HC Deb 25 October 1989 vol 158 cc997-1028 2.21 am
The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

I beg to move, That the draft Merchant Shipping Act 1988 (Amendment) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17 October, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken).

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to delay the House, but I want to raise an important issue. I was sitting in the Tea Room and I watched the shadow Leader of the House sprint to the Chamber——

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

No, Frank, that is correct, the word is sprint. My hon. Friend sprinted to the Chamber because he had no knowledge of what was happening in here as he had not been given notice.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have dealt with that point. I call Mr. McLoughlin.

Mr. McLoughlin

The order gives effect to an interim order of the president of the European Court of Justice made on 10 October 1989. The interim order by the court requires the United Kingdom to suspend, until judgment in the main proceedings, the application of the British nationality requirements for registration of certain fishing vessels set out in section 14(1), (2) and (7) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. The affected fishing vessels are those that were fishing under the British flag up to 31 March 1989 with a licence granted under the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967.

The court order is in restricted terms. It requires the United Kingdom to suspend the application of the British nationality requirement as a condition for the registration of fishing vessels as British fishing vessels to the extent that, at present, the owners, charterers, managers and operators of such vessels must either be British nationals, or in the case of a company, have at least 75 per cent. of its shares legally and beneficially owned by British nationals and at least 75 per cent. of its directors as British nationals.

The benefit of the court order is restricted to nationals of the European Community. It does not affect the requirement that such persons must be resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom. Morevoer, it does not affect the requirement that the vessels should be managed and their operations directed and controlled from within the United Kingdom. We do not know how many additional fishing vessels will now become eligible for registration on the United Kingdom fishing vessel register. That will depend on how many have been ineligible for registration by reason only of the nationality requirements that are changed by the order.

It might help if I fill in some of the background here. Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 introduced a new register of British fishing vessels. The main intention of this register was to restrict sea fishing rights so that the fishing quotas granted to the United Kingdom under the common fisheries policy benefited the genuine United Kingdom fishing fleet and the British communities dependent upon fishing. There were at the time a large number of fishing vessels that were fishing against the United Kingdom quotas, operating largely out of Spanish ports, and which had only a nominal British connection.

The fishing vessel register came into full effect on 1 April 1989, but vessels could transfer to it from old registers on or after 1 December 1988. Since then the overwhelming proportion of the United Kingdom fishing fleet, numbering over 10,000 vessels, has been registered in circumstances where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been satisfied that they comply with the requirements of the Act. One hundred and twenty one have been refused registration primarily because they have not been able to demonstrate that beneficial ownership is British or that the vessels are managed, directed and controlled from the United Kingdom.

In the meantime, the European Commission on 10 August 1989 instituted an action under article 169 of the EEC treaty alleging that the United Kingdom had, in its imposition of the nationality requirement in sections 13 and 14 of the 1988 Act, failed to fulfil its obligations under the EEC treaty. The United Kingdom is defending these proceedings.

The Commission also brought an application for interim measures under article 186 of the treaty asking the court to order the United Kingdom to suspend, as regards nationals of the other Member States, the nationality requirements enshrined in sections 13 and 14 of the Merchant Shipping Act". Judgment in respect of that application was delivered on 10 October and the order concerns that judgment alone. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General robustly argued the case for the United Kingdom on the grounds that, among other things, interim relief ought not be ordered where the Commission's case on the incompatibility of the nationality conditions with Community law was weak. In particular, he argued that a state has the right and duty under international law to prevent the abuse of its flag and to lay down the conditions for registration of ships that will fly its flag. He further submitted that the nationality requirements at issue were both consistent with international law and necessary to uphold the system of national quotas under the common fisheries policy, which are based on nationality.

The House will remember that the common fisheries policy was negotiated in minute detail by Ministers from each member state in a whole series of monthly meetings in Brussels when this system was set up in 1982–83. However, the court accepted the Commission's view that there was a prima facie case against the United Kingdom on the nationality issue and also that in the meantime certain "quota hoppers", particularly Spanish vessels that had hitherto fished against United Kingdom quotas, were suffering loss. The court, therefore, made its interim order to limit the loss of these fishermen pending the outcome of the main action—provided that they were able to satisfy the other conditions for registration to which I have already referred.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

At this point in his interesting narrative, perhaps my hon. Friend could clarify one point. Is it correct that, immediately prior to the passage of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, the United Kingdom Government showed the text of the Act to the European Commission and were given clearance for it as being compatible with European law at that time? If that is correct, how on earth have these curious legal actions now come about?

Mr. McLoughlin

I should point out the difference between the Commission and the European Court, which is what we are discussing tonight. [Interruption.] However, these points will he covered by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General who will seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, at the end of the debate.

The United Kingdom is obliged to give effect to the European Court order, which is why this order is before the House for approval. I said earlier, it is not certain what precise effects the relaxation of the nationality requirement will have. It may be very little since, as was recognised by the Commission itself, no more than a few fishing vessels are considered likely to be able to meet the other requirements which remain in force.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. McLoughlin

I would rather not give way now, for the simple reason that a number of hon. Members want to speak in the debate, and there will be time later for my hon. and learned Friend to reply to the debate.

I refer to the requirements for residence and domicile in the United Kingdom and the direction and control of operations from the United Kingdom, which will still need to be satisfied.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)


Mr. McLoughlin

It is of course possible that certain Community nationals might decide to take up residence in the United Kingdom, but this would require positive action, which would include setting up their permanent home here.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)


Mr. McLoughlin

In any event—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. It seems to me that the Minister has said that he is not prepared to give way at this stage. Hon. Members should not persist when that has been made clear.

Mr. McLoughlin

It would continue to be necessary in all cases to establish that beneficial ownership, management and direction and control of vessels rests within the United Kingdom. It would not be enough merely to have token representation in this country——

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Gentleman is thick.

Mr. McLoughlin

If the hon. Gentleman is so interested, perhaps he should be prepared to listen.

The Government's objective remains to take all proper steps to ensure that the benefits of the United Kingdom quota under the common fisheries policy accrue to the genuine United Kingdom fishing fleet—but, of course, all such steps must be in accordance with EC law. Since the European Court of Justice has required, on an interim basis, that that portion of the 1988 Act concerning the nationality requirements for registration be suspended pending full argument and the final decision in this case, I ask the House to approve the order.

2.33 am
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I offer my congratulations to the Minister on his new portfolio. I also offer him my condolences on having to perform the unwelcome role of ministerial messenger boy for the European Court of Justice and the Commission.

The order plainly shows that even the most recently enacted legislation in this Parliament is subject to a superior and more powerful court than any in the United Kingdom. The matter raises profound constitutional implications for Parliament and the people employed in the fishing industry.

This is not the first time that the Government and Parliament have been pulled into line by the European supreme court in Luxembourg. The Government were obliged to change section 37 of the Social Security Act 1975 because of an order from the court. It was amended in section 37 of the Social Security Act 1986. Similarly, the Government had to accept a ruling from the court concerning imports of long-life milk from France and other member states.

I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong in saying that no member state has sought to reject a ruling from the court. Am I right in thinking that this is the first time that Parliament and the Government have been instructed to amend a recent Act of Parliament by way of an interim injunction issued by the president of the court sitting on his own for half a day? When the injunction was announced a fortnight ago, the EC Fisheries Commissioner, Senor Manuel Marin, claimed—I suspect gleefully—that this was the first time in the history of the Community that the Court of Justice had revoked an application of a national law as a result of an interim injunction. This is a very serious matter for Parliament arid fishing. I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) agrees.

Why have the Government responded with such astonishing alacrity? In all cases concerning substantive judgments made by this supreme court, the Governments concerned, including this one, have taken several months at the very least to amend the offending national legislation or regulations. Why the unseemly haste? I suppose that the Minister will cite the urgency of this matter and say that Spanish fishing interests are experiencing severe financial difficulties. I have news for the Minister. Many of our fishing interests are experiencing financial nightmares, from the south-west of England to the north-east coast of Scotland and the west coast of Scotland.

Mr. Wallace

And further north.

Dr. Godman

I beg the hon. Member's pardon. They will not forgive me in Shetland for that.

Can the Solicitor-General, who is to wind up this disgracefully short debate, confirm that six other member states discriminate according to nationality? I believe that I am right in saying that France, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Spain—not surprisingly—Denmark and the Irish Republic discriminate according to nationality, and reserve to their national fleet the quotas that are allocated to each country each year by the Council of Ministers. If that is the case, why has the United Kingdom been singled out ahead of these other transgressors? We are having to amend an Act of Parliament which came into force only in January this year.

I have considerable sympathy for the legitimate points of order that were raised on this matter this afternoon by the hon. Members for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). The hon. Member for Southend, East raised an important point when he argued that the matter is sub judice given that other cases concerning nationality are due to be heard in the near future.

If this supreme court is conjoined with our courts, why do we have to accede with such alacrity to an interim injunction? It is disgraceful that we are debating this issue at such a late hour and for just 90 minutes.

I said earlier that this is a most important matter for our fishing industry. I remind the House of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) when he was Secretary of State for Transport and speaking on Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill. He said: Part II deals with the very serious problem of foreign-owned fishing vessels registering in the United Kingdom in order to fish against our EC quotas. This is, I know, a matter of concern to hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies. … These are stringent requirements, but we believe they are essential if British fishing quotas are to be preserved for British fishermen. They have been carefully drawn up in consultation with the fishermen's organisations and widely welcomed by them."—[Official Report, 28 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 510.] My right hon. and hon. Friends and I wholeheartedly supported the Bill. There was no Division on Second or Third Reading.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Godman

No, not for the moment.

The Minister said that this interim injunction does not affect the requirement that such persons must be resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom. Will the Minister explain those words? Does it mean that if I were Jose Romero, a Spanish fisherman, I would simply have to announce my intention to live here?—[Interruption.] I agree that I do not look very Spanish. Are there to be reciprocal arrangements whereby British fishermen can fish against, for example, the Spanish quota?

The Minister said that there are now about 10,000 fishing vessels on the register. He also said that he is not sure how many additional vessels may now become eligible for registration. Is it the Minister's intention to appoint a team of inspectors to assess the eligibility of applications for registration? Does the Minister agree that the injunction confounds the system of national quotas? Does he agree that the system of national quotas, based upon nationality, is the keystone of the common fisheries policy?

My fear is that the injunction may encourage other fishing interests in Spain and elsewhere to set up home in the United Kingdom. I also believe that the interim judgment will arouse considerable concern in the fishing industry that the Spanish fishing interests may lay siege to the common fisheries policy in terms of access to grounds and quotas. The brutal truth is that there are too many fishermen chasing too few fish in European Community waters and elsewhere. With section 14 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 the Government understandably sought to restrict access to United Kingdom quotas. That endeavour has been demolished by the interim order.

The European Commission has told Her Majesty's Government, by way of the multiannual guidance programme, that the United Kingdom fishing fleet has to be reduced by over 22 per cent. by the end of 1991. In other words, fishing capacity must more closely match the demands to conserve the various stocks.

The judgment flies in the face of the sensible management of our fisheries stocks. It makes the need for a decommissioning scheme much more urgent. I know that the Ministers concerned are somewhat reluctant to introduce such a scheme because they were humiliated by Humberside trawler owners during the period of the previous scheme. Despite that continuing embarrassment, Ministers should agree to such a scheme and other conservation measures in order to protect fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom. The people in those communities, from Cornwall to Shetland, deserve nothing less. The Government, the European Court of Justice and the European Commission have failed those decent and honourable citizens of ours.

2.43 am
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

This is a pretty miserable nocturnal parliamentary occasion. Perhaps the only agreeable aspect for Conservative Members is that we are able to give a warm welcome to our hon. Friend the Minister on his debut at the Dispatch Box. We wish him well in his responsibilities. I wish that he had been able to deal with an easier subject and that he had had an easier debut. I felt that he was in the role of Postman Pat delivering an unpleasant letter to the EEC. He was bustling on his round as if he had in his sack an unpleasant smelling piece of merchandise that he did not want to examine too closely.

I have said that this is a miserable occasion and I agree with most of what was said by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). To anyone who cares about our Parliament, its historic sovereignty and, above all, its continuing ability to make laws for the protection of our citizens in the fishing industry or elsewhere, the wretched little order marks a humiliating and important defeat because it is an historic surrender of some constitutional importance.

This is not one of the usual common-or-garden irritating European directives which harmonise lawnmowers, make us put identical health warnings on cigarette packets or adjust our clocks in summertime when we do not want them adjusted. This is far more constitutionally profound. I shall try to take the House to the high ground of principle so that we can see the great issue that matters to any nation state and that is so woundingly being corrupted and compromised by the request that the Government have put to the House.

We need hardly remind ourselves when we debate fishing that we are a maritime nation and an island people. Throughout our history we have been surrounded by the sea and from time immemorial we have looked to our Parliament to protect our territorial waters from incursion, to safeguard our fishing grounds and staunchly to defend the livelihoods of all those who, in the beautiful words of Archbishop Cranmer, Go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters. There is nothing anti-European in such a stance. After all, since its inception the EC fisheries policy has always been based on the principle that nation states have national quotas. EC shipping law allows any member state to lay down national conditions for the registration of ships and the flying of flags. That is a basic point of EC law and national law.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

And international law.

Mr. Aitken

As the hon. Gentleman says, it is also a basic point of international law.

It was in pursuance of the principle of nationality in fishing matters that the House passed the important Merchant Shipping Act 1988. Section 14 of that Act was of pivotal importance because it inserted what is no more than a normal safeguard that a British registered fishing vessel should be British owned. That means either owned by Britons or by a company which can be shown to be predominantly in the ownership of British shareholders. That is what is meant by "qualified person" or "qualified company" in that section of the Act.

That section was put forward to avoid a familiar form of cheating in international corporation activity, the erection of a brass plate behind which shareholders who are not British nationals can hide. The former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), got it absolutely right when on Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill he said: These are stringent requirements, but we believe they are essential if British fishing quotas are to be preserved for British fishermen."—[Official Report, 28 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 510.] We expect no less from a British Secretary of State and a British Parliament.

If the House cannot protect our fishing grounds and our fishermen, what can we do? I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) has been diligently researching the Division lists and has found that every member of the Government Front Bench tonight voted loyally for section 14 to be implemented. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who occupies such a prominent position in the great hall of fame of Euro enthusiasts, having been Parliamentary Private Secretary to the former Foreign Secretary, went out on a limb and eloquently supported section 14. He attacked the wicked Spanish companies behind their brass plates when he said: The harm that they have caused to our fishing interests is considerable. At long last we have the legislation for which I … have been fighting for many years."—[Official Report, 28 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 532.] He may have fought for it for many years but we shall shortly lose it. My hon. Friend's words will take some eating. In about 40 minutes we shall not have the legislation for which he fought. One little puff of Euro wind and it will be gone. The legislation for which my hon. Friend fought for so long and about which the Government went into battle will be lost.

I do not know how my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, on whose shoulders so much rests, will explain all this, but, knowing him, I expect that we shall hear an eloquent appeal to honour the rule of law. I can hear the sonorous phrases that he will shortly roll off.

What law? The European Court of Justice has been hopping about on this issue like the worst type of kangaroo. It reminds me of that famous passage in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" which says "Sentence first, verdict afterwards."

All the precedents show that a European court always first decides in such cases on the issue of principle as to whether legislation by a member state is or is not compatible with Community legislation. All the signs were that it was compatible. We went, cap in hand, clutching our forelocks, to the European Commission in the first place and asked, "Is our legislation, the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, all right?" and we were told that it was all right. We were allowed to pass the Act, and the next minute it was litigating against us in court. That is not the action of good friend or partner. If the people in the Commission can bless us one minute and bring litigation against us the next, they cannot be very nice.

I cannot understand why the normal procedures were not followed by the extraordinary Euro-court, why a considered judgment on the compatibility issue was not handed down, and why that was not argued carefully. Then, if it demonstrated that national laws had to be suspended, because three wise judges had handed down judgments that everyone had to look at, at least we could see the clear legal basis for the decision.

Mr. Cash

On a number of occasions tonight we have had references to a suspension in consequence of the interim order. However, that is not what the order does. It amends the Act. It says: so long as this order remains in force it will have effect as if". We may be dealing with a provision that gives the impression that it is suspending when it is amending, which is different.

Mr. Aitken

I take my hon. Friend's point. We are being asked to amend the Act. I was dealing with what the court had said, which is that it should be suspended.

The court shows breath-taking arrogance. It clearly has no idea how much these issues matter to fishermen, fishing communities, or ports—one of which I represent. In a journal called the Eurofish Report, I read a curious paragraph headed, "Two little words". That makes it sound like a nursery rhyme. It says: The Court president's ruling demands simply that the UK now removes the two words 'British citizen' from that Section 14(7) definition of what is a 'qualified person' and 'qualified company' as it applies … It therefore acknowledged the Commission argument that such use of 'British citizen' in this context constitued 'direct discrimination' in flagrant breach of Article 40(3) of the Treaty of Rome. I find that breath-taking. Delete "British citizen" and insert "foreign owner", and the whole basis on which our fishing legislation and our national legislation in key strategic sectors has been based is cheerfully swept away on the basis of one judge giving an interim judgment.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary did his best to take on this legal brief and explain all the legal arguments deployed in favour of killing off this injunction, but he is no lawyer, and he should have added in brackets at the end of every sentence, "And we lost." The Government have had so much practice in fighting injunctions in the courts of the world ever since the Peter Wright industry got going that one would have thought that they could stop one judge in a Euro-court putting down a change of our law that sweeps away the great principles not just of our legislation but of international law.

The moment when the Roman empire was known to be in total collapse and disarray was when three little words no longer had any importance or any impact, and the power of the Roman Senate and the Roman emperors no longer carried any weight. Those three words were, "Civis Romanu, sum". Here, we are deleting "British citizen" from an Act. This is a sad night for parliamentary democracy and sovereignty, and I shall vote against the order.

2.54 am
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I begin by congratulating the Minister on what I understand is his maiden speech at the Government Dispatch Box. When he refused to allow me to intervene and I persisted in challenging him, I have no doubt that he recognised that those of us who represent coastal constituencies—in some instances rather landlocked ones, but perhaps that is not his fault—reflect the passion that has been generated by the order. That is especially true of those of us who represent fishing constituencies.

It is clear from the previous contributions to the debate that there is widespread agreement about the importance of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, a measure which received support from both sides of the House when it came before us for consideration. I believe that the support for it was such that it was enacted without a Division. It is a fact that it enjoyed all-party support, and we are all aware of the abuse which it was intended it should tackle. Spanish vessels were coming on to the British register. Alternatively, British vessels were being acquired and beneficially owned by people with substantial Spanish interests. In that way the Spanish fishing industry was getting round the restrictions that were placed on its fleet when Spain became a member of the European Community.

That did immense damage to our fishing industry in all parts of the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) said, the industry was damaged from Cornwall to Shetland. The Spanish have been able to fish our quotas and add tonnage to our total fishing capacity, thus placing great difficulties in the way of the industry. Our tonnage has to be reduced to meet the targets that are set under the multi-annual guidance programme. I do not think that there is any doubt about the abuse that we have been trying to tackle.

We could claim, and we did, that there was jusification for our approach given the heavy emphasis that has been placed on nationality. The quota system for fisheries is based on nationality, which is an exception to the general approach of a Communitywide application of rules. That provided a justification for the arguments that we advanced.

It appears that the British proposals were submitted to the Commission and that the nod was given. In that context it is surprising that the Commission is taking the British Government to court. It would be reasonable, even at this stage, to put the ball into the Commission's court and say, "The Community has agreed. There is a Community agreement that quotas should be divided on a national basis. You are aware of the problem that we are highlighting. For these quotas to be effective, it is only right that national fishing fleets catch the national quota. How do you, the Commission, suggest that we should respond to the abuse which everyone recognises?".

If the Government had not used up so much good will and political capital in fighting specious battles on issues such as the print size of the warnings on cigarette packets, they might have had a stock of credit and might have been able to advance the argument that I have outlined. They have frittered away good will in responding to so many diverse issues, and when a real national issue arises they find that they have precious little to fall back on. In this instance it is the fishing industry that will suffer.

What effect will the passing of the order have on the number of boats that might be able to come on to the register? The Minister has said that he does not know, but submissions have been made to the European Court by the Solicitor-General and others. They made it clear that the United Kingdom contended that the interim measures would be ineffectual. As I understand it, that meant that the measures would have no effect. The Minister is saying tonight something that is materially different from what the Solicitor-General submitted to the European Court. He seems to be saying that the measures could have some effect, but he does not know how much. We are entitled to have the guesstimate that his Department has made. We should be told what steps the Department is taking to try to quantify the effects in the weeks that lie ahead.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow on his pointed and eloquent comments on the speed with which the Government have reacted to the interim measures, bearing in mind the time that they often take to respond to full decisions of the court. The valid argument of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) is that it appears that the court is asking us to suspend the relevant provision of the 1988 Act whereas the effect of the order, as I read it, would be to repeal it. As I understand section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, the power given by Order in Council is to implement decisions of the Community institutions. Therefore, it is not necessary to repeal. It would be possible to suspend. Perhaps the Minister will explain why the chosen course is to repeal.

The Government have been speedy in tabling this order, but why have they not tried to devise some other provision that would achieve the same effect as that wished for through the use of the words "British citizen"? Section 14(3) of the 1988 Act gives the Secretary of State power, by regulations, to specify further requirements that must be satisfied if a fishing vessel is to be eligible for registration as a British fishing vessel. It states that it must appear to the Secretary of State to be appropriate for securing that such a vessel has a genuine and substantial connection with the United Kingdom. What further consideration have Government Departments given to bringing forward further orders to try to achieve the same end, but which would also be acceptable to the Community? As the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow said, how do other countries get away with it?

I was impressed when I read the speech of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) on Second Reading of the 1988 Bill. He said: How will the Minister or his officials determine that the provision is applied and obeyed. … I would thoroughly endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) said earlier—that perhaps we need to play by the French rules. It is instructive that, to my knowledge, not one Spanish vessel has been transferred to the French register. The French would not tolerate it for one minute. If the French can make effective provision to prevent Spanish vessels being put on their register, why cannot the British Government do the same? The hon. Member for St. Ives asked that pertinent question, but I do not think that he received an answer. Perhaps we will have an answer tonight.

The hon. Gentleman also said: My plea is to ensure that the legislation works. If it does not, the anger of fishermen, especially in Cornwall, will indeed be great. I hope and believe that it will work."—[Official Report, 28 January 1988: Vol. 126, c. 532–33.] He had better watch out for the ire of the Cornish fishermen if he votes for this order. It will repeal the measure that he rightly championed 18 months ago.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) were not indisposed, he would be here saying these same things. Fishermen will be greatly angered and annoyed if the Government do not come up with some satisfactory means of meeting the particular abuse that we tried to cure in the 1988 Act.

3.2 am

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) was a little churlish to say that the Government had not stood by the fishermen. I hope that he recognises that no one has worked harder or with more determination, right up through the House of Lords to the European Court, than my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General.

Just what is the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) advocating that this House should do? Is he saying that we should break the law, even one passed by a European Court? I do not believe that we should break the law, whether national or European. If the SLD, with all its pontificating about Europe, is now advocating that we should defy the European Court, let the hon. Gentleman say so.

Mr. Wallace


Mr. Harris

No, I cannot give way because of the time constraints. Other hon. Members wish to speak.

No one could take any pleasure or satisfaction from this order. It has been described as "wretched", and it is. The Government have no alternative but to bring it forward if they are to obey the law. If—[Interruption.] If people think that we should not obey the law, let them say so—[Interruption.] That applies to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who is barracking me.

I stand by every word of my speech on Second Reading, which various hon. Members have kindly quoted this evening. I have been fighting this issue for a long time—probably about eight years——

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

We can do nothing here.

Mr. Harris

In fact, we could have done something before Spain joined the European Community.

Before I was a Member of the House—when I was a Member of the European Parliament—I urged the Commission to take action on its front, and urged the House to take action on its front too. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) will explain to me after the debate what pressure he put on the House before Spain was a member of the European Community—when the problem was building up—to nip this in the bud. I was trying to press people to take action outside the House; I hope that he was doing the same when he was a Member of it.

In the immediate wake of the interim judgment, it has been said that only 10 or so Spanish boats will be allowed back on to our register. I believe that that is 10 too many: I do not want any Spanish boats on our register. I took pleasure in that long overdue legislation: I said in my speech that I hoped that it would work, and that it was no good having legislation if it did not.

I have a quarrel with the Commission, however. I believe that in bringing this action it is, in effect, driving a coach and horses through its own common fisheries policy. As other hon. Members have said, that policy is built on national quotas—which must mean quotas for our nation's own fishermen. I take issue with the views expressed by the European Court. Paragraph 35 of the judgment states: The Commission makes the observation that the establishment of the new register of British fishing vessels has had the effect of forcing the entire 'Anglo-Spanish' fleet to remain idle … The owners of the vessels in question are suffering heavy losses as a result of the vessels' remaining idle". Yes, I think that they are suffering heavy losses, but many of us warned them when they came on to our register by bogus means—which we were daft to allow at the time—that they should be aware of what they were doing, and that if they were tipped off the register, as many of us were advocating, that was their own fault and they should have their eyes open.

Of course—as other hon. Members have said—the fact that those Spanish fishing vessels have been fishing against our quota has caused great damage to our own fishermen, and to the standing of the industry and its economy. I have no sympathy at all for the Spanish boats. The issue to which we should now direct our thoughts is, "Where do we go from here?" I support the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland: we should find other regulations by which to prevent those 10 or so boats from coming back on to the register.

I also believe, however, that there is an urgent need to take political action, and I applaud the steps taken by my hon. Friend the Minister to rally support from other member states against the pernicious practice of quota-hopping. I am delighted that he has—apparently—obtained support from Germany and Ireland. I urge him to redouble his efforts and to try to achieve a political solution—and to put pressure on the Commission to bring forward its own proposals.

We must stamp out the practice of quota-hopping. It has done immense damage; it is undoubtedly a serious setback; but it is not the end of the story. We must go on, and make sure that the Spanish boats do not come back on to our register. If they do, we must find means of getting them off it as quickly as possible, in the interests of our own fishermen. I hope that the House will unite on that point.

3.9 am

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

As a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Merchant Shipping Bill, I share the dismay that has been expressed on both sides of the House at the way in which that valuable section has been overturned in response to the interim ruling. As time is short, I shall not go over ground that has already been covered by other hon. Members, but we must not lose sight of the background that led to the crisis and to the need for tonight's measure. In concentrating upon the legal and constitutional matters, we should not lose sight of the crisis that fishermen are experiencing and that led to the desire to implement such a section in the Merchant Shipping Bill.

I suspect that the real significance of tonight's order is that it signals the beginning of the end of a common fisheries policy based on nations and national quotas. The current crisis in the fishing industry—the quota cuts, the gross failure to tackle the overcapacity problem, the consequential loss of FEOGA European Community finance from sections of the British fishing industry that desperately need that finance and the current debacle which has led to tonight's order—is evidence of the emerging bankruptcy of the common fisheries policy which, as has already been mentioned, is based upon the notion of national quotas. The court judgment refers to the principle of nationality which underlies the present common system in the European Community.

The root failure of that fisheries policy increasingly has been recognised, even by the European Commission in trying to get itself out of its current position. A Commission communication issued on 19 July proposes a Community framework for access to fishing quotas that appears to be moving away from a common system based upon national quotas, and shows a greater appreciation that even within a national framework distinctions between regions and localities have to be considered. Paragraph 2.5 of that communication states that the sense of the special needs of those regions where the population is particularly dependent on fisheries and related industries must be viewed as one of the basic principles that must underlie a common fisheries policy in future. The root problem is that the present common fisheries programme cannot distinguish between the different conditions which exist between regions and localities in Scotland, far less between Scotland and England. That failure has resulted in regions and localities getting dragged into a crisis which is none of their doing but which the present framework has made common to them all.

In my constituency in the Western Isles, we feel the squeeze in various ways. I have already corresponded with Ministers on those matters, and as time is short I shall not go through them. However, to get us out of the present crisis, three things must now be done. First, the Government must immediately introduce a decommissioning scheme or some other set-aside scheme. If the farmers can have such a scheme, surely the fishermen can have one too. I am taking the opportunity to raise these matters, as the Minister responsible for fisheries is in his place.

Secondly, the Government must develop a long-term strategy to reduce and contain the overall capacity of the national fleet. The Government plainly have been derelict in their failure to produce that strategy before now.

Thirdly, it is essential that the Minister develops a common fisheries approach with his European colleagues that distinguishes properly and clearly between the different regions and localities of the European Community and the different regions and localities of the east and west coasts of Scotland.

A common fisheries policy must recognise the different styles of fishing and the different types of fleet in each locality. It must not unnecessarily and stupidly afflict one locality with the travails of another.

Until now, the Government's response to the fishing crisis that is breaking around our heads has been pathetic. I sincerely hope that the new Minister will have the vision and determination to tackle the problems at their root, where they must be tackled before it is too late.

3.15 am
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. I hope that he realises that this is a very special night, although we are considering the order at 3 am.

Last year, Parliament passed a law, following weeks of debate. We thought that that was the right thing to do and that it was consistent with European law. At the time, the Minister said that the legislation was essential to safeguard the interests of British fishing. Yet, not a court but one chap, Mr. Due, has told us to scrub it. For months we worked out how we could pass legislation that was consistent with the law of Europe, but tonight it is being temporarily suspended.

It is wrong and unfair to the British people for us to be discussing the order at 3 am, when nobody will hear about it. Whether it was right or wrong for the Government to ask us to debate it at this time of the morning, people should know what is happening, but Ministers know that they will not have the slightest idea. If one said to someone in the street, "Do you know that one chap sitting in a court can suspend a law passed by Parliament which it debated for months and discussed with European officials?" he would say, "What nonsense. Parliament is supreme." The Government should be ashamed of themselves for arranging for us to debate such matters at this time, when no one will hear about them. It is wrong and undemocratic.

Mr. Cash

Has my hon. Friend noticed that the order is made by Her Majesty the Queen? It is not made by a Minister and does not recite any power derived from statute other than the European Communities Act 1972. It is simply a prerogative order.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend well knows that it does not matter two hoots whether we vote against the order, and I am sure that the Solicitor-General, who fights these cases so superbly, will confirm that.

We must stop kidding ourselves. People are saying that the order will affect only 10 vessels, probably 12 but perhaps eight. Why do they not also say that in two weeks time another case will start, about which we must give our final submission? The case is called Crown v. Factortame Limited and it will raise issues of residence. The idea that the order is limited is a load of rubbish. It may be a year or 18 months before judgment is passed in that case, but by saying that the order is limited we are kidding ourselves.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) was right. We must accept that we have joined the Common Market. Whether we like it or not, the court is constantly creating new powers, not because of laws but because that is the way things are going. Can we honestly vote against this proposal? We can. The court made an interim judgment and said, "Please implement with urgency." How on earth is it fair and reasonable to the fishermen of Britain that we should implement something which discriminates against Britain and which does not apply to all members of the EEC? Is it not fair for us to say, "Yes, we will apply your judgment, but not until it applies to everyone"? If Spanish vessels claim to be British, why should we accept this measure until the same applies to all parts of the European Community?

When something as shameful and dreadful as this is done, why should it be that, when the papers arrived on 18 October, the Government should announce on 19 October that the matter will be debated in the next week? That is not the way to respond to such a dreadful loss of sovereignty. A huge increase of power is taken by the European Community.

What can we do? I hope that we will stop saying, "Let us have new discussions. Let us try to work out new policies. Let us have new negotiations." We must accept that, sadly and tragically, in this matter we are as effective as a county council.

On this sad night for Britain and for democracy, please will Ministers and Opposition spokesmen stop kidding themselves and pretending that things are as they are not? Please, will they accept things as they are? We should vote against the order, not because we are rejecting law and order, but because we are saying, "We will apply it when, as under the treaty of Rome, it applies to all countries of the EEC." If something nasty is driving a coach and horses through the common fisheries policy, let it apply to all members of the European Community. We should not say, "Reject law and order or the judgment." We should say, "We will apply the law, but it applies to all of us."

3.21 am
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I will be brief, as other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

One of the problems with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) is that he is so wrapped up in his opposition to the European Community that he cannot see the Government's incompetence. At present it is not the European Community which is depriving fishermen of access to decommissioning funds or lay-off funds which would help in the current crisis; it is the total, drift and incompetence of the Government's fisheries policy. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman's relationship to the Secretary of State for Scotland is like Sir Alan Walters' relationship to the Chancellor, but he should let me make my speech, given the shortage of time.

Hon. Members should examine our proceedings in Committee—perhaps the hon. Gentleman has done so. They would then see that a succession of proposals to tighten up the legislation were presented to the Government by myself and other Opposition hon. Members. This is the third failed attempt to deal with flag of convenience vessels. We got no support from the Tory Members in Committee. On 18 February last year, I moved an amendment to extend qualifications to restrict flag of convenience vessels, not just to the directors of companies, with whom the Government are obsessed, but to vessel crews. It also dealt with nationality qualifications. I was told somewhat ironically that that would be contrary to and run foul of the European Court of Justice. The debate also dealt with the residential qualifications of crews of fishing vessels. That is just as important when defining whether they are legitimately Scottish or English as who owns them and who the company directors are. We must look at the crews manning such vessels.

I was told by the Minister that my amendment was not necessary and that the legislation was watertight or "fishtight", as he put it. Given the judgment of the European Court of Justice, will the Government come forward with a residential qualification and stipulation in respect of the crews of fishing vessels and do something about this serious matter?

I will certainly vote against this measure. It would be incredible for anyone concerned with the fishing industry to vote for a measure when the Minister has told the House that he does not know the consequences that will follow if the order is passed this evening.

We should require the Minister to tell us what further measures, such as residential qualification or associating registration with proof of title, he will introduce to stop once and for all flag of convenience vessels pilfering the quotas of Scottish and English fishermen.

3.25 am
Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth)

This subject deserves long speeches without a time limit from every hon. Member. My hon. Friends have already commented on the absurdity of our discussing this measure at 3.25 am. However, I will be brief because I know that many of my colleagues want to speak.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) expressed the feelings of many hon. Members very effectively. He referred to various fishing ports, but he did not refer to those in East Anglia. I come from Yarmouth and my distinguished predecessor in this House fought tooth and nail to prevent us from joining the European Community and running into these sorts of problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) has been quoted on many occasions because of his sterling fight for the British fishing interests. I pay tribute to him for that. My hon. Friend wants to know where we go from here. I will go back to Norfolk county council, where I started from, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said, we arc becoming more and more like a county council, closer even than those who wanted European integration.

My hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General have come to the Chamber tonight like grand old Dukes of York. They were party to leading us up the hill to vote for this excellent measure and we heard quotations from the then Secretary of State telling us how important it was that we voted for it. The grand old Dukes of York are now leading us down the hill, running from the European Court of Justice. That has nothing to do with not following the rule of law or not following international agreements to which we are party.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said that one man could overturn what we have spent many months in Parliament achieving. My hon. Friend is wrong. It is the Government's choice that we are being asked to do this now. The Government could have waited for the measure to face the full Commission and then brought it back for our consideration. If I were taken to court for a speeding offence because I was travelling at 30.5 mph in a built-up area, I would go to court. If I were found guilty, I would pay my fine. However, it is worth contesting and it is worth contesting this measure in the interests of the fishing industry which has received very little help in recent years.

It has been said that there are too many fishermen chasing too few fish. We know that. However, why should all the fishermen be Spanish and have the support of other European countries, some of which have no interest in the fishing industry?

No one could accuse the Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, of kowtowing to or being supine before the EC. But this is an issue of vital importance to fishing and to the constitutional arrangements of this House. We should be standing firm.

Why make a fuss about cigarette packets? Does that matter a tinker's cuss? This issue is of enormous importance. We are talking about people's livelihoods and a fishing industry that has been decimated over the past 20 or 30 years and has virtually disappeared in some parts of the country, not least in my port of Great Yarmouth.

So, Madam Speaker——

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has elevated me somewhat.

Mr. Carttiss

It is only a matter of time, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The person who occupies the Chair in 10 years' time will be wasting his or her time if we allow this sort of order to be introduced every time the EC makes an interim injunction against us.

3.29 am
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

I shall be brief. We are entitled to pick up on the fact that the Government are pressing ahead without being able to give us any information about the implications of their actions. We certainly received no such information from the Minister. Seldom can any Minister at the Dispatch Box have blabbered through a speech and been so uncomprehending of what he was talking about.Will we get that information in the wind-up speech? What a pity that we shall not have a speech from a fisheries Minister who could tell us something about the fishing and legal implications of the interim decision.

We read in the Fishing News the reassuring words of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who said: We shall need to study the judgment carefully but we do not expect that it will have much real impact. It will not let a new armada of boats into the British fishing grounds". That is poetic stuff, but it is scarcely reassuring. We have heard mention of 10 vessels, but the Minister told us that 121 Spanish vessels were refused registration. What proportion of those vessels will subsequently be eligible to apply for registration?

It is not just the number of fishing boats that matters, but the tonnage and catching power. The pressure stock licensing farce has shown us that one can have 10 small vessels and 10 large vessels. The implications go far beyond the mere number of vessels.

If the Government cannot give us any information about the implications of the decision, surely that is a pressing argument in favour of not proceeding at such breathtaking speed. I do not need to rehearse that argument, but the speed with which Government have moved is bewildering. Why have the Government rushed to the House to push the order through on the basis of an interim judgment?

The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) has followed a consistent line on this. Unlike many of us, he has not engaged in intellectual gymnastics to defend his position. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) was right when he said that, in some cases, one defends the pro-European stance, but in others one advocates that the European law should be ignored. The Conservatives may represent the party of law and order, but, on occasions, it states that some European judgments should be ignored. Therefore, sometimes it is necessary to engage in intellectual gymnastics, but I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Southend, East who has never done so as he has always been consistent about Europe.

What we are discussing is not some great power of law and order, but the interim decision of one man. There is no obligation on the Government to act with such speed. I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that we could use next year to seek to achieve what is sought in the interim decision. That might not satisfy the anti-European stance, but it would defend our fishermen.

The Government give a low priority to fishing and peripheral matters. The French would not accept the interim decision for two minutes, but the Government have blundered on and have allowed that to happen. At the end of the day responsibility lies with the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) is right to say that a common fisheries policy, even within national boundaries, is an unsatisfactory mechanism. It is not nearly sophisticated enough to take into account the different nuances of the fishing industry around the shores of Britain and even within the northern half of Scotland.

The fishing industry on the west coast is very different from that in the north-east of Scotland. Indeed, it could even be said that in the past the problems of the west coast fishermen have been the east coast fishermen, more than any foreign fishermen. Because fishermen do not always see things in perspective, one of the ironies of history is that, in the referendum on EEC membership—I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East remembers this—those in the north-east fishing industry were among those who were deeply supportive of our entry into, or rather our remaining in, the European Community simply for their own short-term gain.

I assume that by now the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is safely tucked up with his prayer book and Horlicks. As a Tory Minister responsible for our fisheries, he must have set a record by winning in so short a time such an editorial in Fishing News as this: Could it be that Mr. Gummer is all too well aware of the mess his government is in over the fishing industry—a mess they have largely created—and has decided that the best form of defence is attack? The editorial concludes: If he and his government are not prepared to work with the industry to try to resolve the problems, they need not be surprised at the result they will get at the ballot box when the time comes. Although, judging by Mr. Gummer's present attitude, Scotland must already be regarded as a hopeless case by the Tories. For, whatever else he may be, Mr. Gummer is not a fool or a political greenhorn. We may dissent from some of those latter sentiments, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East, in his new role as eminence grise to the Secretary of State will take back the message that what the Tories are doing to the fishing industry in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom is yet another nail in their coffin.

3.36 am
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

If I have to go into legalities at some stage, I hope that the House will forgive me, but I should first like to take a few moments to explain the interim judgment—I emphasise that it is only an interim judgment or order of the European Court—and to put it into context.

I know a great deal about this case. I have appeared at every level in—[AN HON. MEMBER: "You have lost what you knew."] The hon. Gentleman says that I have lost it, but I am afraid that that comment only shows how little he knows about it. It is a great mistake to say that we have lost this case. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) was right when he brought the House to realise that that is not the case. I shall now put the position into context, adding only that I well understand the strength of feeling among hon. Members of all parties who represent fishing interests.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked why we had to act so quickly. I must advise him and the House that the purpose of the draft order is to give effect to the obligations of the United Kingdom, arising from the interim order of the Court of Justice, which requires us to suspend the nationality requirements—the House should remember that it applies only to the nationality requirements contained in sections 14(1), (2) and (7) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 pending final judgment in the infraction proceedings brought under article 169 of the treaty by the Commission against the United Kingdom. Although the order of the court is only interim in nature and we shall seek to overturn it—I believe that we have reasonable arguments for overturning it—at the substantive hearing, it is our obligation to give effect to it without delay. The order is only given because there is urgency.

This country not only has a good record in obeying the law, we also have a good record in arguing vigorously and successfully in defence of our interests before the European Court of Justice——

Mr. Cash


The Solicitor-General

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to develop my point a little further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) was anxious about the fact that, as he thought, this was a prerogative order, which it is not. We are implementing the order by exercising the powers of the Crown under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 whereby, subject to schedule 2 to that Act, Her Majesty may, by Order in Council, make provision for the purpose of implementing any Community obligation of the United Kingdom. Since this order involves amendment to key provisions of an Act of Parliament, we have chosen to adopt the affirmative resolution procedure, taking account, inter alia, of the view of the Joint Committee on Delegated Legislation in its second report of 1972–73 that such procedure might normally be appropriate in this type of cause. That is what makes it proper to hold this full debate tonight.

Mr. Cash

Will the Solicitor-General give way?

The Solicitor-General

I want to develop my argument.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East was anxious about the erosion of sovereignty, as were other hon. Members. This case involves no erosion of sovereignty over and above that which we accepted in 1972–73. While it is true that this is the first time that section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 has been used to implement an order of the Court of Justice requiring the interim suspension of part of an Act of Parliament, it is no more than the exercise of a power pursuant to an obligation arising under the treaty of Rome—the obligation to give effect to an order of the Court of Justice. That obligation was accepted as part of the whole package of rights and obligations entered into by the United Kingdom when we joined the Community on 1 January 1973.

Mr. Cash

I have the greatest sympathy with the skill with which my hon. and learned Friend has sought to put the case on behalf of the Government in the Court of Justice, but does he agree that this order goes further even than the court requires? It not only suspends the Act in question—it amends it, which is more than the court is asking for.

The Solicitor-General

I respect my hon. Friend very much as a lawyer, but he is making a legalistic distinction without a difference. In realistic terms, this is a suspension——

Mr. Prescott


The Solicitor-General

I want to make it very clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) that it is entirely mistaken to say that we have lost the case: we have not lost it. I am disappointed that an interim order, even on a limited basis, has been made against us, and I argued vigorously and cogently that it should not have been——

Mr. Wallace


Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)


The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has mentioned the arguments that I advanced at the hearing—I believe that they were cogent. We shall continue to deploy these arguments at the substantive hearing of the infraction proceedings brought by the Commission——

Mr. Wallace

Give way.

The Solicitor-General

I shall not, because I want to develop points that are of interest to the whole House.

It is mistaken to believe, as some hon. Members appear to, that the whole legislation has been suspended. As my hon. Friend said——

Mr. Teddy Taylor

No one has said this.

The Solicitor-General

The precise effect of this order will depend on how many vessels which have hitherto had strong and often dominant connections with other member states, usually Spain, can establish that they are or would have been ineligible for registration only by reason of the nationality provisions in section 14 of the 1988 Act; and that they are able in good faith to fulfil the other requirements for registration which remain in force.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) leapt up to ask why we did not introduce legislation that involved a residence provision. Before he takes that line in this sort of debate he might do the House the honour of reading the section that we are debating, because it does involve a residence condition——

Mr. Salmond


The Solicitor-General

I refer to the requirements in the 1988 Act as to residence and domicile of owners, charterers, managers and operators of fishing vessels seeking to register as British fishing vessels; and to the requirement that such vessels should genuinely be managed and their operations genuinely——

Mr. Salmond


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Solicitor-General has made it quite clear that he does not wish to give way.

The Solicitor-General

Their operations should genuinely be managed——

Mr. Salmond


Madam Deputy Speaker


The Solicitor-General

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment when he has listened. Vessels should genuinely be managed, and their operations should genuinely be directed and controlled within the United Kingdom.

When this matter was argued, and I was before Judge Due three or four weeks ago, the Commission said that only 10 or 12 vessels would be affected. It remains to be seen. The matter will be looked at carefully and quasi-judicially by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The Commission's estimate may well be right. That was its estimate of the effect of the order. The background is that between 100 and 150 vessels, mostly of Spanish origin, had hitherto been fishing.

Mr. Salmond

I wish that the Solicitor-General had done me the courtesy of listening to my argument or even reading the reports of the Standing Committee. The amendments that I moved in Committee referred to the crew of fishing vessels, not owners or directors. There is no such stipulation in the legislation. Why does he not make one rather than bringing this ridiculous order before the House?

The Solicitor-General

I acquit the hon. Gentleman of not knowing everything about this case. There are residential qualifications in relation to important licensing conditions which are the subject of further litigation.

This issue has been bedevilled for years by litigation involving fishing interests that are trying to get the profitable opportunities of fishing against United Kingdom quotas. At every stage, the United Kingdom Government are defending and, where appropriate, prosecuting appropriate litigation to look after our interests, and will continue to do so.

Mr. Prescott

Several hon. Members believe that we are amending legislation, not suspending it. If the Solicitor-General is right, and we are suspending, and the court eventually rejects the interim decision and upholds our stance, will he have to come back to the House to amend the legislation again?

The Solicitor-General

I know that there are some who believe that we are amending rather than suspending, but that is a distinction without a difference. We are putting into suspension the nationality requirements, pending the judgment of the court. If the court's judgment were in our favour in every respect except in respect of the matters covered by the order, I think that we would still have to come back—this shows why it is suspending—because the purpose of this order runs only until there is final judgment in this case, just as the interim order of the court runs only to final judgment. It is a very technical point.

Mr. Menzies Campbell


The Solicitor-General

I apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I shall not give way.

I take the question, "Why should the House not vote against the order?" on the chin. It is Britain's duty to obey the law of the European Community.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

It is the duty of all countries.

The Solicitor-General

Whatever the outcome of the case may be, and however vigorously and effectively we argue the United Kingdom's case—and we shall argue it vigorously and effectively—before the European Court of Justice and the various courts in Britain to which, in one guise or another, the case will return, it is always our duty to obey orders, including the interim orders of the European Court. It is in fulfilment of that duty, and that duty alone, that the interim order of the European Court of Justice is to be given effect by the order. There are powerful and compelling reasons why we should fulfil that duty and I commend the order to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 68, Noes 21.

Division No. 353] [3.49 am
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Garel-Jones, Tristan
Amess, David Glyn, Dr Alan
Amos, Alan Goodlad, Alastair
Arbuthnot, James Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Ashby, David Hague, William
Batiste, Spencer Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bellingham, Henry Hanley, Jeremy
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Harris, David
Boswell, Tim Hayward, Robert
Bowis, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Brazier, Julian Hind, Kenneth
Burns, Simon Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Burt, Alistair Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Butterfill, John Irvine, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Jack, Michael
Carrington, Matthew Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Chapman, Sydney Lang, Ian
Chope, Christopher Lord, Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Maclean, David
Cran, James McLoughlin, Patrick
Curry, David Mans, Keith
Dorrell, Stephen Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Durant, Tony Mills, Iain
Fallon, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Favell, Tony Norris, Steve
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Patnick, Irvine
Redwood, John Twinn, Dr Ian
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Speller, Tony Wheeler, John
Stevens, Lewis Widdecombe, Ann
Summerson, Hugo Wood, Timothy
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Thorne, Neil Mr. Greg Knight and
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Mr. Tom Sackville.
Aitken, Jonathan Prescott, John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Salmond, Alex
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Skinner, Dennis
Carttiss, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Cryer, Bob Wallace, James
Dixon, Don Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Wilson, Brian
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Janman, Tim Tellers for the Noes:
Jessel, Toby Mr. Frank Haynes and
Kirkwood, Archy
Nellist, Dave

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Merchant Shipping Act 1988 (Amendment) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17th October, be approved.

    1. c1019
    2. URBAN DEVELOPMENT 52 words
  2. Haddock Quota 4,258 words