HL Deb 16 December 1976 vol 378 cc1020-58

3.24 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Fishery Limits Bill, which is before us today, is an important and urgent measure designed to enable British fishery limits to be extended to 200 miles. The target date for extension is 1st January next year, and I should like to explain why the Government feel it is necessary to extend our limits at that time. First of all, the Government have consistently maintained, as at the time of our "cod war" dispute with Iceland earlier this year, that extensions of fishery limits should take place in a framework of international agreement and co-operation. Often, when asked questions in another place, I reiterated time and time agnai that this was our approach: that they should take place in a framework of international agreement and co-operation.

We had hoped that by now a new Law of the Sea Convention would have emerged from the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. Progress at the recent sessions of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference has, however, been slow. But this has been for reasons largely unconnected with fisheries, on which subject a broad consensus has emerged. This consensus is reflected in the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference Revised Single Negotiating Text, which envisages 200-mile limits backed up by coastal State jurisdiction over the living resources of the sea within those limits.

As I have said, there is broad agreement at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference on the most important issues, and many States are already extending their limits to 200 miles. Iceland and many South American States have already done so; Norway and Canada are planning to extend on 1st January, and the United States of America on 1st March 1977. Unless we do likewise, there is a very real danger that the already heavily exploited stocks of fish around our shores will be subject to even greater pressure as the fishermen of various countries are excluded from other grounds. That is why the Government took the lead within the European Economic Community in pressing for a concerted extension of limits early next year. The Council of Ministers showed a welcome sense of realism in agreeing to this step at their meeting on 30th October.

By itself, of course, an extension of fishery limits solves nothing. The important thing is the regime to be applied within the wider limits. There are two complementary aspects to this: the access allowed to foreign fishing vessels and the measures applied to conserve fish stocks. Up to now, the most important and abundant fish stocks have occurred in waters outside national fisheries jurisdiction. The conservation measures applied have been those agreed within international bodies, such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, which had no power to enforce binding measures. Of course, these bodies have some significant achievements to their credit; but I think it is fair to say that, by and large, the measures agreed have given undue weight to economic pressures and in-sufficient weight to scientific advice. As a result, many stocks—to give an example, the Atlanto-Scandian herring—have disappeared, and most of the others are being over-fished to a greater or lesser degree.

With 200-mile limits most fish will be found within the limits of one or more coastal States, which will be responsible for conserving and managing the stocks in an effective manner and will have priority in exploiting them. For our part, we shall be working within a Community framework, and noble Lords will be aware that the Council of Ministers has already met to discuss the question of interim conservation arrangements and will be meeting again before the end of the year. It is the Government's firm intention to ensure that a Community conservation regime is introduced which fully meets the needs of the situation and gives proper weight to the scientists' recommendations. Indeed, we shall not consent to any regime which does not contain adequate safeguards in this respect. There must be effective measures to back up and enforce any quotas which are agreed, and industrial fishing must be controlled so that it does not damage valuable human consumption species. It may well take time to work out an acceptable regime and, in the meantime, the Government are prepared to take any necessary interim measures.

Dealing with access for foreign vessels, I have gone into the background to the Bill at some length because the Bill itself is largely an enabling measure, and it is important that noble Lords should be able to weigh its provisions in the light of more general developments. It builds to a considerable extent upon existing enactments, widening and extending them to take account of the new situation.

Clause 2, which is similar to Section 6 of the 1968 Act, enables Ministers to control access to British fishery limits. Foreign fishing boats are, in fact, prohibited from fishing within our limits unless they are registered in a country designated by order. Now this does not mean that foreign boats will disappear from our waters on 1st January. For one thing, under the Common Fisheries Policy as it now stands, fishing boats from Community Member States have equal access to each other's waters, at least up to the 12-mile belt. More restrictive, but temporary, arrangements apply inside 12 miles.

The Government's position in regard to the Common Fisheries Policy is well known and I need not rehearse the arguments in favour of coastal belts on this occasion. Suffice it to say that Clause 2 of the Bill is drawn in such a way that effect can be given to an exclusive coastal belt once agreement is reached. Until that time it would, however, be a breach of Community Law to seek to exclude Community fishermen from between 12 and 200 miles. As regards access to our limits for non-Community or third-country fishermen, here again the position is subject to negotiation.

There are a number of countries in whose waters our fishermen wish to catch large quantities of valuable species, such as cod, and who wish to catch in our waters species not so strongly favoured by our consumers. The Community is in the process of negotiating reciprocal access agreements with them. There are, however, other third countries whose fishermen fish in our waters but who cannot offer us much of value in return. Here the Commission's negotiating proposals envisage a rapid phase-out or scaling down of activity to levels justified by reciprocity. The Government fully support this approach.

My Lords, I want to turn now to the licensing provisions of the Bill, which are contained in Clause 3. The powers provided there for Ministers are widely drawn. Within all or part of British fishery limits, both British and foreign boats may be prohibited from fishing without a licence and a wide variety of restrictions may be imposed on areas, methods, periods of fishing, the species which may be caught, the ports at which they may be landed and so on. These powers are widely and flexibly drawn for several reasons. We are entering an era in which sea fishing will be much more closely controlled than hitherto, both for conservation reasons and in accordance with agreements between other countries and the Community.

It is, moreover, impossible to predict with any certainty precisely what measures will be needed, because we do not know how the fish stock situation will develop over the years, and because the shape of a revised Common Fisheries Policy is still far from certain. It is not Government's intention at the present time to introduce a blanket system of licensing. We must, however, keep our options open.

I think I should add, since a good deal of confusion arose over this in another place, that licensing orders under Clause 3 will be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. This is because Clause 3 substitutes a new Section 4 in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 and the procedures contained in that Act will apply. Parliament will therefore be able to scrutinise any action taken by the Government.

I turn briefly now to questions of eforcement. I very much hope that noble Lords will welcome the increased level of maximum fines provided for in the Bill. There has been growing criticism in this House of the existing level of fines and the revised level is more in keeping with the substantial rewards to be obtained from illegal fishing. As noble Lords who have read the Bill will know, the maximum fine on summary conviction for the most serious offences is raised to £50,000, with provision for an unlimited fine on conviction on indictment. In addition, the existing provision for confiscation of catch and gear—which could be worth, say, £100,000 in some cases—is retained. I believe that the revised level of penalties will provide a real deterrent to illegal fishing or breaches of conservation rules.

My Lords, I now turn to the resources we shall he making available for fishery protection. The force which is to patrol our extended limits has been described on several occasions. It will consist of five Royal Navy "Island" vessels, four RAF Nimrod aircraft and three fishery protection vessels run by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. In addition, the existing Royal Navy and DAFS inshore forces will continue to operate and other Royal Navy vessels can be called upon as necessary. I believe that this force will be effective, although, inevitably, its operation will be reviewed from time to time. The Bill contains provision in Clause 7 for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to contribute towards the cost of the force. The Secretary of State for Scotland already has power to do so under an enactment of 1895.

As I have said, my Lords, this Bill will not solve all our fishery problems. But it is an essential first step. While I hope that noble Lords will have regard to the urgency of the Bill and the need to expedite its progress—and it was welcomed on all sides in another place—I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate this afternoon and I shall do my best, in winding up, to answer the points which are raised. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Peart).

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, it will be no surprise to those Members of your Lordships' House who have heard me speak on this subject in recent months, that I welcome most wholeheartedly the principle of this Bill enabling the Government to extend our fishery limits to 200 miles. Indeed, the opening part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pearl, was almost word for word what I have been saying in this House during this year, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and others will know. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, was in another place on those occasions but we are delighted that he is in this House with all the experience he has had and the time and energy he has spent on fisheries as well as agriculture in recent years, and we know that the House is benefiting from his experience.

My Lords, it was in a debate on 19th May, I see, that I said that it was essential for the British fishing industry that a new system of conservation of fish stocks should be introduced by the maritime nations together at an early date. Agreement on principle on coastal economic zones of 200 miles had already been reached but no starting date had yet been fixed. That was what I was saying in May and have said on other occasions in this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Peart, reminded us, the Law of the Sea Conference has been considering the question of fishing limits as well as economic zones, together with an enormous quantity of other subjects connected with the sea, navigation, pollution and other matters. I was advocating that Her Majesty's Government should not hold up the question of fishery conservation and limits, while those other matters, which were less urgent and some of them very complicated, were completed. It was the aim of that world conference to try to have one convention signed to cover all the subjects. But it soon became apparent that Britain and other maritime nations—particularly fishing countries—could he held to ransom by lack of agreement, or the time it needed to reach agreement, on subjects such as the rules for international straits, or the regime for deep sea mining.

Fishing, and Britain's fishing industry, were the most urgent matters for this country at the conference. I believe that Britain has had more at stake regarding the extension of fishery limits to 200 miles than any other nation in the world. The Government have clearly done what we were recommending from this Bench, which was to follow the example of the United States, Canada and Norway and bring in enabling legislation with a view to extending limits to 200 miles early in 1977. I hope that the Government will continue to act in concert with Governments who think the same way as we do, so that the new regime of fishery limits can be brought in by a number of nations, the principal fishing nations, at about the same time.

Iceland's international offence was to try to impose a fishery limit long before it had been agreed by others, and long before reciprocal arrangements could be made. This would have been unfair to all others concerned and has caused a great deal of trouble and the cod wars. The major change from 12 to 200 miles means radical changes in fishing patterns. Many distant water vessels will have to fish nearer home, and this will be so not only for Britain but also for other fishing countries. It will affect the types of vessel being used and also the types of fishing gear. But it is necessary for two reasons. One mentioned by the noble Lord is the overfishing which has been taking place recently and will continue unless regimes of conservation are en-forced. The methods of catching fish have improved in efficiency very greatly, and other countries have been unscrupulous in scooping up fish of all kinds without much thought to the future. The second reason is that coastal States have by far the main interest in enforcing conservation measures. Therefore, it is logical to place the main responsibility upon the coastal States.

I should like to turn to some immediate matters arising from the Bill before us. First, I must say a word about Iceland. The EEC are engaged in negotiations with Iceland, and I heard a depressing statement issued by the Icelandic Minister before the meeting today started. I am sure that we wish Mr. Gundelach well in representing the interests of the EEC; and, of course, Britain's interest is the main one there. The three British ports of Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood are the ones principally affected where Iceland is concerned. Looking at the negotiations, Iceland catches most of her fish within her own 200 miles fishery zone, and she sells most of the fish elsewhere because she has only a small population.

I will not now examine in detail these matters, which are the subject of delicate negotiations at present, but I should like to raise a major point for the future. As well as the licensing system, should there not be in the Bill some powers to control the landings of fish by foreign boats? Surely, this should be one of the bargaining counters which Britain may use vis-à-vis Iceland and other countries which may be in a similar position in the future. We obviously have to take care of our own processing industries; we have to make sure too that the price of fish does not suddenly increase for the consumers. Any such powers would accordingly have to be used with care. I recognise that this is probably a Department of Trade matter and not a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Scottish Office, who are presumably responsible for this Bill. But will the noble Lord tell us whether such powers already exist? If they do not, or if they are not adequate, will he consider adding them to the Bill? We have the opportunity next week, and certainly from this side of the House I can assure the Government that we will co-operate in every way to add something like this to the Bill, should it be necessary.

The United States Congress made such an addition to the legislation which they have passed while it was going through its various stages. Once they had done it, they achieved considerable success as a result vis-à-vis Japan, because Japan accepted the 200-mile fishery zone where the United States was concerned when they realised that the United States was taking these powers to control the landings of fish by Japanese boats on United States territory. I remember that in the past we have used certain powers—I cannot remember exactly what they were—in relation to fish fillets from Norway. I think that it was direct agreement with Norway under which there were annual quotas imposed on the amount of fish fillets that could be landed in this country. If so, we do not have the general powers.

We should not ignore this bargaining counter, as I have described it, which should enable us to negotiate in future with countries which are not concerned with catching fish in our waters but, none the less, are concerned about various facilities which we can give them. This should strengthen the arm of the EEC in negotiating on our behalf, even if it is a statement today or next week.

I should also like to consider briefly other countries outside the EEC, and, in particular, the Soviet Union. The Minister who was replying to the debate in another place on 3rd December said that approaches had been made to the Soviet Union, but that no negotiations had yet begun. The noble Lord may be able to tell us more about that this evening if anything has started in the past two weeks. The Minister could not say whether Russian vessels would withdraw from the British 200-mile fishery limit, or would dwindle in numbers after 1st January.

In recent months the Soviet Union have been fishing very much more round our coasts than in the past. Clearly, they could see what was coming and they were trying to catch as much as they could before the new regime started. Then there is another point where the Soviet Union are concerned. Will the EEC be negotiating with the Soviet Union, or will it be the individual members of the EEC? I ask this because Soviet recognition of the EEC as an international entity is vague and uncertain. It could be that in order to get results and do business with the Soviet Union we may have to negotiate separately. Subsequently—and perhaps even more important—when we come to the control and policing of the EEC 200-mile fisheries limit, the Soviet Union may not recognise fishery protection vessels or aircraft if they are operating on an EEC basis rather than a national basis. That, also, I suggest needs to be borne in mind.

On 1st December, at the end of the debate on the Address in this House, my noble friend Lady Elles asked a question about co-operation with the EEC where patrolling and control of the new fishery limits were concerned. In reply, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, suggested at the end of our debate that this could be a matter for a special debate by means of an Unstarred Question. We have had a look at this and, on these Benches, we feel that between now and Christmas the best opportunities will arise on this Bill today and on the Proceedings next week to consider naval co-operation within the EEC and the general question of policing the new fishery limits. Of course, when we reassemble towards the end of January there may well be other opportunities, and indeed it may be appropriate to have a debate on the methods of policing the 200-mile fishery limits.

I come now to negotiations within the EEC. It was known that the world was going to move from 12 miles to 200 miles and that there would be a massive upheaval for the world's fishing fleets. When the new fishery policy was adopted before the United Kingdom negotiations began in 1970, a policy was then agreed which is no longer relevant. It applied to a world with 12-mile fishery limits and, as from next year, there is to be a world with 200-mile fishery limits. Our 1970 position in the United Kingdom was extended in time until 1983 with not much alteration. The whole concept of limits in the meantime has been in the melting pot, and a new system is now emerging. For the United Kingdom fishing industry, it is clear that more vessels must be working around our own coasts. These will include not only our large trawlers, which have in the past been fishing off the coast of other countries, but also what we call our inshore fishing fleets.

There is a possible misunderstanding here, my Lords, because we describe our inshore fishing fleets approximately as boats whose length is below a certain measurement; but some of these fishermen are very sturdy and robust and may fish off the coast of Norway up to the 12-mile limit. They can go out for five days at a time or more. Included among the inshore fleets also are very small boats which go out for just a half day for about a mile and gather shellfish. Therefore, so far as Britain is concerned, the inshore fleet contains a wide variety extending between those two types. A possible misunderstanding could therefore arise because whenever the EEC make arrangements for what they describe as "inshore fishermen" they appear to be thinking more of the small boats, such as the shell-fish boats, than of what we would describe as inshore boats, which go considerably further afield, though they do not do the long journeys to Iceland or Northern Norway.

So we have to consider this question of an exclusive zone or band within the EEC fishery limits for Britain. The United Kingdom and Ireland together have a very large part of the coastal waters and, therefore, of the 200-mile EEC fishery waters. The fishermen themselves have been saying that a 50-mile exclusive limit is what they expect as a minimum. The Government have stated that they are negotiating for an exclusive band which would vary from 12 to 50 miles, taking into account the particular fishing grounds. I would urge the Government again, as I have done in the past, to negotiate for as much of the 50-mile element of that as possible, remembering also that fish are not static and are not like oil or gas, remaining always in one part of the Continental Shelf. From this Bench we would support the Government if they were to propose a regime, for the time being, within the 50 miles after 1st January, if no agreement has yet been reached with the EEC. We think that would be a sensible thing for the Government to do in the meantime.

If I may consider for a moment the EEC's own policies, they place a great deal of emphasis on competition. At the same time there is a system for regional development in the EEC. At the World Conference there is a group of about 50 countries which are land-locked and geographically disadvantaged. I would remind your Lordships that this group includes West Germany, Belgium and Holland. We must remember that when we are negotiating within the EEC. When we think of the great ports of Hamburg, Antwerp and Rotterdam and the system of the Rhine, it is sometimes difficult to think of them as being disadvantaged from a maritime point of view. Also, in every other way, of course, those countries have great geographical advantages because they are central in Europe.

In contrast, there are the peripheral areas of the EEC, which have less industrial development. These very often contain the fishing communities: for example, the North of England, Scotland, Ireland and Brittany. Their resources, which happen to go with these peripheral areas, form a large part of the EEC waters. Therefore to recognise such natural resources as do exist, for areas which are not blessed with many other natural resources, would cause less distortion of competition policy than might otherwise he the case. Also, it would make less serious the problems of those areas which are to be tackled by the Regional Development Fund and the Social Fund of the EEC. I hope that the Government will point out during the negotiations that we are upholding the principles for which the EEC itself stands and the aims which it seeks to apply, the keynote being conservation of the resources available to "the less favoured areas"—that is an EEC term—and providentially on their doorstep: that is to say, fish in the seas off their shores.

Briefly, on the question of policing, the British element to which the noble Lord referred contains four Nimrods which can carry out surveillance over a very wide area—and there will be a very wide area of sea which has to be patrolled. Those aircraft, of course, cannot themselves make an arrest; and of the various surface craft that are available there seem to be none with enough speed to be certain of making an arrest after a Nimrod or some other aircraft has spotted a vessel which is suspected of being in an area where it should not be. The Government place emphasis upon the seaworthiness and endurance of the fishery protection vessels we are proposing to use, but I suggest that more is needed, and in the debate which I indicated could probably occur in the New Year these matters ought to be gone into in greater depth

I would also mention that where licensing is concerned—I think the Government have already agreed to this but I press it from this Bench—there is an advantage in licensing vessels and not trusting in quotas. Quotas have fallen into disrepute with fishermen because they believe they are not being properly observed by other countries. In any case, it is much easier to carry out policing at a distance if it is only a named vessel or a certain number of vessels which can he in an area at a given time and you do not have to hoard the vessel and inspect what it has been doing. So that should make patrolling easier.

Our aim in Britain must be the conservation of existing stocks of fish, but we must also look to new species which are at present little known to the public; such as blue whiting and ling. There is also a fish called the grenadier. These are to be found some distance off the West coast in deeper water, and will require new methods of fishing. But some of these types of fish are there in quantities, and they have not been so hard pressed as the staple fish which arc better known. Marketing will be required, because the housewife is not used to these fish, and I must mention that at least one, the grenadier, is singularly repulsive in appearance, though I am told that it is quite good to eat.

We will certainly do all we can to help this Bill through before Christmas, so that it will be enacted by 1st January, but, once it is, the British Government should have five crucial tasks, if I may suggest them. First, they should control conservation by the licensing of the 200-mile zone, and by effective policing. Secondly, there should be negotiation with countries outside the EEC, where any fishing is required by them within our 200-mile zone, with reciprocity for our distant water vessels. In that way, we should aim to retain as much distant water fishing as we can off the coasts of other countries. Thirdly, there should be a phasing out of the activities of those countries which have no particular reason to continue fishing within our fishery limits, and which have nothing to offer us in return: and I note that that process has already started by notice having been given to a certain number of countries. Fourthly, there should be negotiation within the EEC for an exlusive zone, on the lines which I have just been discussing. Fifthly, there should be co-operation with the industries—and I include the processing and other industries, as well as the fishing industry—to help new patterns to emerge, new methods of catching, and also to assist with the popularity and consumption of new species of fish on the market. All parts of the British fishing industry are bound to feel the effects of the new world system, and we should be making the best of what was inevitably coming. But there is no reason why a healthy and prosperous British fishing industry should not remain, with all the benefits for our economy and for our consumers.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said, all of this has been said before by him and by others, and the one fact which is inescapable is that the Bill itself is inescapable, and will be given a fair wind by all the people who understand the fishing industry. The Government's difficulties have been most evident. It was quite right that they should await the outcome of the interminable Law of the Sea Conferences, which dragged on and on; and, of course, while the dispute with Iceland was on we had to maintain that out of the Law of the Sea Conferences some agreement could come. But what happened was that the lack of any co-operation eventually drove the nations concerned—the United States, Canada, France and others—towards a unilateral extension of their fishing limits to 200 miles. So we understand why the Government, perfectly properly, waited for events before introducing this Bill and we will certainly give it as fair a wind as possible, because it has our full support.

I shall not go into much of the detail of the Bill, but the licensing provisions are most helpful. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, quotas are subject to all kinds of wriggles and difficulties. For example, in a factory fishing fleet which is fishing for industrial purposes all kinds of fish are poured into the hold and nobody can know what kind of fish they are, or whether the quota is being controlled. Licensing of vessels and owners can give the kind of control that is needed, and this must be done by the maritime country itself.

In this respect, it is very interesting to look at the proposals for extending the fishery protection fleet. Perhaps the Minister can say whether, in addition to the four Nimrods, which are very large, very expensive and very well-equipped aircraft, which can operate in bad weather, the Government intend to use a back-up of light aircraft, which might be more useful and much cheaper, as was suggested in another place by the Conservative spokesman on Scotland. Along with helicopters, such light aircraft could he an important back-up for the very sophisticated Nimrods.

I believe that the Bill will enable the EEC to negotiate quickly with Iceland and Norway for very important areas for ourselves, which could preserve a part—though probably only a part—of our deep water fleet. Cod from around Iceland is very important to England, while haddock is very important to Scotland, and the EEC's control of the markets is a most important negotiating point with Iceland. But I am not so much concerned with that. I believe that the EEC can deal effectively with what I might call our enemies, or the outside people, including the Soviet Union. I think that we have the power, and one thing that the Soviet Union has is a primitive territorial integrity. So in that case we shall be able to negotiate quite effectively.

But I am really concerned in this matter with our friends. For example, the Danes are the most excellent people; they are glorious, gross eaters and I adore to eat in their company. But they are also gross fishers; their industrial fishing is a grave danger to us and they are very influential. We have to remember that the EEC's fishing policy is all rather a swindle. It was cobbled-up hurriedly before the real maritime fishing nations, like Great Britain and Ireland—and at that time Norway was negotiating—came into the EEC, and I do not think it should be regarded as sacrosanct.

The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that Community Law is very important and will stop our doing certain things. But we should be practical about this, and realise that the success of the Community so far has relied greatly upon the breaking of Community law, and the adjusting, by long negotiations, of Community law and its spirit to national difficulties and interests. I do not think we should forget this when the Ministers are negotiating. For example, I would ask the noble Lord to remember how often French agricultural interests have broken the spirit of Community law, and Community aims in general. What is really important is what we negotiate in the shape of a limit. Everyone connected with the fishing industry has said it is absolutely vital that we have a limit for our own use.

The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that there have been some successes in the international field; for example, the North Atlantic Commission. I do not know what these successes are, because he went on to quote the rapid extinction or diminution of several species of fish. I should like the noble Lord to quote to us any successes because, quite frankly, I do not think that there are any. I think that certain compromises have been made, and that is all. May I quote from what was said in another place by the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Minister during the Second Reading debate on the Fishery Limits Bill: It is no longer practical or, indeed, desirable, to resist the strong pressure for wider fishing limits. The problem of managing and conserving fish stocks remains. I have no doubt that only one sort of State has the means, the incentive and the economic interest to do so—the Coastal State—which actually has its stocks around its coasts".—[Official Report (Commons), 3/12/76; col.1349.] This is entirely and wholly true, and I hope that the Government will stick by it.

So far we have had no form of international agreement that has been successful in conserving stocks. May I suggest that the Government have a very strong negotiating point. They can say that they are perfectly willing to surrender to quota arrangements at a later date—say in 10 years' time—for an exclusive coastal trip. But until the international arrangements (and I mean international within the EEC) are proven it would be extremely foolish—and regarded as so, probably, by our EEC partners—of us to surrender the 50-mile limit. When I say a 50-mile limit I mean a 50-mile limit. Obviously it cannot be that where the median line is less; but I can see no reason for saying "50 miles or less", because if there is no reason for it then our partners will not want it. If you are policing something, you need a firm limit. To ask people to police some kind of zig-zag up and down our coast will be even more difficult than the policing that we are asking them to do at this moment.

May I say one or two things about the methods of fishing. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that methods have improved so much that they are in danger of extinguishing the fish stocks. I would take the noble Lord to task on only one point—that is, his use of the word "improved". There is an enormously good case for backing the genuine inshore fisherman. I am not saying this because I think that it is marvellous to have inshore fishermen around the quays of our ports looking picturesque, in their lovely dark jerseys—we call them "ganseys" in our part of the world. I say it because there is a strong commercial reason. The inshore fishermen are very competent at their job. Certainly on the East coast of Scotland the oldest method of fishing—by the great line where you selected your fish, or the game came and selected their hook, happily for us, and were caught on it—was very efficient and very practical, because the hardy fish merchants and fishmongers of Scotland would pay more for line fish than they would pay for fish that were scooped up. I do not believe that we are going back-wards if we ask for an inshore fishing zone to be fished by local fishermen in what may appear to be old-fashioned ways, but which are more competent and efficient and which certainly are ways that can conserve fish stocks. My noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran has pointed out that the inshore fishing industry of Wales has been ruined by French trawlers scooping up the fish around the coast of Wales. This could be true of a great many parts of Great Britain, but Wales is the nearest part of Great Britain to the Continent of Europe to suffer from this danger.

All of this points to the fact that we must give a great welcome to the Bill. However, during this Second Reading debate we are hammering home to the Government that they must consider British interests, for in the long-term the British interests will be the interests of the Community. We are also hammering home to the Government that they must hold absolutely firm on getting an exclusive zone of 50 miles around our coasts, or the median line, which we can police properly and show the way towards policing properly the rest of the zone by the EEC.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, this debate, which has been interesting, may not seem so dramatic as that which was undertaken here and in another place yesterday. It may well be that those taking part in it have found that parts of it seem to be too specific to be generally interesting, yet it seems to me that this debate is as vital and is as much in context in the continuing debate about the economy as anything that we heard promulgated yesterday. It seems to me that we have to speak in terms of international co-operation and about the existing agencies which can ensure that co-operation. We must make sure that those factors which are still within national control are properly controlled by the Government of this country. So much is no longer under the control of any Government, of whatever colour, in this country that we must ensure that those things which we can control and influence are controlled and influenced properly and effectively. In this sense I welcome the Bill.

At the same time I have to say that so far as the Welsh fishing industry is concerned the Bill is, sadly, 20 years too late. If such a Bill had been presented in this House or in another place 20 years ago, it could have avoided what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has mentioned as having already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. As it has not been raised in this debate, perhaps noble Lords will forgive me if I give some attention to it in the course of my remarks.

The British fishing industry generally realises that it is of vital importance within the economy, but it sometimes wonders whether its importance is understood by society at large. The Welsh fishing industry is certainly convinced that over a period of 25 years its own problems were not properly understood and that, because they were not understood, it has led to the loss to the British economy and to the British housewife of a very valuable food.

The Welsh industry, which was once based on Cardiff and Swansea, has deteriorated over the last 25 years. It has deteriorated in particular since the war, although it was showing signs of deteriorating before then, principally because we had failed to realise the dangers of not conserving fish stocks. It is absolutely essential that we should understand now that there are crop areas around the coasts of this country which are so much over-fished, and which have been over-fished for so long, that they will not in future be available to the trawlers which have worked from the British ports.

It may not be known that the Welsh fishing industry, which was once so important and valuable, is now worth only about 1 per cent. of the total overall British fishing industry. I want the House to understand that I am not in any way being parochial in using this as an illustration of what is happening and why it is essential that the Bill should be passed quickly through this House. One hundred years, and more, of fishing were undertaken from the West Coast ports of Wales, just as fishing has been undertaken from the other coastal ports of Great Britain.

Milford Haven is a classic example of the lack of a conservation policy. Hake fishing was once undertaken at that port, and it was so important to the economy of the country as to be worth, in 1946, for example, £1¾ million in total value. The catch at that time, which was landed by the Milford Haven trawlers, was some 60,000 tons (that is the old British ton) of fish, and over the period of which I have been speaking the value of the catch, despite inflation, has fallen to the extent that the number of people employed in the industry is now derisory compared with what it once was. Yet the industry is still vitally important and is an important element in the economy.

It may not be generally known that to mature the hake, which was certainly the basis of the fishing at Milford Haven port and of much of the Welsh industry, took 10 years, and that its physical arrangement was such that, if it were raised above the level at which it normally lived, air sacks within its body exploded and the fish was no longer able to support itself and therefore died off.

The culprits in the over-fishing were not the local fishermen, who were themselves early controlled by British net mesh regulations, but were precisely those countries from the nearer Continent who, under current regulations and indeed under proposed regulations, still have access to those fishing areas. The fishing industry in Wales has so far deteriorated as to consist effectively of only eight trawlers, whereas at one time there were more than 200, and the number of fishermen onshore, based on the Milford Haven ports, is somewhere between 60 and 80, and we can probably say that about 300 people ashore are now employed.

In 1975, British vessels landed at the Milford Haven port only 2,430 metric tonnes, and the value of that, with inflation, amounted to £813,363. I make no apology for giving the detail of this because it is important for us to understand that one large sector of the British industry has already died. An important element of it that is struggling to remain, is giving itself a number of props in order to remain in business. The Celtic Fishing Industries, Ltd., import what we used to know as Dublin Bay prawns; overland they import scampi now from other areas and bolster up the fishing industry at Milford Haven.

But the Welsh fleet is aging: the average age is about 18 years and this in itself is part of the problem which shows that the industry cannot afford to redevelop itself in order to live up to the potential that continues to exist there. Fixed port charges have to he borne by fewer and fewer vessels and the unit costs of operating rise. As fuel gets dearer, so it becomes more difficult for people to keep their boats at sea. A 12 day trip of the average size trawler now requires some £4,500 in order to break even—a very substantial sum of money. This of course is reflected in price rises and therefore we find that the whole thing is inflationary. At the same time as being inflationary, it contributes to unemployment in an area where the unemployment percentage is the highest in Britain outside of Ulster and at the last count stood at 20.7 per cent. of the working population. Disguised within that very high figure was the fact that there are not generally available jobs for women in this area. There are not around the coastal areas of the rest of Britain. There is, then, a disguised unemployment figure within that high and inflated percentage.

So that the decline in the industry has increased unemployment, it has added to inflation and it has limited the home based food source. Fish is still, despite price rises, a relatively cheap source of high protein food available, within our own control. So what we are talking about is the management of the sea estate of Great Britain. What we are engaged upon in this Bill is putting at the disposal of the Government and of the authorities involved an instrument which will give them the chance to do more effectively what they have recognised as needing to be done for a long time and what they have tried to have done through international agencies.

Here I should like to add to the tributes that have been paid to the noble Lord the Leader of the House who is sitting here with all the knowledge that he has gained as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and one who has the confidence of the industry. At the same time, I should like to say that the industry is not always confident that the peripheral edges of it are given as adequate representation as the noble Lord, Lord Peart, would claim, rightly, to have given to the interests of Britain in the arguments that he has had within the EEC and elsewhere.

This deprivation, this decline in the industry, has created social problems and of course it has attracted further Government money. So we have a vicious economic situation in which, simply because we did not conserve our stocks, we added to our problems both within the economy of the fishing industry and within the economy of the whole nation. The Welsh fishing industry would claim—and doubtless other sections of the industry would claim—that indiscriminate continental small mesh fishing around the West coast grounds has in fact been the basic long-term cause of the problems that they face. British fleets have always accepted in recent years—I will qualify that: remove the word "always" because responsibility has to be taught. Legislation must always come after education and British fleets have accepted that there is a twin basis to conservation. Net mesh sizes must be regulated—and the Bill is an instrument for doing that—and immature fish must not be caught. If they are caught they must not have access to markets. Here again, the local British fishing industry has been at the mercy of its continental brethren. Immature fish caught by France, Spain and Belgium are in fact taken ashore and find a ready market.

The Welsh fishing industry and other sections of the British fishing industry will accuse their colleagues from the fishing interests of the other countries of the EEC of breaching the spirit of the Conventions already agreed. They are also rather worried that some of the concessions given to those countries have made it possible for them to be even more effective in breaching the policy. They say that competitors have been given licences which enable them to come into British territorial waters and to fish in areas which in fact the British fleets would wish to conserve. The unemployed fishermen of the coastal villages of Britain have had the aggravation of looking out to the near horizon and seeing foreign vessels fishing almost off their shores, actually breaching the six-mile limit and even coming up to within three miles from the shore. British fleets are prevented from doing this, and they say that they would not do it in any case. I do not know that they are really as altruistic as all that, but they are prevented from doing it and they accept the spirit of the legislation which prevents them. There is a growing sense of responsibility within the industry itself as to the conduct of its affairs.

There is a further charge which I think the noble Lord the Leader of the House might wish to take up. It is said that the falling status of the trade in the peripheral areas of the country in fact leads to its being more lowly regarded in representations that are made in general on behalf of the trade itself. So they lose out in every way: not only do they lose out in the market, hut they are discounted when arguments go on within the EEC aimed at presenting the general case. The specific weakened economies lose again. As I have said, they see their difficulties as being disregarded and not properly presented within the British Trawler Federation, within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—a direct response will probably be made to that—and within the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. They fear that the potential of the West coast grounds could also be disregarded. They feel that there is a potential left, despite the difficulties, and what I want to urge this afternoon—and I am conscious of the passing of time disciplining me—is that reassurance be given, first by the acceptance of the provisions of this Bill and by its early passage through the House, and secondly by those who are responsible for representing the interests of the British fisheries. I ask them to contact through their local representatives the interests that makes this charge and prove specifically to them, if it is in fact groundless, that such is the case. They really fear that too much attention could be given to recent landings and not enough to the whole picture.

I have lived alongside the Haven all my adult and child life. I went to school with the people who man the fleet. I, too, pay tribute to what they do. It is essential that it is recognised that in a country under siege—because whether we like it or not, our economy is under siege—we must make the maximum use of the abilities of the people in the industry, as well as of the food they are likely to catch. It is an affront to me, as to all Members of this House, when individuals who wish to work are prevented from doing so, in an industry that has the opportunity to land valuable assets for the country, because the nature of these problems has too long been disregarded.

My Lords, there is much more I wished to say. I feel I am urging a brief here in the broadest possible sense. I have quoted only specific and local cases because I wanted to extrapolate the lesson from them; that is, the need for us to conserve our stocks and to see that when the new regulations are introduced they are effectively policed. It is essential that we should bring in this Bill immediately. I support it wholeheartedly. I hope that the Minister, perhaps not today but at a later time, will give a fuller answer to some of the fears I have expressed. I am delighted that this House is lead by one who will be able to represent these interests with such experience.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I heartily agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, has just said. He was quite right when he said that this is a very important Bill. It is an enabling Bill, and what will come out of it will be of great importance, so I am surprised that there have not been more speakers this afternoon. Although it is excellent news that we are now going to get the 200-mile limit, I think we are rather late in the day. It is a great pity we did not do this earlier. If we had done it earlier, it would have given us more authority in our dealings with Iceland. I understand that Iceland are unloading large cargoes of fish at the moment at Grimsby and Hull, so we must ensure that we do not allow foreign boats to fish within this 200-mile limit and to dump their fish here. Maybe it is different if they are taking the fish to their own country to raise the standard of living, but we must not allow them to dump the fish here.

The noble Lord, Lord Parry, quite rightly drew attention to the extreme importance of this industry, and its decline. Even though it is declining, I understand that last year the total catch was worth £900 million, a figure which shows the great importance of this industry. But we are at a disadvantage. I was "pro" the EEC. Well, I am not now quite so "pro"; but we are at a disadvantage with regard to fishing when it comes to the EEC. I am sorry to have to say that, but it is the truth. I was of the opinion that we had the power of veto when it came to fishery policy, but apparently we do not have that power, which I think is a pity. Our fishing resources in the North-East Atlantic are by far the most valuable in the EEC. All the countries of the EEC put together do not have anything like our valuable fisheries. We have a longer coastline on the Atlantic than the rest of the EEC put together, excluding, perhaps the Mediterranean. Even if you include Italy, we might even have a longer coastline, but I have not worked that out.

The real heart of the Bill, as several noble Lords have said, will be apparent when we come to renegotiation. I do not know how to pronounce his name, but Mr. Gundelach—he must be a Scotsman with a name like that—


A Dane.


—is, I gather, a fair minded individual and will do his best to look after our interests, but he will have a lot of other pressures exerted on him. I do not want to be repetitive—it is difficult not to be when one is speaking late in the list—but Her Majesty's Government must really insist that we get an exclusive zone of 50 miles. That is essential. If we wish to insist on that we have the whip hand, because we have the best fishing grounds.

Clause 7, which deals with protection—I should say that I have rather jumped the clauses, but I do not want to go into them one by one—is a clause in which I am very interested. Presumably, we shall be responsible for protection up to the 200-mile limit. We are told that we shall have only four Nimrod aircraft, five naval vessels, and three Ministry of Agriculture vessels. Are these enough? I understand that the total area which we would have to police is about 500,000 square miles. If we take in the Republic of Ireland, which I suppose we shall also have to police, the area will be nearer 1 million square miles. Can we really police that sort of area with four Nimrods? You cannot have them all in the air at the same time; probably it is possible to have only one of them in the air at a time. I understand that the vessels will do only 16 knots, and they will not have helicopters. It seems to be a very small force. I am told that the naval vessels will also have to guard our oil installations. Surely they will be far too widely stretched. If we take the value of our oil at thousands of millions of pounds, and the value of our fishing at £1,000 million per annum, surely the Government could afford more protection than that. I do not agree that the EEC should help us to protect up to the 200-mile limit, but they might contribute towards the cost. Of course, the EEC do not have vessels, although NATO do, so perhaps we could come to an agreement whereby the EEC contribute towards the cost. That seems fair enough.

Might I now pass to the question of conservation. Perhaps I ought to have taken this first because in the Bill conservation comes before protection. I quite agree with what has been said by some noble Lords about quotas. One cannot really protect fishing by quotas, because people will cheat. Various countries are involved, like Norway, which have factory ships which actually come and take the catch from the small ships, and go straight home. How are we to check on what they have taken? Therefore, from the point of view of conservation, a system of quotas is not very satisfactory. I think the only really satisfactory method is to have prohibited areas, providing one can police them. One can have close seasons, of course, but it can happen that a close season for a certain fish is not the same as the close season for another type of fish in that area which perhaps does not need a close season. So, again, you will get people cheating. They will say, "We were not fishing for those fish for which the close season is on; we were fishing for the other species". You can get that in freshwater. People will be fishing for sea trout, but they will say, "We were not fishing for sea trout, but for brown trout". The same thing can happen on the seas.

Before concluding, I should like to say that I have been on the West Coast of Scotland for a long time and I have been appalled at the drop in the fish stocks since my youth. I can remember the days when if you got a westerly gale in the autumn you could get the herring piled up on the shore three feet deep. We used to take them out in carts and put them on the fields. I can remember as a boy sailing out in the Atlantic and seeing great schools of Greenland blue whales. They are not fish, so perhaps this is not relevant to the Bill. I have not seen a blue whale since the war, and it was the Russians who killed them.

Talking of the Russians, of course, if they do not give us some reciprocal agreement—and I do not see how they can because the White Sea, after all, is frozen for the majority of the year; I cannot see that they can give us equal fishing with what we can offer them—I presume this will mean that if we have the necessary protection vessels the Russians will keep out of our zone. I have seen Russian trawlers. They do not fish; they hoover the sea. I followed one once, and they appeared to be hoovering the sea with some form of electronic equipment. I do not know whether they are using electromagnets or something like that, but they appear to hoover the sea. It is the most appalling procedure.

My Lords, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be strong in this renegotiation because we have the best fishing grounds in the North-Eastern Atlantic. There is one point that the Minister might answer. I may be foolish about this; perhaps have not read enough about it. Am I to understand that when we have the 200-mile fishing limit that is also the economic zone? Does that include the minerals on the seabed as well, because if it does it is an even more important question. It is a more important question from the point of view of sovereignty. I do not suppose it includes it, but I should like to know whether it does. With those few words, I will sit down. I should like to reiterate: do remain strong over this renegotiation, because we have a lot to offer. That is my last word: do remain strong in the renegotiations.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships that I have not put down my name to speak, but i am going to speak for only two minutes. I have had a life-long interest in the fishing industry of this country, and the first thing I would say is that I congratulate Her Majesty's Government for the tremendous fight the Foreign Secretary has been putting up in Brussels for our fisheries. I think it is a great triumph to have achieved the 200-mile limit.

The only other thing I want to say about the inshore fishing industry of this country is this. I agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken. I do not believe that quotas are going to be any good. They cannot be enforced, even if we had an exchange of inspectors, which would do something. In the end they will not be enforced. So far as the inshore fishing industry is concerned, for certain parts of our coast, we must have, especially in Scotland and on the South-West coast, a 50-mile exclusive limit. I think that is terribly important, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will light for this as they have given every sign of doing; otherwise the inshore fishery of this country will die, and that would be a tragedy.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, welcome for this Bill has been unanimous on all sides. I merely hope that the practical results will live up to the expectations. It is an enabling measure, absolutely essential to the bargaining that will follow, both with our friends in the Community and with third countries. That is the forum on which the future prosperity of our fishermen will depend.

Of course I support this Bill. One can only wish, with hindsight, that it had been brought in some time ago as part of the settlement of the cod war. As chairman of the Fisheries Committee of the South-West Economic Planning Council, I am frequently reminded of the serious problems facing the fishermen of the South-West. These are largely inshore fishermen, who see the 200-mile limit only as a first step. The real crunch will come with the demand for an exclusive zone of more than 12 miles. Of course, we must try for the 50 miles. I hope that we will succeed. at least on 35 miles.

One of our main worries is mackerel, and its importance is emphasised by the fact that 60 per cent. of the mackerel caught in the United Kingdom is attributable to the fisheries of the South-West. At present, there is surplus and scope for expansion, but modern forms of trawling and the addition of factory ships can soon endanger supply, as has been found in so many other fisheries. This is why we must look on this Bill as an opportunity and a spur to action. We have here a natural, resource in the fish of this vast area, and while conservation is of major importance, we must consider the exploitation. We already buy too much of our food in foreign currency. Here we have a native resource. If we take mackerel alone, the present catch is about 50,000 tons. The potential and the supply would justify a total allowable catch of 200,000 tons.

A large proportion of our present mackerel catch is directly exported as fish to the canning factories in Brittany. Surely, if the catch is increased, we must encourage the port handling facilities in conjunction with canning and fishmeal factories. This is a chance of investment profitable for both country and individual. This is particularly true of the South-West, where we are very dependent on the tourist industry, and w here the fish handling and processing industry is very complementary by providing winter employment. Here I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene. If foreign ships fish in our waters, I would prefer them to dump their catches in our ports to provide employment in handling and processing.

I should like now to turn to the penalties in this Bill, the revised penalties for offences, and in particular those for contravention of bylaws. In Schedule paragraph 1(2), dealing with the contravention of bylaws, instead of a rising penalty, culminating in a third conviction of £300 plus the possibility of a prison sentence, the fine is increased to £1,000 and no option of a prison sentence. No one in the present circumstances would want to increase the prison population.

So I welcome this, but is the increased fine enough? We must bear in mind that we now have a 200-mile zone to police and limited resources with which to do it. This means that many ships may get away with illegal fishing, and consequently the penalties for those caught must be sufficient to deter the others. For 50 years, from 1888 to 1938, the penalty included forfeiture of catch and gear. I suggest that this should be reinstated. I know that the noble Lord the Leader of the House made this point but I think to a different part of the Bill, and if I am wrong and the confiscation applies to this part I am sure he will correct me.

The declaration of a 200-mile zone by Russia must surely clear the way for negotiations either by the EEC or direct country to country, as the case may be, but we fear that our rights to fish in the Barents Sea may be traded for Eastern bloc rights in the South West approaches. This may well be in the Community's interest, but it is of no value to our inshore fishermen and should enhance their case for a larger exclusive zone. We may get advantages in such places as the Barents Sea from bilateral negotiations, but we want our exclusive zone.

Then we come to the problems of the Community. Of course, the French have overfished their waters and are in a dilemma and are looking to our waters as a replacement. Then there are our Northern fleets: at least I hope we can still call them our own despite the wind of change and devolution. These fleets are being denied their traditional fishing grounds and are inevitably looking to the lush waters in the hospitable South-West. We are worried. We want them to retain their employment, but we hope that we will be able to provide some of the facilities for fishing in these waters. Not only do all these menace our fish stocks but the catches are landed elsewhere—and this is what worries me—giving us no benefit from our local resources. Therefore, I hope that the Government will not only press for local exclusive zones but also help to provide more facilities for landing and processing catches in those waters. I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for not having put my name down to speak, but I did not know whether I could be here today. I have already conveyed this apology to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I will undertake to detain your Lordships for but a few minutes. The first point I want to deal with is really in the form of a question to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Is it right to say that as from 1st January, when the Bill we are now discussing becomes law, there is an open position—indeed, I would call it a dangerously open position—and any EEC member can come within 12 miles of our shores, until we have successfully negotiated what I call a domestic area? If that is so, I think your Lordships will agree that it is extremely urgent that this open time should he of a very limited duration. I would ask the Leader of the House whether he can give us some sort of indication of what his hopes are, and what are the prospects for closing the gap of this very dangerous open position.

The only other point I wish to deal with is one that has been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and other speakers, which is the question of enforcement within the 200-mile limit. I hope that we are going to have a further debate on this question in the New Year, and I do not expect the Leader of the House to be able to give answers to questions of which he has not had notice. Of course, if he has the answer to the point I want to make at his fingertips there would be nobody more grateful than I am, but failing that let us wait until the New Year. Is the enforcement of the 200-mile limit to be on a national basis or a Community basis? We have certain resources—Nimrod aircraft, certain shipping vessels, which I need not enumer-ate—and no doubt other countries within the EEC who have the 200-mile limit will likewise have resources. There will be bound to be an overlap in places between our 200-mile limit and the 200-mile limit of other countries. Will the enforcement be a domestic matter for this country within our 200 miles or will it be a Community matter?

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, postulated the possibility of the Russians refusing to accept policing by the EEC, and therefore thought that we might have to revert to national enforcement. That may well be so, but I think we want to know where we stand in this matter because logically it ought to be a Community matter with a co-ordinated operation by the Community covering all the sea of the various 200-mile limit countries. That would mean of course what I call almost an operational centre. On the other hand, if there are to be international complications such as were envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, then we must be prepared to go forward entirely on a national basis in respect of our 200 miles. If we have to do that, I very much doubt whether the resources which have been earmarked so far will be adequate. I shall not embark on that question, to which we can return when we have a further debate in the New Year, but I must put the question to the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether it is to be a Community operation or a national operation for which we shall accept the responsibility.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I also apologise to the House, in that I did not put down my name to speak, but unfortunately I had a four o'clock appointment in another part of the House and I was not sure whether I would be back in time to participate. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity of speaking. I, too, should like to welcome the Bill, and congratulate the Leader of the House on the stand he has taken in relation to British fishing interests. I am particularly pleased, having previously put down some fairly aggressive Questions, at the increase in fines, because some of those that have been imposed in the last year were quite farcical in relation to catches of £50,000 in value.

I should also like to take up the point of the 12-mile limit because it is commonly, and I believe wrongly, thought that the domestic limit goes all round our coast, whereas I understand that it only applies with statutory force in certain areas of the coast; notably in the North of Scotland and around Scottish shores and in the South-West, where there are powers for statutory enforcement. But, for example, there are not those same powers within 12 miles of the Welsh coast.

My main interest is the South-West. Off the night sleeper yesterday morning I spent some time in Sutton Harbour seeing the catches being sold, and also at Milbay Docks seeing the tremendous trade, which now goes across to Roscoff on the Roscoff Ferry, of fish caught in our waters here, which is the most valuable trade to the South West.

Lined up on the docks there were eight great containers of one processing company in France, with another six massive containers waiting for fish caught in those waters. It is of crucial importance to us, even if there is to be an interim period of negotiation, even if there must be negotiations regarding the narrow waters of the Channel as to what proportion will make the line of demarcation, that we keep this 12 mile limit and, if possible, extend it to some parts of our shore which at the moment do not have powers to enforce the 12 mile limit. But we do not think 12 miles is enough and we hope that it will be 50. Here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. But if at any time, because of the present agreement on 200 miles, we should lose the right to that domestic level, it would be absolutely disastrous for the fishing industry, certainly in the South-West and I am sure that that applies equally in the North of Scotland.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a good, constructive and interesting debate of a very high standard. I am delighted to see in the Chamber some friends who I knew in another place, especially the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who I remember when I first came to Parliament in 1945, hearing his eloquence in the defence of the interests of Aberdeen; indeed, he became known as Mr. Herring in those days. He always spoke eloquently, as he does today, and it is fair to say that when we discuss this subject it sounds like a very romantic one, which it is. I would remind fishing and non-fishing audiences that the fishing fleet in the end often determines the strength of the Royal Navy in terms of personnel in times of crises. That is something I have always felt when I have visited fishing ports.

When one talks, drinks and lives with the men of this industry one finds that they are a fine body of people with a great history, and reference to this has been made today. Therefore, let us not be too stuffy about it; we are sentimental about them because they are fine people and we want to protect their livelihoods—not just those of the great centres of Hull and Grimsby, important of course though they are, but also of Fleetwood and Milford Haven and the other ports in Scotland; also of Cumbria, my area, the area from which I come, although my native Durham also has a great fishing industry in some of the sea ports which still exist. We are, therefore, paying tribute to a major industry and that is why this debate and the Bill are so important.

I have taken careful note of practically every major point made by each speaker and I would be addressing your Lordships for perhaps another two hours if I attempted to answer every one. I made a check following the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, raising the very important issue of enforcement, whether it would be undertaken on a national scale or by the Community. My answer to him (I am advised that this is correct) is that the responsibility must lie with the Member State because the Community has no protection force. Of course, the Community States will try to work together throughout all their waters, but, after all, we are in a special position in that we are virtually the only Community State which has had experience of this in a big way and which has a capability, whatever arguments may be adduced. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, spoke about this strongly and I will deal with his remarks later. It was an important speech and I welcomed it. As Lord Campbell said, we will discuss this matter on another occasion, when we can go into greater depth in dealing with the capability of the Navy.

I was also asked by Lord Balfour about EEC countries coming within 12 miles. The Bill prevents this. The European Economic Community Member States can have access to only United Kingdom waters for which they are designated. They are not designated within six miles and will be designated between six and 12 miles only to the extent they are at present. I hope that answers his question.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, came out strongly in defence of the Bill, as indeed did Lord Campbell. I will deal with Lord Campbell's remarks first. He made a most important statement. He declared the aims of the Opposition and I believe them to be our aims; I do riot think there are any differences in principle between us on this issue. Indeed, it is fair to say that this subject has not been discussed in a Party sense today, and from the Liberal point of view as well there has been general agreement that the Bill is a step forward. One can argue about timing; for example, the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, wished that the Bill had been introduced earlier. I probably do, too, but the Bill has arrived and it is a step forward.

It affects our relations not only with the Community, in which we are partners—we are a member of the Community—but also with third countries and our respect for international treaties. What we have always stressed has been that we should like to discuss these things mutually and achieve international agreement. Whenever I spoke about the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference I was never for precipitate action. The noble Lord mentioned this and he is right; it is far better for us not to act unilaterally if we can achieve common agreement. That is our view and we accept it, but unfortunately we have seen tragedies here and there in the history of the fishing industry.

Thus, I welcomed the constructive tone of the remarks of Lord Campbell, who knows the industry so well and who always speaks in its interests, as he did as Secretary of State for Scotland on behalf of Scottish fishing. Of course, Scotland has a special interest—I accept that—regarding the inshore fishing industry. One need only look at the map to see famous ports and sturdy fishing communities. I was glad to hear Lord Campbell extend good wishes to Mr. Gundelach, who is negotiating and dealing with Iceland for the Community. I have heard people criticise Mr. Gundelach, but I can only speak as I found him when I was attending the Council as an agriculture and fisheries Minister. I always had the greatest respect for him and I believe that he is a man of integrity, high quality and great ability. If he is doing the negotiating, I believe he will be firm, strong and an asset to the Community and will—I know this from personal experience of him—recognise what we the British wish. It was therefore nice to hear a leading spokesman for the Opposition express his best wishes to him in his difficult task, and I endorse what has been said.

The noble Lord then dealt with third countries and I could say a considerable amount on this subject. Agreement was reached at the Council of Foreign Ministers on Monday, 13th December, and I think there was a Question in another place on this subject. In any event, on Monday they met to decide the levels of fishing which might be permitted to third countries in 1977, after EEC Member States have extended their fishing limits to 200 miles on 1st January. There are problems here.

I have been asked about the Soviet Union. I do not really expect confrontation here. I hope I am right. The Soviet Union have recently extended their fisheries jurisdiction and would not, I hope, prejudice that by courting a confrontation with the EEC. After all, it would not affect only us. It would affect the EEC as well and I, who for certain reasons used to be sceptical of the EEC, in the end recognised the reality that we had to be a member. I believe that with the EEC we have strength in negotiations. One noble Lord asked me about imports from third countries coming into this country and reference has been made to Iceland sending her fish to our ports, which Iceland is doing and has done. The Community gives us strength here because of a particular protocol—I think it is Protocol No.6—which is often quoted and which enables the Community to act and give concessions to that country. I will come later to the question of the control of imports. I believe that we have strength and I would not be pessimistic about the outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, spoke about conservation of the main stocks around our coasts and said that we needed to get agreement internationally. I endorse that. He has always been outward-looking in his views on political matters as a liberal with a small "1". In this case, I believe that it makes sense for us to work in a Community context. I believe that myself and I think the noble Lord does. I know that he mentioned taking national action but I hope it will not come to that. I should like to see agreement reached in the Community through the present negotiations. The fish move about and do not stay within the limits of one country. Conservation measures applying in only one national zone will therefore be only partially successful.

May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Parry, that I was glad to hear his voice raised in defence of the Welsh fishing industry? I remember how, long before he came to this House, he used to write to me. He was so persistent that I inevitably passed his messages on to the Secretary of State for Wales. He knows the industry and he was quite right. May I say to him that he must not be too pessimistic? The aim of this Bill, along with other measures, is to see our industry adapting to new conditions, to the Community, to new international obligations. It shows above all that we recognise that the structure of the industry may also alter and will have to be modified and modernised. I ask the noble Lord not to be too pessimistic. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, mentioned Milford Haven and ports in the South-West and the amount of fish being caught and landed there. So, even though Milford Haven has been going through a difficult time, I hope that there can be some attempt to readjust the industry, which has declined—I accept that—and which has caused so much concern in Welsh circles.

There have been, too, the effects of over-fishing, as stressed by my noble friend. I am very conscious of this and, as the noble Lord acknowledged, one of the objectives of the Bill is to give power not merely to extend our fishery limits but also to impose conservation controls on all boats throughout those limits. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, also spoke about the 200-mile exclusive zone and pressed me about quotas. Quotas for non-EEC vessels will need to be backed up by other methods, notably effort control. In its simplest form, this involves limiting the number of ships fishing so that only the quota tonnage can be caught under normal catch conditions. For EEC countries, a similar system might eventually be worked out. I hope so. In the meantime, we shall have to ensure that statistical reporting and recording is greatly improved.

I was asked whether we had enough ships and aircraft for policing. We may not have, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said that we were due to debate this later. Of course, we cannot provide a tremendous force. The Nimrods are, after all, used for spotting. The great question is how to catch a "poacher". On the other hand, there are the rather high penalties and fines that we have mentioned. They will act as a deterrent as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Digby, suggested that, where contraventions of sea fisheries committee bylaws take place, magistrates should have power not only to impose a fine but also to order seizure of any catch or gear used in committing the offence. This would bring the penalties provided in the relevant part of the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966 more into line with penalties for similar offences under the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act. I believe that the same point was raised in another place. Now that they have had more time to consider the matter, I am able to say that the Government will consider the possibility of an amendment to this effect during the Committee stage.

May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who asked me specifically about negotiation with the Soviet Union—and I forgot to mention this—that the Commission formally negotiates on behalf of the Community and that we hope that this will also apply to negotiations with the Soviet Union. I would rather not speculate as to what would happen if this procedure ran into difficulties. I want to be cautious here. There have been occasions when the country holding the Presidency of the Community, as will the United Kingdom for the next six months, has been asked to act on behalf of the Community: I think that the negotiations are carried on in consultation with Member states.

On imports, a very important question was asked by an official spokesman for the Opposition. He wondered whether we had power to control landings of fish by foreign vessels. This is primarily a question of trade, which is the responsibility of the Community as such. There are powers under EEC regulations which are geared to avoiding disruption to the markets of EEC Member States by foreign fish imports. I remember when I was Minister in another place being questioned about Norwegian imports and also Dutch plaice coming into Lowestoft. The Community has powers in this area. If foreign imports are landed below a reference price—and we have a reference price system now, for which I was glad to press in the Community when I was a Minister—or if the market is being disrupted, it is open to the Commission to enforce a range of measures including, if necessary, a complete ban on imports from particular third countries. This can be done. So far, however, where we have taken action we have done so through reference prices which controlled imports coming into the United Kingdom. That is all I can say at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned reports this morning of pessimistic comments attributed to the Icelandic Foreign Minister. He is reported to have held out little prospect of any continuing agreement because the EEC had little of value to offer Iceland in the way of reciprocal fishing rights. I do not know what will happen here. I have mentioned Mr. Gundelach, who is representing the Commission and who is fighting for the Community. We shall have to wait until we get some more specific news. I hope that we can get agreement. I think that it would be a tragedy if relations between the Community and Iceland or Iceland and us remained bitter. Iceland has been very vigorous in defence of her fisheries and I am sorry that she took the unilateral action she did. After all, I believe that the British have played an honourable part in fishing matters throughout the years.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He has answered two or three of my points, and I believe that he will see the relationship between the question that he answered about the powers that the EEC has to control imports and the statement by the Icelandic Minister that there is nothing much that we have to offer. The answer is that we have markets.


Yes, my Lords, we have markets; and not just markets for fish but for many other products that come in from Iceland to the Community. So I agree with the noble Lord. I believe that I have covered most of the points that have been raised and if I have missed out anything I will certainly write to the noble Lord concerned. Also, we shall have a Committee stage at a later date. I am most grateful for the attitude of the Opposition and of all Parties and all noble Lords. I am grateful for the progress that we have made.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.