HC Deb 14 March 1985 vol 75 cc425-7
9. Mr. Torney

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he proposes to protect the United Kingdom fishing industry from the dangers to the industry resulting from the entry of Spain into the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jopling

The terms of Spanish entry into the Community are still under negotiation. We have so far been successful in maintaining a Community negotiating position on fisheries which safeguards the present balance of the common fisheries policy and the interests of the United Kingdom industry.

Mr. Torney

Is the Minister aware that the Spanish fishing fleet is larger than the whole of the Common Market fishing fleet put together? Is he further aware of the deep fear among British fishermen about what will happen to their catches and their livelihoods when Spain enters the Common Market? What action is the Minister taking to defend the British fishermen in the negotiations? Is his Department represented in the negotiations? What action will he take to reassure British fishermen?

Mr. Jopling

I agree that the problem is the size of the Spanish fishing fleet and the failure of the Spaniards so far to bring it into line with fishing opportunities. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the bigger part of the Spanish fishing fleet operates, and will continue to operate, in third country waters away from the Community. It is in our interests to ensure that every encouragement is given to Spain to restructure its fleet. At the same time, we must consider the cost to the Community of achieving that.

Mr. Hicks

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the fishing industry in the south-west in particular feels very vulnerable, especially as in the past agreements on paper have not always existed in reality?

Mr. Jopling

If Spain and Portugal are to enter the Community, it is essential that we strengthen the existing policing and the inspectorate. The current exclusion of Spanish vessels from the Irish and Celtic seas — the so-called Irish box — in our view should continue for a long transitional period.

Dr. Godman

When the Secretary of State talks about the restructuring of the Spanish fleet, he is presumably talking about the reduction of the fleet. What is the likely reduction of that fleet; that is, the part of the fleet that can fish in European waters? Is the EC to give compensataon to Spanish fishing interests, and will part of that compensation be given to Spanish fishermen whose employment disappears when their vessels tie up at the quay?

Mr. Jopling

I referred a few moments ago to the fact that in restructuring the Spanish fleet we shall have to consider what the cost will be to the Community. We are insisting that the numbers of Spanish vessels operating in waters of existing member states should remain subject to clear and enforceable limits for a very long period, if not for the full duration of the current common fisheries policy.

Mr. Kirkwood

Will the Minister give us an idea of the timetable for the negotiations which he is working on at the moment? Will he give us an assurance that if he cannot get a deal that is acceptable to the British industry he is prepared to block the accession deal?

Mr. Jopling

The Community's current position is that the basic transitional period should be 10 years, with a review in 1993. Transition could be ended before 10 years if the Council so agreed, but in the absence of specific decisions control arrangements would go forward for a further period, possibly up to another five years.

Mr. Forth

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if satisfactory arrangements cannot be arrived at in this matter we will not accept the accession of Spain to the Community on unsatisfactory terms?

Mr. Jopling

As my hon. Friend will know, these are all matters that are currently within the negotiations. Following on the previous question, if it proved possible to agree satisfactory arrangements applying right up to the end of the present common fisheries policy in the year 2002, it would clearly be worth going for that if we cannot get a shorter agreement.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will the Minister comment upon the decision by the European Assembly this morning that the Falklands and perhaps, consequentially, Ascension, Saint Helena, Martinique, Guadaloupe and every other part of the Community should have a 200-mile zone to buy off Spanish fishing resources in the eastern Atlantic?

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman will know that these matters do not come within my own departmental responsibility, but I will draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend.