HL Deb 31 March 1977 vol 381 cc1039-42

2.50 p.m.

The Marquess of SLIGO

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the view of their declaration that nothing less than a 50 mile exclusive fishing limit for this country is acceptable to most of the fishermen, it would not be good policy to support the Republic of Ireland at Brussels in a similar demand.


My Lords, the broad objectives of Her Majesty's Government on the reappraisal of the Common Fisheries Policy remain those stated by the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the Council of Foreign Ministers at Luxembourg on 4th May 1976. The Government will bear in mind at all stages of the discussions within the Community that their concern over some aspects of the present policy is shared by the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

The Marquess of SLIGO

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Will he not agree that, in the interests of conservation and of British fishermen, Her Majesty's Government should now claim an exclusive 50 mile fishing limit? Does he not think that this should be a precondition for licensing foreign trawlers, most of which have scant regard for the preservation of stocks and wish only to make a quick profit?


My Lords, I fully accept that urgent action is necessary and the Government have emphasised this to the rest of the Community. However, the interests of conservation would be best served by a Community solution and, in present circumstances, this is what the Government are seeking. However, it remains open to the Government to take non-discriminatory measures where no Community rule exists.


My Lords, in order to avoid yet another long and perhaps damaging wrangle in Brussels, does not the noble lord think that, on this issue, on which there is practically unanimity of opinion, it would be better for the Government to say now that the 50 mile limit is our minimum demand and to make it clear to the EEC that this is not negotiable?


My Lords, the United Kingdom's aims, of which the 50 mile limit is one, are, first, this exclusive zone of up to 50 miles and then improved conservation measures, an adequate quota system within the 200 mile Community limit, effective enforcement measures and a substantial reduction in fishing by Third Countries within the Community zone.


My Lords, will the noble Lord make it clear that it is still the aim of the Government to negotiate within the EEC an exclusive United Kingdom zone extending up to 50 miles in the important areas in order to conserve fishing grounds which could still be productive for centuries to come? While this subject matter must be abstruse to many not connected with the fishing industry, is the noble Lord aware that any Government which appeared to acquiesce in the demise of our fishing ports and communities or which caused the cod or herring to become expensive rareties would never be forgiven by the country as a whole?


Yes, my Lords. I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I am glad to confirm that the exclusive zone of up to 50 miles remains one of our aims. It is part of the other measures that I have just given to the House. I should also like to say that the United Kingdom is able to take appropriate non-discriminatory action to protect fish stocks within the United Kingdom fishery limits wherever no Community measures are in operation.


My Lords, will my noble friend indicate to the House the precise machinery that exists for continuing consultation with fishing interests in this country on the subject of limits and quotas?


My Lords, we are expecting a new initiative from the Commission for a definitive fisheries régime shortly after Easter with a view to reaching a settlement by June. Events since the beginning of the year only add greater urgency to what was already a major and pressing issue.


My Lords, do the Government agree with the report of the Expenditure Committee on the fishing industry in which it says that the preservation of irreplaceable fish stocks is more important than a semblance of short-term agreement, and that it welcomes: the Government's readiness to take unilateral action to protect fish stocks within British limits"? Again, do the Government agree with the Committee which, in paragraph 9, says: In our view, catch quotas have been completely discredited as the sole means of husbanding fishery resources, a view which is backed up by all members of the fishing industry …"?


My Lords, the Government are fully aware that further conservation measures are needed to supplement those already adopted by the Community. In particular, there is a very urgent need to consider further action on herring stocks.