HL Deb 02 July 1982 vol 432 cc456-7

11.15 a.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

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 what progress is being made in agreeing upon a new common fisheries policy in the European Economic Community.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, new proposals on total allowable catches and quotas were put forward by the Commission at the end of the meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 29th June. These and other matters will be considered at the next meeting of the Council scheduled for the week beginning 19th July.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Is he aware that in the past few years the British fishing industry had adapted to drastic changes, caused mainly by the extension of fishing limits to 200 miles, and that what is now required is the removal of uncertainty over a new régime for home waters? Since the EEC 10-year standstill arrangement is due to come to an end in less than six months, will the Government give the highest priority to securing a fair and workable new fisheries policy, upon which the livelihood of many will depend?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right, and it is the extension of the 200-mile limit that has caused a great deal of difficulty over the past few years, and against which the British fishing industry has adapted itself quite remarkably. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is extremely concerned to see that there is a proper and adequate common fisheries policy before the end of the year. I can assure my noble friend that my right honourable friend is doing all in his power to see that such an agreement comes about within the Community.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether Her Majesty's Government will bear in mind that the Danes have already ruined the herring fishing industry by ruthless over-fishing of immature fish for industrial purposes, and that the objective of the Continental countries of Western Europe for the past 30 years has been to fish up to our beaches with heavy trawlers, and thus destroy our inshore fishing industry?

Will the noble Earl also comment on the widespread reports in the press last week—which I believe to be false—that his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has "sold out" to the Common Market under a new fisheries agreement? Can the noble Earl give a categorical assurance that Her Majesty's Government will never sell out the British inshore fishing industry, which has been saved for the last 10 years by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and which must not be allowed to disappear?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, the undertaking that my right honourable friend will do the best he possibly can for the fishing industry and that there is no question of the British Government "selling out" to the Common Market fishing industry. But the problem remains, and the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, is quite correct to draw attention to it; over-fishing remains one of the greatest problems and that is where the difficulties arise over total allowable catches and access. That is what my right honourable friend seeks to achieve for the benefit not only of Great Britain but also of the Community.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, in considering the new fishery agreement, will the Government remember that this long and tragic saga came about because the existing countries adopted a common fishery policy which was unacceptable to us, just before we joined? Will the Government draw the obvious moral that the new common fisheries policy ought to be acceptable to Spain and Portugal, both major fishing powers, so that when they join they do not have to wait 10 years to get something they can accept?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will be the first to recognise that it is difficult enough getting agreement between current member states, without extending it to those who might join in the future. But I quite agree with his overall point.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, will the noble Earl the Minister accept that successive Governments have been pressing vigorously for a settlement which is fair and represents the fact, as I have said before, that most of the fish in EEC waters is within our 200-mile limit? Is the Minister aware that the industry fears we may revert to what was anticipated several years ago—that EEC countries will be fishing up to our shores with equal access? One wonders whether the same principle might apply to EEC wine, and that we might share it instead of others claiming that it is theirs. Is the noble Earl aware of the anxiety in the fishing industry that while, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said, the industry has adapted a great deal, it is unable to adapt to some of the things it fears unless agreement is reached? Is the decision to be a matter for veto or majority decision? These are very important aspects. The sooner we get a settlement which is fair, the better for everyone concerned.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is precisely because my noble friend does not wish to see fishing up to our beaches that some of the negotiations have been prolonged. Of course, the noble Lord is quite right that the majority of the fish happen to lie in waters in which we traditionally fish, but if a common fisheries policy is to be agreed it must be one that is acceptable and reasonable, not only to us but to other member states, and also in regard to the preservation of the fish stocks. It is to that end that we seek to get agreement. When the noble Lord asks, is my right honourable friend aware of the concern in the industry?, the answer is, yes, definitely.