HC Deb 07 March 1983 vol 38 cc643-74

Order for Second Reading read.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When the House debated the common fisheries policy on 31 January I announced the Government's intention to seek legislative powers to deal with a growing problem for the United Kingdom fishing industry. That is the influx of many ex-foreign, mainly Spanish, fishing vessels that have re-registered British to circumvent European Community licensing arrangements. The Bill now before the House is designed to tackle that problem at its roots and I shall explain in some detail the background to its main provisions.

First, I shall outline briefly some of the history of the problem. Since May 1980 about 67 ex-Spanish vessels, or British vessels with a Spanish association, have taken advantage of our liberal registration shipping arrangements that allow them to fly the red ensign so long as they satisfy certain conditions regarding, for example, ownership of the vessel by a British-registered company having its principal place of business in the United Kingdom. Sixty-three of those vessels are still registered. There are rumours of further potential applicants. They have done that because under the terms of the European Community's bilateral fisheries agreement with Spain fishing opportunities for vessels from that country in the waters of member states in the Community were restricted. Licences to fish have been reduced in line with the agreement with the result that in 1982 only 130 licences were issued compared with 240 in 1978. Some of the unsuccessful applicants for licences have acted quickly. They have simply become "British". Their main commercial activity is to fish the British quota for hake. They also catch valuable non-quota species such as angler fish or monk fish, as some of us know it, and west coast sole or megrim. However, hake is their main target and the latest statistics show that in 1982 they took most of the 3,800 tons available quota. It was, of course, traditional British catchers who built up our hake catch record on which the Commission assesses our national quota proportion and, as I am sure all hon. Members will agree, it is completley unacceptable that third country nationals should be allowed to take advantage of our earlier achievements in this way.

There are significant numbers of genuine British catchers around our coast whose livelihood depends on that valuable species, and although it has been represented to me by some of the English managers of the ex-Spanish fleet that without their involvement market outlets would have been unexploited and prices depressed, I find that difficult to accept. The bulk of the ex-Spanish catch goes directly to Spain and the remainder is transported there by lorries directly it is landed in United Kingdom ports.

It has also been represented to me on behalf of the ex-Spanish that they have injected much-needed capital into local fishing ports, particularly in the south-west where their main United Kingdom activity centres, in the form of ice plants and so on. It is difficult to quantify that, but I believe that the amounts of capital investment involved are insignificant compared with the costs to our industry through the loss of catching opportunities.

Further complaints are levelled at the ex-Spanish by all sides of our industry. Catches landed in the United Kingdom from ex-Spanish vessels are re-exported for sale elsewhere and avoid the levy imposed by the Sea Fish Industry Authority on landings for the United Kingdom market. They benefit, because of their Spanish connection, from import duty relief, and sometimes access, not available to British vessels that wish to land catches in Spain.

Finally, on the evidence of our own British sea fishery officers, it is sometimes impossible to serve summonses for alleged infringements of our fisheries legislation because of our problems and difficulties in tracing the Spanish owner whose United Kingdom address proves to be no more than a brass plate. For all those reasons, there has been a growth of very considerable and understandable hostility from our industry towards the ex-Spanish

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister has referred so far exclusively to Spanish vessels. I know that they are a great problem, but has his Ministry any evidence that other nations are undertaking that operation?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The main country that is taking advantage is Spain. A few Norwegian vessels have been doing so as well, but they are few compared to the Spaniards.

Against that background, we looked at a number of ways to try and deal with the problem. There have been questions about it in the House for many months. The way in which I hoped to tackle the problem initially was through the various registration rules on fishing vessels. I considered that course in co-operation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, but we concluded that the solution to what we regard as a short-term problem would not lend itself to this approach because of the need for consistency with our long-term approach to international shipping.

We are a trading nation and it is in our wider international shipping interests to maintain an open register and a liberal approach. This means that we cannot pick and choose whom we discourage from registering their vessels in the United Kingdom. Therefore, this approach did not lend itself to dealing swiftly with the urgent problem before us.

This is a fairly short Bill—11 clauses in all, the majority of which relate to enforcement. Clause 1 is intended to authorise fisheries Ministers to impose by order conditions relating to the nationality of the crews of British fishing boats wishing to be qualified to fish for, or trans-ship, sea fish in waters that will also be specified in the subsequent order. The landing in the United Kingdom of sea fish, wherever caught, by British boats not qualified under these conditions will be also be prohibited. Conditions relating to the stowage of gear by boats not satisfying the crewing qualifications would also be imposed by order. The penalties for any contravention of those provisions by a master, owner or charterer of a boat would be a fine on summary conviction not exceeding £50,000 and, on indictment, and unlimited amount. Courts would also be able to order the forfeiture of any fish or fishing gear.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

By referring to the nationality of the crews, obviously the Minister wishes to discriminate against non-British crews. Does he extend that to EC nationals?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I shall cover that point in a moment. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) may wish to return to it in the debate.

Let me explain the thinking behind the clause. We are seeking to close the loophole by which third country nationals can exploit Community, and particularly United Kingdom, fishing opportunities. We intend doing this by ensuring that these opportunities are in future available to nationals of the Community. That answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

Ministers therefore intend to specify in the subsequent order a crewing qualification of at least 75 per cent. Community nationals for boats fishing in British waters. We considered extending the area subject to this restriction to the waters of member states of the Community but, after consideration, we have come to the conclusion that, apart from the practical difficulties of enforcing such a power beyond British fishery limits, we believe that it would be more appropriate for the European Commission or other member states to come forward with legislation which would be directly applicable in other Community waters. The 75 per cent. rule which the House will wish to have explained is based on precedents well-established in Community preferential arrangements. Indeed, it is enshrined in the agreements between the Community and Spain and the Community and Norway. It can be found for example in note 4 of the explanatory notes to the protocol to the agreement between the Community and Spain of 20 July 1970, set out in Council regulation (EEC) No. 1524/70, a copy of which is available to the House. There is a precedent for this rule and qualification being used. That is the reason why the Government have taken it.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will the Minister accept, in view of clause 1(4), that in the event of Spain joining the EC, which the Government are pressing for, these restrictions will be automatically and immediately removed?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

We shall then be in a completely different position. This is known in the Community as "quota-hopping", where one country seeks to take advantage of the various opportunities that exist for another country's quota. If Spain joins the Community, it would be able to do that in the same way as any other country can presently do so.

The issue has not arisen, because we agreed quotas only on 25 January. Countries are well aware of the situation. About a year ago, a number of Danish vessels were fishing out of Dutch ports. The Council of Ministers and the Commission are well aware of the matter and if problems arise we shall have to deal with them on a Community basis. I should expect us to be able to deal in that way with any problems arising from Spain's accession to the Community.

At present, we are dealing with an urgent situation in the south-west of England. It concerns a country that is not a member of the Community. That is the immediate problem.

Sir Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

Has Spain any historic rights in our waters?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Yes. Spain has fished in our waters and has a number of licences that she can use. I explained earlier that we have sought to decrease the number of such licences.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I missed the Minister's opening words, and I apologise if he has already answered this question. As he is talking about an urgent problem, when does he expect to bring in the orders to deal with that problem?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I had intended to deal with that matter later, but in response to the hon. Gentleman's question I shall deal with it now. Assuming that we get Royal Assent for the Bill before Easter, and subject to proceedings in this House and another place, we hope to introduce an order early in April. If the Bill is passed quickly, we should be able to act on that time scale. I hope that that information is helpful to the House.

I return to clause 1 and the provisions on fishing, transshipping, landing and stowage. We have included all those activities because we believe that unless they are covered they could allow the purposes of the Bill to be breached. Our catching industry has expressed anxiety about all those activities.

The penalties that we have prescribed are consistent with those at present applicable to genuine British vessels operating under existing fisheries legislation. There is no discrimination there.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Before my right hon. Friend leaves that important point, will he add to the list of those to whose representations the Government have rightly paid attention the Select Committee on Agriculture, which reported on the British fishery industry, foresaw the abuse and recommended curative action?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The Select Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a distinguished member, foresaw not only the abuse but a number of other things, of which my hon. Friend rightly reminds me from time to time.

Clause 1 is the substance of the Bill. The others relate mainly to enforcement. Clauses 2, 3 and 4 make provisions relating to the powers needed by British sea fishery officers to enforce the Bill and specify the penalties for obstructing those officers in the carrying out of their duties. Again I emphasise that the powers envisaged have well-established precedents in existing fisheries legislation. The penalty for obstruction would be a fine of £5,000, again the same as in existing fisheries legislation.

Clause 5 provides for the recovery of fines. It will be possible to levy distress against the vessel involved and to enable it to be detained until the fine is recovered.

Clause 6 deals with the liability of the officers of a body corporate which has committed an offence.

Clause 7 provides that proceedings under the Act may be taken, and the offence may for all purposes be treated as having been committed anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Clause 8 provides for administrative expenses to be met out of moneys provided by Parliament. We expect costs to be very small because there will be no additional effort by the fishery protection service to bring offenders to book. The ex-foreign vessels will be monitored and dealt with in the course of the normal duties of our sea fisheries officers, so costs will arise only if cases come to court and the small sums involved will be absorbed within the court's normal running costs. A money resolution will be put to the House shortly.

Clause 9 contains the various definitions which, I believe, are self-explanatory.

Clause 10 is quite normal in fisheries legislation and provides for the extension of these new powers by Order in Council to the Isle of Man or Channel Islands. The islands' authorities have indicated their firm support for the principle underlying these proposals.

Finally, clause 11 cites the short title which is, I think, appropriate because we are concerned here with the overall well-being of the British fishing boats, their owners and crews, and also contains a small consequential amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 so that the meaning of the ownership of a vessel is consistent with that in existing legislation.

The Bill is important and, anticipating the enthusiasm of the House to see the Bill passed swiftly on to the statute book, I have dealt fairly quickly with its provisions, although I hope in a way which adequately explains them. I hope that the Bill receives the support of the House. It has had the support of our fishing industry and, in that spirit, I commend it to the House.

10.31 pm
Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

When we first discussed the Bill, I promised that we would give it a fair wind and would support the concept unless particular difficulties arose. It is certainly the wish of the fishermen, particularly in the south-west, that this should happen and it is our wish that the loophole exploited through flags of convenience should be blocked.

We were under no illusion about some of the difficulties involved. They became manifest in the Minister's speech. The great hole that remains is the problem of dealing with the Common Market nationals. The points and the interruptions that were made during the Minister's speech make it clear that we have not solved the problems and that when Spain enters the EC, we shall have to cope with the problems again. We accept the Bill but underline that that difficulty still remains.

I wish to make only one or two points at this stage because amendments have been selected that should be discussed. I should like to draw attention to the speed with which the Government have been able to act on a difficulty of this type, which poses questions of freedom, nationality and international obligation. Now we are told that we can get the whole lot done by April. I must contrast that with their speed of action on other problems that face our fishermen, which have been highlighted in some of the amendments. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to discuss them. Rumour says that we shall not, but we shall see. I see no real reason why we cannot have other qualifications, along with the qualification of nationality, written into the Bill.

The Bill teaches us yet another lesson. The argument that has been put forward by those who have been taking part in this trade, the brass plate people—those operating the flags of convenience—about shore jobs as well as crew jobs underlines again part of the Government's failure in imaginative stimulation and assistance to enable people to take up not a large-scale fishery but an expensive and lucrative fishery with, perhaps, the development of shore-based processing and marketing concepts. Even that will not deal with the problems of quota hopping. What is the likelihood of the Commission taking steps to deal with the problems?

Mr. Robert Hughes

None at all.

Mr. Buchan

Although my hon. Friend is pessimistic, I hope that we shall be given some assurances at the end of the day. The phrase "quota hopping" suggests that the issue is very much in the mind of the Commission. If that is so, or if it had been discussed at the Council of Ministers, measures to deal with the problems could have been introduced into the Bill. The Government are caught in a dilemma of their own making because of their enthusiasm for the Market. Their anxiety is not to quarrel with certain aspects of the Market because they do not wish to be considered as non-Communautaire. This will lead to a major difficulty for the Government and the more strongly we emphasise that in the House the stronger, perhaps, will be the approach of Ministers when they have to deal with the problem at the Council of Ministers.

I was extremely surprised by the amendment of the Secretary of State for Scotland. We are not always surprised by his actions, but I just do not understand why he has tabled the amendment. This is not a particular problem for Scotland. Are the Government expecting the problem to be facing Scotland in relation to another third-country nationals? I shall be taking the strongest objection to the amendment.

I wish to give the Bill a fair but slightly sceptical wind.

10.36 pm
Sir Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

The Bill has the support of the Opposition and is desired by the fishing industry. That being so, I shall keep my remarks short. First, the Bill refers to areas specified by order. Which waters does my right hon. Friend the Minister have in mind—the exclusive British six miles, the 12 miles, the 50 miles or 200 miles?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As I said earlier, we have in mind the British fishery limits.

Sir Patrick Wall

The 12 miles or the six miles?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The 200 miles.

Sir Patrick Wall

My right hon. Friend has observed that a levy is paid on British fish if they are landed in Spain. The flags of convenience vessels can send their fish by lorries to Spain and pay no levy either in Spain or in Britain. Is Spain potentially a large market for British fish and is there any truth in the report in the press that if the Bill is enacted trade at Falmouth, which was mentioned especially, will suffer by about £1 million and cause about 150 to 200 jobs to be lost. As my right hon. Friend said, on balance the whole of the industry is more important than only one part of the industry. However, I should like to see that issue cleared up.

Is the Spanish fishing fleet the largest in the EC? Is it true that a condition of its entry into the EC is that it will reduce its middle-water fleet to 100 vessels? Is it also true that it already has an agreement with France, which will be the EC state most affected by the Spanish fishing fleet?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

What does my hon. Friend mean by "jobs"? Is he referring to those dissolute people who are paid 3 per cent. of the catch to do nothing except allow their names to be used to register the boat? Does he call them "jobs" or corrupt people who have sold their country out?

Sir Patrick Wall

My hon. Friend, whose constituency lies in the south-west, knows more about this subject than I do. I was repeating an article that appeared in The Times. I should like to hear the facts confirmed or denied.

The subject of what happens when Spain joins the EC has been raised already. Spain will presumably have a quota. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, Spain has historic rights. Will the quota come from the whole of the EC or mainly from our quota? Although it is hypothetical at the moment, it worries many of us. Spain has already applied to join the EC. Its application will be approved in due course and the House wants to know what the Minister has in mind about these matters.

10.40 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I rise to support the Bill's objectives without qualification, consistent with my earlier views on the matter. The Official Opposition seem to be widening the debate's ambit considerably beyond the earlier representations on the importance of tackling the Spanish problem.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) seems to be taking the opportunity to raise a number of other unrelated matters which will no doubt have to be dealt with by communautaire measures if and when Spain joins the EC.

Why has the Minister decided to proceed by means of primary legislation enabling him to take powers by statutory instrument which will be subject to negative procedures only? He has described part of the substantive provisions of the order, but the House would like the opportunity to consider in detail, and possibly amend, the precise definitions which may be embodied in the order.

I acknowledge fully the desirability of proceeding at speed, but I believe that it is a mistake to conceal from the House the substantive provisions of the order which give effect to the Minister's intentions. "Conceal" is perhaps not precisely the right word, because the Minister revealed a number of matters, some as a result of pressure from the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall).

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn what he said about concealment. There has been no attempt to conceal anything. Whether there are negative or affirmative orders before the House, any vigilant and active Member can take the opportunity to pray against them and have them debated.

Mr. Maclennan

The Minister is as experienced in the House as I am, and he well knows how limited is the opportunity to pray against an order and invoke the negative procedure. Furthermore, it does not permit amendment, which is a serious criticism of this procedure. The primary legislation should have encompassed the precise measures that the Minister has in mind. It would have been helpful if the Bill had spelt out the fact that it covers British fishing limits up to 200 miles and whether it included the 75 per cent. rule. Those matters could then have been tested against EC thinking. I should like to have had the response of the European Commission. However, I do not wish to labour this point. In principle, it is undesirable for Ministers to take powers of this kind—which are rather drastic—by such indirect means.

My second, minor point can probably be easily answered. I notice that clause 1(4) refers to nationals of any other member State". That presumably means a member state of the Community, although there is no reference to that in the definition clause. Perhaps a provision in another Act makes it clear that that is what is intended.

I support the Government wholeheartedly in moving to stop a blatant abuse. Spain's membership of the EC, if it achieves it, will undoubtedly require the Community to respond by rethinking its approach to the entitlement of Spanish vessels to fish in what are currently British waters. There is also, no doubt, the problem of quota hopping, but it would be inappropriate to attempt to deal with that within the ambit of a House of Commons Bill, as it is not a problem peculiar to this country. It is a problem common to all members of the EC, and EC legislation is the appropriate way to tackle that problem.

I congratulate the Minister on his expedition in bringing this measure forward.

10.47 pm
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

It is a scandal that the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 enabled what are in truth, substance and reality foreign fishing vessels to evade, avoid and abuse the necessary control regulations that were introduced to protect not only our own fishermen but the sea as a whole through which fish migrate, as well as their breeding stocks. The Act never envisaged that it would be used, or abused, to enable those regulations to be set aside.

The Government introduced the Bill to deal with that distinct abuse. I owe it to the House to tell it that last Thursday I received from a man who described himself—I have no reason to suppose inaccurately—as Major-General Gribbon, who apparently belongs to that occupation known as parliamentary consultant, a long document that contained arguments that I believe to be wholly spurious on behalf of the joint venture companies. It also made serious, defamatory and wholly untrue allegations against hon. Members of this House, and fishermen.

I shall not repeat the allegations by name against hon. Members, because I see no reason why I should give currency to defamatory statements. However, Major-General Gribbon presumed to state that one hon. Member—who tonight has assured me that it is untrue—would support amendments to wreck the Bill which Major-General Gribbon had the effontery to invite me to introduce—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes. Major-General Gribbon also alleged that the fishermen were saying privately that they opposed the Bill while they were saying publicly that they supported it.

I took the trouble last weekend to see the senior available officer of the fishermen's association in my constituency, who told me the same in private as they had done in public: that the fishermen support the Bill. I wrote back to the said Major-General Gribbon in terms that left him in no doubt about my views on the Bill. I have today received by messenger a letter from a firm called Thomas Cooper and Stibbard of 27 Leadenhall Street. The heading on the notepaper gives no hint of whether the firm owns a chain of fishmongers, a fairground entertainment, Spanish fishing vessels or anything else. The writer, a Mr, S. J. Swabey—whose name also appears on the heading and who could not even be bothered to sign the letter, it is merely signed p.p. S. J. Swabey—says in the second paragraph: I am the Secretary of one or two of the Joint Venture Companies and my firm acts as solicitors for several of them. The secretary of a company has a serious and not a light or facetious function. If this Mr. Swabey does not even know whether he is supposed to be secretary of one or two of the joint venture companies, what better testimony could the House have that these are spurious bodies set up with officers who are men of straw to evade the true purposes of this Government and Parliament? I should not have known that if he had not taken the trouble to show it in his letter. I am most grateful to Mr. Swabey for sending to me by messenger, even though he could not be bothered to sign the letter, such damning testimony of the gravity with which he takes and discharges his own office as Secretary of one or two of the Joint Venture Companies and my firm acts as solicitors for several of them. I take it that Thomas Cooper and Stibbard are solicitors who act for these companies. When an hon. Member reeives two communications of this kind, neither of which is marked private and confidential, he has a duty to share them with those hon. Members who wish to take part in the deliberations of the House on a matter of this sort. I have discharged my duty in so doing. It illuminates the shadier activities of some of those who describe themselves as parliamentary consultants and some firms of solicitors who take on the job of acting for bodies such as these joint venture companies. I make that judgment on the basis of their own statements in the letter, a copy of which I shall be happy to lay upon the Table of House.

Sir Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

My hon. Friend may

take some comfort from clause 6, which says that any director, manager, secretary"— which would apply in the case that he has described— or other officer of the body corporate, he, as well as the body corporate, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence".

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

It would perhaps be highly advisable for Mr. S. J. Swabey of Thomas Cooper and Stibbard to discover whether he is secretary of one or two of the joint venture companies and, if so, of which.

All hon. Members are being commendably brief. There is one further thing that I wish to say. In the document that Major-General Gribbon—I take it that at least his military rank is genuine—sent me, he exhibited an astonishing ignorance of the habits of fish. He claimed that these joint venture companies could do no possible damage to our inshore fishermen because their activities would be conducted only in sector 7 of a map which he attached, around southern Ireland. Major-General Gribbon—not, I am happy to say, Rear-Admiral—is clearly ignorant of the habits of fishes, which have not yet discovered that they are confined to certain sectors, that they may not move from one sector to another, but must breed where they live, where they feed, where they are caught.

The whole of our experience demonstrates the contrary. The reason why international as well as national control is needed is that fish move from one place to another. If they are fished in one place, they are not available in another place. If the year-classes are upset in one area, the appearance of mature fish will be upset in another. Major- General Gribbon told me that the joint venture companies want to catch only 4,200 tonnes of hake in sector 7, whereas our inshore fishermen catch only 3,000 tonnes; so is there not enough for everybody?

The whole history of the rape of the fish stocks of the past 15 years has been that what is taken by one is not available for another, in other areas. Hake are among the most valuable fish on the British market. If hake are taken in one area, lo and behold, they will not be available in the same richesse in another.

I understand, of course, that public relations men who think they have found a richer field in the sea of Parliament, and therefore describe themselves as parliamentary consultants, cannot be expected to understand anything about the highly technical business of fisheries. In that case, however, they would do better not to send messages of that kind to Members of Parliament and to confine themselves to giving bad advice to those who are foolish enough to pay for it—by which I mean their clients.

I wish the Bill godspeed tonight, and may it go through all its processes in both Houses as rapidly as its merit deserves, which is very rapidly. I have not in 22 years as a Member of this House known a worse example of those who offer their services to advise vested interests attempting to mislead Members of Parliament—including in a defamatory way—and of members of the honourable profession of solicitors writing and admitting to their own, if not corruption, at least gross professional negligence in not even knowing of what companies they announce they are secretaries. These facts need to be weighed by the House when it judges whether the forces arrayed to continue the destruction of our fishing stocks are not such as to justify the exceptional, rapid, well-drafted and effective methods which the Government are asking the House to approve tonight to deal with the demonstrated, real and urgent evil.

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

After that unusual but stimulating speech from the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), I begin by saying that I support the Bill. At first glance, I did not think that there was much in it. However, looking at the Conservative Benches, almost packed at this time of night, I decided that there must be something in it. So what lies behind it?

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), I wish the Bill a fair wind, but I should like to hear a little more about the sleeping or floating giant in the bay of Biscay—the Spanish fleet. If it can catch 3 million tonnes of fish per annum, that will dwarf our total. If it were allowed to move about the southwestern end of the English channel and elsewhere, it would do some damage to our stocks. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what he fears in that respect. If it enters the market, we shall clearly have someting to contend with.

With regard to fishery protection, we spend most of our time in debates upon EC matters condemning the fact that we have insufficient monitoring and policing of the waters. What are we to do about that? My fear is that we shall have inadequate vessels to stop, detain, board, inspect and then punish the people who may come into our waters to catch fish.

In Hull we have suffered over the years. Earlier there was some mention of a Select Committee dealing with fisheries and which, in its findings, said that Her Majesty's Government would be well advised to consider the use of trawlers, many of which lie in St. Andrew's dock in Hull, and which, with not too much expense, could be converted fairly quickly so that they could be used as a more than adequate short-term addition to our fishery protection fleet. Would the Minister say something about that in his reply? Those vessels have rendered yeoman service in the past in catching fish. If they could be suitably converted they could provide employment to our fishermen who would man them. They would be able to check, contain and look after not only Spanish vessels but any other vessels catching hake or any other species lying within 12, 15 or 200 miles of our shores.

11.2 pm

Sir Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson). It is of great importance that the measure should be properly enforced when it comes into effect. There are suitable provisions in the Bill to deal with enforcement.

I fully support the Bill. If we discuss what might happen when Spain joins the EEC we shall be waiting for the Bill for ever. However, warning shots have been fired over the Minister's bows as to what may happen when Spain joins the EEC, or what may happen to other members of the EEC which try to get British registration and which might not be affected by the Bill. At least the House has been warned of some of the difficulties that may occur in future. The sooner the Bill gets on to the statute book the better.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), who has now left the Chamber, made a splendid speech. I fully support his remarks about hake and the movement of fish. There was a big hake fishery off the Minches. That was fished out especially by the Spanish, and that affected my constituents accordingly. If my hon. Friend can prevent Major-General Gribbon from doing that, so much the better.

11.5 pm

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

All the speakers in this debate have said how pleased they are to see the Bill and how quickly it should go through. I do not want to be the ghost at the feast, but I sometimes think that the self-congratulation about how quickly the Bill has been rushed through has been somewhat overdone. It is many months since the problem was drawn to the Minister's attention. Indeed, it is probably at least two years since doubts were first raised in the House and elsewhere about the way in which people were, not exactly quota-hopping, but finding their way into British waters and using all the facilities that were available.

We are glad that some action is being taken. What bothers me, however, is that although Bills can sometimes go through all their stages very quickly, and I understand that it is intended that this Bill should complete all its stages today, when we draw attention to other areas of difficulty over the fishing fleets it takes a very long time for action to be taken.

One assumes from what the Minister has said that it is intended that orders under the measure will be made by April this year. I am glad to hear that, because I have been disturbed to find that legislation can lie on the statute book for many years without being activated. I refer specifically to the Merchant Shipping Act 1970, several sections of which, relating to the safety of vessels in the merchant shipping fleet, including the fisheries fleet, have never yet been activated. Discussions are now taking place between the trade unions, the employers and the Department of Trade. The 1970 Act is to be amended, yet vast sections of it have never been brought into effect.

When we are considering legislation about British fishing boats we ought to look closely at matters other than the problems connected with nationality. It is a pity that we cannot take the opportunity to go wider than that narrow aspect of fisheries legislation. I should have been happier if we could have looked at safety matters too.

There is one area in which the Minister will have to take swift action. Legislation may be required, or the Minister may already have sufficient powers to deal with the problem. I have received complaints recently about the distinction drawn between the treatment of our vessels fishing in Norwegian waters and the treatment of Norwegian fishing vessels in our waters.

It is said—perfectly accurately, I believe—that the logging of the catches of our vessels in Norwegian waters is very stringent indeed. No one would quarrel with that. I have always felt that if we had restrictions and quotas and were concerned about conservation, we ought to be certain that the measures were carried out properly. I am told, however, that according to the way in which the catch of British vessels in Norwegian waters is measured, a seven-stone box of gutted fish is counted as weighing 158 lbs. The figure that counts towards the quota is about twice as much as the weight of the fish. That is causing great anxiety among British fishermen, especially those from Aberdeen, who fish in Norwegian waters.

Those who sail from Aberdeen complain bitterly that their nets are checked very carefully as to the size of mesh in the cod end when they fish in Norwegian waters but that no such checks are made on Norwegian vessels fishing in our waters. Indeed, it is strongly argued that no one knows how much the Norwegians catch in our waters because the catches are not properly reported. If that is so, it is a major defect and a large gap in any reasonable reciprocal agreement between this country and Norway. It is also said that Norwegian vessels come to our waters carrying nets with a cod end mesh that is illegal in their own country's waters. If there is to be a reciprocal agreement, it should be on all fours.

Another serious enforcement matter must be checked and if there is a deficiency in the law the Minister should take every opportunity to put it right before the Bill leaves the House. I admit that some of the technical matters are confusing, but it seems that around the cod end there are rings which, if the amount of fish is too great, will break and release the catch as the net is lifted out of the water. I am told that the Norwegians are using nets with far more than the usual number of rings, which is highly dangerous and allows them to take catches far greater than those to which they would normally be entitled.

I appreciate that stories of this kind sometimes turn out to be hearsay, but the evidence put to me and no doubt to other hon. Members shows that there is serious concern in Aberdeen about the way in which our vessels are treated in Norway when our fisheries protection officers have no way of checking on the activities of the Norwegians.

I have always been told that we have ample powers and regulations to ensure that the activities for foreign vessels in our waters are properly controlled. I hope that that is so, but one of the difficulties that we encounter when a Bill goes through the House so rapidly is that we are not in a position to table amendments after hearing the Minister's replies on issues raised on Second Reading. Therefore, although there is a general understanding that the Bill is necessary and overdue and needs a fair wind, Departments should conduct their affairs in such a way as to make proper use of parliamentary time and allow a decent interval between publication of the Bill and Second Reading and between Second Reading and Committee stage. The Government, for their own purposes, have been cutting corners in passing legislation. I shall not detain the House by citing examples, but the Government have certainly become too prone to this kind of behaviour. That tendency should not be encouraged. The procedures of the House should be properly used so that we may properly raise the issues involved and put our constituents' views to the House.

11.14 pm
Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)

As a Member of Parliament for a west country constituency which has important fishing interests, I welcome the Bill. I know from conversations that I have recently had with fishermen that they also welcome it, both publicly and privately.

Recently, the United Kingdom inshore fishing industry has faced many problems. Some are the result of circumstances over which the Government have had little or no control, others have arisen from events over which the Government have some influence or control but about which they have not been prepared to act, and others still have arisen because the measures that have been taken have been too late or inadequate.

With regard to the present problem of the re-registration of foreign, especially Spanish, fishing vessels, the Government have acted correctly and with a commendable speed that reflects the nature and extent of this growing problem. The House will know that the south-west has been much involved with that development. In all, 67 foreign fishing vessels have been re-registered and most of their catches have been landed in fishing ports in Devon and Cornwall. Our fishing grounds off the south-west coast are among the richest in the country, but the balance between over-fishing and the need for conservation is sensitive. The experiences of older fishermen who have spent their whole working lives there confirm the frailty of that balance.

One has only to speak to older fishermen in the southwest to learn that about 60 years ago the herring was predominant. The herring left suddenly and there was a decline in fishing fortunes. After the second world war, the pilchard came into its own. There were several good seasons and then the catch declined. More recently, the same has happened with mackerel. That is why, although the majority of the vessels concerned may fish outside what is normally regarded as the inshore fishing grounds of Devon and Cornwall, there is always the fear that they may follow the fish back to our areas and compete with our own inshore fishing fleets.

I welcome the legislation. The key to its success or failure depends upon the effectiveness of control and enforcement. When my right hon. Friend introduced the Bill, I was a little worried when he said that there would be no extra resources for policing and enforcement. Many of us who have experience of trying to police the historic rights of fishing vessels that have access to our waters feel that the level of policing and enforcement has been inadequate. I look to my right hon. Friend the Minister to give us an assurance that the resources will be increased so that our fishermen feel that they are being adequately protected.

The second point about enforcement concerns the catching of the fish. What is to prevent the fish from being sent direct to Spain, rather than being landed in Plymouth, Falmouth or Penzance? The majority of the fish that are landed in the west country are moved via the Roscoff ferry through France to Spain by road.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Before my hon. Friend concludes his most interesting speech, may I tell him that this expert on fisheries, Major-General Gribbon, told me that that is exactly what his joint venture companies do. They send the fish to Spain because they have free entry there. That is the fiddle. Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1971 the boats are British, but the Spaniards recognise the reality that they are Spanish and so allow their catches into Spain. They let the cat out of the bag at the same time.

Mr. Prescott

How will the Bill stop that?

Mr. Hicks

If that is the case, it emphasises the need for more enforcement while those vessels are fishing.

My right hon. Friend the Minister must take seriously the comments made on behalf of several such companies. In our excellent regional daily newspaper, the Western Evening Herald, one gentleman, who is described as a London financier whose Celtic Management and Trading Company controls 14 of the Spanish boats now flying the Red Ensign, said: 'Such an order would without doubt cause us a problem, but not one which we could not get over.' If those people are successful in getting round the legislation, that means that the legislation is ineffective. We in the south-west look to the legislation to be effective so that such comments do not become reality.

11.22 pm
Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

The only real criticism that is likely to be directed at the Minister about this Bill from the west country is that it has been so long coming. I have corresponded with the Minister on the subject for about two years, and I recall his assurances that this would be a minor problem that could be resolved simply. That has not been so, and here we are two years later welcoming this legislation.

This problem has occurred in Cornwall and Devon more than in any other part of Britain. A fair proportion of the boats using this manoeuvre land their catches at ports in Cornwall, especially in Penzance and Falmouth. There is no doubt that the practice, in an odd way in the immediate term, produces business in some south-west ports. The boats refuel, re-tackle and buy food for their crews in those ports, which has generated some business in the Cornish community. That must be recognised, but I am prepared to say to those who have benefited from this peculiar trade that, for the general good, they must lose some business in the short term. I do that mainly because of the experience of the trans-shipment of mackerel from my county, when many defended what I regarded at the time as an obscene practice on the basis that some crews on the Soviet, Bulgarian and Egyptian boats in Falmouth harbour used to buy some carpets or the odd washing machine in the shops there. Some people were prepared to see the rape and destruction of the mackerel stocks in our part of the country just to ensure some shopping ashore. The fact that some shops would have lost business is sad, but in the long term the county would have been better off had steps been taken earlier to stop the transshipment of mackerel.

I welcome the Bill, although I do not know whether it will succeed. I do not know what the dodge may be to get round it, but such is the pressure of the world's fishermen to find somewhere to fish that one suspects that the regulations are examined with the proverbial fine-toothed comb to find yet another loophole to enable them to fish in various areas.

I should like to ask the Minister what seems a ludicrous question. What is a crew? The Bill gives definitions of the British fishing boat, a British sea-fishery officer, the master, Ministers and sea fish. However, what is a crew? Clause 3(3)(b) refers to the nationality of members of the crew of that boat. It does not say "on the boat". Will the Minister let me know whether a crew is just those who are on the boat or whoever the captain of the boat alleges is the crew? There is a practice of getting round some of the regulations by finding someone on shore who is willing to say that he is a member of the crew, when he is not, for a few pounds a week, to make the disposition of nationalities correct within the fishing boat. That all sounds ridiculous, but such manoeuvres are taking place to circumnavigate the legislation.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is the custom that before the fishing vessel leaves the port the skipper has to enter the names of the crew on the log book of the vessel? It is then subject, if necessary, to inspection by the fishery officer. If anyone is on the vessel who is not recorded on the log book, that would be unofficial and illegal.

Mr. Penhaligon

If that is correct, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. However, one constantly asks such questions about the finer end of what is or is not the law. One never ceases to be amazed at how loose what apparently is an obvious point of law appears to be. If the hon. Gentleman says that when the boat leaves the captain has to state as its crew only those who are on board at that precise moment and that it would be an offence to say that someone was part of the crew who at that precise moment was not on board the boat, that is a significant step forward. I look forward to the Minister clarifying that point. If that is so, we are making some progress.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

A very important point has come out of the hon. Gentleman's substantial argument. That is the value of having the detail of the legislation done by regulation rather than by Act of Parliament so that as soon as loopholes are found the Minister can make regulations rather than have to pass an amending Bill through both Houses. Does it not recommend the way in which the Bill has been constructed that the loopholes can be closed by regulation?

Mr. Penhaligon

Oddly enough, that was my next point. I do not normally like enabling legislation. I have opposed it on a number of occasions and am still not keen on it as a point of general principle. The fact that the Bill enables the Minister to make regulations may be appropriate, as if the first try does not work he can try again. One wonders whether the basic legislation restricts the Minister to make appropriate regulations.

I notice that clause 1(4) states that it is illegal to discriminate between nationals. I can tell the Minister what would be the most popular regulation in my county. He should pass a regulation that 25 per cent. of all the crews on boats fishing out of Cornwall should have surnames beginning with "Tre", "Pol" or "Pen". Such a regulation might do a great deal to bolster confidence in the south-west. However, that would be illegal under the current Bill, as it is said that one cannot discriminate between states or members of those states.

One wonders, therefore, whether the basic Bill that we shall pass—I shall not oppose it, as it represents our interests—will cover all the loopholes. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) drew attention to a statement by Mr. Taylor of a company called Celtic Management and Training that the Bill may cause difficulties. However, he is confident that they may be overcome. Could he suddenly recruit a large number of Breton fishermen who might cover the names starting with "Tre", "Pol" and "Pen" idea? Could he suddenly recruit a large number of Breton fishermen to come to Cornwall to use his boats in precisely the same way as hitherto? One assumes that the real reason why these boats come is that somebody is making a lot of money and a good living. If there is a living to be made, and wages can be paid because the operation is profitable, one wonders the confidence expressed by Mr. Taylor might not be well placed.

I am sure the House will encourage the Minister eventually to stop this nonsense. There is no way that Europe can build up a fishing policy with each nation responsible for enforcing the regulations within its own area if this kind of practice, which has been well publicised and has been significant in my part of the world, becomes the norm.

I thank the Minister for presenting the Bill. I hope this is the last time the House discusses this subject. I have been a Member of the House and studied fishing for long enough to know that one's confidence that a problem is solved is usually misplaced. Solving one problem just leads to another. The Minister's Bill represents progress. It will receive no opposition from me. I asked several questions and I would appreciate an answer to them.

11.32 pm
Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

The Bill is yet another example of the Government's commitment to the fishing industry. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the speed with which they have acted on a problem of serious concern to fishermen in my constituency as well as to the fishing industry in general.

Mr. Buchan

Will the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) consider a point that has been bugging me for the past hour? The reason why the Government are acting speedily is that the Opposition have agreed with the Government to get the Bill through the House speedily. Why is it not possible to allow some of the other legislation that we need in this industry and others to proceed with the same speed? The hon. Member should not be over-congratulating his Front Bench. The Opposition have approved this Bill and support it. I wish the Government would do the same in other directions.

Mr. McQuarrie

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) referred to the speed with which the Bill is being pushed through the House. To my knowledge there are no other immediate problems in the fishing industry that require to be brought forward at this time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Trawlers."] I am not talking about trawlers. I am talking about the fishing industry in general. Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen are full of idle trawlers because there is no deep water fishing. Until we have deep water fishing, there is no work for the trawlers. I accept what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) has said repeatedly in the House. Why do we not convert the trawlers into policing vessels? That would be a use for them. We are not likely to get deep water fishing. That is a means of using many of the trawlers that are lying rusty. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) knows of the trawlers that are in the harbour in his constituency.

I congratulate my right hon. Friends on the speed on which they have acted on this problem. With the Fisheries Bill and the completion of the common fisheries policy by this Government there remains the problem that the Bill seeks to remove. For 10 years, when we were fighting our way through the European Community to secure the fisheries policy, it was not thought that the British fisherman would be penalised by countries that were fishing in our waters that were not members of the Community. They had seen a loophole whereby they could not only acquire the ownership of a British vessel, but acquire a share of our catch quota and the benefits of cash that the fishermen were awarded during the period of the critical cash crisis, when £57 million was paid to the British fishing industry by the Government. That, was far in excess of what was paid by the Labour Government.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The hon. Gentleman, with his alleged knowledge of the industry, should not keep repeating the canard that the Government have given the fishing industry more than the Labour Government gave. Not once did the industry go to the Labour Government for aid. It has had to come to the Government for aid because it is in such a parlous state. It got help eventually, but not easily.

Mr. McQuarrie

The hon. Gentleman's intervention makes me smile, because it was obvious that if the industry had ever gone to the Labour Government for aid it would have gone away empty-handed.

When it was established that foreigners were acquiring ownership of British vessels, it was found that they were putting British skippers on board, but the crews were composed mainly of foreign nationals. Something had to be done to safeguard our fishermen who were being deprived of the catches and cash awards to which they were entitled. It was seen that there would have to be an amendment to cover British vessels that were coming under the control of foreigners. The Bill will close that loophole and will be welcomed by all sections of the catching industry.

When the House debated the common fisheries policy on 31 January this year my right hon. Friend the Minister of State mentioned the anxiety being expressed about the number of Spanish vessels operating in the south-west and which our fishermen called the Spanish armada. My right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and his Minister of State agreed that there was cause for that anxiety and announced that they intended to introduce a Bill to prevent Spanish operators and others from evading national and Community arrangements, so that the interests of our fishermen could be protected.

It was obvious that the Spaniards were taking advantage of our liberal laws on registration and were exploiting the loophole that British fishermen wished to see closed. My right hon. Friend the Minister agreed to bring in the Bill as quickly as possible to close the loophole. It is to the Government's credit that they have overcome the complications in framing the Bill and have introduced it in such a short time.

It is also worthy of note that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire West, the shadow spokesman on fisheries, said that if the Bill were brought in, the Opposition would give it all possible support, unless there were unforeseen difficulties, and would give it a speedy passage through the House. The hon. Gentleman said tonight that the only unforeseen difficulty was what might happen if Spain joins the EC, but that is not connected with the Bill.

Mr. Buchan

We are going to support the Bill, but there is a major difficulty here. The difficulty involves foreign seamen. What the Bill means is non-Community seamen. As the Bill does not say Spanish but "other than Community", what will happen if they are Belgian, French, German or Italian sailors? That is the problem. While we support the Bill and believe that it will largely deal with the problems, there remains that immediate difficulty. I wish the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) would see it and let me go for my cup of coffee.

Mr. McQuarrie

Before the hon. Gentleman goes for his cup of coffee, he will probably have noted what my right hon. Friend said in answer to one of my other hon. Friends. He said that the problems was connected principally with the Spaniards although there were some Norwegians, but very few. The main problem with the Bill is the Spaniards, and not the Belgians, the Norwegians or anyone else.

Mr. Prescott

The Spanish recruit them.

Mr. McQuarrie

They may well recruit them, but, once the Bill is enacted, at least we will be able to handle the matter. The Minister has only to lay an order before the House to establish that he can look after British interests by precluding from our waters those who might invade them.

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) does not understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is saying to him. This Bill does not give a preference to British fishermen but gives preference to EC nationals. It cannot discriminate between Britain, France, Germany and Greece. If the hon. Gentleman believes that the Bill positively discriminates in favour of British fishermen, he is not reading the Bill correctly and is missing the point that my hon. Friend is trying to make.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am not saying that the Bill positively discriminates in favour of British fishermen, but that it is a protection for British fishermen—

Mr. Prescott

It is not.

Mr. McQuarrie

—against illegal fishing, by Spaniards in particular.

I am worried by two implications of the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to advise the House on these matters when he comes to reply. First, there is the question of policing by fisheries officers, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) raised earlier. How many of these officers will be on patrol at sea and not shore-based? Will there be an adequate number of British fisheries officers? Is it the intention that the European Communities special unit, which has been setup under the common fisheries policy—

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)


Mr. McQuarrie

I am well aware of the number of fisheries officers.

I was about to ask how many would be made available, if the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) had allowed me to finish.

Mr. Mitchell


Mr. McQuarrie

Perhaps the hon. Member for Grimsby should clean the wax out of his ears.

Will the European Communities special unit, which has been set up under the common fisheries policy, also be used for policing and inspection whenever investigation is required, so that we shall have an adequate number of fisheries officers to catch these devious characters before they escape from our waters and head for their foreign base ports with their illegal catches?

Secondly, there is the position of Spanish or any other foreign nationals. Once more, because of our liberal laws, they have been able to be classified as British because they have been given a work permit. I am glad that it is the intention that 75 per cent. of the crew will need to be British before a vessel is given a share of the catch quota. If a foreign national has a British work permit, will he be classified as a British citizen or will he permanently remain a foreign national so that the British catch quota can remain with the British fishing fleet?

We must ensure that British fishermen gain from the 10 years of hard work to put the fishing industry on to a profitable footing for the future. I hope that the Bill will cover all the eventualities that arise. It will be welcomed by the fishing industry, especially in my constituency of Aberdeenshire, East, where the fishermen have been incensed by the number of Spanish vessels and other foreign vessels that have been receiving catch quotas from the British catch share merely because they have been registered as British. These vessels have had foreign owners.

I hope that the Bill will have a safe passage through the House and that it will ensure a fair deal for our fishermen without the intervention of foreigners working under the British flag.

11.46 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

I welcome the Bill, but not as slavishly as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie), because I have not been supplied with the same handouts as the hon. Gentleman. It is a welcome measure. It will be welcomed by fishermen in Grimsby. It has been welcomed by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. It is perhaps belated because the problem with which it seeks to deal has been developing for some years as the number of Spanish vessels, especially, registered under the British flag has increased. it is mainly a south western problem, although we have had one or two examples of the practice in Grimsby.

It is vital to ensure that our quotas provide employment for British fishermen and vessels. I say "British fishermen and vessels" rather than "EC fishermen and vessels". It is vital that we build up the British fleet. Anything that stops the present practice is a contribution to that end. The Opposition welcome the Bill and we have promised it a fair wind, but that should not be a force nine wind. It should be a gentle zephyr rather than a positive peal of acclamation.

The opportunity provided by the Bill has been only partially taken by the Government. They could have done more and, in the view of some of us, especially on the Opposition Benches, they should have done more. There are not many opportunities to introduce legislation for the fishing industry. We welcome the speed with which the Bill has been introduced, but we feel that rather more could have been done for the industry.

This is effectively a temporary measure. Spain's entry into the Common Market is a probability and the nature of the problem will change as soon as Spain becomes a member state. The issue lies not with other countries that are inside or outside the Market, but with Spain and the circumstances that it presents. It has an enormous fishing fleet and when Spain enters the market we shall have to take measures to deal with the problem in another fashion. We could have provided a permanent sanction against an admitted problem—the size of the Spanish fleet and the lack of fishing opportunities for it in the waters around Spain. It will be difficult to regulate any scheme once Spain enters the Market.

The Bill will fail to deal with another problem that is certain to emerge in future, which is that of quota hopping. It has not been a problem in the absence of a common fisheries policy, but it is almost certain to be one now that quotas are defined. Theme will be unused sections of quotas that other people will want to use. There are two ways of solving that problem: first, the unused quotas return to the Common Market and are subject to the Common Market haggling and political balancing, which in the past has led to the creation of paper fish by the Commission to satisfy demand; and, secondly, it can be solved by quota hopping without confrontation but without the decision of the Commission or the Council of Ministers. We should have seized this opportunity to deal with that problem.

There will be a problem with some of the sectoral quotas. Some of our bigger vessels are not equipped with the same heavy gear as the French vessels and will not be as effective in catching fish beyond the 100-fathom line. There will then be unused quotas. That will be ripe for quota hopping or for trading in the Common Market haggle. This measure should have closed the door on quota hopping.

Why does the Bill deal with the nationality of the crew and not with control of the companies engaged in such a practice? It would have been simple to include a requirement that there should be a 75 per cent. British or EC control or voting shares in the companies. The companies rather than the fishermen are the problem, because it is the companies that are engaged in the devious practice of fishing another country's quota.

If the companies are not dealt with, it will be open to them to fudge or fiddle their way round the legislation. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East assured us that the log-book would take care of that. However, it is possible to have personation of fishermen. It is also possible to have people included in the log-book who are not on the vessel. It is possible to envisage fraudulent practices similar to those carried on with tachographs, where people are registered as drivers or paid to say that they are drivers. Unless companies are provided for, there will be an incentive for them to take part in such practices.

It is easier to go to the source of the problem and require that companies should be 75 per cent. British or EC controlled. There would have been no need for the draconian provisions for huge fines and the right of search if the companies had been dealt with. The provisions are perhaps more wide-ranging than necessary. The Government are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Why have the Government not taken the opportunity provided by the Bill to overhaul the register? It has been said by one of our national fishing organisations that it is possible to register a leaking bucket as a fishing vessel. I believe that the nature of the register, which enables any vessel, foreign or inadequate, to be registered is one of the major causes of the problems and should have been tackled.

An example of the caution of the measure is the failure to seize the opportunity—provided by the admitted need to pass it—to do something to regulate the conditions of service, particularly of the fishermen. The Transport and General Workers Union has for some time put forward the fishermen's charter. It would be possible to use this measure to impose conditions not only with regard to the nationality of fishermen but in relation to the conditions of service. That opportunity should have been taken.

Governments have been dilatory on this matter, specifically with regard to decasualisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) set up talks between both sides of the industry to obtain decasualisation, which was pretty well agreed by the time the Labour Government lost office in 1979. That was promptly dropped by the incoming Government, and since then nothing has happened.

Here is a chance to do something about the major problem, yet it has not been seized. That is a matter of regret. The Bill shows that the Government can act when prodded by the fishermen's organisations and by the emergence of a real problem. They should have taken the opportunity to deal more broadly not only with the specific problem but with the problems of the fishermen and the fishing industry generally. It is good that the initiative has now been taken, but it could have been much more effective.

11.57 pm
Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)

I listened with some alarm to the views of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), who seemed to put forward an eminently fair and sensible solution that Cornish fishing vessels should be entrusted only to those whose names began with "Tre", "Pol" and "Pen". That sounded eminently fair until I realised that that meant that half the Stevenson fleet of Newlyn would be laid up for want of crews and that our beloved county sea fisheries officer, Mr. Tomkin, would find himself similarly beached. I then realised that the views of the hon. Member for Truro, although boisterous, hardly answered the problems facing the Cornish industry at present.

Within the terms "European harmony" and "good relations", it is fortunate that I am regarded as being of rather low potential ministerial calibre. Were I to have the exalted heights of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and looking at clause 5 of this amazing Bill, I would not be proposing that any vessel caught violating the new requirements should be held for up to three months or until the fine had been paid. I would be proposing that it should be confiscated, given a 100 per cent. British crew, given nets of the precise and proper mesh and fully equipped with all the safety requirements. However, as I am not of ministerial caibre, I shall now return to the Bill as drafted.

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) mention, almost in passing, the magical and mysterious figure that somehow at risk was about £5 million and hundreds of jobs in Cornwall. I do not quarrel with what he said, as he has been given that information. But if there are hundreds of jobs in Cornwall, the jobcentres have not heard about them and nor have the unemployed. If millions of pounds are involved in Cornwall, nor have Her Majesty's inspectors of Inland Revenue.

We can assume that this is part of the wonderful glossy public relations image put out by those who are behind the joint venture operations. No one in Cornwall should assume that these people are on their side. One of the joint venture organisations, in a glossy publication paving the way to its own argument, refers to the Cornish dimension as having its roots in Cornish xenophobia rather than in fact. In any case, they presumably meaning the Cornish are not exclusively anti-Spanish but anti- any outside influence. So much for considering the Cornish people and their sensitivity. There is even better to come. It involves hon. Members. Perpetuating the great myth that the Cornishman will say one thing in public which is exactly the opposite of what he states in private, the joint venture operations say: The public voice has over the years established good contacts with local and specialist press, TV and MPs. They provide them with easy to use 'copy' laundered to their specific needs. That is the element and the evidence of the cynicism with which the joint venture operations seek to manipulate Cornwall and the entire British fishery resources for their own ends. The only point at which it would appear that the joint venture organisations have anything to say by way of amendment to the Bill is their suggestion that clause 1(3) should be amended following the word "order" to permit it to be phased in over a period of two years.

I must ask the simple and obvious questions that hang upon the proposition of phasing-in over two years. Is it because these people reckon that the Spaniards will be in the Community in two years? Do they perhaps believe and hope that we will be out of the Community inside two years? Is it because they reckon that it might take them two years to wriggle their way through the rules and regulations, thereby belying their threats that they can already develop alternative arrangements? Or is it because—this is far more interesting—in their quick greed and their fast dash for profit, they know that their efforts will leave no industry for anyone at the end of two years?

12.2 am

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I do not intend to repeat some of the remarks that have been made about the Bill and with which I agree. I wish, however, to deal with one or two points of principle and their relationship to the Merchant Shipping Acts. As a seaman for 10 years, I have spent some time in the House calling for changes in those Acts. If hon. Members consider that two years is a long time for dealing with merchant shipping legislation, I assure them that it is repaid when one considers changes affecting conditions of labour in the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) has dealt extensively with the problems of redundancy and I do not wish to tread on his ground. However, many hon. Members feel apprehensive when the Government are able to bring forward legislation speedily but are unable to display similar speed when dealing with redundancy payments.

I agree that it will be important to see what measures are proposed in the orders. I have proposed a private Member's Bill to establish a maritime commission to handle changes within the industry. This would be far more efficient than trying to meet legislative requirements within the limits of parliamentary time. I shall not go further, except to say that the Government obviously did not support my Bill.

The Bill is concerned with the protection, it is thought, of British interests. However, because of the existence of the Common Market, it cannot define British interests. It is therefore necessary to talk about Community nationals. That is what the Bill means. It does not mean British nationals. We cannot refer to "British nationals" in the legislation, because if we did so we would be in breach of a number of European obligations in that regard. The Minister said that 75 per cent. of the membership should be Community nationals. Presumably, therefore, 25 per cent, of the crew could be non-community nationals.

Under the Merchant Shipping Acts these ships are required to be crewed by a British captain and a British mate. In the Bill we propose to extend that so that there will be Community nationals, the assumption being that the crews will be found in Britain. It has been suggested in some of the documents that it may be difficult to find crew members in the Cornwall area. I do not know whether it is possible to hire people in Cornwall to work on these trawlers. Apparently the purpose of the Bill is to bring some economic activity to the south-west.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prescott

I do not want Major-General Gribbon.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Surely the question is whether they can get Cornish crews at British rates of pay or at Spanish rates of pay.

Mr. Prescott

I shall come to that matter, which is relevant both to fishing boats and to merchant shipping boats. It is an important issue.

I should point out that there has been as much anger about what the Humberside and Scottish fleets have done in the Cornwall area as about Spain, so I do not know whether the legislation and regulations will eventually say that people from Cornwall alone shall be employed on these vessels.

The general fear is that, somehow, Spain is taking our fishing quotas, getting all the benefits of that fish and depriving the west country of all the advantages. If that is the Bill's purpose, it is a matter about which we cannot be sure, even leaving aside the argument that Spain may be in the market in a few years' time. Under the Bill, if the employer still wants to remain a joint British company he can do so, because we do not want to change that. So the company can still operate. The only thing that is now required is that the labour is not Spanish. Clearly, it can be any other form of Community labour. In the British merchant fleet one can find many examples of cheap crews. One can find them throughout the Community., and those crews will be Community nationals.

The dossier that we have received says that two years are needed for adjustments on the grounds of safety and profit. Clearly profit will be a consideration. I assume that the companies have access to the Spanish market, because they have Spanish crews. The Spanish Government see the ships as Spanish ships, even though they are registered in Britain, to get the quotas. Presumably, if they are denied the opportunity to get Spanish crews they will still legitimately claim to the Spanish authorities "We are still the same old Spanish-British company, but we cannot have Spanish crews now because the British are stopping us doing that. What we will do now is to have cheaper labour, because the requirement is not to meet the wage demand of the Spanish labour. We will get it from a number of sources. We can get it considerably cheaper than British labour from Cornwall, or wherever it might be." If they are out to maximise their profit, as I assume they are, there are other financial reasons why they would not want to get labour from Britain. There is nothing to stop them bringing their labour, taking their quotas, and even taking the fish back to Spain. So the Bill will not offer us any protection.

It is not simply a matter of Spain coming into the market. Greek crews could be used. I know from my own experience, and from the flags of convenience crews that we were constantly fighting, that one can get people to work for £60 or £70 a month. That may be a huge loophole in the Bill.

Reference has been made to work permits, but in this case they will not apply. We have been fighting for work permits to apply to the oil rigs in the North sea. We have foreign labour constantly coming out to the oil rigs. We are told that the Immigration Acts do not apply to foreign labour on the oil rigs, so that work permits cannot be applied. Where the Immigration Acts do not apply, work permits cannot apply.

If ships crewed by European nationals come into our waters take the hake and do not come ashore, they do not need a work permit. Where will we impose the work permit requirement for them? We cannot even properly impose the conditions of policing so that we can see that they are observing whatever is laid down. Very few immigration officers will go out to fishing boats to see whether people have a work permit. The realities of maritime life are such that what applies on shore cannot easily be applied at sea. Therefore, work permits cannot necessarily be regarded as the answer, although I should like to hear what the Minister says.

I could not help smiling when the Minister talked about British waters up to 200 miles. I thought that all we learnt from the debate on Community policy was that Britain, under a Labour Government, had given away British waters in the negotiations—there was no such thing as British waters up to 200 miles. We were a little confused in thinking that the Minister meant up to 12 miles. It would be my view that the Oslo agreement does not precondition the argument about 200 miles and that in that sense they are still British waters and not Community waters. I should like to hear the Minister's view on that.

There is a very important principle in the Bill. We are now talking about British vessels, whether they are trawlers, liners or cargo ships, and they have certain conditions that are common to all. They have certain safety standards to apply, as well as manning requirements and so on. They will vary depending on the size of the ship. Even those ships involved in fishing will vary considerably.

We have always said that the certification should be of a certain standard. We are now laying down a condition for one specific area, in that we are to say what shall be the nationality of the crew. My union, the National Union of Seamen, will greatly welcome that provision, because we are campaigning very hard about it, but whenever we go to the Prime Minister and argue for it she tells us that there is free trade and that the Government believe in free competition. Now we are prepared to extend the provision under our Merchant Shipping Acts so that fishing vessels, under these condition, will have 75 per cent. British crews. Under those Acts it is possible to get a crew from the Cayman islands or from Bermuda. Our colonial obligations open up all sorts of areas in relation to the definition of "British", although presumably the nationality provisions may now have some effect. It is a minefield that is opening up in respect of British ships.

I welcome the fact that we are now prepared to lay down what the composition of the crew should be in terms of nationality, although I have to take it with a pinch of salt in regard to the discriminatory factors. We have constantly tried to get the Government to accept, and they now accept, that Asians can be paid only 25 per cent. of the wage of British crews on British ships, simply because they are exempted from the Race Relations Acts. We allow race discrimination in wages to continue on British ships, and presumably even on the fishing vessels the same discriminatory principles could be continued. That might well be another attractive feature for anyone looking for an economic incentive.

I am sorry that there is no Minister present from the Department of Trade. The House should have been informed of the implications of this important change. It may be seen only as a fishing measure, but today we are laying down certain principles and conditions affecting British registration of British ships under the Merchant Shipping Acts. Considerable precedents are being created.

I wanted to make those points clear to the Minister. I do not suppose for a moment that he will answer them, but his Department should consider them.

Mr. McQuarrie

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Bill is about the use of the quotas and the fact that fish are being taken illegally by boats which do not have a 75 per cent. national crew?

Mr. Prescott

I understand that point, but I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman has said will be affected by the Bill. The avenues that I have mentioned will still be open.

One may talk about quotas of fish, but the British seaman might say "What about proportions of cargo?" About 40 per cent. of cargo is now carried by foreign ships. The seamen are saying that it is British-generated business and British jobs, and that there should be British preference treatment. What is the difference between fish and cargo? We are extending a privilege and a protection to the British fishing fleet. I hope that we shall now begin to extend it to the British shipping fleet.

12.16 am
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

First, I should like to raise my voice in protest about the way in which the Bill is being taken. I wonder whether, when they agreed to take all the proceedings in one day, my right hon. Friends realised the depth of the questions that would be asked from both sides of the House about the relevance of the Bill. We shall not now be able to have a proper Committee stage.

The procedure under which amendments to the Bill were tabled was unsatisfactory. It was not until half-past two last Friday that it was possible to put down amendments because the appropriate resolution had not been passed by the House. The time at which that resolution came before the House cut back considerably the amount of time available to hon. Members to think through the ramifications of the Bill and its underlying principles. I therefore regret very much that we are to have the Second Reading and the remaining stages of the Bill tonight, and that we shall not be able to explore many of the important points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall), for instance, raised some important questions about the agreements that have been tentatively arrived at—pencilled in—as to what the Spanish share of the catch is to be, and which Community countries will contribute towards it. How many vessels is Spain to have, and what quotas, when she enters the Community? Various points have been raised which make it clear that there should have been a Minister here from the Department of Trade. Speeches from both sides of the House have shown that there is a need for a great deal of clarification about what the Bill will do. It seems that the Bill provides that 75 per cent. of crews must come from the Community. There has been no alteration in terms of the ownership of the boats or the means by which the fish are merchandised. There is nothing to stop the Spanish companies or the joint venture companies or the major-general and his henchmen controlling the passage of a ship or of the fish once they have been caught, or the various lines and routes of distribution.

If that is so, we are merely going through a cosmetic exercise. The Bill has been brought forward in reply to quite proper pressures from the south-west of England, where the fishermen are keen to preserve their traditional grouds and what they regard as their traditional catches, and to keep their jobs. There is, of course, no guarantee of jobs, although we all hope and trust that the Minister will achieve his aims.

The Bill is being put through with speed to meet political pressures from the south-west. Perhaps the Liberals or the SDP have a strong influence in that area, or perhaps there are a number of Tory marginal seats and that is what is producing the pressure for change. But when we consider the other problems besetting the fishing industry in the United Kingdom, we can only conclude that this change has been forced upon the Government by political pressures from the friends of the Government.

In areas that are not represented by friends of the Government or that have not been bought off by knighthoods, the pressures for improvements in the industry, and fairness to the industry, have not been considered.

If we can legislate overnight for the nationality of the crew, we can do the same for terms and conditions of employment, safety regulations, proper redundancy payments, and so on. But the Minister is not prepared to do that to defend the interests of fishermen. We are therefore forced to conclude that quite proper political pressures have been brought to bear by his friends in the south-west of England. I understand that and I do not criticise it. I simply put down that marker so that a future Labour Government can bear it in mind when dealing with pressure from the former deep sea fleets.

If this is an important measure, as the discussion so far has shown it to be, if the Bill receives a Second Reading today the Minister should in all decency give us time to explore the provisions further. That would not hurt the Government, as they waited two years or more before introducing the Bill, but it would give us the opportunity to discuss matters such as the status of non-Communautaire crew members.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has said, under the present legislation the skipper and first mate generally have to be British nationals if the boat is British registered. As we know from the deep sea ports, however, vessels have been bought and crewed by Spaniards and a British skipper has been taken on for purely titular purposes. Although under our law that skipper may be responsible for the safety of the ship all matters pertaining to its sailing and operation, the areas to be fished, discipline and control of the crew and so on are conducted by Spanish officers. In other words, the present legislation can be satisfied simply by taking on a supernumarary skipper. To what extent will the 75 per cent. crew rule improve that situation? As my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, it is easy enough to count up 75 per cent. Communautaire nationals in the articles of the ship, but it is harder to discover whether the whole crew or just some of the crew are actually operating the vessel.

How will this apply to particular categories of crew? For example, will the radio officer and the engineers, not to mention other important crew members such as mates, bosuns, and so on, be British or Communautaire? What will be the overall character of the crew? If the loophole that my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby hinted at exists, it will be possible to have titular British members of crew whose purpose bears little relationship to the purpose of the ship and the discharge of its duties. That is a major weakness of the Bill.

I hope that when the Government find that the Bill receives an unopposed Second Reading they will let hon. Members re-examine it in Committee. We promised that it would not be opposed, but we should have the opportunity to explore the many points that have been raised. As it appears from the selection by the Chairman of Ways and Means that we are to have only one brief amendment to examine, we shall not have the opportunity to explore the ramifications of the Bill to the extent that they deserve.

12.25 am
Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The mark of the debate has been that those hon. Members who have direct experience of the problem—my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon)—welcome the Bill wholeheartedly and urge the Government to proceed with it as quickly as possible. It is significant that those hon. Members who have direct experience of the problems are those who have urged most strongly that the remaining stages of the Bill be taken tonight. I hope that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) will bear that in mind. That does not mean that the other points that have been raised are not important. Of course they are, but there is a sense of urgency in the affected parts of the country.

With his usual acumen, my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) answered the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) about why we have used enabling powers. It is quite simply because the problem is complex. We know what it is and we know the areas of activity in which powers must be taken, and primary legislation is not sufficiently flexible. Enabling powers give us flexibility to meet changing circumstances. We would not be faced with the present problem if the primary legislation of 1894 gave us sufficient powers, but it did not envisage the problems of 1983. Therefore, this is the right way in which to proceed, and I am glad that other hon. Members have agreed.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bodmin and Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) raised the important subject of enforcement. It is no good passing legislation unless it is enforced. I believe that we have the means to enforce these provisions and I am not unhappy that fisheries officers should be responsible for such enforcement in the course of their normal duties.

The best analogy of our enforcement services that I use—anyone with any experience knows this—is that they should act as a form of community policing in the civilian sense. Fisheries officers are in ports when boats land and depart and the protection services of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force operate regularly at sea. Our enforcement officers will be able to deal with these provisions, and the order that we shall consider later, satisfactorily in the course of their normal duties.

The hon. Member for Truro especially asked whether we are satisfied about the definition of crew and their nationality and whether we are able to deal with it. We can deal with it, as several hon. Members said by implication in their speeches. British fishing vessels are required, by Department of Trade regulations—I refer specifically to regulation 13 of the Merchant Shipping (Crew Agreements Lists of Crew and Discharge of Seamen) (Fishing Vessels) Regulations 1972—to carry a crew list that contains, among other things, the name and address of the owner, the names and addresses of the seamen and their dates and places of birth.

To apply the nationality rule introduced by this Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is considering an amendment to the regulations to which I referred that would require nationality to be added to the crew list.

Mr. Penhaligon

Is the crew list, containing names and addresses of the crew members, prepared by the fishing vessel skipper each time it leaves port? Is it not possible that names could appear on the crew list in order to comply with the regulations but that the members may not be abroad?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The skipper is obliged by law to fulfil those requirements. If the list is checked and he has not fulfilled the requirements, he is in breach of the regulation. If we can apply the nationality rule through the amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend, that should cover any loophole.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) asked about work permits. EC nationals do not require work permits. Possession of a work permit would not enable someone who is not an EC national to qualify as British for the purposes of the Bill, so he could not get round the provision in that way.

Mr. Prescott

Does the work permit rule apply to non-EC nationals? It would be difficult to impose a work permit rule on those who, as I described in my example, were hired outside Greece, were nationals of a non-EC country and whose boats did not land in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I shall examine the technicalities of the matter. I am not accustomed, in my normal duties, to deal with work permits. An EC national would not require a work permit, but a non-EC national would require a work permit to operate on that vessel. However, possession of a work permit would not enable him to get round the provisions of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchhell) asked why we are controlling only crews and not companies. I have considered that point, because I wondered about the advantages or disadvantages of backing up our crew provisions with a similar or analogous provision—for which the hon. Gentleman argued—in relation to the shared ownership of the vessel. Such a provision would be difficult to enforce, especially on a continuous basis. At present, we have power under the merchant shipping registration of ownership regulations—we have talked about brass plates—to enforce the provision. However, as hon. Members from the south-west know, that enforcement was not effective. That is why I have tried in this Bill to be bluntly practical and not inserted provisions that were ineffective in other areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) and others asked about future Spanish entry. The Spanish fleet is larger than any in the Community, and Spain's entry would have a dramatic effect. It has declined slightly in recent years because of vessels transferring to flags of convenience. There is no doubt that there would be an enormous effect if Spain entered the Community.

However, Spanish entry is a different issue. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that the effect of Spanish entry on the common fisheries policy will be thoroughly and properly explored in the negotiations. That applies not only to fishing but to horticultural produce and so on, where British interests are important. In the negotiations we shall look after those interests.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

We accept the Minister's assurance there will be hard negotiations. I hope that that will be so. If Spain enters the Community what control will the Minister have over this practice if it is maintained? What control will there be in the Market? If Spain does not get the quotas that she wants, it is still possible for Spanish vessels to register under British nationality once Spain is in the EC and get our quotas as she is doing now?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman is anticipating a point that I shall come to. He is again dealing with a hypothetical situation. He is anticipating Spain being a member of the Community and taking advantage of that.

I shall deal with quota hopping as it was the principal point made by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). I say again, to try to enlighten the hon. Member for Grimsby as he does not always seem to follow these matters and how they happen, that there is already provision under the common fisheries policy regulations for countries that have unused quotas to operate arrangements whereby an unused quota could by agreement be transferred to another country in the course of that fishing year. In the same way, there is provision under the common fisheries policy for two countries to swap if one country wishes to give up a part of its quota to another country. Therefore, there is flexibility within the policy for doing that.

However, there is a problem. That is where the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West is right. I understand the point. I do not pretend for one moment that the Bill is designed to deal with quota hopping. Let us come back to the purpose of the Bill. It has a narrow and specific purpose to deal with countries from outside the Community, in this case Spain, taking advantage of a quota that the United Kingdom enjoys as a result of the common fisheries policy agreement. The Bill is not designed to deal with quota hopping within the Community as it is at the moment, or within an enlarged Community if Spain entered it. Quotas are already agreed in the Community. It is true that the risk of quota hopping was not so great last year when we did not have a common fisheries policy and countries were fishing according to informal quotas. There was evidence of this problem arising when Danish vessels were fishing out of Dutch ports. It is interesting that the problem arose not in the United Kingdom but in another country of the Community.

As of now, there is no evidence of that problem arising. There is an awareness that there could be a problem. Individual countries in the Community and the Commission are aware of it. However, it will arise independently from the problem with which we are now trying to deal. That problem must be dealt with on a Community basis when it arises. The problem has not arisen yet, but it could arise. There is already an awareness of it. We have to deal with it in that way. If we deal with it in that way, that will anticipate a time when the Community might be enlarged.

I come back to the specific and basic purpose of the Bill, which is to deal with the problem of third countries coming into United Kingdom waters and operating in a way that is an abuse of everything that should be right for our industry.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) raised a serious question about whether it would be possible to circumvent the Bill, and quoted an authoritative voice saying that there would be ways round it. Hon. Members are not in a position to judge because they have not seen the Minister's order. That is one of my complaints about proceeding in this way. If it proves to be the case that there is a major loophole, will the Minister not necessarily seek to rely on subordinate legislation but undertake to come back with primary legislation?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin raised a substantial point. There are two loopholes that one can anticipate. Under clause 1(2) of the Bill the controls of fishing operations apply to fishing for sea fish in any area. That covers the point that my hon. Friend raised of fishing and landing in Spain. That point is covered if that vessel is checked. If a vessel is involved in an operation covering trans-shipment, that too, is covered. Thus, the operation of landing fish is covered. I think the Government have covered all kinds of fishing operation. If there is any other type of fishing operation that it is necessary to cover, then I shall be glad to hear of it. The Bill gives the Government a good umbrella by way of enabling legislation.

The Government are proposing to confine the order—I appreciate that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has not seen the order—to the British fishery limits. There is nothing unusual about the British fishery limits. They are in an Act passed after Britain joined the Community. It is perfectly clear what they are. We have confined this Bill to fishery limits for the practical reasons I stated earlier. Those are the waters in which the Government believe that effective policing can take place.

The loophole is that of Spanish vessels—this is in theory—that are registered in the United Kingdom fishing beyond our 200-mile limit off the coast of Ireland and returning to land in Spain. If that became a problem we could, without going back to primary legislation—I return to the point of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland—because of the flexibility that the Bill gives us, extend our jurisdiction to all the waters of the Community if we thought that that was right. For the practical reasons that I have explained, I do not think we would need to.

Secondly, the Governments of France and the Republic of Ireland have consulted my Department regularly and have followed this legislation with interest. Some of these vessels might be fishing in the waters of those two countries. The House knows that the Government of France have been contemplating measures similar to this Bill. The Government know, from their contacts with Ireland, that they strongly support the action that we are taking. They will be watching how we progress. The Governments of France and the United Kingdom made a direct approach to the Community some months ago for action on Community lines similar to the action that Britain is taking. The Commission is examining the matter. In the light of experience, action will cover that problem.

I have attempted to answer the main points of substance that I think are of direct relevance to the Bill before the House. Other points have been raised and I appreciate why they have been raised. This is a good and fair opportunity to raise them.

I hope that the House will proceed to give the Bill a Second Reading. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Major.]

Further proceedings stood postponed, pursuant to order this day.