HC Deb 16 March 1978 vol 946 cc624-6
12. Mr. David James

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further steps he is considering taking under the 1976 Hague Agreement to conserve fishing stocks.

Mr. John Silkin

I am currently discussing with the Commission and representatives of the fishermen what further conservation measures may be necessary.

Mr. James

Will the Minister set his sights a little higher and see whether he can achieve a situation whereby natural resources under the bottom of the sea are treated in the same way as those in the sea? Why should the median line be regarded as the natural way of dealing with oil and gas when such a median line concept has never entered into any fishing discussions?

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Member tempts me. The real answer is that the Treaty of Accession, which I would not wish to have signed, in fact produced the exact difficulty about which he speaks. But certainly I am willing to set my sights much higher. This aspect of the fish question was a matter which was given away at the time of the Treaty of Accession and which we hope to get back for our people. The proper conservation of fishstocks is a matter that we can teach the rest of the Community to carry out one way or the other.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the existing measures to conserve herring stocks? If he is not, what further steps does he intend to take?

Mr. Silkin

In general, the answer is "Yes", since there is a ban on herring fishing in the North Sea. There are still discussions going on with the Isle of Man, which is the relevant authority, and with the fishermen in the area about what might be done with regard to the herring stock there.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Since most of the emphasis now is understandably placed on the conservation of fish stocks, will the Minister assure the House that in dealing with this very important subject he has not lost sight of his undertaking, which earned commendation everywhere, to reserve and preserve an exclusive area for English fishermen round our coasts?

Mr. Silkin

I answered a question about that a moment ago, when I was asked what were my minimum demands. I pointed out that they were what they always were and that I was waiting for the other eight to come towards us. I have not moved one inch in that direction myself.

Mr. Peyton

Has not the time come actually to do something? Does not the Minister think that it would be a helpful way of propelling the discussions along to indicate some positive measures that he might take and to give a clear date when he would introduce them?

Mr. Silkin

Probably the right hon. Member was not listening in February when I introduced the national measures that are now in existence. Perhaps, too, he did not hear the reply which I gave originally to his hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James), when I said that discussions were going on with the Commission. This is the point. We may have to take unilateral conservation measures in our own waters—that is a matter that we must consider—but clearly it is better, if we can, to get all the member states to co-operate. To my mind, that is not urgent at the moment, but it is much better to try to get an agreed solution. If it does not happen, we shall consider that course. Among the other outstanding conservation measures is the extension of the Norwegian pout box, with which I agree. But there, the crucial scientific evidence is that that relates to a period from October onwards. So there is time to deal with that. Otherwise there is the herring fishery off the Isle of Man, as I mentioned a moment ago, which requires consultation with the Isle of Man authorities and with the fishing industry, and that dates from August onwards.

Mr. Peyton

I do not want to add to the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties in negotiations which are already hard enough, but will he now say when he thinks that it would be reasonable for him actually to introduce specific measures of conservation?

Mr. Silkin

Let me remind the right hon. Member. I said a moment ago that in February—only last month—I had introduced a number of national conservation measures. He must be aware of those measures. They included, to quote an example, the closure of the pout box. They dealt with by-catches, mesh sizes, and so on. Of course, I shall bring forward measures and tell this House about them at the due moment. I still think that it is worthwhile to spend a little time seeing whether those measures can be imposed throughout the waters of all the member States of the Community. I should say that whether we were in the Community or not, because it is more effective to have those measures on a global basis. But I agree with what the right hon. Member hinted at—that the Commission's previous proposals are totally unacceptable, because they are totally negative.