HL Deb 18 May 1977 vol 383 cc721-7

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to report to the House on the discussions in the Council of Ministers (Agriculture) on 16th and 17th May, at which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office represented the United Kingdom for the discussions on fisheries. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary represented the United Kingdom for the discussions on agriculture.

"The Council considered a proposal by the Commission for a regulation to govern fishing for herring in the waters of Member States in the period 1st June to 31st December 1977. The United Kingdom supported the Commission proposals for a continuation of the temporary ban in the North Sea until the end of the year and for a system of quotas for the West of Scotland stock under which the United Kingdom would receive over 70 per cent. of the total allocations. The majority of delegations, however, despite the scientific evidence, favoured the allocation of quotas in the North Sea for the remainder of the year. This was not acceptable to Her Majesty's Government.

"Eventually it was agreed to extend the North Sea ban until the end of June, except for a small special quota for the Netherlands to enable her to meet the requirements of her traditional June festival. It was also agreed to introduce a ban on herring fishing off the West of Scotland for the month of June. The latter measure will not affect United Kingdom fishermen since they normally do not start fishing for herring off the West of Scotland until the late summer.

"The Council agreed to meet in Luxembourg on 27th June to decide on herring conservation measures for the period after the end of June and to consider all aspects of the internal fisheries régime. The Government are determined that real progress should be made then towards the adoption of definitive arrangements that adequately reflect the importance of the fishing industry to the United Kingdom.

"My honourable friend told the Council that the calculation of monetary compensatory amounts on pigmeat must be adjusted to remove the difficulties to which they give rise. The Commission has now tabled a proposal which, if agreed, would allow the Commission to reduce MCAs on certain products, including pigmeat. It is intended that the implications of this proposal should be clarified urgently at official level with a view to the Council's taking a decision on it at its next meeting on 20th and 21st June.

"The Council agreed to a Directive on pure-bred cattle. This will remove obstacles to intra-Community trade, subject to the necessary animal health rules. I am confident that as a result our exports of pure-bred cattle will be benefited in due course.

"The Council also discussed measures on wine, and on the so-called butter-ships, operating mainly from North German ports, which offer cheap butter to their passengers, but final decisions were deferred until the next meeting.

"In view of criticisms that had been made against him by some Ministers earlier in the meeting Commissioner Tugendhat approached me and asked me to allow him to make a statement to the Council and to answer questions. I acceded to his request and I gave him the opportunity to make an opening statement, to hear criticisms, and to reply".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, we will all be grateful to the noble Lord for having repeated the Statement made in another place. As regards the ban on herring, the extension of that is necessary and welcome, but it is temporary, and the meetings which are scheduled to take place at the end of June to consider further measures to conserve herring must he regarded as exceedingly important. Do the Government recognise that there is a danger of the herring becoming a rare species unless conservation measures are agreed and applied within the coming year? This would be a great loss to Britain, because herring used to be abundant around our coasts. As regards the definitive arrangements which the noble Lord mentioned, concerning the fishing industry as a whole and relating, also, to fish other than herring, do the Government include species which are not much fished for now but which we may have to he prepared to catch in future, such as blue-whiting, and which we may also have to become used to eating instead of the staple cod of the past?

My Lords, the fisherman themselves believe that a 50-mile exclusive zone is what is needed to make sure that conservation will be applied effectively. Is it still the Government's aim to try to secure such an exclusive zone for Britain? If not, nothing but a really effective alternative will be acceptable to the fishermen, as is to be seen from the fact that a delegation of fishermen went over to Brussels during the last two days. My Lords, the system of quotas which has operated in the past is suspect to the fishermen, because they cannot be certain that other countries are carrying out the system precisely.

As regards the rest of the Statement, I should like to comment on the pigmeat situation. There appears to be some movement now concerning pigmeat. The British industry has been going through a very difficult time, and it is urgent that agreement be reached to ease their situation if the domestic bacon producers are not drastically to reduce their operations.

3.48 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, we, too, thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made in another place. It is something like a fish salad, the main part being fish with various items of salad round-about. If I may comment upon one of the items of salad round-about, we would welcome the Directive on pure-bred cattle. This is a freeing of trade, with which Liberals would always be in sympathy. On the question of the fish, the ban on fishing for herring is indeed welcome. I can remember when herring was an important fish in the North Sea. I can remember when, in the 1930s, one could have walked across Wick Harbour on the boats of the herring drifters. Now you cannot buy herring in the harbour of Wick. I can remember when I had only to look out of the window at home to see a gannet dive into the sea after herring, and I do not know when I have seen a gannet in the last 20 years. This is a measure of the way in which successive Governments, if I may use the cliché, have allowed our inshore fishing and our home waters to be plundered by people from other countries, to the detriment of this country.

I must ask the Government not merely to be satisfied with progress towards definitive arrangements. The Government must assure the fishermen of Britain and the consumers of Britain that nothing less than full control of our own waters up to a 50-mile limit will do. The EEC Treaty was not a licence to plunder each other's waters, but an agreement to share responsibility for the assets within the Community; and responsibility is a matter which must begin at home. We must persuade our fellow Members of the European Economic Communities that by showing a proper responsibility towards our home waters, we are giving them a lead in conservation—conservation which will be in the interests of all within the Economic Communities.


My Lords, I should like to thank both noble Lords for what they have said. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, welcomed the ban for the month of June on herring. He asked whether the Government recognised that herring may one day become a rare species. Yes, we certainly do. Indeed, the Government would have preferred to agree arrangements for the whole of this year in view of the desperate condition of some of the stocks. The United Kingdom representatives will continue to press for stringent measures to protect herring stocks and we will take whatever national measures may be necessary if no agreement is reached.

With regard to other species and the 50-mile zone, which was also mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, it may be helpful to the House if I were to repeat the aims of the United Kingdom with regard to fishing in general. First, we believe that there should be an exclusive zone of up to 50 miles for United Kingdom fishermen; and, secondly, that there should be improved conservation measures and then an adequate quota system within a 200-mile zone, effective enforcement and a substantial reduction in fishing by third countries within the 200-mile Community limits. I can tell the House that some progress has been made with the EEC since the middle of February but that these still remain our outstanding aims. I am glad that the noble Viscount welcomed the announcement about pure-bred cattle. I do not think I have anything further to say on that.


My Lords, may I back up thenoble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for a moment? While I welcome the ban on herring fishing off the Western coast of Scotland for June, it is an empty gesture, because, as I think my noble friend said, no Western Highland fishermen or British boats fish herring in June. Might I reiterate the question of quota allocations? Although we have, as I understand it, new arrangements, one cannot really control one's catch under a system of quotas because people will cheat. I have often pointed this out before. Although our own fishermen might not cheat, I am quite sure that some fishermen from other nations in the EEC will do so. I would press upon Her Majesty's Government not to be quite so definite as the Minister implied in the matter of this exclusive 50-mile limit, and even on the question of quotas. We cannot have that, I think, because it is very difficult to check.


My Lords, I agree with what the noble Viscount has said. There are great difficulties in quota enforcement and that is why I spelt out that as one of the proposals that we are advocating with the Community. There was no discussion at the meeting of a future definitive internal régime; but the Government repeatedly made it clear that the present proposals by the Commission are unsatisfactory and we will press for major changes. I think that I can tell the House that the Commission has not made fresh proposals but has produced a document which attempts to identify the major questions which have to be settled and gives some guide lines. The Government are now studying this closely and we hope that it will provide a new impetus for constructive discussions. It will be deposited in your Lordships' House as soon as possible.


My Lords, without prejudice to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Thurso, might I ask a question for information? I understand that the Government of Ireland have imposed a ban on fishing within a 50-mile limit. This limit has now been challenged by the Commission who, apparently, may take it to the European Court. In the event of its being taken to the European Court and judgment given against the Republic of Ireland, is it the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that the Government of Ireland would be bound to abide by that decision of the Court?


My Lords, I think that that is a hypothetical question. We must await the judgment of the court.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this Statement by the Government will be welcomed by those of us who regard it as being perfectly European, within the concept of the European Community, for Great Britain on occasion to stand up for her rights to the same extent that other countries have not the slightest hesitation in doing.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend who is a Member of the European Parliament and who has a distinguished record in this respect.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that it is unfair to describe the EEC policy on fishing as in any way a licence to plunder? Would he not agree that before we joined the EEC there was no such thing as a British fishing policy and that, indeed, our fishermen opposed the very kind of constraints that now they are asking for because they themselves liked to go to other people's waters and plunder there?


My Lords, that may be so, but in those happy days there was not the intensive fishing that there is now. There was not factory fishing and the scooping up that we have and the intensive fishing; and it is over-fishing which is driving the herring into extinction, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has rightly said.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that this scooping up of fish is not new and is not something that has happened since we joined the Common Market?


My Lords, of course it is not new; but there are more and more ships doing it.