§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community Documents 9336/80, 9336/80 corrigendum 1, 10688/80 on total allowable catches, 10090/80, 10687/80, 10722/80 on 1980 quota allocations, 9917/80 and COM (80) 724 on organisation of the market in fishery products, but regards as inadequate the quota allocations to the United Kingdom illustrated in these documents; reaffirms support for the Government's objective of a satisfactory settlement of the revised Common Fisheries Policy; and maintains the need to secure an overall share of fish for United Kingdom fishermen which reflects United Kingdom losses incurred in third country waters and the contribution made by United Kingdom waters to total European Community fish resources.
Because of the length of the motion and the number of figures to which it refers, I claim the distinction of being able to follow a debate such as that which has just ended without being requested by the Chair to sit down while hon. Members leave the Chamber quietly and courteously.
The words of the motion are important. In the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy, we are approaching the stage when a number of issues of crucial importance to the United Kingdom and our fishing industry are about to be discussed, and it is important and right that they should be debated in the House.
I welcome tonight's debate because it gives me, as the Minister responsible for fisheries, the opportunity to outline the Government's approach to the negotiations. I hope that we shall be able to enter the negotiations in the Council of Ministers in the knowledge that we have the support and backing of the House in order to achieve proper objectives for the United Kingdom fishing industry.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has already reported to the House the various developments which took place in the Council of Ministers on 17 and 18 November. My right hon. Friend's report specifically referred to the allocation of quotas. The documents before us refer to the same matter, which is of crucial importance to us in the negotiations.
Equally important is the question of access, but that is not covered by the documents. I simply confirm yet again that the Government regard access as of equal importance to quotas for inclusion in the overall settlement if we are to agree to the common fisheries policy. Although, because of the documents, our debate must centre on quotas, we believe that the two issues must be taken together, and we have made that point clear to our colleagues in the Council of Ministers.
The documents refer to the total allowable catches for 1980. Hon. Members might fairly ask the relevance of these figures since 1980 has only one month to run. However, it is important to base our discussion on the 1980 quotas, because if a division of quotas is agreed for this year it is likely to remain for later years.
The documents amend to some extent Council regulation 754/80, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 29 January. It set out for the first time agreed total allowable catches—TACs—accepted by the Council of Ministers for the whole Community. In that sense it was a considerable step forward, not least because it was based 527 fundamentally on scientific advice then available, and that is the basis upon which we should discuss total allowable catches.
Document 9336/80 and its corrigendum No. 1 reflect revisions of that original document. They result from scientific assessment by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Therefore, the document before us has a scientific basis, one that the United Kingdom is prepared to accept. The consequence is a substantial increase in 1980 TACs for haddock and whiting, two particularly important stocks for United Kingdom fishermen in the North Sea and to the west of Scotland. We certainly welcome them and believe that they are properly based.
Document 10688/80, which also refers to TACs, reflects revised agreements with Norway and Sweden in respect of the Community's share of fish stocks with those countries. The increased Community share of 1980 TACs refers to North Sea stocks of cod, haddock and saithe. Again, the basis of the proposals in the document is sensible and right, and the measures are broadly acceptable to us.
I turn now to the 1980 quota allocations, which are the heart of the matter. We should not regard this set of figures as purely academic because it is based on 1980. If a quota allocation share-out is agreed on the basis of these figures, that share is one that we are likely to have to live with for a period. It is important that we get the allocation right.
We have had three such documents since July, when we last had a full debate on common fisheries policy generally and on quotas in particular. The figures now before us have been used by the Commission to illustrate the result of the various methods that were advanced by the Council of Foreign Ministers in May. I refer to the different measures that were set out in the May statement that bore on what the figures might be. The figures before us are merely illustrations. Having been involved in the Council of Ministers, I have no doubt that in the days and weeks to come there will be more illustrative figures before a conclusion is reached.
I emphasise that the figures are illustrative. I emphasise also that we are likely to see more figures produced from various sources before we come to a conclusion. However, we regard the figures as totally unsatisfactory as they bear on the interests of the United Kingdom. There was a meeting of the Council of Ministers on 17 and 18 November when these matters were discussed. I am glad to tell the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) that we made it clear at the meeting that we regarded the illustrative figures as unacceptable. More importantly, we made it clear that they do not fulfil the principles of the statement of the Council of Foreign Ministers in May.
The figures are currently under consideration by the presidency of the Council of Ministers. We expect that it will come forward with fresh proposals following the discussions that take place. The present figures will not do for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
What will the position be if no agreement on a final package is reached by 31 December?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
It is premature. If we were to concentrate all our attention on what we might have to do in the event of a sensible agreement not being reached, we would have a foolish series of priorities. When progress is being made, as it is now, in improving the figures, I prefer to concentrate on those areas rather than on a hypothetical future.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)rose—
§ Mr. Townend
If no fisheries agreement is reached by 31 December, will my hon. Friend make it clear that that will not have any effect on the repayment due to Britain under the budget negotiated by the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
The Government have made it clear—I am happy to do so again—that the fishing issue must be settled on its own merits. We have made that clear to our colleagues in Europe. Even now, there are members of the fishing industry who would ask us to bring other issues into the settlement so that, according to their thinking, we shall get a better deal on fisheries.
The Government believe that the fisheries issue is important on its own. We therefore separated it from the other issues, and it is now necessary to continue negotiations on the issue on its own merits. That is the way that we started, the way that we have been proceeding and the way that we intend to continue until the matter is properly and correctly concluded.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
It is difficult for a Minister to choose between Hull and Grimsby. If hon. Members can settle the matter between themselves, I shall be happy to give way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. Which hon. Member is the Minister giving way to?
§ Mr. McNamara
I am grateful to the Minister and to my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). The Minister said that the figures proposed will not do. Will he be kind enough to tell the House what figures will do?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
Knowing the pressure that there will be to speak in the debate, the hon. Gentleman made his intervention, but I am sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will be able to enlarge on the matter later. The hon. Gentleman must consider me terribly naive, as he must have thought his right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) naive. I have many quotations, which I shall be happy to use later. The right hon. Gentleman was coy about giving absolute figures of what we should aim for. We are talking about negotiations. That is the importance of the debate. The House should realise that fact. The hon. Gentleman's question seemed naive and was very appealing. I know the 529 hon. Gentleman. I should be delighted to answer the question if I felt it was proper to do so. He will realise that, if I did, I should not be doing the best service to the negotiating position of the United Kingdom and our fishing industry. The right hon. Member for Deptford took that view. I should hate to depart from his skills in dealing with the matter. I shall not be drawn tonight. We are determined, as I hope the right hon. Gentleman was determined, to get the best deal possible for the United Kingdom fisheries. The House can be absolutely assured that that is what my right hon. Friend and I shall be seeking to do.
Having been diverted, I return to the matter before us. What matters as far as quotas are concerned—and this is the critical stage at which negotiations are concentrated—are the methods that are being used by the Commission and the presidency of the Council to calculate quotas. I shall spell out the five principal objectives of the Government over quota allocations. I invite the views of hon. Members—and, I hope, their support—in following through those objectives to achieve the best possible deal.
The first objective is a 100 per cent. account of the losses that the United Kingdom industry has suffered in third country waters. That one matter which has underlain the negotiations and which has been acknowledged. The United Kingdom fishing industry, of all the fishing industries in the Community, has suffered most. We have the greatest right on our side. I hope that I shall have the support of the House in arguing for that objective.
Secondly, we shall seek improved methods of granting quota preferences to what are called the Hague areas in the United Kingdom—areas designated in agreement with the right hon. Member for Deptford in 1976—which are particularly dependent on fishing. Broadly, they apply not only to Scotland but to Northern Ireland and the North-East of England. We must have improved methods for calculating quota preferences for those areas.
Thirdly, we must seek to achieve a greater discount of industrial by-catches of species which normally we would regard as correct for human consumption from the historic fishing records of European nations. We have a particularly good record on fishing for species for human consumption. I say this not in the Scottish sense of being "Unco Guid" regarding our fishing record but in the sense that, when dealing with a scarce resource, the emphasis has to be on fishing for human consumption, not for industrial purposes. Therefore, we believe that what other countries have caught by way of by-catches must be discounted in assessing historic records. The Commission has already recognised that factor regarding industrial catches. In the past, a 25 per cent. by-catch of white fish for human consumption has been allowed. Now, only a 10 per cent. by-catch will be allowed. Therefore, we can mark up a certain degree of progress there.
Fourthly, it is essential that, before reaching a conclusion on quota allocations, we obtain quota allocation, albeit of a notional nature, for herring stocks. Fishing for herring is banned, with the exception of some local stocks. But herring fishing is of such importance to the United Kingdom that any ultimate discussion on quotas must include herring. However, it can only be on the basis of notional quotas, because the total allowable catch is nil at present.
Fifthly, one of our major objectives must be to ensure that agreed quotas have staying power. It was in this 530 respect that I mentioned the 1980 TACs becoming academic as the year comes to an end. However, it is important to ensure that what is agreed has staying power and is not modified. Whatever is agreed must be maintained for a number of years.
Those are the five basic objectives which the Government will seek to follow through in the negotiations. We have made useful progress in the discussions so far. The proposals from the Commission which we have stated are unacceptable to us are now under consideration by the presidency of the Council. The Council meeting of 10 days ago was suspended, not completed. At the next meeting in December we hope to make progress not only on quotas but on other issues.
I shold now like to refer to marketing. It is not necessary that agreement on the regulation on marketing should be decided at the same time. None the less, it is important to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. Therefore, it is right that we should consider that matter. It may well be part of the total package if agreement is reached on a common fisheries policy later this year.
§ Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)
My hon. Friend says that this matter is of importance. Does he not recognise that in the Scottish fishing industry it is now being increasingly recognised that a proper resolution of marketing agreements may be just as important as anything else that is taking place in the Brussels negotiations at present? Will he appreciate just how important this is for the Scottish fishing industry.?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I am delighted to give way to my hon. Friend—my neighbour—because he always raises points of importance. He is absolutely right. The last year has shown that the market situation is of crucial importance to our fishing industry.
There are two issues in marketing. One is the issue before us tonight, which is a future regulation for the way in which the market is organised. Equally, there is the crucial issue of the annual review of official withdrawal prices. I think that that is the point which my hon. Friend has in mind. I have emphasised to the Commission and to the Council of Ministers that, if there is any delay in coining to a conclusion on a new marketing regulation, that must not be made an excuse for not reviewing properly the annual review of official withdrawal prices, the current level of which we regard as totally unrealistic. I shall continue to make that point to the Council of Ministers.
The document before us provides certain guidelines for review and it produces a number of new points with regard to future regulation. We have pressed for a proper review of marketing, we have emphasised to the Community the need to review the problem of imports which has affected the British fishing industry very much in the last year, and we have pressed for a better review of the role of producer organisations and a more flexible system of compensation.
These proposals raise a number of issues which cover some of the general points that I have mentioned, particularly in relation to the more general coverage of a marketing regulation. Here I refer to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), because I know that in that area there is concern about lobsters. Again, the control of imports in the longer term is important, and we take it into account. These and other matters will, we hope, be covered in the review of the marketing regulations.
§ Mr. Marlow
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Can he confirm that, if an agreement is not reached by the end of the year, there is no way in which the Community can hold up any of the money which has been negotiated and which is due to this country? If that is the case, there will be strong pressure on my hon. Friend to come to an agreement. Can he confirm that point, because it is an important issue to many Conservative Members?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
If my hon. Friend was truly interested in the British fishing industry, he would have listened to the reply that I gave earlier. I made it clear that this issue is one to be settled on its own merits. We are determined to settle this issue on its own merits and to work towards the objectives that I have mentioned.
I hope that as a result of the debate my right hon. Friends and I can go into the negotiations reinforced by the view of the House of Commons in order to achieve these objectives for this important sector of British industry.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
We are sorry that the debate will be so short, thanks to the Minister's long speech and thanks to the fact that he was unnecessarily goaded and easily diverted.
We notice the motion and congratulate the Minister, or his politically minded advisers, on its wording. We note that it includes almost the whole of our amendment. We moved that amendment on 7 August 1980, and reference to it appears in column 889 of Hansard. It received the unanimous acclaim of the House. This is a real conversion. We are glad that our wording has been accepted and has become a motion. I therefore advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to not to divide the House. However, that will not prevent us from advising the Government on how to get a better deal in the negotiations on the common fisheries policy.
We are concerned about the number of different orders that have been laid. They have to be debated in one and a half hours. There is a batch of orders dealing with bilateral deals with third countries on total allowable catch quotas, which are based on up-to-date scientific estimates of fish stocks. Another batch causes the Government and the Opposition concern. It relates to fish stock share-out criteria. In addition, there are guidelines for the future marketing of fish products. Any of those batches could have taken up the time available. We shall have to reconsider how to deal in debate with so many Common Market orders.
As regards the future marketing of fish products, the official withdrawal prices have been too low for too long. There is great demand for a substantial increase. That is bound to be a component of the package. I shall echo what was said in the explanatory memoranda on orders 10688/80 and 10722/80. I quote:The Government notes that, as previously, the Commission's quota proposals are based only on historic catches, third country losses and the special needs of local communities. The Government remains of the view that other factors are of relevance, including recognition of the proportion of fish in Member States' fishing limits found within the United Kingdom fishery limits. Furthermore the Government has drawn the Commission's attention to the inequitable results produced by the methods they have used to assess historic catches, to reflect 532 adequately United Kingdom losses of fishing in third country waters and to provide equitable quota preferences for those regions identified in the Hague declaration of 1978.That paragraph is the crux not only of the negotiations but of this debate. This issue affects the whole fishing industry.
The Minister must constantly remind the Fisheries Council that 60 per cent. of the fish caught is caught in British waters—of the EEC's 200-mile limit—and that our historical performance, over a longer period than the Common Market recognises, shows our true fishing rights and catches. Therefore, we must press that point, as it is one of the keys to a successful agreement. The Minister knows that the orders have been laid at a time when crucial talks are taking place on the common fisheries policy. Despite what the Minister says, that deal will not be settled on its merits. It is a part of a failed Common Market budget deal.
The Government went for a broad balance of our budgetary deficit but were reduced to a shady compromise. Our fishing interests and the fishing industry are caught in the cleft stick of a tight timetable and pressures from intense Common Market fishing rivals. As a result, the industry and many Labour Members fear that the Minister will sell out, particularly if the final budget settlement depends on the results of the common fisheries policy.
Everyone recognises that during the past year the situation in our fishing ports has worsened considerably. There has been a drastic reduction in our deep-sea trawler fleet. Our docks and quaysides are run down. There have been increased costs for labour, rent, rates and transport, and even the White Fish Authority, which is not known for its forceful language, states that the industry and the fishermen are uttering a genuine cry of pain.
A survey of our major ports—Grimsby, Hull, North Shields, Fleetwood, Aberdeen and Lowestoft—will show that company-owned fleets are a shadow of their former selves, that skipper-owned vessels cannot pay their way and that many of them have been crippled beyond repair. The reasons are numerous, and the effect has been disastrous. Fishing opportunities have been severely cut back, and there have been high fuel costs without account being taken of the fuel subsidies of our competitors. There is also the high cost of borrowing, solely due to the Government's monetarist policies, and the frightening flood of cheap fish imports.
Throughout the industry, in the fleets, ports and boat yards, investment has greatly diminished and everyone fears that it may be too late for a revival. That is the sad story of the fishing industry in the first 18 months of Tory rule.
On total allowable catches, the share-out is one of the major foundations of a secure fishing industry. Once agreed, as the Minister of State said, the percentage will be the basis for many years to come.
We are not happy with the totally inadequate compensation proposed by the Commission for losses in third country waters. Neither are we happy—indeed, we are disturbed—with the scale of the industrial fishing by the Danes or with their by-catches. They have plundered our seas for too long. Control over their operations must be a necessity. As the Minister knows, it may well come to the crunch and the Danes may veto a deal, and he will then have to face up to them.
533 Our access arguments are well known. As yet, the fishing industry and Parliament have not weakened, and neither must the Government in these discussions. We still want the 12-mile exclusive coastal belt, with a dominant preference of up to 50 miles.
Regarding the share-out, there is already too much talk about the 31 per cent. offered and about the fact that the Minister will be satisfied with 35 per cent. I warn him that if that is so it will cause great concern. I know that we shall have to take into consideration the special types of fish and the grounds in which they can be caught. But we warn the Minister that he must dig in on the total allowable catch. There is still a lot to fight for. The crunch is near, and our fishermen are looking to him for salvation.
We all fear that in the end the Minister will present the fishing industry with a fait accompli—take it or leave it—knowing that if it disagrees with him many more months will elapse without a common fisheries policy agreement, and the industry will die. The fishermen fear that he will blackmail them into submission. That is a possibility, but it must not happen, otherwise he will incur the wrath of the industry and the wrath of this House. So far they have been standing together, but we are still worried about the eventual outcome.
We hope that the Minister succeeds and that he will manage to achieve the objectives that the industry and the House have unanimously given to him. He has a mandate, and we expect him to stick to it. This debate, short as it will be, is serving the purpose of firing a shot across the Minister's bows. If he fails, it does not matter whether he is sunk, but it matters if he sinks the fishing fleet of the United Kingdom. For that, he would never he forgiven.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I am surprised that a Member of the stature of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) should try to pretend that the problems of the fishing industry started in the past 18 months. He knows as well as any hon. Member that the problems date back to the cod war. Expressions such as "shady compromise" and "sell-out" just before the Minister goes into what may be the final battle for a common fisheries policy are not helpful. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman made clear that the Minister goes into battle with a united House behind him.
It is always difficult to debate a large mass of documents. One either adopts a broad approach, as did the Front Bench spokesmen, or one takes extracts from certain documents and underlines them. I propose to adopt the latter course.
Document 10090 was the first quota document that the British fishing industry received. It was based on historic catches, third country losses and special needs but, like the other documents, not on the proportion of EEC fish that can be caught in British waters—about 65 per cent. The document estimated the loss of third country waters and halved it. In other words, we would get only 50 per cent. compensation instead of 100 per cent. The document also reduces the United Kingdom catch of North Sea cod, haddock and whiting. However, I understand that that has now been settled satisfactorily.
Document 10687 shows a slight improvement in the United Kingdom allocation though still inadequate allowances for the proportion of fish in our waters and losses in historic waters.
534 The third and most important document, 10722, also shows a slight improvement in the United Kingdom quota, but there is an anomalous distribution in, for example, our allocation of Irish Sea cod and whiting. There is also a further wrong assessment of historic catches.
Taking the three documents together, the United Kingdom allocation has increased by 8,526 tons of cod equivalent. That shows that there have been gains in the long discussions in Brussels, but they are not enough.
I understand that in 1978 we had an offer, using cod equivalent, which was not taken up by the then Government, of 28.7 per cent. The documents seem to give us 25.3 per cent., but I understand that that figure has recently been increased. Can the Minister tell us the current offer in cod equivalent? I believe that it is just over 30 per cent.
I wish to use a local example to illustrate the problem of quotas. Fishermen off the Yorkshire coast have a basic catch of cod, haddock and whiting. A comparison of the catches of those species between 1978 and 1980 shows that cod has gone down by 3.5 per cent., haddock by 2 per cent. and whiting by 2.7 per cent.
The minimum requirement to keep the industry viable off the Yorkshire coast is estimated at 100,000 tons of cod—the 1980 proposal allows only 82,000 tons—70,000 tons of haddock—the proposal allows only 60,000 tons—and 60,000 tons of whiting—the proposal allows only 56,400 tons. Those figures indicate that the industry cannot be viable on these quotas, and, of course, that example can be repeated all round the coast. It shows that the allocation must be increased.
My hon. Friend the Minister has spelt out the justifications for an increase. The first is the loss of historic fishing rights. It is important to note that, of those losses, 99 per cent. are in cod equivalent and only 1 per cent. in other species. I also understand that an assessment from 1970 to 1980 would show that this country has caught 37 per cent. of all EEC fish. It is, therefore, clear that we need a 12-mile exclusive zone round our coast and the dominant allocation in the outer band.
I think that the House agrees that Danish industrial fishing has done harm to stocks and will continue to do so. There is no justification for the Danish allocation being much greater than ours. Fishing News on 21 November said that one possibility istaking by-catches on industrial fish out of the present basis of calculation.The Minister referred to this matter in his speech. I hope that a decision on it will be reached when the conference resumes in Brusseels.
On marketing, we have before us document 9917/80, which suggests certain improvements, including a flexible withdrawal system and a better reference price mechanism, and the main document, COM(80)724, which reviews the common organisation of marketing on the lines suggested in the previous document to which I have referred. This includes issues that will be beneficial to the European fishing industry as a whole. It, gives formation grants for producer organisations and changes in assessment of guide and reference prices. It gives a flexible system of compensation as opposed to the present flat rate. It gives assistance with private storage and allows for selective and progressive protection measures against third countries.
All those issues are good. I would suggest to my hon. Friend certain amendments that might be made to 535 regulation 100/76 which have been recommended by various sections of the fishing industry. First, compensation to producer organisation members should be fixed at a rate of not less than 90 per cent. of the withdrawal price. Secondly, the guide price should be based on a weighted average of prices at representative ports during the better of two fishing years. Thirdly, compensation should be equal to 95 per cent. of the difference between the standard value and withdrawal price. Fourthly, the vessels registered within the Community should carry a crew not less than 75 per cent. of whom have Community nation passports.
The proposals in the vast stack of documents before the House go in the right direction. The sooner a common fisheries policy is agreed, the better. I emphasise, however, that British fishermen must have a greater share than the documents suggest and European withdrawal prices must be considerably higher than they are today. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have done a good job in their various battles.
§ Mr. Wall
And the Prime Minister. All of them have done a good job. They are rectifying some of the things that went wrong in the past. They have not got a very good base on which to work. They are now going into the last battle. I hope that it can be shown tonight that they have a united House of Commons behind them.
§ 11.3 pm
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I begin cheerfully with a famous comment about the wording of the text. I thought that the years had rolled back about a quarter of a century to the days of Butskellism, such is the consensus between the two sides. The words I want to commend are those in which the Government regardas inadequate the quota allocations to the United Kingdom illustrated in these documents".All hon. Members share that view. I commend to hon. Members a Select Committee document from the noble Lords which examines the question of what should be our share of the total allowable catch. It is whispered that we are being offered about 29 or 30 per cent. Their lordships come out bold and clear, as everyone does, for 45 per cent.
We have been asked to look at the tables. I do not think that they are correct. I understand that they have been amended and now include Western mackerel. I understand that at Luxembourg last week the President stepped in and increased the third country compensation, too. This is good for the United Kingdom and Germany—I think that the Minister is nodding assent—but I am told that all the calculations are in terms of cod equivalent.
I am not happy that the tables contain only seven species. Why do they not contain all the species? I am informed by knowledgeable people in the industry that if we keep to the seven species we get less than 30 per cent. of the total allowable catch, which has now been boosted to about 1,100,000 tonnes—for example, whiting gets 86 per cent. cod equivalent and mackerel gets 30 per cent. cod equivalent in the tables.
I also object to the fact that these are the Commission's figures, not ours, as we think they should be. Therefore, again the third party is not doing too much to help us.
536 It is most important that we take all species, or at least try to convince our so-called colleagues in the Nine that we should make up the tables on all the species. Why are we accepting seven? Is it with the connivance of Whitehall, or is it merely with the passive acceptance of the Minister and his civilian advisers? If we do not take all the species, we shall come out below 30 per cent.
I believe that the Secretary of State, with the help of his junior colleague, is now seeing the light and is getting down to dealing with the need for much more than 29, 30 or 31 per cent. We believe that we need at least 45 per cent., and the Lords may think that we need even more.
The $64,000 question is this: shall we get more? We can talk our heads off about these statistics. They are meaningless. The Minister said that they were only illustrative and could be changed. Of course, they can. The President changed them last week, I am told. Therefore, why do we not get on with lifting our share of the quotas?
The answer is that the French do not like it, to begin with, and are being difficult. But is it not a fact also that for us to secure a better quota the Danes must give up some of their share? Why do I say that and not tackle the French, whom I do not love at all, or even the Germans, who have quite a large quota? Of the total EEC 1,100,000 tonnes, the Danes get 26.4 per cent. I do not like the word "cheated", but it is a historic fact that they have always added industrial catches to their total catch. We object to that and do not think that it is fair. They also use small mesh and the like. We should take away the industrial catch figures, the by-catch figures.
Where are we to obtain dependable statistics that our partners will accept? All homage is paid to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea for the marvellous figures that we are receiving. They are the council's figures on which we build at the beginning. Why can we not use the ICES's figures for the industrial fishing and alter the share of the total allowable catch?
The EEC is finding the Danes intransigent and stubborn. This again is my understanding. From midnight, their Minister takes the place of a former colleague of ours who was a member of earlier Labour Administrations. It is the Dane now who will argue all night. I appreciate that this is important to the Danes. The Danish Government could be toppled if they did not get a decent share. When one goes to Jutland and sees those magnificent small fishing ports all along the coast, one understands the part that they play in the national economy.
If the Danes will not give, we have to ask ourselves how tough the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is. He is not in his place, and we understand why. There are suspicious people, even in this Chamber tonight, who say that the fish deal must be harnessed or hitched alongside the budget deal. I have noticed at Question Time that the Minister gets quite sensitive when he is charged with this by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), and he leaps to the Dispatch Box to clear himself. I will not say that he has a guilty conscience, but he is not the only joker in the pack. There is a gentleman named Gundelach.
Commissioner Gundelach is a good Dane, but is he a good European in these matters? He should be. Our friend Mr. Roy Jenkins is a good European, so why cannot the Dane be a good European and cast aside his clanlike 537 motives by saying that industrial fishing, although vital to the Danish economy, should not, in his opinion, be included in the total statistics?
It is said that we should be magnanimous and good Europeans for the sake of unity. But our Ministers must not give in. I say "No" to this proposal. The people in Hull whom I represent have no choice. They had to give in. They were cut out of Arctic waters by 200-mile limits. Since we are denied access to the Arctic, I do not see why we should give way in any sense in this matter of getting a decent quota.
Our men in Hull are on the dole. It is not impossible for our Ministers to negotiate with the Icelanders on access to Icelandic waters. It may not be impossible to get some of our people in Hull off the dole and on the deck fishing for cod, haddock, hake and halibut in Icelandic waters again.
§ Sir Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
I could not entirely follow what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) was arguing about. He began by criticising the figures and, indeed, the Government. However, it is pointed out in the explanatory memorandum that the Government do not accept the basis of these figures and want them changed. I think that the hon. Gentleman had the answer to his question before he even asked it.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State probably knows more about fishing than any other Fisheries Minister I have known. He has been in constant touch with my own port of Fleetwood—in fact, almost every week—to find out the situation. In the brief time available to me in this debate, perhaps I may give him a little ammunition to use when he goes to negotiate in Europe, because I think that he will negotiate there with honour.
Last Saturday, I met some members of the crew of one of the middle-water trawlers who had landed that week, under the aegis of the Transport and General Workers Union. Those men had landed in debt. They rely on poundage for their share of the catch, and they were as much as £50 in debt to their company when they came back after a trip. That is the stark position. It is due not only to fish being difficult to catch but to the achievement of an unsuitable price for the fish which has been caught—a problem which has bedevilled the industry throughout this year.
I shall give my hon. Friend some information to take to Europe about the imports from which we are suffering. The information was provided by the Transport and General Workers Union and shows the hard sell, especially in fish fillets. Ocean Traders of Boston Incorporated of Massachusetts is offering Newfoundland codfish. In its hard-sell letter, the company states:There is no doubt that Canadian cod is the fish of the future. By 1985 Canada's TAC is expected to rise to £680,000, a huge increase requiring significant export markets.It goes on to offer cod fillets, to be landed in Grimsby by motor vessel, not by fishing vessels, at prices with which our own fishermen cannot compete. They are being undercut.
My grievance against the Common Market and the current document is that it has been completely ineffective. Britain has been a lone voice crying out for an increase in the preference price. Ours is not the only fleet 538 in the Community which is suffering. The French have suffered. They blockaded their ports in the summer because of the pressures.
The document represents the start of the process. It will be a long time before conclusions are reached. It is almost implicit in the document that this is just a beginning. We cannot afford to wait. The ships are tied up now. We are still suffering imports of frozen cod fillets which are undermining our market. There is no reason why the reference prices should not go up under present regulations. The Community fails its members and its own future fishing industry if it does not act now to correct the market pressures.
I have said enough to give the Minister some ammunition to take to Europe so that he can convince the Community that he has the support of the House in any tough measures that he wants to take.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
There is clearly mistrust in the fishing industry.Those are not my words but the words of the British Fishing Federation in its 14 November statement. The federation makes it clear that what we have been offered is less than that which we were offered three years ago. The federation states:The cod equivalent' has enabled a gross deceit to be practised on the British people.
On 17 November Mr. David Aitchison, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Association, warned that the industry was getting a "raw deal" from the EEC. That reinforces the anxiety which we all feel.
On 18 November the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported:Hopes sink over EEC fish negotiations.
On 20 November we heard an outstanding statement from the Minister of State, who said that "enormous progress" had been made in the negotiations. Tonight he softened that statement and said that "useful progress" had been made. I do not know what he has learnt since 20 November. The fishing industry does not share the view that "enormous progress" has been made. Mr. Robert Allan, the chief executive of the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners' Association, said:I think it would be entirely true to say that one is pessimistic about the way in which things are going.
Who is right—the Minister or the industry? I believe that the industry is right. The Government resemble the man who starts to paint a floor near the door and gradually paints himself into a corner. The Government do not seem to realise that they have been inexorably driven into a corner. They are unwilling to face up to the crunch issue of a satisfactory settlement. The crunch is that they must choose between a proper and satisfactory settlement for the fishing industry and obtaining the rebate on the budget contribution.
It does not matter how often the Government repeat that they regard the two issues as being separate. Every time they make that statement, the French make it clear that if the agreement is not reached by 31 December we shall not get the rebate. The issue is simply this. Faced as they are with the choice of defending the fishing industry or getting their money back, the Government will go for the latter. I am satisfied that they will end up selling out the industry to get their rebate.
Whatever anyone else might say, the Minister must make it clear that he will take action to protect the 539 industry. He may argue that if he reveals now what he will do if no agreement is reached he will be giving away negotiating conditions. He will get the support of the House if he sticks by the fishing industry. But if he wants that support to continue he must tell us and the Common Market what he will do, and that must be to take solid unilateral action. I hope that he will make it clear that he will do so.
We heard various quotations from the Prime Minister during the general election campaign about how she would protect the industry. But she messed the agreement up when she allowed it to become embroiled with the budget negotiation. The sooner the Government realise that, the better. Unless the Minister speaks out strongly on the matter, he will be taken to the cleaners, as he has been up to now by the Common Market.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I totally disagree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) that there has been a sell-out. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to fight and will come back with an agreement that will benefit the fishing industry. I shall seek to emulate the hon. Member in one respect by speaking briefly.
I congratulate the Government on the robust fight they have put up to safeguard the interests of the British fishing industry. I am confident that when the negotiations reconvene they will continue that robust fight.
I am concerned at the way in which the figure of 35 per cent. is put forward as the amount of fish we are being offered under the agreement. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) quoted the 35 per cent. as though it were the figure. It is not. A lot of people in Europe are saying that it is, but if the right hon. Gentleman wants to help us, and his own case, he must accept that it is not.
The 35 per cent. figure is a phoney figure, a confidence trick which our partners in the Community are trying to put across. That percentage is only of the seven species. Two key figures must be borne in mind. First, our waters contain 65 per cent. of all the fish in EEC waters. The other figure is the 45 per cent. that the fishermen have been pressing for. Their basis of calculation is completely different from that of the 35 per cent. There is a danger that if hon. Members and the media talk about an offer of 35 per cent. the public will say that the fishermen want 45 per cent. and that they obviously expect to get less, and somehow the two will come together and the former will elide the latter.
The value of the current offer that the EEC is making to us on the same basis that leads the fishermen to want 45 per cent. is only 26 per cent. That is all that we are being offered by the EEC at present. That is on the same basis as led us to claim 65 per cent. and leads the fishermen to want 45 per cent. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister of State is right to say that the current offer is unacceptable. Indeed, 35 per cent. on the old basis would probably be unacceptable.
I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to fight hard. If the EEC insists on making its percentage calculations on the present basis, we shall want something much more like 50 per cent. rather than 35 per cent. Whatever basis 540 is used, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will continue their robust fight within the Common Market to ensure a better and more just deal for our fishermen.
§ Mr. J. Grimond: (Orkney and Shetland)
I hope that the House will allow me to express my deep regret at the sad death of the chairman of the Shetland Fishermen's Association in Brussels during the negotiations. He was a good friend and fisherman.
If the Minister asks for our support in telling our friends in the EEC that the quotas are unsatisfactory, he certainly has it. They are unsatisfactory. They are not nearly adequate for a country that has in its waters about 60 per cent. or more of the fish that the Common Market hopes to catch.
The Minister of State mentioned five issues of importance. I shall take up only two of them. First, there is the herring issue. It is important that we should have not only a notional but an actual allocation of herring. That is important for not only the heirng fishers in my constituency but for fish processors. The Minister knows that Messrs. Young is in grave danger of going out of business unless it gets an allocation
The second issue concerns the need for special areas. As I have often said, if fishing collapses on some of the islands in my constituency, there is no hinterland and it will mean evacuation. I understand that in other spheres the Government talk of new industries starting up and even of those which have been put into receivership making a new start. There will be no new start for the fishing villages in Scotland. Once the fishermen and their families—especially those concerned with inshore fishing—have left, it will be years and years before the industry can be started again, if that can ever be done.
A regional scheme has been drawn up by Orkney and Shetland. I trust that it will be approved by the Government. I hope that the Minister will tell me that the Government are favourably disposed towards it.
That brings me to the issue of access, which is not directly the subject of the debate. It is clear that it is important in terms of regional schemes. I am nervous about the extent to which historic rights may be enforced, even within the 50-mile dominant preference. Above all, there is ultimately the issue of enforcement. What worries the fishermen greatly is whether quotas and access agreements will be enforced against the Europeans. There is widespread belief throughout the fishing industry that they will be funked. I hope that the Minister will make it clear in Brussels that when the quotas are agreed we hope that they will be kept.
§ Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)
I suppose that we all reach a point at which we nearly explode with indignation, frustration and our desire to see something happen that we want to see take place in the House. I did not expect that I would rise with such a feeling on fish—a subject which is of fundamental importance to my constituency—and feel that at that moment I had reached the point when my views about the Community had come close to breaking point.
I had to make up my mind carefully about whether to vote for the Community. I decided that it was right to do so. When I come to the nonsense of the three inches of paper that we are supposed to debate in an hour and a half 541 and I total the number of Members of the European Parliament, multiply by three and realise that the pile of paper should be higher than Big Ben, I begin to ask myself what the Community is about.
I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends every success in their negotiations in Brussels. I demand, as I am sure do all hon. Members, that they shall not give way on our strong feelings that our fish should not be taken away from us. Why is it that our fish should be up for grabs and our oil is never talked about?
§ Mr. Warren
I ask my hon. Friend, who has spoken so well tonight, to stand fast and not give way. The calculation of quotas is nonsense. We have inches of paper before us. In them it is said of plaice in the English Channel that the French are to be allowed 750 tonnes and we are to be allowed 470 tonnes. Where will the French get them from? They will get them from the English side of the Channel. It is nonsense. We must stop this, and stop it in the lifetime of this Parliament.
If it is asked what we are to do about it, all I ask is that the bureaucrats of Brussels are invited to come ashore at Hastings, with all their paper. We shall throw them back into the sea. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends to stand firm—
§ Mr. Warren
I recognise your authority, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I ask you to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends that we have been in the fishing industry for a thousand years and we shall stay in it. We look forward to the Government keeping us in that business.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
These documents are important, but only because of the political context in which we read them. That context is the betrayal of the British fishing industry. In saying that, I cast no reflection upon the Ministers, because they have an impossible job. Indeed, most members of the Cabinet have an impossible job, and last week we heard that some were breaking free.
In this case the Ministers have been delivered bound and gagged into the conference chamber by their own Prime Minister. They have been delivered there because, as part of the public relations victory the Prime Minister gained on the budget issue, she agreed—everyone on the Continent knows that she agreed, and Ministers should admit that she agreed—to settle on fishing. If this is not so, why is there this self-imposed deadline of 31 December? Why do we now have a situation in which there are 24 shopping days to Christmas and 35 betraying days to the common fisheries policy? Why have we got this deadline imposed upon us if there is not such an agreement?
It would increase the stature of the Ministers if they admitted that this was the situation in which their own Prime Minister had placed them. It would also bring them the sympathy of the House.
In the light of that situation, I comment upon the documents and first of all upon the quota position. We are still arguing about quotas. This is akin to sharing out a rainbow in buckets. It is an ineffective way of policing fishing. We have not even got acceptance of a basic principle, which should be so vital, that we who bring 70 542 per cent. of the catch of the Common Market should have the catch appropriate to us. We should not still be messing about with 26 per cent., as the British Fishing Federation has told us. That seems to be the maximum we shall be offered.
It is increasingly worrying that the issue of quotas is becoming politicised. One thing the Common Market told us was that it would pay attention to the common interest and that there would be an impartial method of deciding these things, on the basis of scientific evidence. What we see is the market edging up the total allowable catches on the basis of scientific advice dredged from here, statistics dredged from there and mistakes dredged from another place. There is a process of edging up the total allowable catch to satisfy all the political demands made on the fishing resources of the Common Market. That process must be harmful to the coastal States, because historically the State that suffers in such a process is the one with the fish—the coastal State. Everyone else has an interest in over-fishing and grabbing as much as they can for themselves of what is, in this case, our resource. It is distressing to see that politicisation of quotas going in in these documents.
I come now to the market proposals. Welcome as it is to have a regulated market, the key part of that market is price. That price question has not been tackled because withdrawal prices are edging up with inflation. In some cases they are below the rate of inflation. It is crucial that we get the withdrawal prices on the Continent brought up to stop this market being flooded with fish, essentially our fish, caught-by foreign vessels and dumped on our market by those foreign fishermen. That will not stop until we get effective withdrawal prices on the Continent.
The general conclusion is depressing. If Ministers are to stand firm, as I hope they will, they will have to go against the Prime Minister, the "praying mantis". They should not be worried about that, because it is becoming a habit of Cabinet Ministers to go against the Prime Minister. However, they should remember that they are fighting not only for the survival of their own party but in the national interest in this matter. It is getting terribly close, not just to the eleventh hour but to five minutes to 12 o'clock, not here but in the negotiations. They should remember that if they are not able to get what the country needs, what the industry demands and what is essential for the future of the fishing industry, they will have to act independently.
It would be tragic if we were to bow and accept a half-baked settlement which was then rejected by Denmark. That would be humiliating, but it would be the situation into which the Prime Minister herself had put us and it is the situation which is pointed to by these documents. On basic points, even at this late hour, we still have not got a recognition of our needs, demands and requirements. I say that with a sense of foreboding about what is still to come.
§ Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)
Because of the shortage of time, it is obvious that no hon. Member can do justice to these documents. As the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) said, we had hoped to be discussing these documents in full tonight, but, unfortunately, we are not being given that opportunity. We had also hoped to be discussing the final 543 solution to the common fisheries policy, which, since we acceded to the Common Market in 1973, has been a total disaster.
The blame for that disaster must lie at the door of the Labour Party. In particular, the major part of the blame must lie on the shoulders of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). He was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1976 to 1979. It is unforgivable that he refused to attend an important meeting of the Ministers in 1978. It was an impertinence on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, when he addressed a meeting in Aberdeen recently, to suggest that it was the Conservative Government who had sold the fishing industry down the river. Had he taken the time to go to Aberdeen harbour and see the vessels lying there rotting, and for which he was responsible during the years 1976 to 1979 when he was a Minister in the Labour Government, that would have had a profound effect upon him.
I did the right hon. Gentleman the courtesy of advising him that I intended to refer to him in this debate. Had the right hon. Gentleman risen to his responsibilities and gone to the European Community and put forward the relevant solutions, which he was able to do in the period 1976–79, we would not be in the present position.
My right hon and hon. Friends who are attending Brussels at present will come up with a full and final solution to the common fisheries policy which will be acceptable not only to the House but to the people of this country. That is what we want. Such a solution will be especially acceptable to the constituency I represent—Aberdeenshire, East—which is the largest fishing constituency in Europe.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to the provisions of Standing Order 3(1)(b) on the question of a debate lasting for only one and a half hours on a Commission document? It says:if Mr. Speaker shall be of opinion that, because of the importance of the subject matter of the motion the time for debate has not been adequate, he shall, instead of putting the question as aforesaid, interrupt the business, and the debate shall be adjourned till the next sitting".
Twenty-two hon. Members have been trying to catch the eye of the Chair. In addition, we are discussing seven documents, three inches in depth, as has been pointed out. It would be within your discretion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to adjourn the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have been listening carefully to the debate. The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) indicated that the motion incorporated the views of the official Opposition. Eleven right hon. and hon. Members have had an opportunity to speak. We have had adequate time for the discussion, and the Minister has received the message that he will wish to take back to Brussels.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I am grateful to the House and to hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) that on an important matter like this many hon. Members wish to 544 speak. However, we have had views from hon. Members representing many areas of the United Kingdom. It has been a broad and useful debate.
I should like to pay a personal tribute to Geordie Hunter, of Shetland, who, unfortunately, died in Brussels during our last negotiations. I was with him a few hours before. Those of us who take an interest in the fishing industry owe a great debt of gratitude to the representatives of the fishermen who give up fishing time and their own time to present their case to Ministers and to represent the industry. We very much appreciate that sacrifice. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) for having mentioned Geordie Hunter.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
In his opening speech, which lasted about half an hour, the Minister concentrated pretty nearly exclusively on the quotas documents and spelt out the objectives, which received broad support from the House. However, he did not say very much about the Government's objectives on marketing. The hon. Member for North Fylde (Sir W. Clegg) devoted his speech to that aspect. Because of the chaos of the markets and the great uncertainties that have already been wrought, will the hon. Gentleman devote at least some of the remaining time to saying what the Government's objectives are in those negotiations?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
The hon. Gentleman has taken up some of that limited time. One reason why I spoke at some length earlier was that I gave way so willingly to interventions from the Opposition Benches. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be tolerant of me if I do not give way on future occasions.
I am happy to deal with the question of markets. As I admitted, I did not give as much time to that aspect as I should have done. As I mentioned, particularly in response to my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser), I believe that the question of markets is absolutely crucial. It is important that we have better marketing regulation. It should cover a wider range of species of fish; it should be able better to control imports from countries outside the Community and it must set withdrawal prices at a very much more realistic level. I believe that the setting of withdrawal prices should be done by the Community outside the review of the marketing regulations generally. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall be working hard towards that.
The centre of the debate is the question of quotas. A number of hon. Members asked what the percentages refer to. It is terribly important that in this negotiation we concentrate on those species that are important to United Kingdom fishermen. Some of the percentages in the twenties refer to all kinds of industrial species and others in which, historically, the British fishing industry has not been interested. It is right in these negotiations to concentrate on those demersal species and mackerel which have been the backbone of the economics of the British fishing industry. To ignore such a basis would be stupid.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) is right about distant water fishing. Dealing with our historic record and third countries, our interest in those fish outside the seven species of which we spoke amounts annually to about 2,500 tonnes, which is 1 per cent. of the total United Kingdom fishing catch. In 1979, 84 per cent. of the tonnage of fish landed in the United Kingdom applied to the seven species which are the subject of these 545 quotas. If the United Kingdom Government did not pay attention to those species, we would not be doing justice either to the United Kingdom or to the fishing industry. If—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).
§ Question agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents 9336/80, 9336/80 corrigendum 1, 10688/80 on total allowable catches, 10090/80, 10687/80, 10722/80 on 1980 quota allocations, 9917/80 and COM (80) 724 on organisation of the market in fishery products, but regards as inadequate the quota allocations to the United Kingdom illustrated in these documents; reaffirms support for the Government's objective of a satisfactory settlement of the revised Common Fisheries Policy; and maintains the need to secure an overall share of fish for United Kingdom fishermen which reflects United Kingdom losses incurred in third country waters and the contribution made by United Kingdom waters to total European Community fish resources.