Mitchell

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to advocate an early settlement, which would abdicate more of our rights than his party has already abdicated. It is in the overall interests of the industry that we should obtain the best possible settlement, and to obtain that we shall have to take a firm line in a difficult fight. If the hon. Gentleman advocates an early settlement, he should say so, but that does not seem to be what his party is advocating. I am saying that an early settlement would be worse than a later one.

I am sure that many of our colleagues who are Members of the European Assembly would be better employed defending Britain's position in the Common Market than coming here and giving us soft versions of what the Common Market wants, compromising, equivocating and justifying European positions, which all too many of them have been doing. A proper course must be to assert our rights, our authority, by imposing desperately needed national conservation measures, doing so unilaterally, as we have the right to do, if the Commission is not prepared to accept them.

I can only repeat many of the listed items—a ban on carrying two types of net, an increase in net sizes, an expansion of the Norway pout box, and a closer control of by-catches, all of which are vital national conservation measures.

In our assertion of national self-interest, we must also begin unilateral negotiations with Norway and the Faroes about reciprocal catch arrangements with them to get round the pathetically inadequate catch that we have been granted by the Commission as a means of bringing pressure on us to agree an internal common fisheries settlement.

I know that these are strong counsels, but the situation is becoming desperate. The accumulating competition around our shores is producing a situation in which catches are increasingly of undersized fish. The industry is catching its own future because of the overwhelming competition from the Common Market. The situation is also becoming desperate because the reductions in our catches in Norwegian and Faroese waters bring pressures on us.

I have described measures that we must take, measures that will bring us into collision with the Common Market. I must repeat the question to the Opposition. Will they support the kind of intransigence that alone will secure for us the best possible settlement—the kind of intransigence that will up the negotiating ante and strengthen our negotiating position? In my view, we have no alternative to acting unilaterally.

In the meantime, the industry suffers. To compensate it for the long delay in settlement that it now faces, we need help from our national Government to see the industry through until a settlement is reached. That settlement must include a measure of compensation and aid to the industry, which have been withheld as a means of bringing negotiating pressure to bear on the Government. There is an urgent case for national Government help to fill the gap until a common settlement is agreed.

The industry needs help with the burden of landing charges. A framework of charges was agreed in ports such as Grimsby and Hull, when the industry was bigger, richer and much more able to bear that burden of charges. Now a contracted, attenuated industry can no longer bear the same burden.

The industry also needs help for reinvestment. This is the time when it should be reinvesting and re-equipping to face the competition that lies ahead in the Common Market pool. There is a need to replace the old, clapped-out, tax-written-off vessels which are still too large a part of our fleet. That must be done now to keep going the ancillary industries, which employ many people in all the ancillary trades around fishing. They are being run down by firms such as British United Trawlers, which need the boost that further investment will bring.

Finally, the industry needs compensation for the fishermen who have been thrown out of work, and are still being thrown out of work, by its contraction. They are men with no job security, no contract, no redundancy pay—men who are just thrown out at the owner's whim on to the streets. There was talk of a compensation scheme of about £300,000 at the time of the Icelandic settlement. That £300,000 seems to have evaporated —heaven knows where. There is a desperate need for a compensation scheme for those who have been thrown out of work and those who are still being thrown out of work.

We must also ask for Government help in education and training, specifically in the setting up of the proposed Humberside fishing study centre, which I hope will be established jointly in Hull and Grimsby.

I hope that my right hon. Friend can persuade his ministerial colleagues that the time has come for the national assertiveness that alone will cut the Gordian knot of negotiation. The industry has suffered too many body blows, too much contraction, to take any more.

We have in fishing a real demand to be a special case in Europe. If that demand is not conceded, we must take unilateral action in the interests of the industry and the country.

r>5.27 p.m.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

I shall not adopt the somewhat acrimonious note introduced into the debate by my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).

In my constituency, as well as having many hundreds of people engaged in the fishing industry on land and at sea, we have many thousands of acres of potatoes. I am delighted that the Commission has decided not to intervene in the question of the addition of non-brewed condiments to vinegar. I hope that this shaft of common sense that we have seen in the past few days augurs well for the Minister's negotiations in Brussels next week.

Much of what has been said in the debate has been said in the House over and over again in the past 12 months. The Treaty of Rome makes the point that the Common Market is an economic community, a common market and not a market of resources. The basic Treaty of Rome clearly spells out that the Community will not own the natural assets of any of the member States.

There is no way of saying that Dutch gas, German coal, French uranium and vineyards, or any of the other natural resources of the Community, are to be shared among the member States. Why should an exception be made in the case of fish? I submit that it is because this country owns far more fish than any other member States do, and the Community wants to make this exception for its good and to our detriment.

What does the fishing industry require? I recently had talks with representatives of the industry who live in my constituency and discovered that there were basically four main points they wished to make. The first is the one that I think every hon. Member is agreed on—the 50-mile limit. I think that there is no doubt that we are all agreed, and equally no doubt that 50 miles is the minimum limit for this country to have complete control over our own resources.

Secondly, there is the question of conservation. I think that all the points have been made in the debate already—mesh size, the need for a quota and the need for that quota being an effort quota and not a catch quota, and the fact that many of the other member States are obviously, quite rightly, from their point of view, not particularly interested in the conservation of stocks around this country. Having fished out their own resources, why should they not be happy to come and loot ours, fishing out the resources around our coast?

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) spoke of the need for a bilateral agreement with the Faroes. I endorse that. Middle-water trawlers sailing out of Grimsby use the Faroese waters. It is therefore important that we should make this bilateral agreement. The Germans, the Belgians and other member States of the Community have made bilateral agreements with nations outside the Community. Why should we not do the same?

The hon. Member for Banff also referred to the blue whiting. Two months ago in this House I questioned the Minister about assistance to the industry in connection with this fish. I make the point again that Government should make some investment in the fishing industry to help in handling the blue whiting. There are millions of tons of this fish in the ocean, but it is not an easy fish to process. One of the major fish processing firms—Findus—has already spent a large sum of money on research into ways of dealing with it. Looking into the future and the changing pattern of the fishing industry, I believe that the Government would be well advised to invest some money and assist the industry with the development of the blue whiting.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Despite the fact that there are considerable resources of blue whiting, if my hon. Friend adds together what all the various countries now plan to do to the stock of blue whiting he must acknowledge that it will be the next candidate to follow the herring.

Mr. Brotherton

I take my hon. Friend's point. Perhaps part of the Government help could deal not only with the use of the fish but with its conservation.

If next week's negotiations in Brussels are unsuccessful and we have to go it alone and impose our own limits, obviously we shall require some form of policing. What talks has the Minister had with the Ministry of Defence about the future of the fishery protection arm of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force? When I served in the Royal Navy about 20 years ago, I was in the 5th Minesweeping and Fishery Protection Squadron. This was a specific squadron, whose sole duties, apart from minesweeping for six weeks of the year, were concerned with fishery protection. Our headquarters were ashore at Port Edgar, on the opposite side of the river from Rosyth. If we are to police a 50-mile zone this will involve tens of thousands of square miles of ocean.

I ask the Minister to let us know this evening what plans he has for the future, or else to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to bear this matter in mind when the Royal Navy is debated in the House next Monday. Whatever agreement is reached by the Minister in Brussels, I ask that he returns to this House before it is signed and sealed so that we can discuss it. I wish the Minister well next week.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

The point in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) at which I intervened is one on which I should like to generalise. Such is the over-capacity of the world fishing industry now, compared with the resources, that as soon as one fish stock is subjected to restrictions there is an overwhelming, and I use that word literally, descent upon some other fish stock. We have seen this happen particularly in the South-West, with mackerel.

Quite understandably, the deep sea vessels which lost their Icelandic fishing grounds, with the herring slaughtered and the cod diminishing in number, looked for an alternative outlet. They looked for mackerel in the South-West. This was accompanied by a scramble by other countries such as Norway which, guessing that some form of control would be imposed, wished to "establish" historic rights. Historic rights are a highly arguable contention. The word "historic" is imprecise as to when the clock of history starts. I entirely agree with the proposition that historic rights have to be phased out entirely.

In that context let it not be imagined by Spain or Portugal that entering the European Economic Community gives them the right to ravage their neighbours' waters. The Norwegians have been quite explicit about the lack of discipline of the Spanish fishing fleets. When the Norwegians did snap inspections on Spanish fishing vessels which were licensed to fish within Norwegian waters they found that these vessels had declared only a microscopic proportion of what they had caught. For that reason the Spanish fleet has been excluded from Norwegian waters. The Norwegians were good enough to pass on that warning to the Select Committee of this House which was investigating such matters.

Turning to methods of conservation and limitation, I am entirely convinced that we have to limit both effort and the totality of the catch. The calculations on which such conservation measures are based can depend only on accurate knowledge of the rate of attrition. Unless fish have to be landed when caught there is no accurate knowledge of the rate of attrition. That is why it is absolutely necessary—particularly for fish on quota —that all fish caught should be landed. If this is not done, a quota can result in more fish being caught rather than fewer, in that when a netful of fish is found to contain fish of less than prime market size it is discarded so that the quota attracts the highest market price.

Once it is made a condition of the licence—the licence of the skipper as well as the vessel, because both should be in peril for infringement—that fish once netted have to be brought ashore, that counts against the quota of the vessel concerned and also occupies valuable space in that vessel which would otherwise be occupied by fish of prime size. That imposes an economic penalty on catching undersized fish. I hope that this view will be shared by all sides of the House and not confined to those hon. Members who examined this issue in considerable depth in the Select Committee which reported recently.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does my hon. Friend accept that this policy also argues in favour of considering increases in the minimum size of fish landed as well as of considering mesh size, since that is a way of effectively achieving the end which my hon. Friend seeks?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am afraid that the two do not quite sleep in the same bed. Once we lay down that all fish caught must be landed, we cannot synchronously say that fish below a certain size must not be landed if they have been caught. We can impose heavy penalties for catching fish below the minimum size. To have an interdiction on dumping at sea makes enforcement of minimum size easier rather than more difficult. When they are dumped dead into the sea, the evidence of catching undersized fish is gone.

It has taken a long time to obtain recognition in this country of the fact that catching fish is killing fish. There was considerable disinclination to accept such a view among some of those who have in the past advised Ministers, of whatever political complexion. It is now established, certainly in the case of mackerel, that we must assume that all fish when netted die within 24 hours, even if they are not dead when they go into the sea. We must have conservation measures, by effort, by licensing, by totality of catch and by enforcement of landing.

After all, if the fish have been killed, it is much better that they should provide additional employment in this country—by way of fishmeal production, for instance—than that they should merely be dumped in the sea. But above all, it is necessary that we should have accurate records of what is happening, and that leads me to complete agreement with the unanimous view of colleagues in all parts of the House that it is only the littoral State, the coastal State, which has both the will and, hopefully, the means to police its own waters.

British records have a high international reputation for their integrity, for their comprehensive nature, and for the small grid reference used for collecting them. In other words, the knowledge is more detailed than that in the possession of most other countries.

We accept that enforcement is expensive. It requires specialist means rather than using equipment which is no longer suitable for another purpose. It requires highly specialised training in the fishery protection officers concerned—far in excess of the usual naval skills. That means that a considerable amount of effort needs to be put into training experienced crews if there is not to be a fall-off in quality of fishery protection as crews are rotated between different branches of the Royal Navy.

Enforcement can also be carried out very efficiently in a supportive role by air. Air surveillance cannot enforce mesh size. What it can enforce is the interdiction on vessels of a nationality which are fishing where they should not be fishing. In this respect the American coast- guard service has for some time been using aerial photographic equipment which prints on to the photograph the location and the time and date at which the photograph was taken. This makes it a very convincing piece of evidence now that the accuracy of aerial photography is such that it can show without question in many cases that a vessel is fishing. The only other thing on which the court needs to be satisfied is that the vessel was at the place at which the officer from the aircraft who is giving evidence says that it was at the time in question, in order to establish that that vessel is committing an offence.

This is immensely important, because it is not unknown in this wicked world for one vessel of a fishing fleet which intends to poach, deliberately to get itself arrested. The enforcement vessel is likely then to be away for up to three days in escorting the offending vessel into port, giving evidence in court against it, and then getting back to its previous patrol position. During this time the rest of the fleet can fish with impunity.

Air surveillance can be quite remarkably effective, very often without the offenders being aware that they are being surveyed by radar until the aircraft descends through the clouds and photographs them.

I mentioned the potential attrition of the blue whiting stock. If we add together what Iceland is planning to do in terms of exports to America, what Norway is planning to do, what Denmark is planning to do for its fishmeal industry, and what some firms in Britain are planning to do, we arrive at a figure which is far more than the total allowable catch which can currently be predicted for the totality of the blue whiting stock. It is as well that this should be recognised in advance.

It is also as well that, British sovereignty over Rockall having been established, this should be maintained, because Rockall is of critical locational significance in the movement of the blue whiting shoals which to date have been detected, in the preservation of their habitat, and in the allocation to the United Kingdom of our rightful share of the product of that fish.

There are grounds for criticism of our deep water fleet, in that it has not attempted to mitigate its misfortune in being excluded from Icelandic waters to the degree that it could have done by being more enterprising elsewhere—for instance, in relation to the enormous untapped resources of hake which are believed to be between the Falkland Islands and the Argentine. A large part of these resources lies within British territorial waters because of our possession of the Falkland Islands. These are reserves of fish open to Britain which we are not yet tapping.

Mr. Wall

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's remarks about the Falkland Islands. Is he aware that the Foreign Office is discouraging British fishing in the area because it might annoy Argentine?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Clearly, this is the reverse of what national policy ought to be, but there is not always complete harmony between all the different organs of Government. I do not think that that is the first time that the observation has been made in this House, nor it is the first time that it has been true.

I am delighted that the Minister of Agriculture is clearly intending to sit through the debate, and I thank him for that courtesy. He is a robust man and he will make sure that the Foreign Office does not take liberties of that kind. Whether the lack of enthusiasm is temporary, in the hope that success in waters such as those might to some extent weaken a claim for compensation due to exclusion from Icelandic waters on the part of our deep water fleet, I do not know, but the sooner we establish our claim to those fish in South Atlantic waters by actually catching them—and there is no better claim than that—the better.

However, this means that we must have the naval forces available to defend those claims. History shows that those who are not prepared to defend what they possess eventually lose what they possess.

My hon. Friend the Member for Louth stressed quite rightly that the Treaty of Rome does not bring about a commonalty of resources but a commonalty of market. I go so far as to predict that if we allow that treaty to be perverted into a commonalty of resources on fish, one day someone will claim that what is logical for fish is logical for oil as well, and I do not believe that that would be a very acceptable proposition.

The House of Commons will be solidly behind the Minister when he goes into negotiations on Monday, and rightly so. That is a strong position for any Minister to be in. If the European Assembly —which currently but inaccurately describes itself as a European Parliament—presumes to believe that at some future date it can in some way take decisions, concerning the unique resources of the United Kingdom, which properly belong to this Parliament, it is clear from the feeling of this Parliament that it is this Parliament which will raise the final interdiction to any such pretensions. It will certainly do so with my blessing, although I have always believed, and still believe, that on balance membership of the EEC has greater advantages for this country than disadvantages.

I make no apology for introducing a parochial note. I have fishermen in my constituency, and to a large extent they are dependent on mackerel. All round our coasts—this does not apply only to Devon or Cornwall—we have localities in which there is a concentration of fishing activity which may not look very large overall numerically in the United Kingdom as a whole, but if that is lost there is no available alternative employment.

In Paragraph 49 of its recent report on the fishing industry the Expenditure Committee said: The special position of local communities of fishermen in Devon and Cornwall, heavily dependent upon returns from mackerel fishing in recent years, should be fully safeguarded". I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind in licensing arrangements. What is true of Devon and Cornwall is just as evidently true of, for instance, Mallaig where there is clearly no alternative source of employment, and of many other coastal fishing areas throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

I end by reiterating once again that the Minister, when he speaks in the negotiations on Monday, will speak with this great strength of the support of the House of Commons behind him. If he finds it necessary to enter bilateral negotiations with Norway, he will do so in the knowledge that he is only doing for this country what Mr. Gundelach's own country—Denmark—has been permitted to do with Sweden and which other countries have been permitted to do. This is neither a novelty nor an indecency. The Norwegians certainly do not intend to enter into bilateral negotiations with each and every member of the EEC. They have made this clear. They have also made it clear that they have such a commonalty of interest with the United Kingdom that there is fruitful ground for bilateral negotiation between the two. That is the position which the Minister is in, and he certainly has my best wishes when he enters those negotiations.

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

I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in the flow of what I thought was an interesting and detailed speech. I am not saying that the speeches of other hon. Members were not also detailed and interesting, but the hon. Gentleman's speech contained a lot to which I wanted to listen. That is why I did not intervene when he talked about South Atlantic fishing.

The information I have is that there is a great deal of uncertainty about this. We are undertaking a fundamental research on it, but it is not actually a cut and dried matter—not even cut and dried hake. We shall look at this constructively. I thought it best to get that particular fact out of the way.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am most grateful to the Minister, because clearly quite a lot of money will have to be spent on research before the economic rewards overtake the cash flow out. It is quite likely that this money will have to come from one Government agency or another because of the very uncertainties to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention with regard to the considerable capital expense. For instance, it might require a completely new class of fishing vessel plus accommodation facilities at Port Stanley, which do not exist at the moment. It might well require, indeed I think it would, an extension to the airport facilities there—such as was recommended by the Shackleton Report—so that crews could be flown to and from the United Kingdom. Considerations of that kind extend beyond the immediate sphere of fishing. I am extremely glad that this is a matter to which the right hon. Gentleman is clearly giving some consideration.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I admire the deep knowledge of this subject shown by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). I agreed with almost all, but not quite all, of what he said, in particular with what he said about the Falkland Islands and the importance of fishing waters in that part of the world.

I welcome the unanimity shown in the House today, and in particular the conversion of the right hon. Member for Peyton to common sense and a sense of reality in this matter after six years of this controversy.

Mr. Peyton

I would be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman if he would learn to distinguish between my name and my constituency. He got them confused. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have been converted to nothing, and certainly would never be converted by him.

Mr. Jay

I was trying to pay the right hon. Gentleman a compliment, but if he does not wish to have one, then, of course, I shall not repeat it.

In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said about the events of 1971 and 1972, I should like to ask a few brief questions of the Minister in order to put the record straight and to make a little more clear to the public how we got into the situation in which we find ourselves today. Is it not true that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), were misleading the House when they told us in January 1972 that the agreement they had reached put a veto in the hands of the United Kingdom which would prevent the extension of the derogation agreed in 1982? Is it not really the fact, as those of us who were then in opposition argued, that the veto is in the hands of other Members of the EEC to prevent the derogation continuing beyond the date of 1982? If that is so, the whole negotiating position is very much weakened.

Secondly, is it not the case—no one has mentioned this today—that so far from the then Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Hex-ham fighting for our rights on this matter, in particular for the preservation of the veto, the then Prime Minister wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Norway—a letter that he intended to be secret—urging the Prime Minister of Norway to give way on this vital point as we ourselves gave way in the negotiations in December 1972 and January 1973? It is worth remembering that the Norwegian Government refused to give way and maintained the right of veto which we surrendered at that time. The difference between the Norwegian position and the British position is all too obvious to everyone at the present time.

Thirdly, is it not true that the derogation, of which those two right hon. Gentlemen boasted so much at the time, which is contained in Article 100 of the Treaty of Accession, merely gives this country up to 1982 an exclusive zone up to six miles with an extension to 12 miles in certain specified areas off the coast? Therefore, all that we obtained in the negotiation was a concession up to 1982, which we had not the power to continue unless we could persuade every other member of the EEC, and that concession was exclusive up to only six miles and partial up to 12 miles.

If the answer to those questions is "Yes", is it not pretty clear that essential British rights were disastrously surrendered in those negotiations and that that is one reason why we were in such a weak negotiating position at the time of the renegotiation? I regret that our interests were not pushed further then, because we were clearly in a weak position. That is one explanation of the position in which my right hon. Friend finds himself today.

I conclude by reminding my right hon. Friend that Sir Winston Churchill once said in this House that the purpose of recrimination about the past is to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Aleck Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

The speech of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) was one that we have heard before in this House and, together with the speech of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), contrasted somewhat unfavourably with the much more constructive approach taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). After all, the purpose of this debate has been demonstrated in speeches from both sides of the House; it is to arm the Minister, in his negotiations next week when he goes to Brussels, with the full strength of this House behind him so that he may achieve the best solution for the British fishing industry. Therefore, it is important in certain circumstances to discuss what lies behind the present position. But the real purpose of this debate, to strengthen the Minister's arm, must not be forgotten.

I make only one comment about the speech of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. He is very selective in what he says. He ought to remember that the derogation that was negotiated was not only a derogation in relation to time, distances, limits, and so on; it was also a derogation that was conditional on a review of the common fisheries policy, and written into and explicit in it was a review of conservation and a review of those communities in the Common Market which are especially dependent on fishing.

I was involved in those negotiations. If there are faults, and responsibility has to be taken for them, I am prepared to take it. However, our purposes will not be served by going over the faults and the reasons for them at that time. If there were faults in 1970–71, equally there were faults in the renegotiation. There were also reasons for the different attitudes taken on those two occasions. But it is what happens in the negotiations in the weeks ahead that really matters.

We are in a position of transition with the common fisheries policy and it is in this respect that responsibility lies so heavily on the Minister's shoulders because we are negotiating the long-term regime of fishing in the Community and not one which lasts for a limited period of time.

That is why I welcomed the firm and strong constructive support which my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil gave the Minister today. It will not only let our partners in the Common Market know where the British Parliament stands in these negotiations; it will be of immense reassurance to our fishing industry that all parties in the House of Commons stand together behind the Minister in the task that lies before him.

I want first to emphasise the point with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil started. We have to remind ourselves that we are dealing with a resource. I was glad to see the Minister nodding in agreement when my right hon. Friend mentioned this. In the Treaty of Rome, there is no provision for the Community owning the national assets of any member State. It is important to remember this, and we must continually remind our Common Market partners of it.

One of the unique features of our entry to the EEC is that the British Government have shown, and, perhaps more significantly, the British fishing industry has been prepared to accept because of the wider benefits of membership of the Community, a willingness to have an element of sharing of these resources. To this extent, we have shown greater generosity, greater responsibility and a greater willingness to fulfil in action what we believe is necessary in order to attain this ideal of European co-operation. We have contributed more than any other member of the EEC and, in what we have already done—not only British Governments of both parties but also the industry—we have shown our readiness to accept that element of sharing. We ask our partners now to show more response in settling the long-term fishing policy and to demonstrate that they recognise the just and correct case that we put forward.

A common market for the produce of our seas, yes, but common ownership of our resources, no. I hope that that message goes out from the House tonight.

I wish to refer to conservation. We are dealing with a resource, but it is quite different from any other resource, be it coal, oil, iron ore or uranium, in that it is a renewable resource. But it is renewable only if it is properly husbanded and conserved. It is that which underlines the movement throughout the world for 200-mile limits.

The Financial Times on 14th June quoted Mr. Appleyard, who is the chief of the fishery industry development ser- vice of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, as saying: we could be seeing catches of 120 million to 130 million tons by the year 2000, compared with 60 million to 70 million at present". That represents a doubling, as a result of the extension to 200-mile limits, of the fishing catch throughout the world. But that is pie in the sky unless at the same time we make sure that with these policies extending the limits there will be genuine and effective conservation.

In that connection, what hope have we that under what is proposed by the Common Market our conservation policies will be effective? We have had the experience of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission which, over a period of years, has attempted at the political level but with scientific advice to agree policies of conservation in advance of the EEC. Although the efforts of that organisation have contributed, no one can say that they have resulted in effective conservation, otherwise we would not be in the situation that we are at present with herring for example.

What has happened is that in every case it has not been the scientists' advice which has been taken. A political solution has been agreed which has always come down to the highest common multiple of catch whereas the objective should always have been the lowest common denominator.

Mr. Ian Wood, who is one of the leaders of the fishing industry in Aberdeen, put it very well in a recent paper which he prepared when he said, in telling words, that under the NEAFC we have had a very low ratio of science to politics". In order for conservation to be effective, we need a high ratio of science to politics. Of course, in the negotiations in the EEC so far we wonder whether under the EEC the position will be any different from what it has been under the NEAFC, with politics taking precedence over science.

We are concerned about conservation for two reasons. The first is that we are still seeing a concentration on industrial fishing, whereas it is fishing for human consumption which really matters. Secondly, we are concerned in the negotiations about whether our partners will observe fully the conservation measures which are agreed.

I mention a report in the Trawling Times of May of this year, where reference is made to the Berlin agreement, which was the interim agreement reached by our partners in Europe when our Minister was not present. One feature of that agreement was that no cod would be caught off Greenland. As the Trawling Times points out, in printing a reproduction of fishing returns from German ports, although there was supposed to be no cod caught off Greenland, in April and May about 1,300 tons of cod was being landed by German vessels in German ports.

This is the kind of ammunition that the Minister will use. Our Common Market partners may pay lip service to conservation, but that is not borne out by events. Even if we were to accept common ownership of resources, which the EEC appears to want, I have no confidence that the conservation to which our European partners pay lip service would be affected in any way. This underlines the rightness of our case at present.

In the present situation what the Common Market is proposing to us is unfair in terms of resource sharing, and ineffective in terms of conservation. It is essential that we should have measures of conservation and it is essential that we should mean business in our dealings with our European partners in order that we can ensure proper conservation.

The Minister is reported in The Guardian today as having said that there is little chance of an early end to the negotiations. This increases the importance of effective interim measures. If we are to be involved in drawn-out negotiations, the Minister knows that if he stands up for our position he has the support of the whole House of Commons. We are worried that in a long, drawn-out struggle, the British position might he watered down in some way. If it is, Parliament will not stand for it. Our European partners must accept this as a reality. If they do not, not only will they cause problems for Britain, but they will cause problems for the continuity and stability of the Common Market itself.

I hope that the Minister will use the arguments that we have put forward in debate, and that he will seek the endorse- ment of the House of Commons before ratifying any agreement. A report in The Guardian quotes the Minister as saying: Now is not the time to give way". Surely, as our case is so strong and well founded, never is the time to give way. A reasonable solution, yes. Giving way, no. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is the line that he will take in next week's negotiations and any others that follow.

6.12 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I realise that this is a short debate and that the winding-up speeches should begin in about three minutes. I shall keep my remarks very short.

Today the House of Commons has been at its very best. The debate reminded me of a session briefing a board member who is going away to some very important negotiations. That is how we should see the Minister's position in the Common Market negotiations.

I shall not say anything other than to give an aide-memoire to the Minister to add to his already impressive list of aides-memoires. I represent the small fishermen of the South Coast. The Minister of State has visited by constituency and seen my fishermen; therefore, he understands their problem. Their problem is made very much worse by the restrictions, and the cost of maintaining their vessels. The Minister has had the opportunity to look at this with a greater degree of understanding.

The other great concern of my fishermen is about beam trawlers being used by Continental fishermen. It is not so much their size but the extraordinary harrowing effect of them. They have heavy beams, with heavy chains on the bottom, which are doing a great deal of damage and ruining the Channel beds. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind in his negotiations and perhaps consider prohibiting that rather ridiculous method of catching fish.

6.14 p.m.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), in his usual courteous and balanced speech on this fishing occasion, pointed out that it was unfortunate that Mr. Gundelach did not come to the House of Commons when he was in London the other day in order to hear the almost unanimous—in fact, one could say unanimous—views of hon. Members about the justice of the British case, which the Minister will present next week. It is even more unfortunate that Mr. Gundelach was not here this afternoon, because he would have heard beyond any shadow of doubt that the House of Commons is completely united with the Minister, just as the industry is united with both.

This is a short debate but perhaps none the worse for that. The essential propositions from all sides of the House can be put very shortly and succinctly. First, the Opposition and the Government totally support the stand of the Minister. Secondly, the Opposition and the Government will continue to support the Minister as long as he continues to fight for the justice of the British case. Thirdly, if the Minister does not succeed in achieving victory, in spite of his robust persuasiveness, he should take unilateral action. In doing that, he will have the universal support of the House.

As a result of this afternoon's debate, we can say to those in Europe who will read our discussions that there is no doubt not only that the industry outside agrees with us but that the industry has made clear that it would prefer no agreement now to a bad agreement now. Therefore, there is no pressure of time on the Minister. We want the best possible agreement, and if we do not get what we consider a good enough agreement we will not make one at all. If we do not get one, we must take unilateral action and a comprehensive, non-discriminatory regime of conservation measures as soon as possible.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who opened the debate, gave a constructive list of such measures which would command universal support in the House. Among these, the most important were that the Norway pout box should be expanded, that we should institute a one-net rule and that we should see an overall increase in mesh size. I am sure that the whole House would endorse these and the list of other measures that hon. Members have put forward this afternoon.

In looking forward to the meeting next week, there is one background argument that the Minister must put across to our colleagues in Europe. I have no doubt that he will do his best to do so. There are those in the EEC who believe that the British are being unreasonable, intransigent, unnecessarily argumentative and even unnecessarily greedy. That is not so. Our case does not rest on intransigence or on being greedy. Our case is based on two things—justice, and not simply justice for ourselves but common sense or everybody. It is based on these two essential pillars.

On the question of the justice of the British case, I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) said earlier and what my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said just now. We must make it quite clear to the Community now that we do not regard and will not regard fish as a Community resource. The Treaty of Rome says quite clearly: The Community will not own natural assets of member States. That is quite definite. Fish is not a Community resource but a British resource, which we shall contribute to the Community on terms which we regard as fair. It is those fair terms which we wholeheartedly support and which the right hon Gentleman will seek to obtain next week.

This is worth mentioning because so often we hear phrases rolling out from the mandarins of the EEC about the European pool, European fish resources and all the rest. When the 200-mile extensions were made, they were made not by the EEC but by the individual nations which happened to be part of the EEC. It was not an EEC extension to 200 miles but an extension by the sovereign States which happened to be members of the EEC.

To some people this may seem to be a small semantic difference, but it explodes any claim that the EEC might have in extending the 200-mile limit to the effect that it is the owner of the fish within that limit. It has already been pointed out that no other resource is attempted to be treated in this way. There is no question of German coal, Dutch gas or French or Italian vineyards being regarded as a Common Community resource. There is no question of common exploitation or common ownership of those commodities.

When this argument is put to Members of the European Assembly, they say "But of course—French vineyards are on French soil, but the fact that the fish are in the sea is a different matter." As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) pointed out, however, fish may be a marine resource, but so also in one sense of the word is oil. I have no doubt that if we give an inch here there will be many who at a later stage will press us to give further inches on oil. Therefore, there must be no question of even accepting the principle of a Community resource.

The fact is that the EEC thinks—if one can impute collective thoughts to that organisation—that fish is a most important subject. But, since that subject does not seem as important as the subject of oil, and because the EEC knew that it could not get away with it on oil, it thought it might be able to get away with it on the subject of fish. We must make it very clear to the EEC that it will not get away with it on the subject of fish.

In recent weeks the following extraordinary argument has been advanced by the European Assembly: "We agree that the limits were made by the individual sovereign States extending the limits, but in any case the limits do not matter because fish do not observe limits but swim in and out of them." That argument has emerged almost from nowhere. We should nail that argument now as one that we cannot possibly accept, and we should point out that when the 200-mile limits came into operation nobody said to any country in the EEC "These extensions to 200 miles are limitless because fish will swim over and under them." Nobody took that view at that time. When the EEC negotiated with Norway and the Faroes, nobody said that their claims to limits were to be totally disregarded because fish ignore limits. The argument about fish swimming about regardless have been produced solely and erroneously to try to undermine the case put forward by the Minister of Agriculture. That fallacy should be nailed right away.

Another argument is that in any event demersal fish do not migrate. I under- stand that they stay pretty well in the place where they start off. In any case, the clear principle is that the internationally accepted criteria of the ownership of fish relate to where the fish happen to be when they are caught.

There is another argument on the justice of the British case which there is no need to outline in great detail but which should be emphasised since it was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). Since this country contributes between 60 and 65 per cent. of fish considered to be in the European pool, it is totally and grossly unfair that we should have a return of only 20 to 25 per cent. of the total. The return we obtain from the EEC must be in some degree commensurate with what the United Kingdom puts in.

There is a further point about quotas. Whatever quotas are negotiated by the Minister, we know that there will have to be a far tighter control package. I know that many members of the British fishing industry will hardly bother to discuss the quotas because they regard them as ludicrous since the control is so inadequate. That point also must be emphasised.

I conclude by saying that it is indisputable that, at the start, the Community did not realise—and, I believe, still does not realise—the strength of feeling in this country and the sense of injustice about the way in which these matters have been dealt with. It is not just a matter of a robust Minister, whose ideas on the Common Market may be different from those adopted by some of us, going to the EEC and using those arguments as a stick with which to beat his European partners. That is not the point. Everybody in this House shares the same sense of feeling of injustice at the ludicrously inadequate proposals of the Common Market on this issue.

On the one hand we know that we still have the largest fleet and make the largest contribution in respect of fish catches and that we have a large number of communities that are very much dependent on fish. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that parts of his constituency would have to be evacuated. In other words, no human being in that area will be able to live if the fishing industry collapses. Even in the city of Aberdeen there are still more jobs dependent on fish than there are on North Sea oil. Therefore, we must always bear in mind that some communities are totally dependent on the industry.

Although we have that situation on the one hand, we must face on the other hand the painful contraction in the industry which has taken place in the last four or five years. We know that in that period about 45,000 jobs at sea and on land have been lost to the fishing industry. But, at the same time as our industry has been contracting, the French fleet has increased, the Dutch fleet has grown by as much as 30 per cent. and the Danish fleet has grown by 50 per cent. Therefore, we have the total unfairness comprised in the increases in fleet sizes on the one hand and, on the other hand, the complete unfairness of the allocations offered to the British fishing industry.

The Minister will need no further urging to tell the EEC that its present proposals remain totally unacceptable. The Conservative Party remains firmly of the belief that a 50-mile exclusively controlled zone is the most practicable and best available way in which to get what we believe are our just deserts. We want justice for ourselves and a commonsense policy that will benefit everybody—not only ourselves, but every other member of the EEC. I wish the right hon. Gentleman the best of luck in his negotiations.

6.28 p.m.

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

I deliberately did not take my place at the Dispatch Box until this late hour because I wanted to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) expected Commissioner Gundelach to do—that is, to listen to the British House of Commons. I think I was wise to do so, and I am glad that I did.

I appreciate the spirit of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). That is not to say that we do not have our disagreements on this subject or that we shall not have such disagreements on other subjects in the future. I am not saying that I disagree with my right hon. and hon. Friends who spoke somewhat critically of events some time ago, but I am saying that, at this moment in our history, a united, outspoken House of Commons telling a British Minister what it believes should be done and getting a response from that Minister is the right way to tackle things.

There are various methods by which we can achieve what we all want. We all want, surely, to secure enough fish for our United Kingdom fishing industry for it to remain viable. We have all shown that we agree that we need an effective form of conservation and the enforcement of such conservation, so that we can see that the industry remains viable and that fish stocks are protected.

We have on many occasions discussed the sort of solution that we believe to be right. We have considered whether it should be an exclusive 100-mile belt, an exclusive 50-mile belt, an exclusive belt plus dominant preference or some other solution. These are not matters which ought to divide us. I am not saying this because during the past 12 months I have suggested a dominant zone with an exclusive 12-miles belt in it. I am reserving to myself and the Government the right to go back to any measures that were on the table when we discussed the matter. I did it in order to show that we are not inflexible or intransigent.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) I say that it is possible at times to be both amiable and intransigent. I hope that there are times—no doubt very few—when the right hon. Member for Yeovil and I will be a splendid example of togetherness. I did not believe that we should have fixed minds, provided that we get, first, exclusive access within 12 miles; secondly, priority for access to fish within 12 to 50 miles and what I have described as the sea lion's share of growth within these waters; thirdly, proper conservation; and, fourthly, proper quotas enforced by effort limitation.

I come to the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). We had some experience of the question of effort limitation on the wrong end of the stick in the various cod wars, but it work efficiently and taught us all a lesson. One relates to the quota division, the boat hours or the period of time that boats may sail within certain areas, and one works those out in conjunction. That is what our licence will give us. Without that, the quota figures are meaningless.

I should like to deal with those points. I started with the question of access and growth. The proposals that have for 12 months been before our partners in the EEC—they had just come in when my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) was elected—differ in some respects from a 50-mile exclusive limit. Those who talk about a 50-mile exclusive limit do not literally mean exclusive. Such a limit would mean, I hope, Norwegians fishing in our waters and our people fishing in Norwegian waters. It is not, therefore, exactly exclusive use.

I had hoped that by being reasonable and flexible and saying that we were seeking to reserve for our people substantial fishing opportunities within 50 miles of our shores, combined with suitable fishing opportunities in third country waters—the Norwegian illustration, for example—that would meet the case and show that we were not wedded to a rigid system. It would also preserve priority of access and a preferential share of growth in the fish stocks. There is no point in having conservation merely in order to conserve fish swimming in the sea. They must also at some time find their way into the nets of the fishermen. I believe, as I think the House does, that those who provide the waters should at least be in some preferential position when those nets lift the fish from the sea.

The Government are seeking strong and effective conservation measures, not only in our own waters but throughout the waters of all member States. I agree with those who said that it is clear that the United Kingdom—the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) made this point and, I must say, on certain occasions the Commission has done so—is more enthusiastic about conservation than are some other member States.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil talked about mere words. That is fair enough. He wants action. It is fair to remind the House that there are a number of national measures which are in effect because the Community cannot or will not introduce the measures. First, there is the pout box off the East Coast of Scotland which extends to the Greenwich meridian. What does such conservation mean? It means that it is estimated to result in an increase of not far off 60,000 tons a year in the available stocks of whiting and haddock. Yet there is one country and one country only which has seen it and consistently pushed it and whose national measures now make it possible.

It is absurd that because that 60,000 tons, or whatever the figure is, of haddock and whiting would not go to this country alone, it would go to all who fished. How anybody can claim that this is the British being selfish or intransigent, I cannot understand. Those measures are designed to help everybody.

The same applies to the North Sea herring ban. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the instituting of a ban, for which we fought, throughout the North Sea was not the most popular thing in the world with our herring industries or our herring processing plants. They knew and we knew that it would hurt them. There was the danger, as scientific evidence showed, of the whole of the herring in the North Sea disappearing within 18 months. The only times when there was sufficient herring for everybody was after the First World War and after the Second World War. That shows how long it takes after a period of quiescence to build up the herring stocks again. The third national measure which is still in existence is the minimum mesh sizes—namely, the landing sizes for fishing and the by-catch regulations. These are all national measures, not Community measures.

As to quotas, we have certain sensible, clear and practical requirements. We have to pay regard to the species composition of the overall allocation of a quota. It is not enough simply to talk about a number. It is not enough simply to get a method of enforcing that quota. We also have to see that it is the right allocation. It is possible to work out a system of giving fish that no one will eat. That is why it must conform to our traditional catching pattern to the greatest possible extent. It must reflect our losses in third country waters. It works like that for us and is supposed to do the same for other countries.

I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who defined exactly the way I would define the contribution to resources made by the limits. The House and people outside should realise that if the United Kingdom moved all her fishery limits, which could be done by Order in Council under the Fishery Limits Act, about 60 per cent. of the fish stocks currently available to the Community would no longer be subject to the common fisheries policy. I am not saying that the limits should be removed, but I am giving an illustration of the effect of such a contribution.

To pretend that in any common fisheries policy we can ignore the contribution to resources is a dangerous ignorance of reality. I am glad that this point has been made in the debate and that I shall have the House with me when I make the point again at the Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

I have said that quotes must clearly be enforceable and I have referred to effort limitation. A marriage is possible between our views and those that have sprung from the Commission in the form of fishing plans. It is possible to say in a fishing plan that up to, say, 50 miles in a given area there should be dominant preference for the United Kingdom or another State. That is a possible mechanism and, since it originated in the Commission, it is one which the Commission and our partners in the EEC would do ill to ignore. I hope that this is the way in which eventually we may reach a conclusion. I put it on the record that this role exists.

If this is how flexible we have been and how practical our suggestions are, what movement has there been from the Commission and our partners in the EEC? It is only fair to say that, as a result of our pressure, there has been some change in the Commission's original proposals of 1976 which the House decided unanimously were unacceptable. Perhaps it is no great credit that there has been movement, but at least there has been.

Let us see where we are. There has been an advance on conservation, but we still have a very long way to go—at least, until the attitudes of other members begin to match our own. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns made this point.

If we considered the history of the North Sea herring ban, it is interesting to see how we and others regard conservation. The ban was imposed after lengthy and very acrimonious discussions as an EEC measure on 28th February 1977 only because of the knowledge that the United Kingdom would otherwise have imposed national measures. From 30th June the Council of Ministers refused to continue the ban and it was imposed again nationally until 25th July, when the Council agreed to impose it again. However, that ban expired on 31st October and since 1st November it has been continued only by national measures. If this is not a convincing demonstration of our consistent concern for conservation and the total lack of concern by other members as a bloc, I do not know what is.

The Commission has moved on the question of quotas. It added about 200,000 tonnes on the main species to its initial 1976 allocation of fish for the United Kingdom, but a large proportion of those fish are of the lower value types. The right hon. Member for Yeovil pointed this out with some interesting figures. I wish to give a slightly different edge to what he said, but when people read our remarks they will find that they form a composite whole.

We both agree that we were left as the biggest losers in the Community. We were being asked, even on the improved figures of the Commission, to bear half the total Community loss of demersal fish—that is 200,000 tonnes of the 400,000 tonnes that were to be lost. Yet we were providing 60 per cent. of the whole stock of fish in the waters of member States. I cannot believe that anyone who looks at that proposal objectively can possibly regard it as reasonable. The Commission and our partners have not gone far enough on quotas.

On access and growth, both of which are important, we have had no concrete proposals from the Commission. I hope that we may be able to make this marriage with its fishing plans and our dominant preference, but I am sorry to have to say that there seems at the moment to be little movement towards us.

It will be regrettable and, as the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said, serious—that is a good word in this connection—if we are unable to reach agreement at the next Council meeting, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that while it would be regrettable and serious, it would not be the end of the world. We need to see a firm basis for future planning.

My contacts with the industry have convinced me that it would be able to face a period of uncertainty in the months that lie ahead. That is an important distinction between us and some other countries. Not only has the industry convinced me of that, but I pay tribute to it because it is aware of all the difficulties, worries and hardships that it may face, and it has never once, in all the months when I have consulted those in the industry—and I have tried to consult on every possible occasion—taken the view that its understandably selfish interest came first. Despite the differences with the Folkestone inshore fishermen and the Hull and Grimsby deep sea fishermen, those in the industry have been prepared to work together and we can be proud of having such an industry and of the men and women who work in it.

I have been asked what I would suggest that the House should do if there is no agreement. That is a fair question. I agree with every hon. Member who has spoken that we would probably require quite a number of additional conservation measures. The right hon. Member for Yeovil gave me a list of such measures. Much has been done by national measures, but they seem to be seriously lacking in a number of ways. I put these at the head of my list, which will not be exhaustive, but will include the measures that I regard as most important.

First, in relation to the size of the pout box, I believe that it should be extended. Secondly, large quantities of immature white fish, potentially of the highest value, are still going for industrial fishing. Thirdly, prawn fishermen in the South-West and the Irish Sea are taking white fish in the small mesh nets used for prawns. We believe that the mesh size regulations will never be properly enforced while fishermen carry nets of different sizes on the same voyage. This point was made by many hon. Members.

I hope that the Commission and the Council will take the necessary conservation measures. I have to admit that that is not because I do not like a robust national attitude. I hope that that is still not a crime. It is much better that conservation extends to the waters of us all than to be limited to the waters, however large they might be, of one of the members of the Community. That is why I prefer conservation to be on a Community basis. I should like the Community to be able to reach agreement with other countries so that gradually we could build up world-wide conservation. That seems to be the right approach, but if it is not to be done by the Community that does not mean that it should not be done. It means that we shall have to take the action that is necessary. That means unilateral action.

We cannot take unilateral action merely by itself. There has to be a test of what will stand up if we are not to be disqualified, as the Irish recently were, by the European Court of Justice.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil took the major point when he said that the measures in question had to be nondiscriminatory. That is one basis, but it is not the only one. Unilateral action would have to be in accordance with scientific evidence. That was a point made by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. I am sorry to keep on quoting the hon. Gentleman; he will begin to become worried that I have quoted him so often. However, he put the position very clearly, although I disagreed with some of his remarks.

Action has to be taken in accordance with the scientific evidence, otherwise it would be a political decision and might even be a decision tortuously contrived at by one country to gain an advantage over another. It is necessary that we have the scientific evidence and that we are able to adduce it.

The third basis is that action has to be taken because it is urgent and necessary. I shall give an example although I do not know of such a case. If we were to say that scientific evidence tells us that in 1987 there will be a total loss of salmon, that would not, according to the European Court, be a reason for introducing a unilateral conservation measure in 1978. We have to bear those tests in mind.

I have given examples of the measures that I believe to be at the head of the list, but I am not disqualifying any of the others that have been suggested by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Let us consider the lot and put them against the tests to which I have referred. Let us say to the Community "Are you willing here and now to go ahead and put these measures into effect?" If the Community is not so willing, I repeat that we must not have a vacuum. That is where the unilateral case features.

I was asked by the right hon. Member for Yeovil about bilateral negotiations. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West asked, as did others, "If others can make bilateral agreements, why cannot the United Kingdom?" Certain examples were given. I do not want to go into great detail, but in a number of instances they were old agreements that somehow continued after the common fisheries policy. The Commission might say that they were in existence before that policy and were not new agreements. The Scandinavian agreement between Sweden, Norway and Denmark has never been recognised by the Commission. It has always refused to accept that Denmark was in order in making it. That is one that has followed the policy. However, whether we refuse to accept it, refuse to consider it or refuse to acknowledge it, the question is, what do we do about it?

I think that the right hon. Member for Yeovil understood—he said that it was a fair answer to the question—when I said that so far we have tried to work within the framework of a Community policy. I still hope to do so. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not totally disqualify me from doing that if we can get the right policy. Therefore, bilateral agreements did not seem to arise until we had reached a certain position of disagreement.

As it happens, I shall be going to Oslo to have some discussions with the Norwegian Minister of the Law of the Sea, Mr. Evensen, in the week following the Fisheries Council. I am sure that we shall both be glad to renew our personal friendship and to further the relations between our two countries, which remain close and friendly.

I have been talking about what we might or might not do in the event of disagreement. There is one other thing that we shall need to do in the event of disagreement or in the event of agreement. It seems that United Kingdom fleets will have to face some changes. We shall need to consider how our industry should be restructured.

The Commission has produced proposals, some parts of which could form part of a final common fisheries policy package. However, in the event of disagreement I should not agree to those proposals. I should not agree to them because I do not regard acceptance of piecemeal parts of a package as being the right approach. However, that should not stop our planning for the future, which I am happy to tell the House is going ahead. At this moment officials are considering the structural change and the shape of grant and loan arrangements that may be made with the White Fish Authority.

I assure my hon. Friends that those who work in the fishing industry need to be protected, whether they work as fishermen in our ships or as loaders and dockers. I understand the point which has been made about the redundancies that may occur for fishermen who are of an age which I regret to say I have reached and which my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby has not reached.

There is another factor that is with us already and which is growing in intensity—namely, the loss of third country waters, which is already posing considerable problems for the deep water ports of Fleetwood, Grimsby and Hull. I agree that we have to do something about that. I promise that I shall consider what can be done to help, whether there is agreement or whether there is not.

I understand what the House has expressed and I understand its mood, but the best thing would be to get an agreement on the right terms. I must tell the House that I am not hopeful of an early settlement. I have said, and I think that the House has said too—

Mr. Peyton

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is not hopeful of an early settlement. Regretfully, I am not hopeful of such a settlement either. If he does not get a settlement next week or the immediate prospect of one, I hope that he will return immediately to the House with a set of conservation measures, which again, regretfully, he would be forced to impose. In so doing he would have our support.

Mr. Silkin

I might not be forced to impose them if the Community were to accept them as Community measures. However, the House should be made aware immediately of what measures may be necessary. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is a technical matter, but I shall have my officials working on it.

I hope that we shall get an agreement. I should like one and I think that it would benefit us. I happen to think that it would benefit the rest of Europe if we got an agreement. I have been asked by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland whether in the event of an agreement I should make it ad referendum the House. That would be my intention. I want to be clear that there are occasions—it might have happened as regards price fixing and it could occur in several international negotiations—when the moment is reached when it may be said "I can get an agreement which I believe, as Minister, to be right for the people of the United Kingdom. However, I suspect that if I put a reserve on it I shall lose it." If I come to that decision—I hope that I shall not have to do so—I must take the responsibility upon my own shoulders. That is a Minister's duty. In that event, I must come back to the House and explain what I have done, and the House will agree with me or, as sometimes happens, tear me to pieces. Whatever happens, we are prepared to treat flexibly any sensible, realistic approach that is made to us.

The House has shown that it regards the continuation of a viable United Kingdom fishing industry as its major aim. Therefore, I shall go to Luxembourg on Monday in the knowledge that the House is behind me in demanding a fair deal for British fishermen. I regard that as my paramount duty during these negotiations.

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