HC Deb 14 June 1979 vol 968 cc609-11
14. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on negotiations for an agreed common fisheries policy.

19. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on progress on negotiations to amend the EEC common fisheries policy.

Mr. Peter Walker

The Government are determined to secure a fair and lasting settlement of the common fisheries policy, but I do not expect consideration of all the outstanding issues in the Council of Ministers until further preparatory work by the Commission and others has been done.

Mr. Wall

On what basis will the negotiations continue? Can my right hon. Friend give any idea when they might be brought to fruition?

Mr. Walker

I expect that eventually the Commission will put forward comprehensive proposals as a basis. The basis on which we would find such proposals acceptable is that we would have a comprehensive policy on conservation, an adequate zone of exclusive access, a control system which enabled member States to police their own waters, and a very substantial share of the total allowable catch for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hughes

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that sounds suspiciously as though he has adopted the policy of the previous Government? Will he give an undertaking that, irrespective of what final agreement is reached, he will retain the right to adopt national unilateral conservation methods?

Mr. Walker

I have announced unilateral conservation measures, confirming the measures originally announced by the right hon. Member for Depford (Mr. Silkin), which come into force on 1 July. That is an example of our view that, until there is a sensible agreement which covers the whole of the European waters, we demand the freedom to introduce proper national conservation measures. We shall certainly be doing that. As to the objective of the fishing policy. I think that we found in the debate on this matter that we shared broadly the same view of what was required.

Mr. Sproat

In the light of the current fears of the fishing industry, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that in no circumstances shall we surrender or bargain away the industry's vital needs in return for concessions on the common agricultural policy, the Community budget or the European monetary system?

Mr. Walker

I certainly give that assurance. There is no way that we would negotiate the policy principles that I have outlined today because of concessions in some other sphere. I made that clear at a meeting with leaders of the industry.

Mr. John Silkin

As the strength of any fisheries Minister on either side of the House is that he has the whole House with him in believing that the common fisheries policy as it is now proposed is wrong and bad and should be changed, can the right hon. Gentleman go one stage further than he has? Can he tell us that an adequate zone is at least 12 miles exclusive, 50 miles dominant preference, and that if that is not given he goes back to the original 50-mile exclusive zone, because that still lies on the table? Can the right hon. Gentleman also go rather further on conservation? What I think my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was asking was that we should retain the right, whatever the circumstances, to have a national unilateral conservation policy whenever we wished.

Mr. Walker

It would be far better and far more successful, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, if we had a wide-spread conservation policy that was agreed upon. It do not believe that we shall have much difficulty in achieving a sensible European conservation policy, which would be much more helpful to our fishermen and fishing stocks in our waters than purely having the present position.

As for what we shall demand, I shall come to the House with the details of any suggestions before a final negotiation takes place. I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows, from having entered these negotiations, that to set out the detail before even seeing the Commission's proposals would be wrong. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Commission's current proposals are unacceptable to the House.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nets to the new mesh size proposed for compulsory introduction on 1 July are not available, as of last weekend, and that it is not practicable to introduce the measure for 1 July when the fishermen cannot by then—with the best will in the world—obtain the nets to meet such a regulation?

Mr. Walker

I recognise the difficulty that my hon. Friend has stated. The right hon. Member for Deptford announced the measure, I believe in March, for a period which would have commenced at the beginning of June. I decided to give one month's extension for the very purpose that my hon. Friend outlined. I think that to have given a further extension would have been damaging to the policy that we are trying to pursue. The leaders of the fishing industry that I have met were unanimous in their view that I was right to introduce the measure on 1 July.

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