HL Deb 04 June 1981 vol 420 cc1410-5

7.19 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(The Earl of Mansfield.)

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, as the Minister said on Second Reading, this is an important and major piece of legislation for the British fishing industry, and I am sure we are all pleased with the progress that has been made here and in the other place and which has now resulted in our considering the Bill on Third Reading. I noted at an earlier stage that the Minister said that a culmination of events, none of them connected with party politics, created the position in which the industry had to go through a number of painful transitions and substantial losses in its fishing capabilities. I find those comforting words because I was a fisheries Minister with my noble friend Lord Peart for some of that time when we enjoyed the support of the main parties and of the fishing industry. The loss of distant water grounds was a severe blow, and problems connected with the CFP, and of course the soaring costs of fuel, have been factors threatening the viability of the industry, combined with the significant changes in the basic structure of the industry.

We certainly welcome the creation of the Sea Fish Industry Authority, taking the place, as it does, of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board, following discussions initiated, I think, in my days, or at least some time ago. We hope the new authority will have the significant support of the fishing industry and when occasion merits of the Government itself. I would pay tribute to the work of both these authorities over many years, for their co-operation, which has helped to sustain the industry during a most difficult period.

There is need I think for improved marketing of fish and to boost the consumption of it, although of course consumers will enjoy much more the fish caught by our own fishermen, and not imported, and certainly not imported fish caught illegally by foreign or even EEC vessels in our 200-mile limit. Perhaps I may be criticised for talking about "our" limit, because I understand our 200-mile limit is now EEC waters, but we still feel, and I think with some justification, that we have a special interest. Indeed, the future of the industry depends upon the considerations which are accorded to us in the future. I mention this because I think many people are still unaware that about 60 per cent. of all the fish caught in Community waters are caught in what I might term the United Kingdom 200-mile limit. I think that should be a factor to be borne in mind when it is sometimes alleged by our EEC partners that United Kingdom Ministers are being unreasonable in their demands in respect of revision of the CFP. I do not think we can stress enough that when we have to share the fishing considerations with other countries inside the Community it is often at the expense of British fishermen whose viability has already been threatened over a period of some time.

It is because of the United Kingdom's major interest in the fishing industry that we are among the leaders with regard to research, and I am aware, of course, of the interests of other countries in wanting advice and technical aid and assistance with regard to the way they can pursue their own fisheries policies. I would certainly pay tribute to the work of the Ministry establishments, and others, which has been so vital to the wellbeing of our industry, or at least to its survival. Their advice on conservation and the renewal of fish stocks is important to the size and variety of future catches. I hope the Community and the EEC countries will honour the regulations concerning conservation measures, and indeed quotas, and I hope the Minister will be firm in getting their observance and in ensuring compliance by the vessels of all countries.

I want to pose one or two brief quesions to the Minister which I think he may be able to answer. Among the aspects which concern us is the need for there to be adequate regard to the interests of those employed in the industry, and I want to raise this question in regard to the Bill at this stage because this is important, not only to the indutry but to those who represent those employed in the industry, the trade unions, because the conditions and the safeguards have been far from satisfactory. I believe this is an occasion when those employed in the industry have a right to expect a better future than they have had in the past, albeit that one recognises that the problems facing the industry at the present time make it very difficult to give them the kind of security which they, and indeed others, have a right to expect. Further, will the Minister, even in these times of restrictions on public spending, recognise the special needs of the fishing industry, even though I must say in fairness that we appreciate the recent measures of financial and other support which have been accorded by the Government.

I want to raise this next matter because I think it is a more recent one. I believe the Minister of State in another place has strongly criticised the Commission for its failure to act quickly in respect of stemming the flow of significant imports to this country from EEC countries, at prices below the effective minimum import price, or perhaps the term might be "the reference price levels". I believe he is most concerned about that. Of course we accept that this is unfair because some of the foreign fishermen get fuel and other subsidies and aid which is not available to us. I would certainly like the Minister to comment on the prospects of getting quick action from the Commission to protect the British fishing industry in that respect. What is obvious is that whatever is in this commendable Bill will matter less if we are subject to violations through lack of Commission action on such occasions. We all know, of course, that much depends not only on action by the Community but on the will of national Governments. May I bring my comments to a close on this important point. Perhaps the most important question is whether the Minister can offer any hope in respect of getting satisfactory progress in the review of the CFP.

Just to summarise the four questions I have posed, one concerns the conditions of those employed in the industry; one is concerned with adequate finance being available to deal with the special problems of the industry; one is concerned with the immediate problems of undercutting by imports; and, finally, and possibly the most important, is concerning the progress towards getting a satisfactory review of the CFP. We have been on this now for some years, as we all know. All parties in the House, as well as the industry outside, have been demanding that we have a satisfactory and quick settlement of the outstanding questions regarding the common fisheries policy, and I think, particularly as our industry has a major interest in the CFP area, that we must obtain a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible.

I would wind up by saying how much we support the intentions of the Bill and we hope it will be effective as soon as possible in the interests of the viability of our fishing industry.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am not sure whether I am in order in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, to the Dispatch Box; whether I am or not, I do so, because it is the first time I have faced him across it. At a time of intense controversy in political matters and a great deal of dispute, we have a Bill such as this which is really not the subject of party controversy, and indeed, save in matters of detail and certainly not in respect of matters of principle, was not the subject of heated dispute in the other place.

The noble Lord raised a number of points. Although he did not perhaps give it the prominence which he might have intended to give it, certainly what looms as importantly as anything else in the Government's mind is the need for improved marketing of fish. During the two years that the Government have been in office I think that it has struck all of use that, whatever we do to get the fish out of the sea, and whatever aid we can give to encourage the fishermen to do so, without in-marketing of their eventual product, their efforts certainly will not avail and they will not live, as it were, the prosperous life which we should all like. To that extent, the new Sea Fish Industry Authority will play a crucial role. I have no doubt that one of its first duties after it has been constituted following Royal Assent to this Bill, will be to take heed of the "wise men", as they seem to be called—and I have no doubt quite rightly—that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture invited to go into marketing so far as fishery matters are concerned in the same way as they have investigated other areas of agriculture. That will, no doubt, be reflected in their endeavours immediately afterwards.

The noble Lord turned his attention, quite rightly of course, to the percentage of fish which come from British waters. Perhaps I may combine that point with his question about the common fisheries policy. In fact, all these matters—that is to say access, quotas, and above all conservation—play a part in the common fisheries policy negotiations which have been dragging on for so long. We as a Government have made it plain that, so far as we are concerned, there must be totality of agreement, there must be a policy worked out which is fair and just to our fishermen, particularly having regard to the fact that many of them come—and I speak for a moment as a Scottish Minister—from communities which are peculiarly dependent on fishing. Indeed, the Scottish inshore fishery is extremely important in the economic life of Scotland and, moreover, is extremely important in some of the rural areas which are what I might call economically precarious.

So we have throughout the period that the Government have been in office placed the greatest importance on the need to negotiate a common fisheries policy which is fair and just. In spite of all the aggravating circumstances which have arisen—which include other countries having elections just when we think that we are getting somewhere near an agreement and the whole process having to be put into cold storage—and in spite of all the difficulties, we are continuing to negotiate. I have no doubt that before very long, the common fisheries policy will emerge and will be complete. That will give a great deal of confidence as well as relief to the industry.

I should like to say by way of parenthesis that it is no use having a conservation policy as part of the common fisheries policy if there are not adequate safeguards to ensure that fishermen observe the regulations and their quotas and any restrictions which may be placed on fishing effort and in effect to sum up—do not cheat. It is for that reason, that we place the very highest emphasis on the fact that it will be for the Commission by one means or another to take responsibility for the enforcement of conservation as well, of course, as each country enforcing the régime in its own waters.

The noble Lord asked a number of questions relating to the industry. He asked, in effect, how the conditions of work of employed fishermen might be ameliorated and, indeed, improved in the future. Of course, the new authority has the authority and the duty to give advice on any matter relating to the fishing industry. In the first place, as in any other industry, conditions of work are a matter of negotiation between employer and employee, but I very much hope that the new authority will go much further than that. I am sure that it will do so and that it will, in fact, give advice and generally help to improve the lot of the employed fishermen.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, asked about the flow of imports from third countries. As he will know, the Government were instrumental in persuading the Commission to raise reference prices earlier this year. It is a matter of the greatest concern that there has been a flow of imports, as he quite rightly said, below reference prices. This is something on which the Government have placed the greatest importance and my honourable friend the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture in the other place has, as the noble Lord rightly said, been in the forefront of the Government's loud and sustained complaints to the Commission that these are very unsatisfactory methods of trading and that we expect the Commission to take their duty seriously and, as the noble Lord said, control what has become an intolerable flood. We shall continue, I have no doubt, to make representations until the Commission do take the matter up and until the situation is more satisfactory.

I am very glad that the noble Lord was able—even though he came into its consideration at a comparatively late stage—to give the Bill his blessing, because he has great knowledge and experience of fishery matters. I am sure that I speak for my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who is actually engaged in the Ministry of Agriculture, when I say that we look forward with the greatest interest to the noble Lord taking part in our future debates on agricultural matters.

On Question, Bill read 3a with the amendments.

7.36 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(The Earl of Mansfield.)

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend in his welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, and the noble Lord's contribution to this debate. At the moment I am in the middle of reading Sir Arthur Bryant's book on the Elizabethan Deliverance. Hearing the noble Lord speak, I thought of the impact which Lord Burleigh made on the economy of the country as regards the fishing industry in those days. It was very important as training ground for recruits for the navy. I think that this point was made in the other place and in this House too. However, this is an opportunity for me to support my noble friend in recommending the Bill to the House and to point out the importance of the fishing communities as training ground for the men who are to man our navy—however large it may be in the future.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure, until 8 o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[House adjourned during pleasure from 7.38 p.m. until 8 p.m.]