HL Deb 22 July 1977 vol 386 cc618-23

11.23 a.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement on the EEC Council of Ministers meeting which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to report to the House on the outcome of the Council of Ministers (Agriculture) on 18th/19th July, at which I was accompanied by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for the discussions on fisheries, and by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary, for those on Agriculture.

"On the future common fisheries policy the Commission rejected the United Kingdom case for extended exclusive zones for the fishermen of coastal Member States. We warned that unless there was agreement on an exclusive zone of 12 miles with a dominant preference for our fishermen within the zone from 12 to 50 miles we would return to our original demand for an exclusive zone of up to 50 miles. We also re-emphasised our right to take unilateral conservation measures where appropriate. The discussion will be resumed in October. I must frankly say to the House that the Commission's attitude at this meeting was disappointing.

"It was agreed that a Community ban should be re-imposed on fishing for herring in the North Sea. This will replace the United Kingdom national measures which we imposed in our own waters following the failure of the Council on 27th June to reach agreement. This Community ban will extend until the end of September and will be discussed further at the September Council. The Government are determined that it will continue thereafter.

"Satisfactory quotas for 1977 for the West of Scotland herring stock, provisionally agreed at the June Council, will now come into operation very soon.

"The Council agreed to reimpose from 1st September until 15th October the ban on fishing for Norway pout in the area of the North Sea in which such a ban had operated until the end of March.

"The Council discussed a proposal from the Commission that the cif price for New Zealand butter and cheese imported under Protocol 18 of the Treaty of Accession should be increased by 10 per cent. In view of the length of time since the previous increase we stressed that an early decision was needed. It was agreed that a definitive decision would be taken at the Council's next meeting in September after the necessary scrutiny of the figures at official level.

"On the labelling of milk products we have reached agreement that, contrary to the earlier proposal, the terms "dairy ice cream" and "ice cream" which are now used in the United Kingdom should continue unchanged. However some relatively minor technical points remain unsolved and the draft regulation will be considered again in September.

"We again emphasised the need for a change in the method of calculation of monetary compensatory amounts on pigmeat."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement being made in another place. The arrangements agreed for the conservation of herring and Norway pout appear to be satisfactory—at any rate for the time being. That no progress is being made in negotiating a system of zones for coastal States is disquieting. The extension of fishing limits from 12 to 200 miles carried out internationally this year changes the whole pattern of operations of many of the world's fishing fleets, including our own, and changes the methods of regulation. But this change to 200 miles has been under discussion and in prospect for at least 10 years. What was not known was the form in which it would be introduced and when it would come into effect.

Throughout that period it has been clear that a system which applied to the EEC when there were only six Members with the old 12-mile fishing limit, would not be suitable for the Nine with a 200-mile limit. It was also clear that important negotiations remained to be undertaken when a 200-mile limit was adopted.

I would put two questions to the noble Lord. Does he agree that these negotiations to be continued in October are of very great importance to this country? Secondly, is he aware that the Government will have support from these Benches if they press for an adequate zone in which British fishermen will have preferential rights? This should not be separated from conservation plans; it should form part of those plans, because the coastal States' fishermen will be more concerned than others to preserve the stocks in those waters.

Regarding the other matters in the Statement relating to food, one welcomes the flexibility that has allowed the term "ice cream" to be continued. After all, if descriptions of food were to be subjected to demands for precise terminology, we might in time find ourselves in trouble over for example, "Welsh rarebit" and "toad in the hole."


My Lords, we on these Benches also are grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement on the somewhat unpalatable combination of herring and ice cream. We regard it as extremely important that the ban on herring fishing in the North Sea should continue, and in general terms we should like to welcome the contents of this Statement.

11.30 a.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the two noble Lords for what they have said, and particularly for what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said about the support which the Opposition would give in the efforts the United Kingdom is making to conserve our fisheries stocks. I may say that, with regard to conservation measures, such measures as have been agreed have been agreed at the instigation of the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord asked about the future of negotiations. I agree that the progress of the negotiations has been disappointing, but the results of United Kingdom pressure for the improvement of conservation measures should not be underrated, and we shall return to that in the autumn. As the House was told in June, the Government are, and always have been, prepared to be flexible, provided that major objectives are obtained. These are: effective conservation and adequate preference in the allocation of the resources of the waters under United Kingdom jurisdiction. Flexibility is not weakness.

The United Kingdom has the right to take non-discriminatory conservation measures where agreement is not possible within the Community, and the Government on several occasions—for example, over the North Sea herring—have shown they are not afraid to use it. However, a unilateral coastal zone would not be non-discriminatory. I am glad that the other proposals with regard to ice-cream—particularly now that we are approaching the summer season, we hope—are acceptable.


My Lords, would it be too much to ask the Minister whether he could throw a little further light on the nature of the opposition to the efforts of the representatives of the United Kingdom? Does it consist in a blank refusal or does it consist in a proposal of alternative regulations?


My Lords, basically our partners in the Community want to be able to come within our 6–12 mile exclusive zone and to combine that with adequate and agreed quotas and conservation measures. However, agreement has not been reached so far on those, with the exception, of course, of the herring in the North Sea. It remains our aim to have a 12-mile exclusive zone and a variable coastal zone from 12 to 50 miles with a dominant preference for the United Kingdom; and, of course, within that zone we should be able to preserve the bulk of our fish of the herring, sprat and mackerel varieties and at least a fifth of the cod, haddock, plaice and sole. Up to 50 miles, it would not give us our entire United Kingdom requirement of the cod, haddock, plaice and sole varieties, but at least we should have a dominant priority.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether this report does not show the confusion into which we are moving on these issues of the right of nations and of regions unilaterally to decide their occupation of areas of the sea? Is it not a matter for international decision by the International Law of the Sea Conference which has now been sitting?


My Lords, that is absolutely true, and that is why this is one of the questions which are discussed at the Law of the Sea Conference, as my noble friend has rightly said. This is also an international matter, because the fish, of course, do not observe the Community limits: they may spawn within the Community but then migrate hundreds of miles beyond it. So my noble friend is quite right: it is an international question as well.


My Lords, may I, as a relative ignoramus in these matters of fishing, ask a general question of the noble Lord? Difficult though these matters are to solve within the context of the EEC, would they not be more difficult still if the EEC did not exist and we were not a member of it?


My Lords, I think in a way that is a hypothetical question, if I may say so, which is rather difficult to answer. On the other hand, we are, of course, bound by the Treaty of Rome, which is one of the difficulties under which we are labouring at present in regard to zones.


My Lords, is not the noble Lord's observation in fact the opposite of the truth? Would we not be much better off if the EEC did not exist?


My Lords, I should not like to answer another very complicated question; but my own view would be, No.