HL Deb 26 January 1983 vol 438 cc263-72

3.27 p.m.

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

My Lords, if it is for the convenience of your Lordships, I should like to repeat a Statement now being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker. I wish to make a Statement on the Council of Fisheries Ministers yesterday in Brussels, at which I represented the United Kingdom together with my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State.

"I am pleased to inform the House that a full and unqualified agreement was reached on a common fisheries policy, precisely in the terms reported to this House as agreed between nine of the 10 member states in December.

"The agreement reached yesterday had the full approval of the three main fishing organisations.

"The agreement will last for 20 years and therefore will provide a very firm long-term basis for our fishing industry to take advantage of the substantial benefits they receive from it.

"The quotas we have obtained are above our actual catches in the years 1973 to 1978, which is the period that was used as a basis for calculating quotas. The quotas agreed for the seven main species of edible fish, which are the species of dominant importance to the United Kingdom fishing industry, provide Britain with 37.3 per cent. of the stocks in European waters: a figure higher than our actual catch for most stocks even in exceptional years.

"The quotas that have been achieved are in stark contrast to the offer of 31 per cent. incorporated in the first proposal with which I was confronted when the United Kingdom was in a minority of one.

"But perhaps the most important aspect of agreeing such good quotas and the technical measures on conservation is that these are coupled with an agreement on an effective enforcement system. Consequently, we now have the prospect that fishing stocks over the coming decades are likely to increase rather than deteriorate, therefore giving our industry the potentiality of growth instead of decline. Each member state will enforce these measures in its own waters but subject to Commission supervision to ensure that such enforcement is effective.

"The council clarified the position on western mackerel by an agreed statement that rights to fish will he accorded only to those who have established a traditional fishery. There was a specific renunciation of any claim to western mackerel on the part of Denmark.

"It was also made clear that the 2,000 tonnes of North Sea cod, which were made available to Denmark from Norway and were outside the quota agreements, was a commitment limited to three years.

"On access, the agreement provides British fishermen with a better dominance of our coastal waters than anything that they have enjoyed in the history of the British fishing industry. Previously existing historic rights in our six to 12 mile limit, some under the terms of the London Convention and others in the Treaty of Accession, have been reduced or altogether extinguished along nearly three-quarters of the coast line where these rights previously existed.

"We have also obtained valuable rights in the six to 12 mile limits in French, Dutch, German and Irish waters.

"Contained within the package are important proposals on structures, where over a three-year period the Community grants will be available up to a total of £140 million. The bulk of these funds are allocated to measures which are of particular interest to the British industry.

"Agreement was also reached on the Community's 1983 reciprocal fishing agreements with Norway, Sweden and the Faroes, as well as on fishing in the Skagerrak and Kattegat. These arrangements are all satisfactory, and agreement has the very important benefit that our vessels can, from today, restart fishing in Norwegian waters.

"I am pleased that, after four years of difficult negotiation, we have obtained this agreement, and I would like to record my gratitude to the leaders of the fishing industry who have attended every meeting with me and who have discussed and agreed what we have negotiated. They have welcomed the agreement because they share with the Government the view that this provides the basis upon which the fishing industry can obtain a secure future, to the benefit of fishermen and to the benefit of Britain.

"There is no doubt that fishing is an area in which it is vital to have a common agreement throughout European waters if growth, as opposed to decline, is to be the future of fishing. I believe the agreements reached yesterday are good for Europe and good for Britain."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.38 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, we thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We are very glad to have it and very glad that at long last we have a common fishing policy. We can only hope that it does not run into some of the troubles that the common agricultural policy has run into, which have been very difficult to solve.

However, if The Times is to be believed this morning, the Minister was, in my opinion, a little too ebullient in his talk after the meeting. I thought that he should have been a little more humble, if I may say so, and not have treated it as some sort of victory as he did. His words, were, I think, "British Conservative achievement", or something like that. After all, some of the other nine countries must have had some say in the matter. One would have thought from the reports that it was all done by Britain, but there are nine other countries in the EEC. Would it not have been a nice gesture to the Danes—who, after all, have been great friends of this country and fishing is one of the Danes' major industries—if he had given a pledge to see whether he could cancel the fine of £30,000? That would have been a nice gesture after the meeting instead of the champagne.

The Danes, after all, are not too happy about it. I should like to quote to your Lordships one particular instance. Mr. Karl Hjortnaes, a Danish MP, who appears to be the Social Democratic Party's fisheries spokesman, said: There is little cause for rejoicing". Mr. Laurits Toernaes said: It is only with reluctance that we accept the political reality of the CFP". If we take a look at what the fishing industry in this country says about it, Mr. William Hay, the president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, referred to Mr. Walker, the Minister of Agriculture, saying that it was a superb agreement, and added: If we had a 'superb agreement' we would have a 200-mile limit and as much fish as we can catch". He also said: I do not think this should be seen as a victory or defeat for anyone. We have achieved a CFP and have something to build on". That is a little more statesmanlike than the Minister's ebullience that we heard of from the reports. One of the negotiators put it very well when he said that the whole situation and all the discussions that have been going on over the years were too political for fishermen and too technical for politicians. That in many ways sums the situation up.

May I ask the Minister a question or two on the actual agreement? He emphasised the situation as regards mackerel. Under the agreement, the Danes do not get 20,000 tonnes of mackerel, but there are some reports that there is a loophole here and that they could fish in our western waters. Therefore can we be assured that they will not be allowed to fish there and that there is no loophole?

The noble Earl told us about the extra 2,000 tonnes of cod given to the Danes over and above their percentages. I feel that that must reduce Britain's percentage share, as she is getting the same percentage of a smaller total. I should like to know—and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has asked this question—when we can have the Commission's paper on the subject so that we can study it more fully and see the particulars of how it is to be policed. The other question that I should like to ask is whether he has any knowledge of how the £140 million is to be divided. Could that be divided by the same percentages that we have in fishing, or how is it to be divided?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I should like to be a little more generous than my noble kinsman was to the Minister of Agriculture. I think that he should be allowed a little champagne and a certain amount of ebullience. If I had been locked up for as many nights as he has I would have been rather glad that some agreement had been concluded. The main point which must be made is that at least we have; an agreement, and something on which to build. That is enormously important. It is true also that we are better off. Nobody can imagine that we could have enforced a 200-mile limit off our own shores without being part of the EEC. Now we will have better control of our coastal waters. This is all very much to be welcomed.

I should like to ask practically the same questions as the speaker from the Labour Front Bench, but put them slightly differently, perhaps. First of all, I should like to know from the Minister whether the Shetland fishermen's organisation can be pacified. I know that they will not he satisfied, but is he satisfied that their fears are groundless? It really is quite important, because in far-off places this is of supreme importance to them. I should also like to know whether the £140 million, which nowadays does not appear to be a lot of money, is going to be divided among the whole Community.

The other point on which I should like the Minister's opinion—and it is very difficult to answer—is this. How effective does he think that the controls will be? I personally have no doubt about the Danes. They are the most efficient destroyers of the life in the sea, but they also have a very good reporting system. One can believe their figures, and I believe that they will keep an agreement. I would not be quite so sure about some of the more southern of our neighbours who have fishing rights. I think it is very important that the EEC inspection is added to the national control which is going to enforce the rules.

Also, I should like the Minister to say whether he thinks that this agreement will really do very much for Hull. It appears to me that the character of our fishing fleet will completely alter, and the inshore boat will be all-important. It is unlikely that Hull, for example, will ever come back to anything like its former prominence in deep-sea fishing. If the Minister will give us his view on this, I shall be most grateful.

3.46 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that possibly his noble kinsman was a little ungenerous. I am bound to say that I do not deny my right honourable friend the opportunity to open a bottle of champagne when this agreement has been arrived at after years and years of hard negotiation. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, really did get it wrong if he thought that my noble friend was gloating over achievements which have been made by Britain at the expense of others. The achievement was a European achievement. It was the fact that member states with differing interests, conflicting interests, had nevertheless, and despite those conflicts, been able to come to a common accord.

When negotiating there has of course, to be give and there has to be take. At the end of this great conclusion the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, quotes others as saying: "Well, of course, we would have liked it a bit better". I dare say that everyone in each member state of the Community could have found somebody to say that. The fact is that this is an achievement for Europe and an achievement whereby these very difficult problems have at last been resolved. They have been resolved by agreement; they have the agreement of every country in Europe, and they have the agreement of the three main fishing bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked whether there was a loophole in the agreement with Norway. Our percentage of the total catch of North Sea cod is unaffected by the arrangements for Denmark, which last for only three years. I do not think that there will be any loophole there. He asked when the paper was likely to come from the Commission. I am bound to tell him that I cannot say when that will be.

He also asked, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, how the £140 million is to be divided. He will not be surprised if I cannot tell him that, either, because the fact is that agreement has been reached that the Community will provide £140 million to be divided between the various states for certain approved projects. It is impossible to say in advance how that will be allocated and what percentage or proportion of that will come to the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asked whether this agreement will help Hull. I am not prepared to comment on that. What this agreement does is to give all parts of the fishing industry a secure future because they know what the rules of the game are. It will be within the rules of the game how various ports, fishermen or types of fishing improve or are affected by the agreement. It will be imprudent to single out a port and say that the result of this agreement is going either to benefit or not to benefit that one particular place. I think I have answered the questions of the two noble Lords opposite, and I am grateful to them.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, there was a very important point which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, put; that is, where is the 20,000 tonnes of mackerel to come from? The Statement says that it will not come from western waters, but I understand from the report in the Guardian that this is to be available to the Danes.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a reciprocal arrangement between the Commission and Norway, and it is outside the actual common fisheries agreement.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I point out to him that I said that I was quoting from an article in The Times, written by a reputable correspondent. It says that the noble Earl's right honourable friend in another place claimed that, the 'superb agreement' was a great British Conservative achievement". That does not seem to me to be missing out the politics; nor do any of the other reports.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I was not there when that was said, and I do not know whether the noble Lord agrees with everything that is seen in the papers. But if it was a Conservative achievement—and I would not wish to throw politics into this—it is actually a fact.

Lord Walston

My Lords—

Lord Denham

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has been trying to get in and I wonder whether we might hear him next.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting and I also apologise for arriving a little late, but I have studied these negotiations all the way through, and I have read with great care the Statement which the noble Earl has made. All I want to say is that, as one who has sat in one or other House of Parliament for just on 60 years, my chief interest, apart from foreign affairs, has always been the fishing industry, and I have seen both through some very bad times.

I just want to say today that I am quite satisfied, having read this paper, that the inshore fishing has been saved for at least the next 50 years. It is the best agreement that we have ever had; and not only that, I think that our European neighbours will come to realise that it will do their inshore fishing industries just as much good.

Courage and impetuosity often go together. Courage and patience seldom do, because they require fortitude, which is a rather rare quality. Successive Governments in this country have now shown that fortitude and that courage and patience through all these difficult, tiresome negotiations which, on more than one occasion, nearly threw us out of the Common Market. But they continued for years without flinching, without running away, and without giving away anything; and I think at the end we have scored a tremendous victory.

It would be invidious to mention names, but I must pay a special tribute to Mr. Peter Walker, with whom I have been in fairly continuous touch in recent months. I have never seen such guts and such patience exhibited by any other Cabinet Minister during the whole of my time in Parliament. I think that mention should also be made of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who came to the rescue of the industry at a most critical moment when we joined the Common Market and when they very nearly succeeded in getting the right to fish up to our beaches.

It is not often that a Member of Parliament sees all his aspirations fulfilled. Today I have; and I am glad to have lived to see it. I should like to extend my warmest thanks and congratulations to the Government and to the two Ministers concerned—the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Let me assure them that they will receive both regards and thanks, regardless of party, for what they have done. That goes for all the fishermen around our coasts and all the others upon whom they depend for a living—and they are very many. It is a happy day for me.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, to hear one who has spent so much of his life involved with the fishing industry, and who has been 60 years watching its progress, say, as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, did this afternoon, that it is a happy day for him is a very moving experience. He has not been uncritical during those 60 years. He has himself made very many pertinent points, and I think that the most pertinent was when he said that these negotiations required courage and patience, and they required fortitude, which is unusual. There is quite a philosophical thought behind that, for which I am most grateful. I will certainly see that the noble Lord's congratulations, made, as they were, in such personal, specific and generous terms, are passed to my right honourable friends.

Lord Walston

My Lords, as I am the next to speak in the debate on the fishing industry, I will do no more from these Benches than to thank the noble Earl for his Statement, to congratulate him and his colleagues on it, and to say how much we welcome it. But I shall have further questions, which I think will be better dealt with in the actual debate, especially as the noble Earl will be replying to it.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and I welcome the agreement on a new fisheries policy. There were some comments on the policy in the press today, and the Opposition Front Bench referred to at least one. I should like to add another, which is Mr. Gilbert Buchan, who was, for many years until recently, the leader of the Scottish fishermen and who described the policy, according to the press, as a victory for common sense, which seems a very apt description.

I also am due to speak in the debate which has been interrupted, so I will save my particular questions on this new agreement for then. But may I ask my noble friend now whether he can deal with a more general matter, which is the anxiety of fishermen's organisations about whether this satisfactory agreement can be carried out, and whether we can ensure that the arrangements for quotas, for example, will be observed faithfully and precisely?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that. It will probably be most helpful if I deal with it in my speech, when I hope to explain in more detail exactly what this common fisheries policy agreement means.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, any agreement that we have within the Common Market is bound to be a compromise. This one is an acceptable compromise and let us not shout too loudly about successes, victories and who has won. It is an acceptable compromise which the industry very much needs, because if we are to have 20 years of stability we shall now be able to start the planning. That could not be done—and Governments on all sides said that it could not be done—until we could see the way ahead with a common policy.

The Minister said in his Statement that we have an effective enforcement system. I do not think anyone can justly say that. What would be the position if Mr. Kirk came storming into our waters again? Who would enforce the agreement? We would stop him, but where would he be tried? Would he be tried in Britain or in Denmark? As I understand it, he would be tried in his home port. I do not think that we would have much confidence in that. Secondly, I do not think there is any other fishing country in the EEC that has the experience we have in relation to quotas and enforcement, and this is the great weakness so far as the agreement is concerned. Can the noble Earl pledge to us that Ministers will continue to strive in this field?

My noble friend Lord Boothby mentioned one name and I will mention another, that of the man who has worked on this for 10 years—Mr. Buchanan-Smith. He has been representing both countries in this regard and he is entitled to some credit for what he has achieved. He had a lot of stick to take because he was the man who signed the original agreement in regard to fishing about ten years ago. So could we have this assurance about the attention the Governmentare now going to pay to building up what will be an effective enforcement system? I would doubt whether we have one at the moment.

4 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is quite right to refer to the enforcement system, because it is a very important part of the arrangements. Before going on to that, perhaps I might just thank the noble Lord for the generous remarks he made about my right honourable friend in another place, because he has been deeply involved in all these negotiations and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, will, I know, be welcome to him.

The noble Lord referred to Mr. Kirk and what happened when he came. In fact I think that was an excellent example of exactly how our enforcement system does work, because as soon as he came into our waters and dropped his nets, before he even caught a sprat, let alone a mackerel, he was hauled into a British court because he had infringed what were then British regulations. Now that we have a Community system it will be the responsibility of each member state to continue to police its own waters, and such trials as take place will be in the country concerned. It is up to the country concerned to look after its own waters. On top of that there will then be a Community policing system to ensure that all the member states are policing their own waters correctly. That additional policing arrangement was made at the specific behest of my right honourable friend, for the very reasons which have been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and others—that people may not police their waters adequately. If we are going to have a properly enforced Community system there must be properly policed waters and it will be up to the individual member states to look after their own waters; and the Commission will ensure that they do so.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, like so many others, I should like to congratulate my noble friend and his colleagues for a successful end to a very long negotiation. It is true that we have got effective conservation within Europe and agreement within the European countries; but I should like to ask my noble friend whether, in view of what he was saying just a minute ago, he is convinced that we have the same sort of effective action within our own waters. My noble friend Lord Stodart mentioned the damage that has been done by pair trawling and seine netting to stocks of fish all round the European coasts. I yield to nobody—not even to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby—in admiration for his own inshore fishermen, but when they come to the Clyde and the Minch and clear out all our herring, then I am not quite so sure that I am keen on them. I hope that my noble friend will impress upon his colleagues the importance of conserving our own fish stocks as well as those of Europe as a whole.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I entirely take my noble friend's point. I suppose that if you were a purist you would say that the more boats you had the more likely you are to catch everyone. In the same way one could say that if you had more police it would be a good thing; but we have to work within the realities. In fact we have a very substantial force of aircraft and ships which police the waters and, on the whole, it has been very successfully done. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ross, that probably we have the best policing system in the world, and certainly in Europe.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords—

Lord Denham

My Lords, we are in a rather peculiar position because we are debating the very subject which this Statement is about, and I wonder whether possibly it would be better to revert to the debate. Of course I am in the hands of the House.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, my name is not down for the debate and I wanted to ask two simple questions. First, there is before the European Court a case initiated by Mr. Kirk, as to the legality of quota arrangements within the Community. Does the new agreement which has just been signed mean that his case now falls, or will it be proceeded with? It would be most unfortunate if the Court found against him.

Secondly, I was not quite sure of the answer which was given in connection with the guarantee fo 20,000 tonnes of mackerel from all sources to the Danes. Does that mean that if the Danes do not secure the appropriate quota they will have access to Western waters?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with regard to the last point, the Danes will have their agreement which is a reciprocal agreement between the Commission and Norway. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, also referred to the particular case of Mr. Kirk. So far as I understand the position, the case is concluded. If it is not concluded it is sub judice and I would be obliged not to refer to it.