HL Deb 29 June 1977 vol 384 cc1141-7

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Statement is as follows: "I would like, with permission, to make a Statement on the meeting of the Council of Ministers which was held in Luxembourg on Monday, 27th June, and chaired by my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

"The main issues which were discussed were the internal fishery arrangements for the Common Fisheries Policy and the conservation of certain herring stocks. Among other issues considered were the allocation of catch quotas in Norwegian northern waters, the allocation of quotas to Spain and membership of the International Commission for North-West Atlantic Fisheries.

"On the Common Fisheries Policy, I made it clear to the Council that the internal regime is a matter of the greatest political and economic importance to the United Kingdom and that the proposal which the Commission have so far made did not represent a satisfactory basis of agreement for us. I indicated that the basis of the United Kingdom position is that we are bringing to the Community a major proportion of the total fish resources and that this contribution must be fully recognised and be seen in relation to other important aspects, including the heavy losses which we are suffering in distant waters.

"I reminded the Council of the proposal for a variable coastal belt up to 50 miles which my right honourable friend the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made to them in May of last year. I made it clear that this proposal remained on the table. I indicated, however, that we were willing to look at other ways in which our essential needs might be met, so long as they provided our fishermen with an assured future and ensured that the fish stocks were properly conserved. I then outlined a proposal for dealing with the coastal band up to 50 miles on the lines indicated by my right honourable friend in the debate on fisheries on Thursday of last week and involving an exclusive limit of 12 miles and a dominant preference in the area from 12 to 50 miles.

"There was a useful discussion which appeared to reflect some willingness on the part of some Member States to recognise our essential requirements. Discussion of the internal fisheries régime will be resumed at the Council Meeting on 18th July.

"The Council also considered the measures necessary to conserve the herring stocks in a number of areas. In the case of the Irish Sea stock, it was agreed that consideration of the Commission's proposals should be deferred until there has been an opportunity for discussion with the Irish authorities and the Isle of Man Government about the management of this stock.

"Further consideration was given to the West of Scotland stock. The Commission again put forward a proposal for a quota allocation but on the basis of a much reduced total allowable catch. We supported this proposal on the grounds that it took account of the latest scientific evidence on the stock and also because the proposed distribution of the total catch among Member States reflected our dominant interest in the stock. We were successful in getting agreement to the introduction of this quota allocation subject, however, to an Irish reserve which will allow the new Irish Government time to consider the matter further. The present ban on the fishing of the stock will continue until 20th July.

"The introduction of this quota arrangement, under which more than 70 per cent. of the total allowable catches to Members of the Community is allocated to the United Kingdom, will provide useful fishing opportunities for our industry during the remainder of the year without risking the possibility of further serious damage to the stock.

"The Commission's proposal for a continuation of the ban on the North Sea herring stock led to a long and particularly difficult discussion. I made it clear to the Council that in our view the scientific evidence was quite unassailable and that there could be no alternative to a further ban if we were not to run the risk of exterminating the stock. No agreement was reached on this point. I therefore felt it necessary to tell the Council that in the absence of Community agreement we had no choice but to consider taking national non-discriminatory measures in terms of The Hague Agreement.

"We are now in touch with the Commission with a view to putting in hand the necessary steps to continue the ban on directed fishing for herring in the North Sea within our 200 mile limits for the rest of this year."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, we thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for repeating the Statement which has been made in another place. On the important question of the coastal ban of up to 50 miles, it is clear that negotiations are continuing and that the question is to come before the Council in three weeks' time. However, the matter of most immediate consequence, I suggest, is that part of the Statement which is concerned with the protection of herring stocks.

The Statement deals with three areas: the Irish Sea, the West of Scotland and the North Sea. Of these, the matter of most immediate concern is the North Sea stock. The ban imposed at the beginning of this year is due to end this week. It has made very little difference so far because the herring season does not start until midsummer. The Statement we have just heard confirms that the Government are making the need for conservation an overriding consideration, and your Lordships will not be surprised that we welcome this. Over the last two years your Lordships will have heard me from this Bench advocating such a policy if, in the future, the herring is not to become an exotic luxury in this country. The EEC Commission's proposal for continuation is, we believe, wise, despite the reduction in activity which the ban imposes on our herring fishermen and our processing industry. It is clear that the Commission and the United Kingdom Government favour the continuation, with Irish support, of the ban on herring fishing in the North Sea.

In these circumstances, r should like to put two questions to the noble Lord. First, are the Government satisfied that they have the resources with which to monitor and enforce this policy for the rest of this year, on the assumption that they are prepared to make arrests, if necessary? Secondly, are the Government aware that many North Sea herring spend the early part of their life in waters beyond the United Kingdom 200 mile limit? If at that period those herring are to be a prey to the wholesale scooping methods of industrial fishing employed by other countries, then much of the effect of the ban within the United Kingdom's limits will be nullified. Will the Government seek agreement with countries whose vessels might be involved in such industrial fishing?

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches are most grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement which has been made in another place. With the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, we welcome the news that the Government are taking a firm line on this vital matter. Unless we apply very soon a total ban on all herring fishing in the North Sea, there will be no herring left to fish. In the meantime, the 50 mile limit must be implemented, whether or not it is popular with the EEC. Indeed, we take the view that effective action along these lines should have been taken before we entered the EEC. However, the fact that we did not act effectively in those days should not be used as an excuse for not taking effective action now. Finally, the noble Lord may care to know that we on these Benches are determined to support any action taken to preserve our herring fishing industry, which is absolutely vital to our nation, both economically, from the point of view of employment, and, not least, nutritionally.


My Lords, I am grateful to the two noble Lords for the welcome they have given to this Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, emphasised that it is essential that there should be this ban and proper conservation measures if the herring stock is to be preserved. This is a matter which continues to exercise Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord asked us whether we were satisfied that we have the resources to enforce the ban. We have those resources and they were spelled out by my right honourable friend in the debate in another place last Thursday. With regard to industrial fishing, my understanding is that there is to be a complete ban on industrial fishing in the whole of the EEC zone for the rest of this year.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, also mentioned the question of the 50 mile zone. We have proposed up to a 50 mile variable zone and, as I said in my Statement, this proposal still remains on the table; but our new proposal is for an exclusive limit of 12 miles and a dominant preference for the United Kingdom in a 12 to 50 mile coastal area. Of course if we had a 12 mile limit that would allow us the bulk of our pelagic catch and about a fifth of our demersal catch.

If we had up to 50 miles, we would have, not the entire United Kingdom requirement of demersal but we would have a dominant priority, and that of course remains our aim. On the other hand, we are subject to negotiation, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and his Party are aware. The Common Fisheries Policy is of course a legal agreement which is safeguarded in the Treaty of Accession, and any variation of the zone, which at present is up to 12 miles and after 1982 will be up to the beaches, as it is put rather graphically, will need agreement. It cannot he done unilaterally. On the other hand, the Member State can take action over conservation, and this is what we have done in the banning, for the remainder of this year, of fishing for herring in our 200 mile zone in the North Sea.


My Lords, in case those with a more jaundiced political outlook may wish to interpret the stand taken by his right honourable friend as further evidence of intransigence towards the EEC, will my noble friend bear in mind that the stand taken by his right honourable friend is commanding a growing sympathy within the European Parliament itself, largely due to the efforts of Mr. John Prescott, who represents a fishing constituency in another place? Will my noble friend also give an assurance that his right honourable friend will continue to maintain the stand that he has so far taken in the interests of the fishing industry and fish conservation for this country?


Yes, my Lords, I will certainly do that. As is generally recognised, 60 per cent. of the fish accruing to the Community as a whole lie within United Kingdom waters and, as my noble friend has reminded us, certain communities rely almost entirely on fishing for their livelihood.


My Lords, will the noble Lord add my word of thanks to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland so that, whatever politics may be in it, at least he has the support of two of his predecessors in that office. So far as the West Coast fishing is concerned I know, and for many years I have argued for, the importance of conservation, and I am delighted that an agreed quota has been worked out. But the problem of the herring industry will not be solved until the North Sea comes hack to a state of reasonable productivity; and it will be of great benefit to those of us on the West Coast, who still can get fresh herrings and occasionally good kippers, when the North Sea, through the protection that the right honourable gentleman has announced today, comes back to productivity. We wish him every possible success in maintaining his attitude.


My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said, and I will certainly pass on his remarks to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.