HC Deb 17 June 1982 vol 25 cc1094-100 3.52 pm
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Peter Walker)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the meetings of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and of the Council of Fisheries Ministers held in Luxembourg on 14 and 15 June respectively.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture Council.

Agreement was reached on rules governing the approval of newly developed proteins—for example, from yeast—for use as animal feedingstuffs in the Community. The United Kingdom has a strong industrial interest in this and agreement will help our industry to exploit the technology that it has pioneered.

There was discussion of a new framework regulation on wine, but no decisions were reached on this and discussions will be continued at the next Council.

The Council discussed minimum space standards for battery hens. I emphasised that the Community legislation must provide satisfactory arrangements for ensuring uniform enforcement throughout the Community. The Council will resume its discussions on this at the next meeting.

Together with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State, I represented the United Kingdom at the Fisheries Council.

The President of the Commission presented the Commission's proposals on total allowable catches and quotas and on access and it was agreed that these proposals would be considered at a further Council meeting on 28–29 June. In the meantime, I have arranged for consultations with our industry.

The Council reached agreement on the arrangements for enforcement of the Community rules on fishing. This provides for member States to enforce the rules in their own waters, subject to Community inspection to ensure that all countries enforce the rules effectively and impartially. The control regulation will come into force as part of a general settlement of a revised common fisheries policy or on 1 January 1983, whichever is the earlier. It is obviously essential that our fishermen can rely on the rules being enforced as effectively by other countries as they are by the United Kingdom. This agreement is a major step forward and follows the initiative that the United Kingdom took last year.

The Council also made progress on a revised conservation regulation.

Lastly, the Council agreed to authorise the continuation of payments to fishermen in respect of various market support measures. These will apply while detailed work goes ahead on the implementation of the new marketing regime.

This was a useful meeting, preparing the way for the major discussions on quotas and access at the end of the month.

Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)

I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, the Minister, and the House will sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who cannot be present this afternoon as his wife has been taken ill. I am sure that we all recognise that he means no disrespect to the House and that we all wish his wife a speedy recovery. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".]

The Minister's statement covered important but narrow points on wine distillation, protein feeds and battery hens which we might examine in more detail on another occasion. We are surprised, however, that it contained no comment on the possible revaluation of the green franc and any discussion that may have taken place on that, nor on the B quota sugar levy. In view of the content of the statement and press reports on a possible fisheries agreement, however, I shall concentrate on that aspect.

Does the Minister accept that the reported 35.4 per cent. of valuable species, 30.9 per cent. of herring and an exclusive zone of only six miles are totally at variance with the oft-repeated and unanimous view of the House? Does he agree that if this were accepted it would be a sell-out of a divided, demoralised and decimated industry, the end of our deep-sea fleet, insecurity for the majority of inshore fishermen and a negation of what his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) guaranteed to the House when he negotiated Britain's entry 10 years ago?

Is the Minister aware that no improvement in enforcement procedures, however welcome, can compensate for such losses? Will he therefore undertake to hold a debate in Government time on these proposals, perhaps on the basis of early-day motion 535 on the British fishing industry signed by a number of his hon. Friends? Will he also respect the views of the House and the industry and reject the proposals as an abject surrender of British national interests?

Mr. Walker

On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, it is clear that he has no idea what is in the proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why does not the right hon. Gentleman tell us?"] I can only repeat the assurance that I have always given to the House that no agreement will be reached which does not have the agreement of our industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the House."] I should be most surprised if either side of the House decided to go into the Lobbies to reject an agreement that the British fishing industry required and wanted for the future. The hon. Gentleman's entirely party political reaction is in complete contrast to that of the fishermen who were with me in Brussels this week and who will spend tomorrow at the Ministry considering the proposals quota by quota and item by item. If Labour Members have the fishing industry rather than party politics in mind, they should listen to the industry rather than making remarks of that kind.

Moreover, if I, unlike the Labour Party, deliver to the fishing industry a European agreement that it requires, it will be more important to the stability and future of our fishing industry than anything else that has been done in the past 10 years. We shall attain a negotiating position with the industry that I hope will bring it a much greater stability and better financial future than it has had in the past. The reason why I did not deal with the revaluation of the green franc was that there were no proposals about it at the Council.

Sir Marcus Kimballs (Gainsborough)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing opinion that, unless regulations are made to ban the use of monofilament nets, both as a drift net and as a leader to a bag net, all negotiations about catches and quotas will be null and void?

Mr. Walker

I appreciate that many fishermen have strong feelings on the subject, but it does not form part of the common fisheries policy.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Will the Minister understand that, if he abandons principles and requirements in the national interests that have been affirmed by the House, he cannot shelter from the consequences of doing so behind the agreement, real or alleged, enforced or cajoled, of the so-called representatives of the industry?

Mr. Walker

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not treat the fishing industry in Northern Ireland with such disrespect as to say that it cannot advise and talk to the Government about what it considers to be its long, medium and short-term interests. I hope that he is not criticising me; because, unlike some of my predecessors, throughout the negotiations: have not agreed to any measure or negotiating position that has not been discussed with or agreed by the fishing industry. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will applaud that rather than decry it.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

What percentage of the North Sea is in our waters? How much will it cost to monitor that and what provision do we need to expand our current capacity? Will it help to stop the Spanish fiddle in my area, because it appears to be possible that a Spanish boat with a British passenger can fish within the minimum limits that protect the Cornish fishing fleet?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman's latter point is a legal point that now being considered. The control measures are immensely important and mean that we shall not only have total control but that other countries will have a Commission inspectorate to ensure that they have the same standards as we have had and shall continue to have in our waters. Fishing industry representatives, especially from Cornwall, emphasised the fact that there is no point in having a common fisheries policy if it is not enforced.

Sir Peter Mills (Devon, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that future success depends upon the policing and the enforcement of any rules and regulations that are made, especially in view of the introduction of Spain into the Community? Will he assure the House that we have adequate means to police and to control, especially in a vast area such as the South-West of England?

Mr. Walker

I agree with that, but enforcement is no good unless one is enforcing an agreement satisfactory to the British fishing industry. That is why it is important that we should negotiate adequate quotas and access arrangements to give the industry a secure future. Enforcement of inadequate quotas and access arrangements would be completely unacceptable. If we achieve the result that we require, it will be no good without proper enforcement and that is why I am delighted that the regulations adopted at the meeting were based upon a draft submitted by the British Government.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Is the Minister aware that, as some Scottish fishermen are already alleging that their leaders have been conned by the Ministry into approving the negotiations, he cannot rely on selling a package to the House on the ground that it has the approval of tie fishing industry?

There are reports that a special deal has been made for the Orkneys and Shetlands, which I support. Why is there not a similar deal for the Western Isles, which is at least as dependent on fisheries as other areas?

Mr. Walker

I note the right hon. Gentleman's insulting remarks about the leaders of the Scottish fishing industry. Industry leaders will confirm that I have sought their advice and that I have not endeavoured to persuade them to pursue any attitude or policy towards quotas or access. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] They know that, but the right hon. Gentleman does not. I am sorry that, as with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), he is insulting the views and the wisdom of the industry leaders.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Can the Minister tell us a little more about the new enforcement measures which, on their face, seem to be even more cumbersome than in the past, which will make them more difficult to monitor? Will he be a little more forthcoming about access, because I learnt nothing from his statement about what is on the table? Can he assure the House solemnly—it may be difficult—that, whatever the proposals are, he will not make any recommendation to the fishing industry?

Mr. Walker

I assure the House that my entire view about our fishing policy is based upon the advice that I obtain from the industry as to its requirements for stocks and port by port access arrangements. Since I have been the Minister, the fishing industry has influenced me and I have always made it clear that I shall come to no agreement without discussing matters with the representatives and receiving their support. No Minister could be more fair to an industry than that. I am sorry that, when I pursue that policy, some hon. Members say that perhaps the leaders of the fishing industry are bad leaders. The best that I can do is to consult the leaders, and I have done that. The enforcement proposal put forward by us is straighforward and uncomplicated. It will enable the Commission to inspect other countries' methods, to board ships and to see all ships' documents.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In order to be fair to those Members who are interested in later business, I intend to call four more hon. Members from either side.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend lose no opportunity to press on the Commission that illegal fishing beyond quota should not be permitted to establish a base for future quota allocations?

Mr. Walker

The problem with having no agreement is that there are no quotas. The importance of getting an agreement is that only when one has agreed quotas in a common fisheries policy can one ensure that a member country can be stopped from fishing beyond its quota.

Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)

As the British fishing industry has been fading away while the Common Market has been talking, how does the Minister propose to protect the fishing industry when matters are decided in the Common Market by majority voting and the right of veto has disappeared? Will he explain that to the House?

Mr. Walker

I shall explain the hon. Gentleman's earlier statement about the decline of the fishing industry. Such decline as took place in the long-distance fleet happened before I took office. It was due to the loss of Icelandic waters and had nothing to do with the Common Market. However, the number of vessels elsewhere has increased.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

May I as a Member part of whose constituency forms one of the largest fishing communities in Europe, congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress made towards a common fisheries policy? My right hon. Friend is right to condemn the disparaging remarks of the right hon. Members for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I am sure that the Minister will confirm that there will be no sell-out of the fishing industry and that he will continue to consult the leaders of the industry before a final common fisheries policy is effected on 1 January 1983. That will show that the disparaging remarks made in early-day motion 482 by the right hon. Member for Western Isles and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) are disgusting.

[That this House deplores the statement in the `Scotsman' newspaper dated 25th May, page 8, which attributes to Mrs. Winifred Ewing, the only Scottish Nationalist Party member of the European Assembly, an accusation that Her Majesty's Government proposes a sell-out of the fishing industry in the negotiations for a renegotiated common fisheries policy, which is a typical hysterical outburst from this European Economic Community member who is not even a member of any British group in the Assembly and is completely out of touch with Her Majesty's Government's statements made on many occasions by the Prime Minister and all Fisheries Ministers that no common fisheries policy will be agreed which has not received the total support of the leaders and members of the fishing industry; and calls upon the fishing industry to treat this accusation with the contempt it deserves.]

Mr. Walker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It would be interesting to have noted the views of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) had I decided to ignore the advice of the leaders of the fishing industry because he does not approve of them. I did the opposite and consulted them throughout and I shall make sure that they are consulted to the end.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

While I accept the Minister's statement that the long-term stability of the fishing industry would be assisted by the ending of 10 years of uncertainty, would the Minister agree to strengthen his negotiating hand in Brussels in the next crucial round of talks by publishing the views of the industry as to what its bottom line is, and give his views so that, as on previous occasions before important negotiations, the House can endorse and whole-heartedly support the stand the Minister takes?

Mr. Walker

I cannot imagine a worse way of negotiating than to publish our bottom line requirements. In negotiations I wish to obtain all of the fish and all the priorities for British fishermen that I can. I certainly should not negotiate after having published my bottom line requirements. I assure the House that I shall consult stock by stock—as I am doing tomorrow with the fishing Industry—their priorities and what they consider important for particular ports. I shall have the most detailed assessment of what the industry requires that any Minister has ever had. I shall negotiate accordingly, and I shall have the fishing industry with me in Brussels.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)

Regarding access and fishing limits, is my right hon. Friend aware that in the far South-West—because of the fishermen's vulnerability—there are increasing anxieties following this week's meeting about their future and the ability of the inshore fishing industry to earn a living? There must be no going back on assurances given to the industry by successive Governments and the House.

Mr. Walker

I am aware of the detailed problems and requirements of the South-West. I assure my hon. Friend that their requirements will be part of our negotiations before we reach a settlement.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

The Secretary of State must agree with hon. Members representing fishing communities like Hull—where the fleets have declined from 160 to 16 ships and from 3,000 to 300 men and from ¼ million tonnes of fish to 13,000 tonnes—that their community representatives, not an agreement between the Government and industry, must decide policy in the House. The difference between dominant preference, which was the policy of the House, and adequate quotas is the difference of between 60 per cent. —giving us enough fish to maintain a fishing fleet at the 1970 level—and 36 per cent. which will mean the destruction of areas like Hull. Is that being done in the name of European unity or is it a further price for the Falklands support?

Mr. Walker

As he has been a Member for Hull, the hon. Gentleman will know under whose Government the main decline in Hull took place. This Government have doubled the aid given to the fishing industry, including Hull, compared with the previous Government. I do not want lectures from the hon. Gentleman as to who has treated Hull the worse.

The hon. Gentleman knows that never in the history of British fishing has there been any question of our having 60 per cent. of the catch of European waters.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

The fishermen of Bridlington are grateful to my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for achieving adequate conservation measures. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that in the future there will not be the same amount of cheating as there has been by the French, the Dutch and the Danes in the past? The main requirement is still a 12-mile exclusion zone.

Mr. Walker

Yes. That is why the fishing industry was so pleased this week that we not only obtained agreement on the control regulations to ensure that enforcement took place but also agreed that, irrespective of the timing of anygeneral common fisheries policy agreement, the control regulations will come into operation on 1 January 1983.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

Since the Minister is reluctant to tell us what we are negotiating about until the final settlement comes as a pleasant surprise, will he confirm the lines of settlement reported in the newspapers, which amount effectively to a six-mile exclusive zone, a six-mile dominant preference zone and a share of 35 per cent. for a nation that takes two-thirds of the fish stock to the Common Market pool? Would not a settlement along those lines betray the requirements of the House and the promises held out in the Conservative Party manifesto and the express wishes of the fishing industry? No Minister of integrity should accept such a settlement.

Mr. Walker

It is nonsense to suggest that we shall have only six miles. We have always stated that we wanted 12 miles. I have said that in agreeing to 12 miles we would have to take into account in our own and other countriesinterests any historic rights that existed in the six to 12-mile limit before we joined the Community. The hon. Gentle man knows that. We have always enjoyed historic fishing rights in the six to 1.2-mile limit around the coast of the Irish Republic. I do not believe that our fishermen would be delighted if we got rid of that. We have certain historic fishing rights in the six to 12-mile limits around France. I do not believe that our fishermen along the South coast would be pleased if that were eliminated. The pretence that we have switched to a six-mile limit is completely wrong.

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