§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) (by private notice)
asked the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy on the dispute over fishing rights between the European Union and Canada.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack)
At the heart of this dispute is a disagreement between Canada and the European Union over the division of an agreed catch quota of 27,000 tonnes of Greenland halibut in the waters regulated by the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation outside the Canadian 200-mile limit. That quota was set for the first time for this fishery in NAFO last September. The European Union expected a share of the total allowable catch proportionate to its track record which, in the most recent three-year period, represented 75 per cent. of the catch, while Canadian vessels took less than 14 per cent. At a NAFO meeting in February this year, Canada did not agree and advanced an alternative distribution which would have given it 60 per cent. of the TAC and the EU 12 per cent. The EU felt that this was neither fair nor just and decided unanimously to invoke the objection procedure which is provided for in NAFO rules.
Having invoked the procedure, the EU was entitled to take its preferred share of the 27,000 tonne TAC. Canada disputed the EU's use of the objection procedure, took national powers to act against EU vessels fishing outside its 200-mile limit and warned the EU that it would use those powers if the EU vessels did not leave the fishery. On Thursday last, Canada used its legislation to arrest a Spanish vessel on the high seas.
The United Kingdom has no fishing vessels in the disputed fishery and is not directly involved. However, we are actively encouraging the intense diplomatic efforts which are now taking place with a view to reducing the tension and getting negotiations restarted.
§ Mr. Shore
I am grateful to the Minister for that statement. He is, of course, aware that only five years ago the European Union catch was about 2,000 tonnes in the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation area and that that has now increased to more than 82,000 tonnes. I do not think that the Minister will dispute the fact that when it comes to reputation for overfishing, few countries have a worse record than Spain.
Having said that, may I draw the Minister's attention to the most shocking part of the whole episode? I refer to the hostile, bellicose language used by the spokesmen of the European Union, in particular Commissioner Bonino, who described the Canadian action as an act of organised piracy, other Commission spokesmen who have talked about a range of sanctions being considered against Canada, and, worst of all, the agreement of the ambassadors to the European Union to a statement that includes these words:
The European Union and its member states are forced to reassess their relationship with Canada in the light of this deplorable situation and reserve their rights to take any action which they deem appropriate.Let us be quite clear about the British Government's attitude to the European Union taking any action which it deems expedient, in the knowledge that the Spanish 564 Government have already sent a gunboat to the area. Are we going to find the British Navy lined up with the Spanish navy to drive out the Canadians?
Is the Minister aware how deeply offensive this whole procedure is, especially aimed against Canada, a country that has an unrivalled record in international good behaviour in so many areas, which is a fellow member of NATO, a senior member of the Commonwealth and happens to share the same sovereign as this country?
§ Mr. Jack
The right hon. Gentleman speaks, rightly, with passion about a very serious matter that has occurred on the high seas. As someone who has had to deal from the Dispatch Box on many occasions with strongly and deeply felt views in the House about the actions of Spanish fishing vessels, I think that we would all have some sympathy with the emotions that stir in the breasts of those Canadians who wish to defend what they deem to be their legitimate fishing interests. As we saw to the cost of our fishermen only last summer, when member states within the European Union, or anyone else, take precipitate action on the high seas to solve matters, it goes nowhere near the heart of the issue.
The right hon. Member mentioned NATO. With quiet respect, may I point out that Spain is also a member of NATO. This matter requires quiet diplomacy on our part. I became aware of the Canadian displeasure about the matter some time ago, and I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have done our best behind the scenes to urge on all parties concerned the need to negotiate a way round a problem that has occurred in a wholly legitimate international body, which Canada has been perfectly happy to operate within until now. When previous NAFO regulations were set, Canada respected them, just as, for example, the moratorium on the cod fishery off Newfoundland has always been respected by European Union countries fishing in that area.
On the right hon. Gentleman's point about conservation, the purpose of setting the total allowable catch at 27,000 tonnes was to reduce very substantially the amount of fish being taken in that fishery. Again, there was no dispute between Canada and the European Union on the need for that action.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
As Canada is a friendly Commonwealth country, which has never let us down when we have been in trouble, and as the fishermen of Canada feel absolutely sickened that their fish stocks have been destroyed year after year by Spanish vessels using the vacuum refrigerator system, which destroys all stocks, will the Minister give the House one simple assurance—that the Government will do nothing about trade sanctions or anything else until they have come back to the House and asked for our permission? Does he accept the simple point that the figure that he quoted is basically a distortion, bearing in mind the fact that the Spanish catch has increased enormously in recent years?
§ Mr. Jack
What is not at issue, in terms of a distortion, is the fact that Canada and the European Union had agreed a much lower total allowable catch for that fishery to try to reduce the total amount of fishing. My hon. Friend is pressing me on statements made by Commissioners, as did the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). I assure him that, in my view and that of my right hon. Friend the Minister, the best way to serve the interests of Canada and the European Union is to press 565 for the matter to be settled by negotiation. Gunboat diplomacy on the high seas— whoever undertakes it—does not remove the underlying problems of the worldwide difficulties of shortages and pressure on fish stocks.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
Has the Minister made it clear to his Spanish opposite numbers that, in the House and the country, we would have more sympathy with the Spanish position if their Government had taken immediate action following the Bay of Biscay incidents last summer in which Cornish fishermen were subjected to Spanish acts of piracy? Do the Spanish Government now accept that all negotiations must take place within the European Union and that they must take no unilateral action? If not, quiet diplomacy will go out of the window and we shall have a major conflagration off the coast of Newfoundland in the next few weeks.
§ Mr. Jack
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members should know that we have expressed our great concern over the practices of Spain at the Fisheries Council, and I did so again when I met the new Fisheries Commissioner, Mrs. Bonino, last week. I impressed upon her the need for mechanisms to be put in place well before the summer tuna fishery commences, to ensure that we talk through any remaining points of difference and that people do not try to settle fisheries disputes by means of precipitate action on the high seas. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Spain's past activities may have influenced Canada's view today, and it is hardly surprising that Canada is taking such a robust stance.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
As someone who has fought the Spanish over their fishing methods, particularly off the south-west coast of England, for 15 years, may I assure my hon. Friend that the sympathies of every fisherman in the south-west are with the Canadians? But does he agree that those disputes must be settled in accordance with international law? Are not we in great danger, because if, for some reason, Canada pursues its action in breach of international law, it will play into the hands of Spain, which might say next summer, when our fishermen are down there fishing for tuna, "Ah, we have the right, according to Canadian precedent, to arrest Cornish fishing boats off our tuna fishery". The issue is not as black and white as some hon. Members try to make out.
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of knowledge and wisdom. He has fought tirelessly for the interests of his fishermen under the threat of, and sometimes proven, breaking of rules by Spanish fishermen. He is absolutely right to point again at the parallel between this matter and the tuna fishery. He will recall that the disputes last summer took place in international waters. Against the background of pressure on the world's fish stocks, it is vital that disputes should be resolved not on the high seas but around the conference table.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
Why did we concur in the statement about sanctions? Is any EC finance or British contribution involved in sending a Spanish navy vessel into that area? What conceivable interest to do we have in defending the depredation of 566 those Spanish pirates of the fishing grounds? Is it correct that that vessel dropped its gear overboard, which is a sure sign that the mesh used was illegal and that it was catching too small fish before the arrest? Finally, why do not we give Spain the same sterling support as Spain, the European Union and individual European countries gave us in our dispute with Iceland in the 1970s?
§ Mr. Jack
Far be it from me to say that the hon. Gentleman is involved in an exercise of "All our Yesterdays". I know that this is a serious issue for Humberside fishermen and the hon. Gentleman and I are in regular correspondence about aspects of that matter. He asked me a number of questions. On statements being made by European Commissioners, given Canada's robust stance, I counsel the hon. Gentleman, for his own interest, to read the statements of Minister Tobin on that and he will see that they are in robust terms. It is hardly surprising that an Italian Commissioner supporting a Spanish stance speaks in fairly inflammatory language. That is how those things occur.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are not funding the Spanish navy in that exercise. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the attempts, according to newspaper reports—those matters are as yet unproven—that the vessel concerned, the Estai, ditched its gear. The hon. Gentleman and I have exchanged concerns about undersize fishing by Spanish vessels in our waters, and the elements involved in this matter will strike a chord with our fishermen. But just as I chose last week to make it robustly clear to the new Fisheries Commissioner that, unless people are prepared to play by the rules, there will be no credibility in matters such as the common fisheries policy, it is equally important that rules that require negotiation around the table are adhered to.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the problem goes beyond the plundering of fish stocks by Spain? Does he agree that climate change, the reduction of plankton and the move of the capelin to the south mean that fish stocks have moved south, too, and that the activities of the so-called animal rights lobby have stopped the seal cull? When we talk about Canada, which we should support robustly, we should not forget Newfoundland, a large part of whose economy is dependent on fishing.
To take up the question of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), what about fish net sizes? We have heard on several occasions that the Spanish are using a mesh that is smaller than that which they are entitled to use under international law.
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend is right to underline the worldwide problems of pressure on fishing stocks. He will be aware of the recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. He will be aware also of Sir Crispin Tickell's report on sustainable development. Both he and the UN point to the tremendous pressure on fish stocks. Part of the reason for that is that modern technology has given man, the catcher, a significant advantage over the hunted, the fish. Everyone who is responsible for fishing policy has some difficult issues to take up on behalf of his or her fishing industry in the context of long-term conservation of fishing stocks.
Fishermen are proud people with a long tradition. They want the freedom to fish, and politicians with fishing responsibility have long-term conservation in mind. It was 567 profoundly worrying to witness what happened to the Newfoundland stock. Canada and other nations fishing in the area ignored the signs and continued fishing. In the end the fishery was closed.
I spoke to the Commissioner last week about net sizes in the context of the accession arrangements for Spain and Portugal which deal with the development of technical conservation measures. I assure my hon. Friend that discussions are in progress.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Is the Minister aware that it was a great pleasure for some of us to hear Ministers speaking up in defence of their fishing fleets in robust terms? Is it not a disgrace that, on Commonwealth day, the House is not prepared to say openly that we are sick of the way in which the Spanish have consistently broken the rules? We should make it clear at all suitable forums that we intend to support the Canadians.
§ Mr. Jack
The hon. Lady may have forgotten a point of recent history, when the United Kingdom went out of its way to be as supportive to Canada as possible in Canada's wish to have a European Union-Canada fishing agreement. We have done as much as any member of the EU, and probably more, to support our Canadian friends in these important matters. Canada, however, would respect in every way the upholding of the principles of law. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) said—he speaks with telling experience, having had to deal with these matters on behalf of the fishermen in his constituency—we must uphold the rule of law and settle these matters not by precipitate action on the high seas but by discussion. The House should respect what my hon. Friend says.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
To take up the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir. T. Taylor), will my hon. Friend make absolutely certain that the British Government will give no comfort to the European Union in respect of the matters that are being discussed and the allegations that are being made? At the end of the day, the Newfoundlanders depend so much on fishing for their livelihoods, jobs and futures. We must take a stand to look after those who looked after us in the past.
§ Mr. Jack
I can understand why the hon. Gentleman speaks strongly about defending the interests of Newfoundland and its fishermen. He may have missed my answer in which I observed that, within NAFO, for the first time Canada and the other participating countries agreed to the 27,000-tonne total allowable catch for the species, in order substantially to reduce—by over 50 per cent.—the amount of fish being taken in the long-term interests of all concerned. That is an important point if we are looking at preserving the interests of Canada and its fishing agreement. As for the European Union, it is important that members who are the contracting parties, and the fishermen concerned, stick to the rules of that fishery and reduce the amount of fishing, in accordance with the total allowable catch that has been declared.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
As a representative of a fishing community, I must advise the Minister that the charge laid by Commissioner Bonino of organised piracy against the Canadians is seen by fishermen as being much more applicable to the Spaniards themselves, because we 568 know that they break the rules and that they fly close to the wind on many occasions. They have ruined the west African fisheries and now seem prepared to ruin the Canadian fisheries. Indeed, they are poised to do exactly the same here at home.
I ask the Minister simply which European Union states have fished the quota of 3,500 tonnes that was allocated to the European Union? Has the quota been broken? Will he now stop talking about playing by the rules, and guarantee our fishermen a surveillance and policing policy, which will mean that the industry of our fishermen, who are fighting for their lives, will be protected rather than sold out to the Spaniards?
§ Mr. Jack
I am happy to debate with the hon. Lady—either formally across the Dispatch Box, or informally—what we are going to do about enforcement under the new arrangement for Spain and Portugal. I agree entirely that it is central to those rules being seen to work. There are policing arrangements and the activities of Spain and Portugal were subjected to a ruthless inquisition at the end of last year, which resulted in a number of Spanish vessels being prosecuted for breaking some of the rules of that fishery. So the question of playing by the rules has been dealt with.
The hon. Lady touched on the central issue: the maintenance of the law and the agreements that surround that particular fishery. It is no use trying to settle the matter by other methods. She asked which member countries had been fishing. Spain and Portugal are the two principal interests in the matter, but countries such as Japan, Russia, Canada— obviously—Poland and others are also involved in that fishery. I point out to the hon. Lady that, in the totality of the fishery, which includes the waters within Canada's 200-mile economic zone, the European Union is the only contracting party to the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation to be expressly forbidden from going into Canadian waters.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
Is not the problem substantially one of our own making? If only all the various nations concerned were to repatriate the part of their sovereignty that they have surrendered to international organisations, and if only they allowed the untrammelled free market to operate, within a year there would be no fish stocks and therefore no problem.
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend has just initiated his own doomsday scenario on the fishing industry. Governments have a responsibility to work to help to conserve fish stocks for, effectively, the world's long-term interests. I must point out quietly to my hon. Friend that the dispute is about international waters, so there could be no question of repatriating international waters.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
If the Minister is unable to support Canada, which is taking the boat to court, will he at least make a clear statement opposing the decision by the Spanish Government to send two warships to the site? If there was a common defence policy in Europe, would Britain be required to contribute warships to deal with incidents of that sort against Canada in future?
§ Mr. Jack
The Spanish Government have, on a matter that they see as a threat to Spanish vessels in international waters, taken action to defend the interests of their fishermen. As I said to the right hon. Member for Bethnal 569 Green and Stepney, we do not have any fishing vessels in that fishery and it is not directly a matter of concern to United Kingdom fishing interests. I have given a view—very clearly, I hope—that the idea of using any kind of naval presence to solve the problem is not the way forward, and I return to what I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who gave us an extremely good set of reasons why talk rather than precipitate action on the high seas is the right way forward.
§ Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are willing to support the majority decisions of the 15 members of the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation? If that is the case, will he undertake to tell the EC Fisheries Commissioner as much?
§ Mr. Jack
There has not been a decision of quite the kind suggested by my hon. Friend. I think that Commissioner Bonino is entirely aware of the position surrounding the arrangement of the quota.
Let us look at the history. Last September, Canada, the European Union and all other contracting parties agreed on the much lower quota of 27,000 tonnes. There was no disagreement. The disagreement concerns how that quota—which was set for the very first time—should be allocated to those who have traditionally fished the waters involved.
In normal circumstances, the track record of those fishing in the area would be expected to be the determinant. Canada, however, did not like the outcome of that exercise, and sought to disagree with it. Rather than having about three quarters of the fishery, the European Union was offered 12 per cent.; Canada then turned the numbers around, giving herself and others a substantial increase. Within that argument, however, the 27,000-tonne figure has not changed.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Will the Minister answer the question asked earlier by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), which he studiously avoided answering then? Will he state clearly that Britain will not support sanctions against Canada, or any attempts within the Community to bring about Community sanctions against it?
§ Mr. Jack
The European Union, which is currently engaged in discussions with Canada to try to resolve the problems, is clearly working hard in an attempt to secure round-table discussions about the point at issue, which is the allocation of stock. It is hardly surprising that, at a time when strong statements are being made, a range of options should be outlined; but our advice to all concerned is to get round the table and hold a proper discussion about the legitimate way in which the stock should be allocated.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
Would I be right in interpreting my hon. Friend's comments to mean that the British Government are at arm's length from what the European Community has been saying and doing? I am sure that the British people will have little sympathy 570 with the predatory fishing practices of Spanish fishermen, and a great deal of sympathy with the conservation policies of the Canadian Government.
§ Mr. Jack
I entirely understand my hon. Friend's latter point. Only last week, I robustly made it clear to the Commissioner that unless our industry could be convinced that Spain would stick to the rules, the credibility of the arrangements for Spain and Portugal's full accession to the common fisheries policy would be at risk. I told the Commissioner that I could see our fishermen turning against the arrangements, and stressed that there was strong public opinion about the matter.
Let me leave my hon. Friend in no doubt: the Commissioner knows how strongly we feel. The dispute, however, is between the European Union and Canada. The European Union, on behalf of its membership, entered into an agreement with Canada about the total allowable halibut catch; the share-out is a matter of dispute. We have been working almost tirelessly behind the scenes, trying to get people to stop making inflammatory statements and get round the table again to negotiate on the hard facts relating to the fishery. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall draw the strong views expressed this afternoon to the attention of the negotiators.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
Does the Minister accept that a little partiality towards our Commonwealth friends would not go amiss? Many of us were very unhappy about our entry into the European Community because we felt that we were betraying the Commonwealth, our history and, in many cases, family and friends. When we hear a European Commissioner use thuggish language and extrapolate far beyond the present position, many of us feel that we do not want the European Community to take further action or to impose sanctions on Canada. We want a clear statement from the Minister that the Government will not support such action either.
§ Mr. Jack
As I told the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), we have in the past given every support to our Canadian friends and we certainly do so at present. We meet them regularly. We were one of the main advocates in the European Union of a European Union-Canada fishing agreement. We have certainly tried behind the scenes, as part of the general briefing for European negotiators, to make it clear that talk rather than precipitate action on the high seas is the right way forward. However, at the end of the day, the European Union has the responsibility to settle the dispute because it is between Canada and the European Union.
§ Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)
My hon. Friend chose to make his statement while the Commonwealth day festival is proceeding. Surely the Canadians are dealing with the Spanish fleet by using the best time-honoured and traditional practices. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Not in international waters."] If we are given the choice between supporting our kith and kin in Canada or our so-called fellow Euro-citizens, should not we choose the former every time?
§ Mr. Jack
We all have a great deal of sympathy for our many friends in Canada. That is why we have gone out of our way to be helpful to Canada in her relations with the European Union. This matter is about the actions of one country in terms of a fisheries dispute on the high 571 seas. There must be respect by all contracting parties for the law that is involved in this action. To pick and choose who to support in any one dispute would simply encourage other people, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives said, to take the law into their own hands. When the world's fish stocks are under pressure, that is no way to try to resolve these difficult matters.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Irrespective of any individual or corporate sympathies in the House, does the Minister agree that so far this matter has been dealt with by a Commissioner who is accountable only for her interpretation of treaties and agreements? It has not been a matter for the President or members of the Fisheries Council. The Minister says that this is a European Union dispute with Canada. That illustrates the fact that, in this matter, the Union is acting more like a unitary state than any federation or association of states.
§ Mr. Jack
In his usual way the hon. Gentleman points at me and seeks to build an edifice where there is no need for one. At this stage it is a matter of trying to reconvene negotiations within agreed mechanisms. There will be an opportunity in April, if the matter is still current, for the Fisheries Council to debate it and question the Commissioner, if necessary, on the action.
§ Mr. Jack
The hon. Gentleman says, "Big deal". That is typical. When the mechanisms do not suit him he shoots them down and when they do suit him he takes them up. We are in discussions with our European Union partners through various committees under the standing procedures of the European Union to ensure that the EU maintains the stance of trying to recommence negotiations with Canada on this matter. If further action is needed there will be an opportunity at the April Fisheries Council meeting to discuss the issues.
§ Mr.Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)
Does not this go to the heart of all the problems with Europe? The Minister said several times that we have to obey the rules and have law and order and so on. He even said that he had impressed on the new Commissioner that the credibility of the common fisheries policy was at issue. Does he honestly believe that these marauding Spanish trawlers are remotely interested in the credibility of that policy? They are not. They will go where they can and fish any stocks that they can, to the damage of those stocks and fishing industries all over the world. Against that background is it any wonder that a nation takes a robust stance?
My hon. Friend can gauge the feeling in the House. I put to him again the question that he has been asked several times. Will he give us his categorical assurance that this country will not put its hand to any measures against Canada on this issue until he comes back to the House?
§ Mr. Jack
I shall do my best to answer the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and others. Let me deal first and with courtesy with my hon. Friend's questions. For the record I should point out to him that, at the Fisheries Council in December, Spain tried to increase the total allowable catch from 27,000 tonnes to 40,000 tonnes, praying in aid the argument that fisheries scientists say that the TAC for this species should not be 572 set at an amount greater than 40,000 tonnes. No country in the Council, with the exception of Portugal, gave Spain any comfort on that matter. The Council respected the fact that the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation had set a total allowable catch of 27,000 tonnes for good reasons that were in the long-term interests of all who fish the stock, including Canada's fishermen. The Council thus offered important recognition of the value of the scientific advice.
My hon. Friend went on to raise other issues. He may like to question these mechanisms, but what would happen if there were a free-for-all without them? People would quickly take all the fish; the stocks would be plundered and there would be none left for anyone.
My hon. Friend presses me, as other hon. Members have done, about future action in respect of the European Union. It is not for me, as Fisheries Minister, to deal with that aspect. I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the strength of feeling in the House on the matter. My task is to reach a position where we need not contemplate such action. The way to do that is to get round the table and talk about the issue.
§ Mr.Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Despite the existence of international law and the agreements that the Minister mentioned, will he comment on the fact that stocks of halibut and other fished species continue to decline dramatically, thus threatening the economic health of Newfoundland and eastern Canada? Will the hon. Gentleman also consider the fact that some of us may have real doubts about the legality of Spanish fishing methods and about the total catch that the Spanish take? I refer in particular to those of us with steel works in our constituencies who have seen Spain operate improperly in that industry.
Will the Minister also remind our people in Brussels that, at the time of the Gulf war, the Spanish contribution appears to have been a great deal smaller than has been their response to the Canadian action in this case?
§ Mr. Jack
The hon. Gentleman's question takes me somewhat wider than the fishing industry. The important point to bear in mind is that this is all about the conservation of fish stocks. Canada herself was a party to the ultimate fishing out of the stocks, which in turn led to the Newfoundland fishery being closed. That has worried fishing interests in Canada so much that they have urged their Government to take a very strong stand on this matter. It is not as if Canada's views were ignored when it came to taking a stand on it. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the catch quota in that fishery had been substantially reduced to the lower figure of 27,000 tonnes in response to the very line of argument that the hon. Gentleman has advanced. The whole idea was to restrict the amount of fishing, in the long-term interests of preserving stocks of Greenland halibut, for the benefit of Canada's fishermen and of all other contracting parties to the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation.
§ Mr.Hartley Booth (Finchley)
While all the sympathies of the House must be with our cousins in Canada, should not our sympathies also lie with upholding international law—since the Conservative party believes in upholding laws? In that regard, have not our cousins in Canada unfortunately broken international law by unilaterally claiming to have jurisdiction over the high 573 seas? Is it not right, therefore, of the Minister to continue his negotiations to get Canada off the hook of having broken international law?
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend, with his legal knowledge, presents a correct interpretation. It is important to remember that the negotiations are being conducted on behalf of the contracting parties in Europe by the European Union. Canada adapted her domestic law to legitimise, in her eyes, her action outside the 200-mile economic zone. That is the point at issue. She has now arrested a Spanish fishing vessel—but none of that goes to the heart of the matter. The total allowable catch was agreed by all parties. The way to resolve this matter is, as my hon. Friend says, to get back round the table and agree on a sensible distribution of the stock.
§ Mr.Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
My hon. Friend said that the matter should be resolved around the table and diplomatically. If so, should not Spain instantly stop all fishing in this disputed part of the sea until those diplomatic processes have taken place?
§ Mr.Derek Enright (Hemsworth)
As someone who is not noted for his Euro-scepticism, may I ask the Minister to answer a question that he has dodged seven times? Will he urge on the Foreign Secretary that he abjure the use of sanctions against Canada?
§ Mr. Jack
I think I gave an answer to that question earlier when I said that I would alert my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the concerns that had been expressed about that aspect of the European Union's communications with Canada, but equally I said that, before we went down any of those precipitate roads, we wanted to see the European Union and Canada meeting round the table to discuss the matter. That is a far easier way of dealing with the matter than simply pushing parties apart. The solution lies in bringing parties together.
§ Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
Does the Minister accept that the fundamental issue is the need to conserve fish stocks, bearing in mind the fact that total allowable catches and quotas are part of that, as are the fishing methods of vessels and fishermen? As Canada experienced the virtual wipeout of Canadian Atlantic cod stock, should we not approach the issue with some understanding of the considerations that have led the Canadian Government to take this action? Does the Minister appreciate that the breakdown of the talks within 574 the framework of the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation has been the immediate precursor to the problem and that the talks should not be left like that? Can those discussions be reopened with a view to reaching agreement on the European Union quota because, obviously, that is what is in dispute?
The incident in the Atlantic is an example of a wider problem: the inadequacy of the international arrangements, which are unable effectively to conserve stocks outwith national limits. Should we deal with that by extending national limits, or should the Minister consider securing, presumably through the framework of the United Nations, some arbitration procedure or method of help to achieve effective conservation and enforcement of actions outwith national limits?
§ Mr. Jack
I thought that I had answered most of those questions, but, at the risk of repeating myself, I shall try to do my best. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the fundamental issue was fish stocks and conservation. The short answer is, yes, that is the fundamental issue. That is why NAFO took the decision last September to introduce a total allowable catch of 27,000 tonnes on a fishery that, as he knows, has never been subject to any quota arrangements. It did that to conserve the stock for the long-term future. On fishing methods, he will know that rules exist on mesh size. As I said earlier in relation to the people who have broken those rules, after an exhaustive investigation by flag states and our European Union partners, action has already been taken to prosecute Spanish vessels for rule breaking.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Canadian cod stock. I quietly say to him that Canada was also involved in fishing that area and that all the people who fished in it contributed to the decline and eventual decimation of that stock. All parties, including the European Union fishing nations, respected the moratorium on the fishing of cod in that area. The hon. Gentleman asked whether talks can be resumed. That is exactly what people are trying hard to achieve at this moment, to ensure that the talks can be resurrected. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are giving the European Union every encouragement that we can. The hon. Gentleman asked also whether international waters can be extended but did not hint at his own views.
§ Mr. Jack
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer him. Any fishing nation that sought to go beyond a 200-mile limit would simply find a worldwide tit-for-tat arrangement that would not serve any interests because ultimately there would have to be continuing agreement on areas not covered by exclusive economic zones. The United Nations standing conference on the law of the seas exists to deal with disputes, and organisations such as NAFO exist to reach sensible conclusions—and we are trying to encourage that in this dispute.