HL Deb 16 March 1977 vol 381 cc35-9

4 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 Minister of Agriculture. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to make a Statement about the meeting of the EEC Council of Agricultural Ministers in Brussels on 14/15 March. There was further discussion of the Commission's proposals for 1977–78 farm prices; but no decisions were reached and since we shall have an opportunity of discussing the proposals later today, I shall confine myself now to the question of fisheries. For this my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland led for the United Kingdom supported by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

"At the start of proceedings on 14th March 1 drew the Council's attention to proposals for the Faroese authorities to introduce, for the period 15th March to 30th April, new conservation measures which would severely curtail fishing activity by Community, and particularly United Kingdom fishing vessels in Faroese waters. Moreover, as President of the Council I was scheduled to sign a framework fisheries agreement between the Community and the Faroese on 15th March—the day the new measures were due to come into force. It was important to ensure that the sudden appearance of the new Faroese proposals did not prejudice the arrangements for signature. I am pleased to say that the Faroese have now agreed to defer the introduction of their measures and to enter immediately into consultations with the Community about them. On that basis I felt justified in signing the agreement which I and the Faroese Prime Minister did yesterday. At the signing ceremony I expressed deep concern at the timing and nature of the Faroese proposals. Commissioner Gundelach supported me. It is now my hope that the consultations on the Faroese proposals can be speedily and satisfactorily completed, although I am bound to tell the House that the initial position taken by the Faroese Government does not give rise to optimism.

"I have for some time been concerned at the lack of progress towards a permanent common fisheries programme. I am therefore pleased to announce that the Council has now agreed on the urgent need to establish a permanent internal reéime and that revised proposals are expected from the Commission soon after Easter. The Council's aim will be to reach decisions on them by the end of June.

"The Council also discussed a Commission proposal to establish catch quotas for the remainder of 1977 for certain species of fish in extensive areas within the waters of the Member States, including United Kingdom waters. One of the objectives of this temporary measure would be to facilitate the development of the fishing industry of the Irish Republic. My right honourable friend, while approving the principle of coastal State preference, drew attention to a number of difficulties to which this proposal gave rise. The Commission's proposal will be studied further by officials, and the Council will consider it again at its meeting at the end of next week. However it is not now expected to be adopted in the form proposed by the Commission. In the meantime the Irish Government undertook to defer introduction of their proposed regulation on the size of fishing vessels permitted to fish in certain coastal waters around Ireland".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for having repeated a Statement made in another place. First, as regards the proposals of the Faroes, a drastic reduction at very short notice, had it been accepted, would have struck Scottish mid-water vessels extremely hard, and it would also have been a severe blow to the port of Aberdeen, since a large number of the British vessels which fish off the Faroes are from that port. Conservation is very necessary, but it must be by agreement, by stages and with proper notice. May I ask the noble Lord whether he can tell us how long it is before further proposals are expected from the Faroese? And I must record that the Faroese action is most disquieting.

On the general point of a permanent internal régime, which the Government now state is likely to be agreed in the summer, this means that the negotiations in the coming months will be of crucial importance for the future livelihood of many British fishermen, especially in remote and development areas, although their product is as much in demand now as it has ever been. Will the Government point out to our EEC partners that it would be more sensible and cheaper to enable these fishermen to continue to work in waters which surround their areas, many of them peripheral, such as off the North and West of Scotland, than to render them redundant and then to seek expensive remedies through the Regional Development Fund and the Social Fund of the EEC—remedies which may indeed be inappropriate for their part of the country? For this purpose, my Lords, the United Kingdom Government must stand firm on some fully effective system of restriction or exclusion as part of the proposed conservation measures.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the Minister for repeating this Statement; and I should like to start by saying that I look forward to the Statement on the discussions on agriculture, which I think we may expect to show as much difficulty there as they are having over fishing. However, as this Statement is confined to fishing, I should like to say that it is a good thing to see that the EEC is acting as a body, that Commissioner Gundelach is supporting our Minister and that together they are using the undoubted influence or muscle (call it what you will) which they have to introduce a little common sense into the handling of traditional fishing grounds by the Faroese.

I must say that there appears to be somewhat of a contradiction when the Minister says that he hopes that the consultations with the Faroese can be speedily and satisfactorily completed but that he is bound to tell the House that the situation does not give rise to optimism. Perhaps the noble Lord could expand on that a little and say why he thinks we can look forward to a settlement of the conditions in these very necessary grounds for the fishermen of Aberdeen and of Scotland.

When it comes to establishing a permanent internal régime for the Common Market, I hope that the Minister has not forgotten that all the difficulties he has been having up to now underline more than ever the need for an exclusive zone for the fishermen of this country in certain areas, at any rate round our coasts. The establishment of a 50-mile zone appears to me the practical way to start because, with all the difficulties already being shown, I think it unlikely that a decent and workable permanent régime can be established internally in the Community for a number of years. I hope that the Minister will still be stressing the fact that a coastal State can reserve and should reserve a certain area for the exclusive use of their own fishermen. This is immensely important, and I think that all the experience in the negotiations up to now seems to point to this being a practical measure to take.

The last point that I should like to make and the question that I should like to ask is this. Are any really serious bilateral discussions taking place with the Irish Government? We seem to be fighting with our nearest neighbour over a number of things and we have already referred a number of matters to the Court. I should like to ask whether serious bilateral discussions are taking place to try to settle these matters by discussion—and I am talking about the median line and Rockall and so on—instead of going to the European Court.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Mackie of Benshie, for what they have said. I shall do my best to answer the various questions. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, asked me to elaborate a little more about the Faroese agreement which was signed yesterday. This was a framework agreement only, on lines similar to those negotiated, or being negotiated, by the Faroes with other third countries. It provides for reciprocal access to fishing grounds, subject to the annual determination by each party of the total allowable catches, and consultation about the allotment of tonnages that each may catch in the other's zone. There will be provision also about possible licensing arrangements, observance of conservation and other regulations, and co-operation in research and on fisheries management.

I have noted, and I agree with, what was said about its effect on Scottish vessels. This is of particular interest to the Scottish industry as most of the fish which are caught off the Faroes are cod and haddock. With regard to the Community, here close contact is being maintained and I think I had better deal with that and also with the general points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. We have sympathy with the Irish claims as a coastal State, but welcome the fact that the Irish have agreed to defer implementation of their boat-size regulation, which was the point at issue, while the possibility of a Community solution is explored urgently.

The Commission's proposals so far leave unresolved some questions about practical implementation which could raise difficulties of principle for us. In the Government's view, the dominant objective must be to press on with the negotiations about a long-term fisheries régime applying to all waters of the Community States. The Government position was clearly stated at the Council Meeting on 4th May last year. So far, the Community partners have shown no readiness to negotiate on the basis of that statement. On appropriate occasions in subsequent discussions the United Kingdom spokesmen have reiterated the points of vital concern to us. We will continue to take, and to create, opportunities for doing this and we hope to see our views reflected in the revised proposals which the Commission are expected to produce soon after Easter.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, also asked about the employment situation. I am glad to tell him that the Minister met leaders of the industry on Friday, and that we are maintaining close contact with leaders of the United Kingdom fishing industry, both here and in Brussels, on Faroese conservation measures and on the Commission's latest proposals, and generally. The Fisheries Department officials also met representatives of the workers' union. We attach a great deal of importance to these consultations.