HC Deb 18 May 1981 vol 5 cc105-23

10.6 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The right hon. Member for Barnsley has outlined a series of propositions which have been repeated often in the House. We all seek to achieve the aims that he describes, but the outlook is looking more dismal than ever. The Government should now be preparing contingency plans in case the negotiations break down.

I wonder whether Ministers appreciate the deep cynicism, anger and despair that exist in many fishing communities. There is deep cynicism about the direction of fishing policy in Europe and at home. There is growing conviction that not much fishing industry will be left now that the deep sea industry has gone and the middle water and inshore sections are severely threatened.

That cynicism is inflamed by the feeling that all the conservation measures which British fishermen have had forced upon them are flouted with impunity throughout the Community. Recent news that there is to be no prosecution or effective enforcement in respect of the Boulogne landings, which were televised, has been received with understandable anger by British fishermen.

It would be difficult for British fishermen to convince the rest of the world that they alone observe all conservation rules. However, they can point to the fact that British enforcement of conservation rules is rigorous and determined and that enforcement by a number of other EEC States is non-existent and the subject of derision even to fishermen who openly flout the rules.

In the fishing communities in my area, the cynicism is worsened by the fear that yet further concessions will be made by the British Government in the same area where so many concessions were made at the time of accession in 1972. I refer to the water between six miles and 12 miles off the North Northumberland coast. I tabled a number of questions which the Minister of State answered about what is being considered now for that area. The spectre of historic rights was raised yet again. A number of references were made to supposed historic rights in the herring fisheries in that area and to rights which go back to the 1964 London convention and the period between 1953 and 1962.

The Minister has said that since 1 January 1973 all member States have had the right to fish for herring in the six-mile to 12-mile zone from Coquet Island to Berwick, except in the periods when herring fishing was banned. He said that his Department was not aware of the extent to which any of the rights had been exercised. If other countries are claiming historic rights in the present negotiations, the onus is upon them to prove those rights.

The onus is upon the British Government to be prepared in such negotiations. Fisheries officers surely have evidence about whether those rights have been exercised. Fisheries officers and the inspectorate of the Department must have the knowledge at their disposal. They are experienced men who spend a great deal of time studying what is happening on the fishing grounds. I am amazed that the Department can suggest that the evidence does not exist to test the claims being made. I want to see the Government armed with the evidence to challenge what are, in some cases, ill-founded claims.

Fishermen in my area are asking what we will receive if we yield on herring and allow the right which was created in 1972 to be carried over into any new agreement. Will we get a reclaiming of the area from six to 12 miles for demersal species, or will that also be lost? I hope that the Minister does not regard the six to 12-mile concession made in 1972 as given away for good. That was not the policy when the hon. Gentleman took up his present post. The previous Government had made clear that it was part of our negotiating position to seek to reclaim the lost territory. It should be part of our position now.

Fishermen are asking whether there will be any fishing industry left when the negotiations are completed. The question arises in whatever kind of fishery one examines. There is talk, for instance, of the possibility of reopening some herring fishing in the North Sea, perhaps off Scotland or some parts of England. I hope the Minister realises how inflammatory would be the opening of a herring fishery that did not extend to the Northumberland area and which did not extend to the Longstone fishery and to the Farne Deeps, especially as Danish fishermen will be allowed to continue fishing immature herring in the Skagerrak. If anything has contributed to the decline of the North Sea herring fishery, it is that fishing of immature herring. When a relatively well-conserved area of British responsibility, the Longstone fishery and the Farne Deeps, has remained closed for a period, it would be putting a nail in the coffin of fishing in Northumberland if a reopening of herring fishing excluded that area.

British fishermen also ask what is the future for the whiting fishery. The fishermen are threatened with an increase to 90mm in the mesh size for whiting. That increase comes in the face of a reduction in the size of the Norway pout box. All the evidence produced by the Government suggests that these two matters are closely interrelated. It is no good the Government trying to defend the Council decision on the basis of the interlinking between the mesh size and the pout box when it is known that the pout box size has been reduced. British fishermen are being asked to make up the shortfall by accepting the 90mm limit. The Government have said on a number of occasions that they are studying the matter and that there will be further discussion well in advance of any possible implementation of the decision. I hope that the Government realise how strongly fishermen feel and how damaging will be the increase to 90mm in the part of the industry that fishes for whiting. It is no good telling such fishermen that there may be long-term gains if they will not be here to benefit.

One sees the same thing happening in yet another sector. An increase in mesh sizes has recently taken place in prawn and shrimp nets. This meant substantial expenditure for many fishermen. The sum of £2,000 is nothing to spend on equipping a small boat with a single net. Fishermen who have recently invested in new nets find themselves confronted with yet another bill to meet another increase in mesh sizes.

In many cases, the same fishermen who are faced with the burden of buying additional nets to meet the increase in mesh size for prawns and shrimps also have to cope with new limits on the lobster fishery. There is already a severe reaction among fishermen in the North-East of England to the 83mm mesh size limit for lobsters, and they are anxious about the possibility of an 85mm limit. The Minister knows that fishermen's organisations in the North-East have protested vigorously about that possibility, as has the Northumberland sea fisheries committee.

What angers fishermen most about the lobster mesh size decision is not merely that they now have to put back the majority of the lobsters they find in their pots but that their own recommendations for conservation measures, some of which they have fought for over many years, are studiously ignored by the Department. Northumberland fishermen have pleaded for years for a return to the system under which egg-bearing female lobsters—berried hens—cannot be landed. The Minister cannot take a high-minded attitude about conservation with a group who have persistently argued for what could be an effective conservation measure.

The lobster fishermen of the North-East have also pleaded for licensing or control of lobster fishing. There is no restriction on the size of lobster that can be taken by skin divers, some of whom take many lobsters and dispose of them through their own contacts, and there is no limit on the number of part-time and occasional fishermen who take lobsters.

The continued absence of licensing and control in that sector means that an opportunity for conservation is missed. It is virtually the only sector of the industry over which there is no licensing or control. The Minister has said on a number of occasions that he would consider a licensing scheme only if it were argued for on a national basis, but the fact that there are some areas where it is mainly part-timers who are involved in lobster fishing is no excuse for not looking at the situation in the North-East, where there is a crying need for licensing or control. We already have experience in salmon fishing of a specifically regional licensing system and there is no reason why it should not be considered for lobster fishermen.

It inflames the cynicism that I have described when fishermen who have argued for much-needed conservation and control by the restriction on egg-bearing females and by a licensing system are told that they have to accept restrictions that already make it almost impossible to land lobsters and will certainly do so if there is an increase to 85mm. I plead with the Minister to monitor carefully what is already happening before moving on to the 85mm limit, and I hope that he will take careful note of what his local fisheries officers know from their observations.

We cannot afford to destroy an industry which depends so much on the hard work of people such as share fishermen, whom the Minister mentioned, and on which local communities are so dependent. At one time it was possible to argue that if only the British Government had total control over conservation and the EEC were not involved in the process a satisfactory conservation regime could be devised. It is no longer easy to sustain that argument, because British fishermen are losing confidence in their own Government's ability to apply sensible and sensitive conservation measures that recognise their problems and needs.

I ask the Minister to look carefully at the cynicisms and anxieties that are developing, because they are shared by fishermen who are not normally vocal and do not normally express themselves strongly, write letters or make detailed representations. They find that their livelihood is threatened, and whereas they once feared that a time would come when the failure of a common fisheries policy agreement would destroy their livelihood they now worry that they will not even be here to see that day.

10.20 pm
Sir Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

These debates on EEC documents seem to take place in a void. It is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, because everything that has been said depends on having a common fisheries policy. There are lots of goodies in these documents that I should like—preference for deprived coastal areas, training and safety measures. Those are matters that we should all like, but without a common fisheries policy we are debating in the dark. That fact has haunted all the speeches that have been made so far.

It would appear from the speech of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), that his party never had responsibility for fisheries over the past few years. My port is suffering at the moment from a hangover from the Labour Government's decision to allow a loan from NAPE to enable our landing company to land fish. That haunts the company because it now has to pay enormous interest although it never employed the people to whom it paid compensation.

On the subject of cheaper Canadian imports, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister got into considerable trouble at the last meeting for standing up for British interests and denying the Germans the agreement that they wanted whereby cheap Canadian fish could come into this country. The right hon. Gentleman poured scorn on the £25 million that had been given by the Government, but the bulk of the Fleetwood middle water fleet is now at sea, thanks to that help. The same is true of the inshore fleet, too. I accept that there is concern about how the money has been distributed, but the bulk of opinion in the industry agreed that that was the best way. If the fleet is at sea catching fish that sells for a reasonable price, all the people on shore benefit from it.

I want to raise one or two matters that affect Fleetwood. One is the measure that makes no provision for fishing in the Irish Sea. I understand from the explanatory note that the Government do not think that this is the right policy. I hope that some regime will be agreed for the Irish Sea.

In Fleetwood we are worried about keeping our medium trawlers at sea. It is essential to have access to the waters off the North of Scotland. Considerable fishing is taking place there at present. My fishermen tell me that in the bad weather in winter the supply of fish for the Fleetwood market depends upon the bigger trawlers being able to fish when there are gales, thus being able to provide the market with a steady supply of fish. That is essential for them to keep up their business throughout the country.

Clearly, there is concern about the result of the French election, which appears to have postponed the achievement of a common fisheries policy. That is bad news. However, the Government have to soldier on and take note of what the industry and the House tell them. The Ministers in the Department have always taken notice of what they are told by the industry in their negotiations at Brussels, and they take representatives of the industry there with them.

If we are a long way from a common fisheries policy, as I think is the case, the Government will have to keep a close eye on the industry's reactions to the measures that they have already taken. I beg my hon. Friend the Minister not to rule out the necessity for further help before the end of the year unless we have a common fisheries policy. Fleetwood would like help for exploratory voyages to the grounds off Scotland, where we have lost the technique that we formerly had but which we could recover. I ask my hon. Friend to consider the matter again because, as he knows, there have been talks on the matter between the industry, Fleetwood and his Department. The industry is still in great trouble and in need of the care of the House. In any tough stance that my hon. Friend may wish to take in Europe on behalf of this country, he will have the full support of both sides of the House.

10.25 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

In opening the debate, the Minister made it clear that we were no further forward in negotiations on a common fisheries policy, nor shall we be until the results of the French Assembly elections are known. We told the hon. Gentleman time after time that with the presidential election looming there would be no agreement, and that forecast has been borne out. However, we still have to soldier on and be firm about what we want out of the common fisheries policy. As many hon. Members have said, as long as the hon. Gentleman remains firm and does not weaken he will have our support.

I hope that the Minister will tell us a little more about what will happen in the Faroes. He says that the document about the Faroes is unacceptable to the Government. We need something more positive than that, because fishermen who go there to fish have been put out of court by the restrictive rules that the Faroese have adopted over the years.

In this short debate I want to concentrate on the document that deals with social conditions. I found the Minister's response disappointing in the extreme. He virtually said that all the suggestions in it were not worth pursuing. For example, he said that as regards training we were well up with the practices of other nations, that we had nothing to learn from the Commission and that, therefore, we could let things stay as they were. I hope that that will not be his position. I hope he will say that where the document lays down training conditions that can be of benefit not only to our fishermen but to fishermen elsewhere they will be supported. We should be putting a positive input into training.

It is regrettable that the section dealing with working conditions at sea is not considered appropriate. It is the age-old story that the employers are ruling the day. The fact that we have had share fishing for so long and that the employers are happy with it means that in the Minister's view the very principle of share fishing should not be challenged. Apparently he has told the Commission that any alteration to share fishing methods of payment must not be considered.

In paragraph 5.2 the document suggests that it should be possible to reach a point at which the two sides of the industry can co-operate to reach agreement on giving fishermen a fixed wage, which would gradually increase in proportion to their total earnings. What is wrong with that? I dare say that it is what happens in many areas. What is wrong with a positive approach towards that and towards hours of work? The document tells us in paragraph 5.3: Quite apart from social considerations, the need for safety at work and navigational safety will involve some effort in the Member States concerned to reduce hours of work on fishing vessels on account of the frequency of accidents. Apparently, that sort of item also is not appropriate to deal with.

The document suggests that member States should introduce hours of rest during voyages of any significant duration. It says: A minimum of eight hours' rest per day"— that is, over 24 hours— of which six should be consecutive, would seem to be appropriate for vessels that spent more than 48 hours at sea. That may be regarded as interference with the industry, but if the Commission suggests that it should be brought about it is wrong that we should say that it is not appropriate.

There are a number of other issues, including holiday entitlement and particularly job security. Job security has bedevilled the industry for a long time. Representations have been made to the Minister about decasualisation. Perhaps the trawling fleets are a much smaller part of the industry than they used to be. But share fishermen suffer if they lose their jobs. Article 5 suggests that there are many ways of dealing with that. Nevertheless, it should be possible to guarantee employment for fishermen, even in the small-scale fishing sector. However, that was written off by the Minister as not appropriate to deal with through the Commission.

It is regrettable that the needs of working fishermen, as opposed to skippers and owners, are pushed aside. I object to the fact that the aid that has gone to the industry—a considerable sum has gone to the fishing industry—has gone either to the owners or to the skippers and not one halfpenny has gone to the fishermen who have been displaced because of changing conditions. Representations were made to the Minister about that before the last package of aid was finalised, but nothing came of it.

I do not go as far as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who said that there was a great feeling of unrest among share fishermen. There is a great feeling of unrest, but I am not sure that it has yet channelled itself properly towards being prepared to take part in unions and in more regulation of the industry. That is bound to come, because that is the only way that fishermen will achieve proper protection.

There is much to do in the fishing industry. We speak about it mainly in terms of striking a balance between availability of employment and people for employment as though that were the real thing. The real thing is to ensure that the industry survives, but, even more so, it is important to ensure that the needs of ordinary fishermen are taken into account. I hope that when we are finally given the next aid package—which will not be long away—it will give serious consideration to those who are losing their jobs because of the contraction of the industry. If we regard it as an industry of skippers and 'vessel owners, we shall let down the people who are the mainstay of the fishing fleet.

10.32 pm
Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

It is unfortunate that on every occasion on which we discuss fishing we appear to discuss it at the latter end of the evening. We have a wide range of documents carrying important information for the future of the fishing industry, and yet we are restricted to a short time to get the message across to the Minister and to allay the fears of the fishing industry that the House is likely to let it down in any shape or form on the common fisheries policy.

Since I became a Member of the House, I have been closely aligned with Opposition Members with fishing interests. It has impressed me deeply that this is the one industry on which there is common agreement between us that something must be done for the industry as a whole. I hope that that agreement will continue until we achieve agreement on the common fisheries policy.

Because we are short of time I shall comment only briefly on some of the draft instruments. The proposals in draft instrument 5362/81 are totally unacceptable to the British fishing industry. I welcome the Government's rejection of it. There are no protection measures outside the 12-mile zone to provide the preference for the local communities which are entirely dependent on fishing. There are no provisions for restricting the number of licences nor are there adequate proposals for fishery management.

The Fisheries Bill, which is completing its passage in another place, has made wide provisions for those measures and the Community will require to take note of them before proposals will be acceptable to the Government and the fishing industry.

Document No. 6021/81 is welcome in some respects. It takes account of fact that the total allowable catches for last year were set too low. What concerns the fishing industry is the proposed increase in the TAC for North Sea and English Channel herring to take account of the 1,000 tonnes of herring allocated to Sweden. The new TACs for 1980–81 will be of considerable help to what might have been a very sharp reduction in the fishing effort this year, which the fishermen certainly could not accept after such a long period of uncertainly and desperation within the industry as to its income.

Document No. 5361/81 contains an important set of proposals as it sets out, from a Community point of view, the basic principles on the main issues of access arrangements, quotas, conservation and management. Neither the proposals for the 12-mile belt nor the proposals for preference beyond the 12-mile belt are acceptable to the fishing industry. I am glad that once again my hon. Friend the Minister has rejected this part of the proposed instrument.

It is a matter of great concern that the Community has seen fit to suggest a 10-year review of the common fisheries policy. That would set back the present negotiations even further. The Government must impress upon the Community that we are not prepared to tolerate these endless delays. The fishermen's patience is exhausted. While they have been willing to work closely with Ministers, as the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) said, at meetings in Brussels and in the United Kingdom, the failure to secure a CFP cannot go on for much longer.

Document No. 4884/81 provides for the allocation of herring from the North Sea and the English Channel. It will be of considerable importance to the British fishing industry. The proposals set out the quotas for 1980/81—which, because of the time, I do not propose to read—of the various species. But the Government must stick by their determination that there will be no fishing for herring in the North Sea until proper TACs are agreed after the scientific research has been firmly established.

It is also right that the Government should not accept the draft instrument if its measures are not to be taken as part of the basis for the settlement of the CFP.

On document No. 5360/81 the Minister is to be congratulated on having these proposals incorporated by the Community. The amended provisions for herring by-catches are of considerable importance to the fishing industry. There has been wide concern about the effect that this has been having on the sprat fishery off the north-east coast of Britain and the severe loss that was taking place in juvenile herring, which will now be protected. I hope that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will appreciate that there is to be protection for juvenile herring.

I am concerned, however, that there are no draft regulations setting out proposals for restructuring the fleet. Certain recommendations were made in earlier draft instruments, but these were not of a positive nature. The absence of a CFP and the urgent need for the fishing industry to know what the future holds are bound up in the nature of any restructuring which will be suggested. I am still of the opinion that the Government should be looking at some form of restructuring on a United Kingdom basis, as the lack of a CFP could well mean that at some time in the not-too-distant future the British Government will require seriously to consider the whole future of the British fishing industry with or without a CFP.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman deals with the industry in a bipartisan way. Does he agree that the time is coming when we might be obliged to return to having a 200-mile limit and to negotiate from there?

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful for that intervention. I accept wholly what the right hon. Gentleman says. In the latter part of my remarks I may be referring to just that point, because I feel very strongly that we must get a CFP agreed. It has not been failure on the part of right hon. or hon. Members which has caused the lack of agreement. It has been the fault of the other Governments of the Community.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Enormous exclusive regimes may help in some areas, but the damage done to mackerel off Cornwall has not been done by the French, the Germans, the Italians or any other nation in Europe. It has been done by people from Scotland, our fellow countrymen. It is they who have wrecked mackerel stocks off Cornwall. It is no good the hon. Gentleman laughing.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am not laughing at the hon. Gentleman's comments. I am laughing because whenever a fishing debate takes place in the House the hon. Gentleman always refers to the Scots scooping up the mackerel from his patch. Does he remember the days when his vessels scooped up the fish from Scottish areas?

Another problem that is worrying the fishing industry is the proposed establishment of marine nature reserves. The industry is totally opposed to these proposals because they will lead to the loss of rights where fishermen now operate. Any such suggestions can be regarded only as a further erosion of the fisherman's already limited opportunities to carry out his calling and can seriously affect the interests of lobster and shellfish fishermen who might be denied access to their traditional grounds.

The fishing industry has accepted the need for conservation and it agrees that there may be a case for some form of marine environment. However, the present depressed state of the fishing industry is such that it is essential that no further erosion takes place of the fisherman's rights by the creation of marine nature reserves in any of the traditional fishing areas.

Where do we stand on the completion of the common fisheries policy? For two years Ministers have fought hard to see the end of the talks. Their efforts have been to no avail. When the last abortive meeting took place in March we were told that there was no hope of a settlement until after the French Presidential election. France now has a new President who will take office on Thursday and will immediately call a general election. That means that there is no hope of any meeting of fishery Ministers until after the general election.

The Government have poured massive aid into the industry over the past year in the hope that the common fisheries policy would be settled. We are now in for a further long delay. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell us how we are to proceed. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Sir W. Clegg) said, there may be a request for aid later in the year. The fishermen do not want handouts. They want a CFP agreed so that they may be able to fish for the fish that they know are available in numbers sufficient to give them a satisfactory living without coming with the begging bowl every three months to this or any other Government.

There is no point in the Community issuing masses of draft instruments if none of them can be implemented until we secure a common fisheries policy. There must be a more aggressive approach by the Government and an ultimatum put to the Council of Ministers that unless a CFP can be agreed by a definite date the British Government will require to consider taking unilateral action on all matters affecting the fishing around our shores until a CFP is agreed. We should ban all Community vessels from our shores. We should license strictly Third world States. We must assume total control of the seas and let the Community understand that we have waited long enough. Force is required. We hold the master card because 68 per cent. of the fish caught in the Community waters are caught around the shores of Britain.

Let us show the Community that the welfare of our fishermen and our people comes first and foremost. If the Community cannot agree on a policy, we should operate our own as we have the resources both offshore and onshore. I do not blame our Ministers, but they must now come out fighting or we shall never have a common fisheries policy and the fishing industry will be doomed for ever.

10.43 pm
Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I heard the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) use the word "cynicism" when talking about debates on the common fisheries policy. I do not know whether I would use the word. Sometimes there is a charade. That has been my impression after Ministers have made their monthly or fortnightly statements at the Dispatch Box. My mind goes back to an old colleague, a former hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, Ellis Smith, who once burst out "Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, it is only a facade. It is only a facade." I hope that it is not a facade tonight. The documents before us are full of laudable sentiments, but to me the whole matter is almost an academic exercise. I am not exactly saying that it is a farrago of sentiments and pious aspirations, but much of it looks to me like pie in a future sky.

As a Hull Member, I hope that the Minister will manage to fit into his common fisheries policy some place for the Hull distant water fleet. Is there any hope for us in the future? Is there any chance of a share of third-patty agreements? Shall we be able to keep even 10 or 15 vessels going, compared with the 137 that we had when I first came to Hull some 20 years ago?

If all the proposals in the documents were carried out, an enormous bureaucracy would be needed to operate all the schemes, with consequent delay and expenditure. The question is therefore whether the political will exists to carry out the proposals, desirable as they may seem.

We have battled for years in the House for decent conditions for our men on the decks and for a common fisheries policy that is fair and honest for our fishermen. I was, therefore, delighted to hear the Minister turn down document No. 5362/81 because the proposals were totally inadequate and no protection for local communities, whether in Scotland, the South-West or, indeed, Yorkshire. He was also doubtful about document No. 6021/81.

The Commission's findings with regard to social aspects of the sea, in document No. 11626/80, contain some worthy comments about working conditions. No one can fault them. Nevertheless, I regard those statements as a bag of flatulent platitudes. For example, the document states on page 20: Any measures proposed should … be subject to meticulous examination and, of course, "good judgment".

After much talk about all the wonderful changes that ought to take place, however, the document states on page 21: Bearing all this in mind, it does not seem appropriate at present to take uniform action at Community level to amend labour law affecting sea fishermen. Such action might be futile as it is virtually impossible in practice to take account of, all the constraints existing at local level, of varying circumstances or of changes taking place in certain kinds of fishing. That is an example of what Oliver Lyttelton once referred to in the Chamber as glimpses of the blindingly obvious. The authors of the document seem to end up by damning their own efforts.

Who wanted Community laws of this kind anyway? Following the Holland-Martin inquiry in our own fishing industry, our own Government in Whitehall have been getting on with the job of improving working conditions and safety. I believe that they can more adequately cope with the task than certain bureaucrats a few hundred miles away.

With regard to document 5361/81, dealing with conservation and management of stocks, I am again delighted with the Minister when he states that it will not be tabled in this form at the Fisheries Council on 6 April.

My verdict is the same concerning the hon. Gentleman's comments on document 5362/81, where there seems to be inadequate protection for fishermen outside the 12-mile zone. I wish to talk about the 12-mile zone and to finish on this aspect in the context of the common fisheries policy—indeed, in the context of the Minister's own behaviour in the last few days.

What will be the exact size and shape of the 12mile zone if and when a common fisheries policy is settled? Can the Minister please shed some light here? I should like to know what he meant at Lowestoft on 9 May, speaking to the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, when he said: We may have to pay a certain amount of attention to those countries that can show that they have an historic record of fishing and are dependent on it in certain areas within our waters". I gather that he later added something about the United Kingdom not being prepared to negotiate and said that if that were to happen the talks would come "bang to a stop".

Fishing News has some hard things to say about the Minister. Week after week we look at Fishing News and regard it as a dependable journal. It talked of "political chicanery". I have sat on the Opposition Benches and watched the Minister, and I think that he is an honourable man. I should like to know whether he honestly believes that we shall get a good deal out of the common fisheries policy in the light of what he was telling the NFFO at Lowestoft a few days ago. Surely, he cannot accept that a bad deal is better than no deal at all.

10.52 pm
Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)

I do not want to follow too closely the argument of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), apart from perhaps taking the very beginning of his speech, in which he mentioned the distant water fishermen who, in his port and some others on the East Coast, such as Aberdeen, has suffered grievously over the last 10 years. But not all the problems—indeed, very few of the problems—that have in the past affected the fishing industry are directly attributable to the Common Market; they are part and parcel of a very much bigger problem in fishery conservation and in methods of fishing.

Of the two documents that I wish to mention, one can be resolved only inside a common fisheries policy, and the other would be a problem whether we were inside or outside the Common Market.

I want first to talk about the document relating to the Faroe Islands. The policy implications appear on the reverse side of the Government's document: The Government considers, however, that the reciprocal fishery arrangements negotiated for 1981 with the Faroe Islands do not represent a reasonable balance of interest of the two parties". I want in particular to take one balance of interest which may not be the one that directly springs to mind. That is as it affects the Atlantic salmon, which swims through the Faroe Islands on its way to and from Greenland from the rivers of the United Kingdom, of Ireland and, to some extent, of France. At least the Fench and ourselves have a common interest in protecting the Atlantic salmon.

These are our salmon—Scottish salmon. About 30 per cent. of the 700 tonnes caught in the Faroes last year was reckoned to come from Scottish rivers. It is Scottish, English, Welsh, Republic of Ireland and, to a small extent, French salmon. It is not salmon of the Faroe Islands. So far as I know, the Faroes have no salmon rivers.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

What about Northern Ireland salmon?

Mr. MacKay

I am interrupted to suggest that Northern Ireland should be included, and I happily include it.

The salmon is very important to rural areas of the United Kingdom and of the Republic of Ireland. The salmon is important not only for net fishing but for angling. It is important for the pleasure and employment that it gives via the tourist industry. Many hotels in the Highlands of Scotland are a major attraction to tourists because of the salmon fishing. People go there for the fishing, and that provides employment in the tourist industry. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) does not want the employment that salmon fishing gives to the tourist industry, my constituency will gladly take it.

The Faroese have increased their take of Atlantic salmon. Indeed, in an answer to me on 14 April my hon. Friend told me that from nil in 1978 Faroese imports of salmon into this country alone had risen in 1980 to 43–9 tonnes. Presumably imports into the Common Market are a great deal higher.

I understand that in Oslo tomorrow there is to be a meeting of representatives of Canada, the United States, the Common Market and Scandinavian countries and that one of the principal items on the agenda will be the problem of the interception of salmon at sea. I trust that my hon. Friend will tell me that the Government still support article 66 of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which states that salmon are the responsibility of the country of origin and that the countries which breed salmon should control the fishing, even in host countries, such as the Faroes and Greenland. I hope that the Government accept that, as they have in the past, and will stick to it. I hope that they will not move to an EEC-type arrangement where, because the fish swim through the pond, they are the responsibility not of the country of origin but of the Common Market.

I hope that the Common Market will take acount of the peripheral areas of this country, which depend greatly on salmon, and realise that it has a responsibility to conserve the salmon stocks in the high seas and to prevent the Faroese and the Greenlanders from taking an increasing take.

If it comes to it, I think that we should refuse to take salmon from either the Faroes or from Greenland if they increase their take beyond the limits that the stock will tolerate. I think that all hon. Members accept that the Greenlanders can take some of the stock, but they must accept that if they do not allow enough to come back to allow us to have a reasonable industry and the salmon to spawn there will be no salmon left.

The other important point that I wish to make, which is related to peripheral areas, concerns local fishing plans. Article 4 of document 5361/81, which is very cheering, says: The volume of the catches available to the Community referred to in Article 3 shall be distributed between the Member States taking account most particularly of:

  • —traditional fishing activities;
  • —the special needs of regions where the local populations are particularly dependent upon fishing and the industries allied thereto"—
and that includes the northern parts of the United Kingdom". The commentary on this document is even more encouraging, because it says: In addition, it is necessary to complete this proposal by arrangements of fishing effort that ensure consideration for the problems of coastal fisheries, in particular of economically disadvantaged regions as well as the desirability of regulating fishing activity within a coastal belt … In the immediate term, such arrangements should be made for a coastal band around the Shetland and Orkney Islands and in certain parts of the Irish Sea. Document No. 5362/81 contains proposals for Orkney and Shetland. There is nothing for the Irish Sea. When does my hon. Friend expect to have a document—however unsatisfactory—for the Irish Sea? Does the Irish Sea encompass the Firth of Clyde? What about the west coast of Scotland, from the Mull of Kintyre to the North of Scotland, including the waters round the Western Isles? They are every bit as sensitive as Orkney, Shetland and the Irish Sea.

The paper accompanying document No. 5362/81 expresses, once again, splendid sentiments. It states: The interests of coastal fishermen of economically disadvantaged areas is an important element among the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy and the proposals of the Commission concerning access are aimed at providing concrete and realistic responses to this in conformity with the principles and fundamental objectives of the Treaties. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, we should have to address ourselves to this problem, even if Britain were not a member of the Common Market. On the West Coast and in the Clyde the problem is one of marrying the interests of the local fishermen—of my constituents, those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and those of my Opposition colleagues who represent constituencies further north—with the interests of fishermen from the areas represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Banff (Mr. Myles) and for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie).

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is not the hon. Gentleman ignoring the fact that if Britain were not a member of the Common Market we should be in control of a 200-mile limit?

Mr. MacKay

The right hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that if we were not in the Common Market we should not be able to cope with the salmon problem, because we should not sit round the same table. In addition, we should still have a fishing problem. The problem of the West Coast and of the Clyde is caused not by people from France, but by people from the rest of Britain who want to fish there. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that there are about 800 fishermen on the West Coast of Scotland—from the Mull of Kintyre to Cape Wrath. In the Clyde, there are about 560 fishermen.

During the year, up to 1,800 fishermen visit the area from elsewhere in Scotland. That is part of the problem. Whether we are inside or outside the Common Market, we must do something to conserve fishing for the local fishermen and, at the same time, to recognise—as I do—the undoubted historic rights that fishermen from North-East Scotland have to fish there. Therefore, it is important that my hon. Friend should persevere with the special arrangements for local fishing. However, if the proposals for Orkney and Shetland were translated to the Clyde and to the West Coast, as the commentary above the signature states, they are not wholly adequate within 12 miles and are totally inadequate outwith 12 miles. Although it mentions licensing, it does not make any attempt to set out how that might be done. In addition, no attempt is made to define a local fisherman. That is of increasing concern to fishermen in my part of the world.

Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will persevere. It is vitally important for the well-being of the fishing communities round the Clyde and up the West Coast that local fishermen—who fish in adjacent waters and who have nowhere else to go, because they have never been nomadic—should have a preserved and conserved position within fishery management there. When they have taken their share, the rest must be divided among those who come from the East Coast of Scotland and whose livelihoods must also be conserved. Unless we conserve the stocks on the West Coast and on the Clyde, as in the Orkneys and Shetlands, there will be no fishing for the fishermen of the East Coast and no fishing for those who live in those areas. The fishing villages that depend on fishing will end up deserted.

If the Common Market is serious about its intentions towards those peripheral and fragile areas, it will consider the particular problems of local fishery plans in those areas.

11.5 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

The documents are the debris, fall-out or dandruff of the protracted farce in which we have been involved for the last 18 months of negotiating against ourselves. The British Government have obtained more concessions from the British fishing industry than from the Common Market. The Government have rushed to make concessions to the Market. They have thrown away most of their negotiating cards because the Prime Minister promised a deal and compromise over fishing as part of the budget agreement last year.

We have no cards left. We are in the same position as Herbert Smith when he led the miners in 1926. He was asked what the miners had to give, and he said "Nowt". That is the position of the fishing industry. It has to give more away to reach a settlement which it thought it would achieve earlier. Ministers are negotiating for a burial ground for the British fishing industry. That seems to be the limit of their aspirations.

Let us consider what has been given away. A country which contributes more than two-thirds of the fish stocks and asks for 45 per cent. of the catch is given less than one-third, and by some estimates just over one-quarter of the total catch. A country which had the power to impose national conservation measures to protect its own stocks and fishing has thrown away the power to impose those measures, which the Conservative Party promised to introduce if negotiations were not successful. They have thrown them into the conservation machine because such measures need the Commission's approval and can be thrown out within a month. That gives us no power of delay.

The Government have also thrown away the aspiration for dominant preference. That has been whittled away to a box of islands round Scotland. That is divisive because it threatens the larger vessels from Humberside and Grimsby, from which the 12 British United Trawlers vessels still fish. A surveillance regime now operates. What are the chances of Grimsby vessels having access to that area?

We have thrown away our major demand. What have we gained in return? All that we have gained is the French rejection of our offers and concessions. Now, the Minister is preparing the industry for yet further concessions by speeches such as that which he made today and headlines such as "We must give way" in Fishing News. Sad as it is, under the agreement cobbled together just before Britain entered the Market, the French are rejecting exclusive waters and are legally in the right. After the long delay involved in the formation of a new French Government, the French will stick to their original demand because legally it is tenable.

The new French Government will be harder than the old Government, if only because they represent the fishing ports and want to win more of them in the forthcoming elections. The Minister is softening up the industry for further concessions beyond the 12-mile limit which is supposed to be the sticking point. We have come down from a 200-mile, 100-mile, 50-mile, and 12-mile exclusive zone. The most that we are likely to achieve is six miles or a patched-up compromise between six and 12 miles. The industry must ask whether it is worth continuing the concessions or whether it is better to stick where it is, inadequate and unsatisfactory as that is. At least, the NFFO is for sticking where we are.

We are doing badly on quotas and conservation. We are being cheated. The proposed force of 40 inspectors is totally inadequate to enforce the quotas. We cannot trust the national enforcement machinery. We cannot even trust the Commission. After all the evidence of illegal fishing for herring, the Commission will not take action.

A question was put in a body that purports to call itself the European Parliament asking what action the Commission proposed to take on herring. The reply was that the Commisssion had no evidence that catches and landings had been made illegally. The Commission smells no herring, sees no herring and speaks no herring. Yet 40,000 tons of herring have been landed, most of it illegally, in France in full sight of television cameras, the British fishing press and any British tourist who happened to be passing. However, the Commission, whose good will has to be trusted in the settlement, has no evidence.

The question of larger vessels also has to be examined. French freezing vessels seem to be fishing off St. Pierre. The Germans are probably fishing at this moment and certainly, according to my information, were fishing recently off Greenland, and the Dutch off the United Kingdom, while the United Kingdom freezer fleet remains mostly tied up.

Conservation is treated as a political football. The TACs can be increased to compromise the different, conflicting demands put before the Commission. Instead of a regime of selective fishing under proper control, there exists an auction situation involving bid against bid. The proposals for marketing are pathetic and totally inadequate. They fail to solve the problem of official withdrawal prices on the Continent that are far too low and of a £ sterling that prices our industry out of the market.

Despite the evidence, we are asked still to persevere, to keep on trusting and waiting for a settlement and to make more concessions. It is disastrous that the Government should offer no alternative counsels. We should be asserting ourselves and saying "Enough is enough." The compromise agreement that was put forward to allow access to our stocks must be scrapped as a basis of the policy. We should be looking forward in 1982 to regulating the common fisheries policy, if there is to be one, under the law of the sea, giving us the power to control our own waters and our own stocks. No one else has the interests in conservation and the building up of those stocks. To offer further concessions against ourselves would be the prelude to disaster for the British fishing industry. It would be a recognition that the British fishing industry has only a small part to play in the national economy and that Ministers have effectively given it up.

11.12 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

This has been a useful debate, in which hon. Members have rightly taken the opportunity to address themselves to the wider issues that concern the industry. A substantial part of the documents has been debated on at least two occasions last year. In the limited time available, I should like to deal with some matters on which we would like fuller, more forthright replies than the Government have given recently.

The Government's financial aid to the industry is appreciated, although the Opposition are concerned about the method of distribution. There has also been a small improvement, perhaps temporary, in the prices received by the industry. Nevertheless, the Opposition attach great importance to the report of the committee established by the Government to examine the whole question of cheap imports. I hope that the Minister of State will be able to give a clear indication of the timing of a Government statement on the report. I hope that he will also confirm that the report is to be published.

I make no apology for reiterating the importance that the Opposition attach to the major issues arising out of the common fisheries policy discussions. Conservation has to be effective. The Minister must address himself to the remarks of a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). What about the flouting of herring regulations by Continental fishermen? Are the Government prepared to acquiesce in the Commission's taking no action against those nations, particularly France, that have been flouting the restrictions

Will the Minister give us some idea of his attitude to restrictive licensing? Are we right in thinking that there has been some movement in the Government's position over the past few months? Will the hon. Gentleman also take the opportunity to reassure us that the Government intend to use the powers that they will soon obtain in the Fisheries Bill that is going through Parliament? It is important that the klondiking should be effectively curtailed.

Let us not forget that on quotas we are talking about a share of fish that reflects not only the amount caught in British waters but, above all, the losses in third country waters. That must be borne in mind when discussions take place on a herring quota for this country. It will be no good talking about what was caught in previous years. If compensation for losses in third country waters means anything, it must mean that our quotas enable more fish to be caught in our waters than was the case previously.

The Opposition are concerned about recent developments in the Government's position on the important question of access. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and a number of other hon. Members referred to the Minister of State's speech that is quoted in this week's Fishing News. Will the hon. Gentleman make the Government's position clear? Has there been a movement? Are the Government no longer committed to securing an exclusive 12-mile limit, with the phasing out of historic rights? I hope that the Minister will give us a clear and unequivocal answer.

What about the 12 to 50-mile dominant preference—call it preferential access if you will? When my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley questioned the Minister of State on 30 March and when the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) questioned the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, they received equivocation. Ministers have consistently failed in the past few weeks to reaffirm the Government's commitment to securing a dominant preference in the 12 to 50-mile band. I hope that the Minister of State will make clear that there has been no change in the Government's position.

When talking about restructuring—a word which is used rather vaguely—we are talking about aid for the modernisation of our fleet and not about payments to companies that will no longer be able to operate because of our exclusion from deep waters. That is no way to encourage the development of the British fishing industry. There may be a need for compensation to be paid to encourage people to leave the industry, but those who need to leave are those carrying out industrial fishing. I hope that the Minister of State will recognise that in the long term there is no place for the sort of industrial fishing that is carried out by the Danes. We want the money to be used in this country to encourage the development of our catching side and the important processing industry.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) pointed out that we have to face up to the fact that there may not be a settlement. I reaffirm that having no settlement will be better than having a bad settlement. The Government have to face that issue. We ask for reassurance that the Government do not intend to continue on a piecemeal ad hoc basis with our industry moving into further decline while other members of the EEC prepare to take advantage of the fish in our waters.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will not allow the negotiations to drift for another three or six months—perhaps another year—while our industry continues to languish. The Government must show that they mean business. Fishing is an important industry. The position of the House is clear. I remind the Minister of State that he accepted the Opposition amendment last August reaffirming the commitment of the House of Commons to the major elements of a common fisheries policy, including a 12-mile exclusive limit and a dominant preference for 12 to 50 miles. All that we ask for is an assurance from the Government spokesman that the Government still stand by that commitment, a commitment of the House of Commons.

11.22 pm
Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) said, we have had a useful debate, and I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part.

In the short time at my disposal, I hope to deal with a number of the issues that were raised. I am disappointed, as I am sure is the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), because so few people, other than he, referred to the social measures, which I think are important. I was also disappointed at the grudging attitude of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. If we have already adopted measures which are in advance of or as good as what has been proposed by the Community, we should be proud of the fact. I smiled wryly when the hon. Gentleman, who is keen to attack the common fisheries policy on so many other issues, sought on this issue, in which I know that he has a genuine interest, to duplicate what we are already doing. Nevertheless, I am glad that he welcomes some of the proposals in that connection.

The question of conservation measures was raised by a number of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) rightly asked about herring, which is of crucial importance both to his area and to other areas. I can assure him that the herring fishery will not be opened until it is scientifically justified. As he may know, the herring stock in the area off his part of the North Sea is showing the signs of slowest recovery. He asked when the herring fishing could be opened in that area. We do not want it to open, except on that advice.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) asked about article 7(2) of document 5360. He is right to say that that provision is linked to and dependent on the decision on the total allowable catch for the Mourne stock. However, a nil TAC is proposed for the Mourne stock. That is mentioned in document 5304. Both the conservation measure and the TAC are consistent. hope that the one reinforces the other. I hope that that explains the position.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Why, then, does the Minister in charge of fisheries in Northern Ireland inform me that the TAC for the Mourne stock has not been settled and that he expects that a catch will be allowable in 1981?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

There has not yet been an agreement on the TAC. Certain overall proposals have been made, and some of those are in the documents before us. They are still open for discussion and conclusion. Until we reach that stage, it is not possible to say what will happen. There have recently been scientific meetings on herring generally, as a result of which certain recommendations are likely to be made.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) raised the matter of salmon conservation. That is an important part of any agreement that we have with the Faroe Islands. Quite a lot has been achieved. For example, there is a Community ban on the catching of salmon in the high seas outside 12 miles. Some criticise the Community for achieving nothing in conservation, but in relation to one stock, in which my hon. Friend is interested, measures have been taken.

The Government's attitude towards access has not changed. I should like to refer to the headline in Fishing News which a number of hon. Members mentioned. It is completely inaccurate. At no time during the meeting, either in my speech or in answering questions afterwards, did I use the words in question, nor do they reflect anything that I said. I dislike having to say so, but I believe that that is an example of disreputable journalism—taking words that were not used and putting them in inverted commas in a headline of that nature. I have checked with others who were at the meeting, and what I have just said is based not only on my recollection but on the witness of other people who were there.

Such journalism does no service. I am prepared to take any criticism from any source as to my opinion, so long as it is reasonably and constructively couched. But to publish such headlines implies a weakening of the United Kingdom's position. I ask those who resort to such tactics to reflect that they give comfort only to those who do not wish to see a successful outcome for the United Kingdom. Those who wish to see the United Kingdom weakening in negotiations are the only people who are helped by such headlines.

We certainly believe that it is necessary to negotiate an exclusive zone. What I said at Lowestoft and repeat tonight—I have said it in the House before—was that I thought that within an exclusive zone it might be necessary in some areas to consider those who had fished historically there. That is a matter on which no conclusion has been reached in the negotiations, in which it must be discussed.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East raised the question of areas of further preference. I believe that the principle of further preference can be met in relation to a fishing plan. What has been proposed for the North of Scotland is not adequate, in relation either to the area or to the control measures within it. We want to see an area not only off the North of Scotland but in the Irish Sea, and much more effective control measures.

A number of other general issues were raised. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made a number of points, without a great deal of accuracy—indeed, with more rhetoric than accuracy. Fishing was not, and never has been, part of the budget negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made that absolutely clear on a number of occasions, and the fact that the budget agreement is in course of implementation demonstrates it. It is time that the hon. Gentleman got that idea out of his head. Before he starts spreading false accusations, I ask him to reflect on the part of his own Government in conservation matters. The Hague agreement was negotiated in 1976 under his Government, and it is that on which we are losing the court cases, on the conservation measures introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin).

It was by The Hague agreement of 1976 that the whole matter of the unilateral power in relation to conservation measures was given away. I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about it he should ask his own Front Bench why they did not renegotiate the scheme at the time of the Dublin agreement.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 11626/80 and Corrigendum 1 on the social aspects of the Community sea fishing sector, 4884/81, 5361/81 on quotas, 5304/81, 5360/81, 5362/81, 6021/81 on total allowable catches and surveillance zones, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's unnumbered memoranda of 9th February 1981 on quotas, of 28th April 1981 on Swedish registered vessels fishing in the waters of member states of the European Community and of 11th May 1981 on Faroese fishing in the waters of member states of the European Community; endorses the view that social measures, particularly in relation to working conditions and remuneration, are best left to the discretion of national authorities, and supports the Government's aim of securing an early comprehensive settlement on a satisfactory revised common fisheries policy.