HC Deb 21 October 1982 vol 29 cc485-7
1. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement about the common fisheries policy.

3. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in securing a revised common fisheries policy.

10. Mr. Spearing

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement concerning the latest state of negotiations on a common fisheries policy of the European Economic Community.

20. Sir Patrick Wall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the development of a common fisheries policy.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

Since my right hon. Friend last reported to the House in July, the Council of Fisheries Ministers met in Luxembourg on 4 October. No real progress was made because Denmark alone was not prepared to negotiate. The next Council meeting is planned for 25 October.

Mr. Brotherton

I wish my right hon. Friend a happy Trafalgar Day.

Mr. Foulkes

It should be Waterloo.

Mr. Brotherton

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grave concern that is felt by the fishing industry about the failure to reach a solution to the problem? Will he give the House a guarantee that if by 31 December no solution is reached, foreign fishermen will not be allowed to fish up to our shores?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I appreciate my hon. Friend's good wishes. The one country that was holding out at the last Council meeting was not France, but Denmark. I wholly understand what my hon. Friend has said. The uncertainty in the fishing industry, not only in the United Kingdom, but in other countries, is extremely great. Therefore, there is a real incentive for all countries to find a solution. I assure my hon. Friend that no British Government—certainly not this Government—would tolerate fishing up to our beaches.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

To remove any possible doubt and uncertainty, will my right hon. Friend assist the House by publishing in the Official Report the legal powers that would be used to exclude foreign vessels after 31 December in the event of failure to agree? Secondly, will he give us an assurance that, in the agreed position of the nine members, there is provision for the phasing out of historic rights?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

With regard to my hon. Friend's first question, if he had experience of negotiations, he would not give away his negotiating position before he entered the negotiations. That applies to us in this matter.

Mr. Spearing

Even if the Minister triumphs on the Copenhagen front and the Danes withdraw from their present position, does he agree that the EEC provisions are for historic rights to be exercised up to our beaches, but that those historic rights, with modern equipment, will put our fishermen's livelihoods at stake and so are unacceptable, irrespective of any Danish objections?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I emphasise that, in the proposals put forward by the Commission, there is no provision for any foreign rights within six miles. With regard to the six to 12 miles belt, the Commission has put forward a number of proposals that are based generally on the historic rights of other countries. That is the basis on which we shall negotiate next week.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister realise that the continuing uncertainty places even greater financial pressure on the fishing industry? What recognition will he give in aid to the industry during this period?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am conscious of that fact. However, that is a separate issue from the vital and long term issue of settlement of the common fisheries policy. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in the past two years we have shown our recognition of the problems of the industry in the present uncertainty by giving it £42 million in aid.

Mr. Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people will greatly welcome his assurance that the Government will not tolerate a scenario that would permit fishing up to our beaches? Will he treat with considerable scepticism some of the proposals for local fisheries plans formulated by bodies not expert in the fishing industry?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I made plain the Government's position about fishing up to our beaches. A similar view is shared by other EEC Governments. There is provision for a fishery plan off the north-west coast of Scotland in the Commission's proposals which we shall be considering in the context of the negotiations.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Minister aware of the widespread suspicion among fishermen that the Government have delayed announcing the financial assistance until the result of the policy negotiations is known, so that it might be a sweetener at that time? The protracted negotiations and the uncertainty have not helped the financial state of the fishing industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman make an early announcement of the financial aid that the industry desperately needs?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

We made the position plain to the industry, although it may not be plain to the right hon. Gentleman. There is no connection between aid and the settlement of the policy, as I said in answer to the previous question.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

With the negotiating pressure on the Minister by the threat of fishing up to our beaches, why does he not announce his contingency plans to stop it by the end of the year, draft in trawlers to protect our fishing grounds and make it clear that the partial settlements which have been so unsatisfactory to the British industry will not be the basis of the measures that he will enforce unilaterally from 31 December?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I have not made such an announcement, because it would be foolish to give away our negotiating position. The hon. Gentleman shows his lack of appreciation of the situation. It was the Labour Government, in the Hague agreement, who caused the doubts about the powers that we have in national measures.

Mr. Buchan

Has the Minister not already virtually sold out to the Common Market? Is he not telling us that he has retreated from the 12-mile exclusive and the 50-mile preference limits to a 6-mile exclusive and a 12-mile preference? It would strengthen, not weaken, our hand if he told us his contingency plans to save the industry if no agreement is reached. Will he follow the example of Lord Boothby, who stated that if we cannot get our terms we should come out?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

In the same recent announcement the noble Lord supported the Government's efforts to reach a settlement. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support him.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was more knowledgeable than he appears to be. We also have historic rights in other waters. Some third country waters have had to be negotiated through the Community, and that has enabled our fishermen to continue fishing elsewhere. We also have historic rights within the Community on a reciprocal basis. It is unrealistic to believe that we can enter the negotiations without taking account of such rights.