HL Deb 11 November 1971 vol 325 cc486-98

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient to the House if I intervened at this moment to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement on the meeting of the Ministerial Council of the European Free Trade Association in Geneva, on the 4th and 5th of November; and on my meeting with the European Community in Brussels on the 9th of November.

"In Geneva Ministers unanimously expressed the hope that negotiations between the Communities and the non-candidate members of EFTA would start soon and be pressed forward as rapidly as possible. We reaffirmed our strong interest that the agreements reached should safeguard, in conformity with the GATT, the free trade already established in EFTA.

"For our part we informed our EFTA partners that, in accordance with our obligations under the EFTA Convention, we would be giving notice on the 31st of December, 1971, of our withdrawal from EFTA to take effect from the 31st of December, 1972."

"I will, with permission, circulate the full text of the EFTA Ministerial communique in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

"In Brussels, we made encouraging progress on a number of points. First of all, in regard to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, I am glad to be able to report that in accordance with our requests the Community have agreed to offer the Islands free trade in industrial goods within the Common External Tariff and free trade in agricultural products. In their proposal to us the Community have set out what will apply to the Islands; the rest of the provisions of the Treaty and regulations will not. This safeguards the Islands' fiscal position. Most important of all, the Community's proposals would in no way affect the Islands' constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom. I believe that these proposals offer a fair deal for the Islands, and I shall be prepared to commend them to the Island Authorities when I see them shortly.

"Next we reached agreement on the transition period of two years for which we had asked for the application to our export credit policies of the appropriate Community directive.

"I raised again the position which the enlarged Community should adopt towards Papua and New Guinea, which because of their constitutional position, cannot be associated with the Community. The Community have been examining this, and I am confident that they will be able to respond very soon.

"I now come to the issue which took up most of the time of the meeting, namely the Common Fisheries Policy. As the House knows the Community have fully recognised the need for changes, and have acknowledged that the new policy must establish a satisfactory overall balance of advantage for all member countries, new and old.

"In an attempt to secure this the Community made some new proposals. As regards access they suggested an initial period of five years, during which everyone would be free to reserve access to fishing grounds within six-mile limits; a further period of five years during which this could be continued with the approval of the enlarged Community; and, even after 10 years, provision for exceptional treatment in areas where the local population was mainly dependent upon fishing. The Community suggested for certain strictly limited geographical areas such as the Orkneys and Shetland Isles a special regime to which a 12-mile limit would apply.

"While welcoming this move as a genuine attempt towards a solution I made it clear that it was inadequate both as regards time and access. On time I said that however long the initial period there must be arrangements on a continuing basis subject to review. On access, whilst accepting the case for special treatment for areas where fishing was virtually the only means of livelihood, I explained that this did not go far enough. We had to recognise the needs of all areas where fisheries were of substantial economic and social importance to the stability and development of particular regions and where stocks were already fully exploited by the fishermen traditionally fishing there.

"We also discussed the application of the Community's marketing arrangements for fish. Here I was able to welcome their readiness to examine various adjustments which we have requested, and in particular to consider variations in withdrawal prices, improved arrangements for producer organisations, and provision for the marketing of frozen fish.

"In view of the complexity of the issues and the interests of the other candidate countries, we were not able to reach agreement on this occasion. Nevertheless, the Community, recognising the need for an early settlement, have agreed that we should hold a special Ministerial meeting on the 29th of November. In the meantime the Commission have been asked to consult officials from the candidate countries, and report further.

"Finally we reviewed the progress made in drafting the Treaty of Accession to the European Communities, and agreed that we should aim to sign the Treaty in the week before Christmas."

—My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

Following is the Communiqué referred to in the Statement:



The EFTA Council and the Joint Council of EFTA and Finland met at ministerial level in Geneva on 4th and 5th November, 1971.

In the EFTA Council, with the Finnish Minister taking part in a personal capacity, a full discussion of the present situation and prospects of wider European integration took place. Ministers noted with satisfaction the considerable progress which had been made since their last meeting in the negotiations and discussions of EFTA countries with the European Communities.

The membership negotiations of most of the candidate countries had virtually been completed and it could now be expected that the necessary membership treaty could be signed towards the end of the current year. The prospects for suitable special relations agreements between the Communities and the other EFTA countries had also improved considerably. Ministers hoped that negotiations to this end should start soon and be pressed forward as rapidly as possible.

The concept of the Communities would provide a good basis for the negotiations which were about to begin. The Community's desire that no new barriers to intra-European trade would be erected as a consequence of enlargement is in line with the strong interest which EFTA Ministers have expressed and reaffirm in safeguarding as an important part of an enlarged European Community the free trade already established between EFTA countries. The forthcoming agreements should also he in conformity with the GATE Ministers stressed the importance which they attached to adherrence to these objectives in the elaboration of the agreements. The exchange of information and consultations between the EFTA countries would continue during these negotiations.

Ministers emphasised the desire of all concerned that all the agreements between the Eves countries and the Communities should enter into force at the same time.

Ministers asked the Council at official level to examine the legal and other implications which will arise in the event of some members acceding to the European Communities, and others establishing special relations with the Communities. They were informed of the intention of the United Kingdom to give notice on 31st December, 1971, of their withdrawal from El-TA. to come into effect on 31st December, 1971.

During their discussion of developments affecting World Trade, Ministers expressed concern that recent monetary and trade measures taken for balance-of-payments reasons could seriously undermine the progress which has been made towards the reduction of restrictions on world trade therefore Ministers hoped that quick solutions could be found in the monetary field and that recently introduced trade restrictions could be removed as rapidly as possible, before lasting damage was done, pending the necessary reform of the international monetary system. Ministers stressed the necessity of continued efforts towards freer world trade and underlined the importance which the activities in organisations such as GATT and the O.E.C.D. will have in this connection.

Ministers stressed the importance of further promoting trade and economic relations between Western and Eastern European countries to the mutual benefit of the parties concerned. They attached special importance to improving the trading possibilities of the developing countries.

The Danish Minister gave an account of the recent measures taken by Denmark to deal with the serious balance-of-payments situation of his country. Ministers expressed their understanding of the difficult problems facing Denmark, but noted with regret the recent decision of the Danish Government to introduce an import surcharge, particularly in the context of the present world trade situation. They instructed the councils at official level to examine the matter further.

Ministers agreed that the next regular Ministerial meeting of the councils will take place in Geneva on 4th and 5th May, 1972.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement. I note what has been proposed about the Channel Islands, and I hope that this will prove acceptable to the islanders. I understand that that is the next stage in dealing with these proposals. We shall look forward to hearing what the Community's reaction is eventually to the question of the association of Papua and New Guinea. To come to what seems to me to be the most important part of the Statement, that on a Common Fisheries Policy, I hope and believe that I speak for most noble Lords on this side of the House when I say that it was right in this case to reject the Community's proposals as inadequate. It is now for the Six to improve upon these proposals if they are not to be unacceptably damaging to our vital fishing interests.

I should like to put three specific questions and one general question to the noble Baroness. I note that it is the aim now to sign the Treaty of Accession in the week before Christmas. Is the Treaty still to be signed at that time if by then no agreement has been reached on the Common Fisheries Policy? Secondly, if so, shall we be assured that Her Majesty's Government will insist upon a guarantee of the status quoin the Common Fisheries Policy, with the possibility of a veto by this country against any changes?

The third question is this. In the light of the position on fisheries expressed by other candidate countries, particularly the Government of Norway, can the noble Baroness now say what is the present position with regard to our co-ordinated negotiating policy with the other candidate countries, as it seems to me there is now some slight difference between our attitude to fisheries and certainly that of the Government of Norway? My final and more general question which I should like to put to the Government is this. Now that we have got into the heart of this matter of fisheries policy, is this not an opportunity to widen the whole subject and to consult our future partners in the E.E.C. with a view to formulating a common Community policy on fisheries and also a common policy that could be advanced and supported at the International Conference on the Law of the Sea which is clue to take place in 1973 and will cover, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows, not only the surface of the sea but the sea itself, the seabed and what lies under it?


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Statement that has been read out by the noble Baroness. We are pleased that there seems to be some prospect that the negotiations between EFTA and the Six will start shortly and get off to a good start. We think it satisfactory that an agreement should have apparently been reached on the Channel Islands, and it looks as if it will go through. The other agreements reached are also clearly welcome.

There remains of course the question of fisheries, which is the main outstanding question, and here it looks as if the Six have made a very considerable advance on their previous position—


No, my Lords.


—which we hope will be taken into consideration. We note, as the noble Lord who has just sat down has noted, that the timetable is that the agreement shall be signed before Christmas. We also note that on November 26 the Fisheries Agreement will come up again. If that is so, is it not a fact that, unless the Fisheries Agreement is finally arrived at on November 26, the prospects of getting the Treaty signed before Christmas are not very good? That being so, are we really going to stand out 100 per cent. for all our desiderata,or should we not contemplate making at any rate some slight concession?

I have two specific questions to ask the Minister. The Statement says, as regards access, that during a period of five years … everyone would be free to reserve access to fishing grounds within six-mile limits; a further period of five years during which this could be continued with the approval of the enlarged Community …". How exactly would the decision to accord such approval be taken? It is a very material point whether it is taken by a qualified majority or by unanimity.

The second question I have to ask is this. The Statement says: The Community suggested for certain strictly limited geographical areas such as the Orkneys and Shetland Isles a special regime to which a 12-mile limit would apply. Would that apply indefinitely for the future?


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend before she replies—


My Lords, I think it is the wish of the House that I should reply to the first two questioners first, and then there will be plenty of opportunity for more questions to be asked. I would thank both the noble Lords who have spoken for their general welcome of the Statement and of the considerable progress that has been made, notably on the issue of the Channel Islands. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, asked me three specific questions and one general question. On the first question regarding the Treaty of Accession, I think the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, also asked exactly the same question. In other words, they asked whether, if we had not in fact reached agreement on fisheries at the next meeting on November 26, we should be able to sign the Treaty of Accession. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy has said quite clearly that we shall have to reach agreement on fisheries before signing the Treaty of Accession.

The noble Lord then went on to ask the second question: whether, if agreement was not reached on November 29 (I think I said in error the 26th; I of course meant the 29th), the present position would obtain. We have exclusive jurisdiction up to six miles; certain countries which have historic rights can fish between six and 12 miles, and under the 1964 Convention we have the right to have enforcement measures for conservation reasons up to 12 miles. The third question he asked was whether a coordinated effort was being made to try to get all the candidate countries who are concerned with fisheries to come to some agreement together. There is of course constant consultation on the question, but the interests involved—and the noble Lord particularly noted Norway—are not exactly the same. Therefore we are trying to ensure that, while we keep in touch, nevertheless we shall have, as we hope, a final decision and an agreement made between everyone on November 29.

The noble Lord then asked a more general question on a wider subject, as he called it, about the Common Community policy. It would, of course, be perfectly possible, when we are members of the Common Market, to help in ensuring the future Common Fisheries Policy. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referring to the Orkneys and Shetlands, asked what would happen to the special regime and what would be the position there. The position at the moment is that certain proposals that I recounted to the House had been made by the Council of Ministers. We feel that they have tried to make an improvement on the original position, but we have not accepted it, and therefore this question is not at present in issue.


My Lords, I would thank the noble Baroness for her very reassuring Statement to-day, because, as they stand at the moment, the present proposals of the Six for fishery regulations are totally unacceptable to this country and I think the noble Baroness made that perfectly clear. I was delighted to hear her say that we would not sign the Treaty of Accession until a satisfactory solution of the fisheries problem had been achieved. I would ask her whether we are working in close cooperation with Norway and Eire on this matter, and to a lesser extent perhaps with Denmark, because the four applicant countries have vital interests in the fishing industry which the present Six do not possess—they are not exporters of fish. Their fishing grounds are fished out; ours are prolific and doing very well, and the situation is entirely different so far as we are concerned. I would ask the noble Baroness to repeat her assurance that we will not sign the Treaty of Accession until we get fishery terms—which I cannot for any conceivable reason see why we should not—which are satisfactory to us, to the Norwegians and to the other two applicant countries.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, for his miniature speech on a subject about which he cares very much. I said quite clearly (I should hardly have thought it needed repetition) that we wish to get satisfactory arrangements before we can sign the Treaty of Accession—arrangements satisfactory to ourselves. But I would also say that I think, as in the terms of the Statement, that the Community have made a genuine attempt to find a solution, because they had a Common Fisheries Policy and they have agreed to alter it and have tried to understand the problems, which vary among the four applicant countries.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I say one or two words on this subject? While the noble Baroness said that the six countries had a Common Fisheries Policy, I think she will admit that this policy came about in rather dubious circumstances and only a few days before we were making application. A decision was arrived at in the most doubtful circumstances, as I think the noble Baroness will admit. The noble Baroness said that a special meeting will be held on November 29—not the 26th, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. The noble Baroness then said that we want to sign this the week before Christmas. Noble Lords will agree that this leaves only a fortnight between the date of the meeting and the date of signing. I want to be sure that, when the noble Baroness says that we shall not sign if we do not get agreement, we shall not then be in a further difficulty, because the statement also says that whatever happens we shall withdraw from EFTA on December 31. We might well be in the position that we have not got agreement in regard to the E.E.C. but we shall be out of EFTA, which I think would put us in an impossible position.

May I also ask some further questions about the 10 to 12 mile limit? At the present time we have complete control over our own waters for a distance of up to 6 miles. In the waters between 6 and 12 miles certain countries are at present entitled to fish. The only two people who might come in are the Danes and the Luxembourgers; and I do not mind Luxembourg sending their fishing fleet across into our 6 to 12 mile limit because I do not think it would make much impression. But outside that, I should like to be perfectly clear about the position. The noble Baroness said that in 10 years' time the whole thing will become perfectly free. Does that not mean that for up to five years the 6-mile limit will be preserved, but from then on there will be a whittling away of the rights in our own waters, and that at the end of 10 years we shall have no rights left inside our own fishing grounds? If that is true, the only thing that will remain will be the Orkneys and Shetlands, with the 10-mile limit to safeguard their rights.

In the course of her Statement, the noble Baroness said that we welcome the various adjustments which we have requested. Perhaps she could spell out what these various adjustments were. We will be glad to welcome them if we know what they are, but if we do not know what they are we can hardly welcome them. Secondly, the Statement referred to improved relations for producer organisations. What are the improved relations for producer organisations? These are exceedingly important for the fishing industry.

Thirdly, the noble Baroness said that we had made provisions for the marketing of frozen fish. This is an important section of our industry, and I should like to know what these provisions are, because there is a considerable section, not only of the fishing industry but of the communities that the industry supplies, who are dependent upon this for their livelihood. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness would spell out what this means.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, for his interesting examination of the Statement. Dealing first with the meeting on November 29, he seemed to feel that it was rather a short time if we came to a successful conclusion in regard to the fisheries policy—


No, my Lords; unsuccessful.


My Lords, I am taking the first point at the moment. If we are successful on November 29 we are to sign the Treaty of Accession in the week before Christmas and the noble Lord asked whether this was not rather a short time. Perhaps it would interest the House to know that a group of jurists representing the applicants, the Council of Ministers and the Commission, are now engaged in the joint drafting of the single composite Treaty of Accession on the basis of decisions made at the negotiating conference. Therefore some preliminary work has already been done. Under our obligations towards EFTA, we agreed when we all joined together that we would give a year's notice of our intention to withdraw. That is in fact a year starting at the end of December of this year, and of course a year later we would withdraw from EFTA.

The noble Lord then asked a question with regard to the period of 10 years mentioned in the Statement. If he will look at the Statement again—I expect there is a copy on the Front Bench opposite—he will see that what it suggests is that there should be a further period of five years after the first five, during which the fishing grounds would be reserved for a six-mile limit with the approval of the enlarged Community, and of course this refers also to the question put earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. If we felt that it was one of our vital interests we would need a unanimous approval, but this is not at the moment in question because we have said that we could not accept it.


My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government have the right of veto?


My Lords, as the noble Lords knows, if you have to have unanimous approval that means that it is a right of veto.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked me particularly about the adjustments, and he referred to the second part of the Statement, concerning marketing arrangements for fish. So far as we have gone at the moment, all we have said is that we welcome their readiness to examine various adjustments, and if I may give one example particularly on the marketing question, it is that there should not be one fixed price but a variation of prices which would take into account those who are in remote areas.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether, in the course of negotiations which have taken place or are taking place, consideration has been given to placing the Western Hebrides in as advantageous a position as the Orkneys and Shetlands? The noble Baroness may agree that the narrow basis of life there does not really permit of any concessions whatsoever, especially when the benefits of them inure essentially to industrialised areas.


My Lords, I say to my noble friend Lord Selkirk that he will be aware that under the present arrangements, where we have exclusive rights of fishing up to 6 miles and conservation rights up to 12 miles, without discrimination, the 6 miles in fact covers the whole of the Minch, which is of great importance to the Western Hebrides.


My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this debate too far, but may I put two further brief questions? On the position of Norway, apparently I did not make one thing explicit. If the public position of the Government of Norway means anything at all, it is that they are standing out for some extremely stiff changes in the present position of the Common Market. I should like to be assured that Her Majesty's Government will not accept anything less than that which is granted to the Government of Norway in these negotiations. Finally, I should like to make the point in regard to the 1973 Conference. The noble Baroness referred to a joint policy on fisheries, but I should like to make it plain that I was talking about the joint position of the whole of the law of the sea, including fisheries.


My Lords, may I take the last point first. I am glad that the noble Lord made it clear about the whole question of fisheries, and certainly we shall do our best to try to get a common attitude on this question, which is of extreme importance to us. On the question of Norway, as I said earlier, the interests of the candidate countries vary. As the noble Lord will know, the interests of the deep sea fishermen of this country are not quite the same as the inshore interests, and that is why he said that we must get satisfactory arrangements for our fisheries. It does not mean that it has to be exactly the same as Norway.


My Lords, there is an important point arising out of the last answer made by the noble Baroness. I do not in any way seek to minimise the importance of the 1973 Law of the Sea Conference, but she will know that next year our fishermen in the distant water fleet will be in a difficult position. Indeed, I hope that she will take into consideration the threat of Iceland to extend her fishing limits to 50 miles, which will cause tremendous concern, if not in fact considerable danger, to our distance water fleet.


My Lords, may I say I am very glad that the noble Lord has made that point, because, of course, it is very much in the United Kingdom's interest that whatever arrangements are made on fishing there cannot then be a unilateral extension of fishing rights.