HL Deb 09 November 1982 vol 436 cc121-6

4.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

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

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers held in Brussels on 8th November. I represented the United Kingdom, accompanied by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State.

"The Danish Minister told the Council that his Government were unable to accept the package of measures which had been proposed by the Commission and agreed by nine member states at the Council on 25th/26th October, and specifically informed the Council that they required licences in the North of Scotland box, quotas of west coast mackerel and improvements in their quotas of cod, haddock and saithe in the North Sea. The United Kingdom and eight other member states informed the Danish Minister that there would be no way in which they would agree to change the agreement of 25th/26th October. The Commission suggested talks with the Danish Minister on any matters outside the agreement that could enable the Danish Minister to approve the package. At the conclusion of many hours of talks the Danish Minister informed the Council that no suggestions had been made that would enable the Danish Government to give their agreement. The Commission and all the nine other member states expressed their strong disappointment and disapproval at the Danish Government's attitude. Following these expressions of disapproval, the Danish Deputy Prime Minister, who presided at the Council, proposed a suspension to enable the Danish Government to consider their position further. The Danish Minister then informed the Council that his Government would consider approval of the package at a meeting tomorrow, 10th November, and would then tell the Commission whether or not they could approve the package agreed by the other nine member states.

"I hope that the Danish Government will approve the package. But, if they do not, the Council agreed to resume discussions before the end of the month in order to consider what national measures would be necessary to implement so far as possible the package agreed by nine member states to conserve Community fishing stocks and to allocate them fairly between member states."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.9 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place. Will the Minister bear in mind, and make clear to our EEC partners at all times, one vital fact which cannot be repeated too often, and that is that over 60 per cent. of the fish in the so-called EEC waters are within the United Kingdom 200-mile limits? On that basis, would he accept that, when he refers in the last few words of the Statement to the allocation of the fishing stocks "fairly" between member states, this must mean an agreed preference in zones, in quotas and in other ways for United Kingdom fishermen, in view of our major United Kindom interest?

The Statement, among other things, says: The United Kingdom and eight other member states informed the Danish Minister that there would be no way that they would agree to change the agreement of the 25th/26th October". I am sure that your Lordships will welcome those words and that assurance, which fits in with what I have said earlier. The Statement goes on: The Commission suggested talks with the Danish Minister on any matters outside the agreement that could enable the Danish Minister to approve the package". Can the noble Earl the Minister say what he has in mind in relation to aspects outside the agreement; and, failing an early agreement, will he make clear our determination to ensure enforcement of the proposal through national measures, if need be? I note that he referred in the final part of the Statement to the consideration of national measures being necessary to implement the agreement as far as possible. Finally, what regulations does the noble Earl anticipate will be necessary to bring into effect these proposals before 1st January?

4.11 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. From this morning's Press, it appeared that some further concessions might be made to the Danes. While, when the original Statement was made, I welcomed it strongly, I was perfectly aware that large concessions had already been made, particularly in the "Shetland box", in order to try to get agreement from the Danes. I would seek an assurance from the Minister that Her Majesty's Government will stand firm on this. There is no shadow of doubt that the Danes and their industrial fishing have ruined the herring in the North Sea, and that must be brought under control. I think that the whole principle is absolutely right that, if the other nine nations are in agreement, then something must be done to force common sense and a sense of community and communautaire feeling on Denmark. The device of national legislation and national action by the other nine nations working together is one which can do a great deal to make the Community work. Without any doubt, if one extends the Luxembourg compromise to every single matter concerning Europe, then the Community will never work.

I should like an assurance from the Minister that the necessary legislation will go ahead with all speed in order that this resource in the North Sea and elsewhere around Britain is preserved not only for us but for the whole of Europe. I regard it as a matter of vital importance. I cannot go along entirely with the noble Lord on the Labour Front Bench that all the fish within the 200-mile limit belong to Britain. The fact is that, without the Community backing us, I do not think that we could ever have enforced our 200-mile limit round our shores. But I should like an assurance that the Government are going to stand by their Statement.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I did not say that all the fish within our 200-mile limit belonged to Britain. I said that it does justify a preference for British fishermen—including Scots.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their welcome to this Statement. Dealing first with the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, the package which was agreed by the nine member states in October reflected, insofar as access and quotas are concerned, the preponderance of stocks in the North Sea and elsewhere which could be said to be in British waters. That package, I may say, was agreed by all the fishermen's organisations in Great Britain before my right honourable friend gave his agreement so far as Britain was concerned. It does represent a fair allocation to United Kingdom fishermen. Then the noble Lord asked, in effect, what was offered to the Danes outside the agreement which might make them change their attitude. The position is that various matters were put to the Danes by the Commission to see whether they would agree to the package of 26th October. These were of a strictly temporary nature. An example is one which has appeared in the Press and which consisted of 7,000 tonnes of western mackerel which were a once-and-for-all quota which would have had to have been taken by 31st March 1983. That is an example of what the Commission had in mind.

As far as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is concerned—and I also take Lord Bishopston's question as to the regulations that might be necessary if there is no agreement—the position is that, if the Danes do not agree or do not reconsider the question, then arrangements will be made to have a further meeting with fishery Ministers of the Nine (as opposed to the Ten) either on November 22nd or on November 29th to consider further national control measures. Thereafter, we will, as it were, implement the measures agreed in October; but doing so with the concurrence of the European Commission so that the matter will be strictly legal.

I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that we must do everything in our power, properly, of course, to make the Danes realise that the package of measures which was agreed in October is in everybody's interest—not least that of the Danes. I can assure the House that very heavy pressure, if that is the right phrase, is being brought to bear on the Danish Government to make them come to the view which has been agreed now for some weeks by the whole of the rest of the European Community.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, obviously the whole House would hope that the Danish Government is at this very moment deciding to come in off its limb to agree to fish in a civilised manner like the rest of us. If it does not, can the Government say whether the national measures which will then be taken would require legislation or whether they can be done solely by regulation; and, if so, whether the regulations would have to come before Parliament? Can the Government please undertake that, whatever happens, there shall be discussion before the national system goes into operation, because what we see now is a prime example of the results of sweeping things under the carpet without discussion 12 years ago?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, whatever happened 12 years ago, there has been a plethora of discussion ad nauseam, certainly since we have been in the Community. As I tried to explain to the House, whatever measures are taken—assuming that there is no agreement on the part of the Danish Government—must be taken in the European context and with the agreement and concurrence of the European Commission. At this moment, I am not able to say whether it could be done by some sort of directive on the part of the Commission followed by implementation by this country. I should have thought not, because such a directive would have to have the blessing of the Council of Ministers. But I am not going to speculate. What I can say is that we shall consider national control measures so far as Scotland is concerned—for that is my particular ministerial responsibility—and such measures would be backed up by our Scottish fishery protection fleet.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement for which I withdrew the Question in my name earlier this afternoon. Will the Government use all possible persuasion to try to bring Denmark into line and, in particular, will the Government point out that, while Denmark claims that fishing is a vital industry for her, it is also a vital industry for the United Kingdom and for the very areas in Scotland where Denmark is at present making these further claims for quotas? As regards the agreement reached by the nine members, are the Government completely satisfied that the allowable catches are within the scientific advice which they have received on the conservation of fish stocks, because there is grave doubt among some of the fishermen's organisations on that point?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for withdrawing his earlier Question this afternoon. As to his first point, I leave him in no doubt, I hope, that Her Majesty's Government have lost no opportunity to impress upon the Danish Government the very grave consequences of the continued refusal on their part to implement this generally agreed package of measures. We shall continue to urge them to make a rather more detached and certainly more statesmanlike view than they have at present felt able to take.

On conservation measures, the Government attach the greatest importance to basing fishing conservation measures on scientific advice. The Community have taken a number of steps in this direction. The Community policy has made some important advances towards a better appreciation of scientific advice. Having said that, I know that the International Commission for the Exploration of the Sea has made recommendations about the level of TACs, and in some cases the discussions have stretched—if that is the right word—a number of quotas above the recommended TAC. Having said that, I emphasise the very great importance that we attach to the scientific advice which we receive.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, can the noble Earl say that one result of this will be that non-members of the European Community will be excluded entirely from European waters for fishing?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am not quite sure what my noble friend means by "non-members of the European Community". If he means the Danes, they will have to abide by the package which was agreed to in October and which will be implemented if they do not, as it were, come to terms with the measure. Countries not in the European Community—and I include countries such as Norway—depend on bilateral agreements between their countries and the Community as a whole. One of the reasons why we are so anxious to conclude a common fisheries policy is so that we can, as it were, conclude further on-going fishery arrangements with the Norwegians and, for instance, the Faroese which fall to be discussed very soon.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the members of this Bench, the Bishops and the Prelates who have dioceses on the east coast of England, are very gravely concerned about the impact that this will have upon the employment in the fishing industry—I think particularly of Lowestoft in my own area—and will he do all he can to remind the Danes that when East Anglia is roused there is a lot of trouble, because we still remember the Danish invasions of a mere 900 years ago? If this goes on, there will be further trouble in East Anglia. Will the noble Earl make a note of that, please?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am not sure whether they light fiery crosses in East Anglia, but I shall certainly lose no opportunity of reminding the Danish Government that some equally unpleasant form of action will be undertaken if the Danes do not have regard to their interests.