HL Deb 26 January 1983 vol 438 cc272-95

Debate resumed.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, after that interesting interlude, perhaps we can now return to the main debate. It could not have been chosen for a more suitable day, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity of discussing this very important matter at rather more leisure and in rather more detail than can normally be done after a Statement, no matter how important it is.

There can be no doubt in anybody's mind that the British fishing industry is in a bad way and has been suffering from serious problems over many years. It is worth pointing out, however, that it is not only the British fishing industry which is in this state. For instance, some figures I have just refreshed my mind with from the report of your Lordships' Select Committee on fisheries in August 1980 lead me to say that it is mentioned there that the French fishing industry has reduced in numbers between 1973 and 1979 from 34,000 to 24,000. One can imagine the very serious problems that presents for certain areas of France and indeed for the French Government itself. Other countries in the Community have similar problems.

The causes of these difficulties within the fishing industry—and I am obviously referring specifically to this country—do not stem in the first instance from our adherence to the Common Market. The first cause, I would suggest to your Lordships, is the fact that over a long period of time there has been gross over-fishing in the North Sea, in the waters round the British Isles, round the French coast and also round the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. So the first and biggest reason for pleasure at this agreement, and for the congratulations which I repeat again to the Minister and his colleagues for having achieved it, is that for the first time we have now arrived at a state where there is proper control of the actual fishing to avoid depletion of stocks within all the Community waters. That will give an opportunity now for the fish stocks to increase, so that in a number of years we shall be back to where we were in the spacious days of the 1920s and the 1930s. That is a very great and a very significant achievement.

I should like to ask one specific question of the Minister which concerns inspection. I think he has dealt adequately with inspection at sea, with patrol vessels and so on, and I am sure that we can happily leave that matter, so far as we are concerned, to our own fishery patrol vessels which have done, and are doing, a magnificent job. However, there is the question of inspection on landing at the different ports in different countries. Again referring to the report of your Seclect Committee, we recommended there that inspection should be at least supervised, if not carried out, by further inspectors from countries other than those where the fish are actually landed. One cannot get away from the fact that a local inspector is obviously friendly with all the local fishermen and people in the place. It is very difficult for him to do his job properly when he lives, drinks, eats and plays with them. It is essential that there should be a fairly substantial body of outside inspectors to come round and make certain that the job is being done properly. I note that there is a proposal that there should be inspectors of inspectors, and I should be grateful if the noble Earl could slightly elaborate that point.

Quite apart from the problem of overfishing, the second cause of difficulty for our own fishing industry stems from the adoption by Iceland of a 200-mile limit. That was the beginning of our troubles. It enormously restricted our traditional fishing grounds and made life virtually impossible for the deep sea distant water trawlers, most of which had been built fairly recently and at very considerable cost. After the Icelandic cod war they found themselves with nothing to do. It was that which, above all, was the cause of the difficulties for our distant water trawlers. We must not feel that because of this agreement that problem has been solved.

I cannot help feeling that some of those trawlers, which are now rather old, even though they have not been used a great deal, could have been used if they had belonged to perhaps more adventurous people fishing in even more distant waters. We see the Japanese fishing in the South Pacific. I do not want to revert to the problem of the Falklands, but there are plenty of fish in those parts, where others fish. The New Zealanders have large quantities of fish in their area, and other European and Asiatic countries are fishing there. With their highly experienced crews and their extremely well constructed hulls, I do not know why some of our deep sea trawlers have been unable to make use of that opportunity. It is this over-investment in unused and unwanted vessels which is to a large extent responsible for the problems in which our deep sea fishermen now find themselves.

Furthermore, we have been suffering—or, if one is a consumer, one could say we have been profiting—from the importation of cheap fish from overseas. Because of the relative strength, which is now diminishing, of the pound over the Canadian dollar—not the United States dollar so much—it has been possible for cod from Newfoundland to find its way into our markets at prices with which our own fishermen are unable to compete. At the same time—this is another factor which we cannot turn our backs on—Dutch and Belgian fishermen are able to land even plaice from the North Sea in our own ports at prices cheaper than our own domestic fishermen can land them. It is not because they have cheaper fuel. That may have something to do with it, but it is not a very significant factor; and it is very difficult to get the exact figures. It is because they have smaller crews, a different system of payment and a form of co-operation among those who form the crew, rather than a paid crew in the way in which, in most cases, we ourselves have. Furthermore, they have a more efficient method of marketing. One of the matters to which, when we have this great new effort for marketing, I hope the Government and the new marketing organisation will give their attention is that it should cover not only agricultural and horticultural marketing but also the marketing of our fish.

Let me now turn briefly to the entirely different problem of inshore fishermen. As your Lordships well know, their problems are in no way similar to those of the deep water fishermen. They are the people who go out daily and who normally stick within the six-mile limit—and certainly within the 12-mile limit. The 12-mile limit arrangements will undoubtedly be of very great help to them. It is possible that the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, will have something to say about this matter, because she knows far more about it than I do, but we must not forget that the Cornish fishermen regard the purse-seine fishermen who come down from Scotland or from Hull as just as much foreigners as the fishermen of France. They do not mind what passports these people carry. What matters to them is that they do not come from their own fishing towns and villages. They come with their larger boats and modern equipment, they scoop up their huge catches in a matter of a day or so and then they disappear, leaving behind very little for those who, before the advent of such people, would go out and have weeks, if not months, of profitable fishing—profitable not only for themselves but profitable also for the community in which they live.

That is the final point I should like to make. We must not look on fishing solely as being a problem as to the right sort of trawlers, the right sort of fuel costs, the right sort of capital investment. We must look at it also as being the major source of employment in certain areas for a very large section of the community. There is no doubt that, as modern methods are more widely adopted, whether in fishing or in any other operation, fewer people will be employed. The old artisan, craftsman type of activities will inevitably disappear. This is happening in our small fishing towns and centres, and it will happen increasingly. We cannot just look at it, say that it is inevitable and turn our backs on it. We cannot cope with it simply by having an efficient common fisheries policy. It must be dealt with on a regional basis, from regional funds or social funds.

I hope the Government are aware of this problem, that they will be able to tell us that they have it very much in mind and that at the same time as promulgating the various ideas for spending the £140 million, however it is divided, in the fisheries industry they will also undertake to look at the problems of those communities which are suffering as a result of the changes in the systems of fishing.

4.16 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for having initiated this debate today—in particular for his prophetic powers, if not his good fortune in having the debate on what I believe can be called an historic day for British fishermen. All of us in this House will have been extremely moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who after 60 years of protection of British fishermen has given his undisputed accolade to the common fisheries policy which came out of Brussels yesterday. I can think of no better guarantee that the common fisheries policy must be in the interests of our fishermen than that the noble Lord felt able to make the speech which he made earlier his afternoon.

The achievement of Her Majesty's Government, together with other member states' Governments, in patient but persistent negotiations over the last months is very considerable. It will not only, as we hope, contribute to the wellbeing of our fishermen. As a member of the European Parliament. I hope also that greater recognition of the benefits of membership of the European Community will result from the conclusion yesterday of a common fisheries policy. I trust that it has exploded once and for all the word that used to go round earlier in this decade that membership of the Community would bring ruin to British fishermen. I hope that that myth has now come to an end.

Perhaps I may be permitted to say a few brief words about Kent Kirk, to whom my noble friend referred, because he happens to be a colleague of mine in my group in the European Parliament. I should like to assure my noble friend and your Lordships that he is a professional fisherman. He owns two fishing boats and is leader of the fishing association in his home town of Esbjerg. It may be that his charm and good looks do not help him when he appears as a rugged fisherman, and this may be one of the reasons why people criticise him rather more than they would do, except for the housewives. But let us remember that he did brave a Force 10 gale in order to prove his point. I should like to add that none of our group approved of the point he was trying to make but we did admire his courage and the way in which he went about trying to prove something with which we disagreed. I just wanted to say that in view of his professional standing.

Like most, if not all, of our major industries over the past 10 years, if not longer, the fishing industry has suffered seriously from external events. This has not been too much emphasised in our debate this afternoon, but it is a point worth making. The fishermen of this country have been affected not so much by Government policies or Community policies but by events such as the introduction of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone which barred to British fishermen zones which they had originally fished; the closure of access to Icelandic waters; and serious over-fishing. particularly by Soviet ships up until 1977, imperilling our fish stocks—about which our own Government and those of other member states seemed unable to take action until there was a proper common fisheries policy on which the Community as a whole could act against third countries.

Now we have heard from my noble friend the Minister that there will be prospects of agreements with third countries which will enable our fishermen to benefit. It is fair to say that the industry itself, with Government assistance, has managed to keep going. Again, this must not be underrated. Indeed, if the figures mean anything, the steep decline in long distance fishing and the use of large boats has been compensated for in similar terms by an increase in smaller boats—about 1,500 in the past 10 years. The catch also appears to have remained fairly static, allowing for exceptional weather conditions from time to time. I understand that the fishing catches of 1938, 1973 and 1980 do not vary all that much in their totality. Similarly, the number of fishermen engaged in the industry between 1970 and 1980 was roughly the same, although there are more part-time fishermen now than there were in 1970. Although sections of the industry have clearly suffered, I believe that the fishing industry as a whole has not suffered in the way that the British people have been led to believe.

This radical readjustment has been partly due to the initiative of the industry itself, partly to the Government, and partly to grants from the European Community of some £20 million over the past five years. Admittedly, that is not a geat deal, but these funds have been allocated not only to the construction of new boats but also to the adaptation of wharves and construction of fish-processing factories. I quote these figures for only one reason, which is to show that the industry itself has not sat back waiting for events to overtake it. Of course we can get quotes about fishermen being disappointed, but we must give credit to the industry for the fact that it has been trying to meet the problems facing it, and indeed facing all fishermen in Community waters. There have been changes internationally as well as in the United Kingdom. Like all industries, the fishing industry needs security, capital investment and skilled men—and I believe it can now claim to have all three at its disposal.

As we have heard and read, the fisheries policy now guarantees a fishing area of up to six miles from the coasts of member states in which no foreign fisherman can fish. I shall be grateful if my noble friend the Minister, when he comes to reply at the end of this debate, can confirm unequivocally that the oft-quoted threat of foreign fishermen fishing up to our beaches is not only untrue but impossible in accordance with the new common fisheries policy. Even the thorny question of historic fishing rights which exist in some parts of the country between six and 12 miles has now been successfully negotiated on a bilateral basis by the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—and with the French, no less. That is quite a achievement.

The TAC, which is so often attacked because we possess 60 per cent. of Community waters, is giving a 37 per cent. share of fish to the United Kingdom, which, as my noble friend the Minister set out in his Statement, will enable British fishermen to land more fish proportionately than they have done in the past few years. It is occasionally forgotten even by experts that fish, in common with men and women, do sometimes travel and do not always stay in the waters in which they are intended to remain.

The conservation measures are especially welcome following the heavy over-fishing of some species of fish. A point which is often brought up in Scotland—it is one which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy may raise—is that, where there is a considerable shortage of salmon, this is often said to be the fault of the Common Market. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm that salmon is not covered by the common fisheries policy but will be subject to individual agreement by the EEC with third countries.

The fishing industry would appear to have a magnificent opportunity for an assured future for its men and allied industries, but, although the Government can provide the framework, there are still some difficulties. From the point of view of the Government, adequate policing and effective control of our waters is one aspect, and it is one that has been raised by noble Lords. But there is a specific problem which we have experienced in the European Parliament and, with permission, I shall raise it in your Lordships' House. It is the problem of foreign fishermen registering their boats under the British flag. This will affect the calculation of available catches. This is something that the Government will have to examine, to see whether there should be some new form of legislation to deal with that particular problem.

Another important responsibility for the Government will be not only obtaining a fair share of the £140 million—and I am given to understand that we are to receive about one-third of that—but also making the best and most effective use of that money. No doubt the Government will be in immediate consultation with the industry and, I hope, with ports where there is considerable unemployment, to see how that money can best be used to effect an efficient fishing industry.

This new package imposes obligations on the industry itself to use all its commercial and financial judgment and acumen to ensure that these resources are not squandered. Very often we tend to think of fishermen as a race apart. In their courage and their physical strength they probably are a race apart, but they are part of an industry of this country—part of the food industry of this country—and as soon as the fishing industry takes part in the development of an overall food industry for Britain great benefits will follow not only to the fishermen but also to the industry as a whole.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull raised the question of the marketing of fish. I am quite certain that a closer study of the market is essential. We all know how difficult it is to buy ordinary wet fish in London or anywhere else in the country. It seems to have gone out of fashion, possibly in favour of fish fingers—at least my grandchildren seem to like them. This certainly does not help when one is trying to sell fish. We do not want to fall into the horror of having a surplus of fish as we have done with agriculture surplus under the CAP. Although that may sound silly at this stage of the game, we may find in 10 years' time that we have a lot of fish and that we may have to throw some of it away. Indeed, as noble Lords will know, some of it has been thrown away already.

Not only marketing is important: so also are distribution, transport, advertising methods, and the question of encouraging people to eat more fish. If one is to have a successful common fisheries policy, one must encourage people to eat the products of the fishing industry. Let us look not only at our own markets but also at export markets. Even to the European Community we are now exporting less fish than we import—something around £25 million-worth in 1980. Here is an area where the fishing industry should be looking very closely at methods of developing and expanding its markets.

Let us also remember that the TAC figures show that the TAC has an amount equivalent to the total amounts given to France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Ireland. So there is no reason why we should not be able to make these markets available to our own fishermen, provided the fish are marketed, priced, produced and packaged properly and in a modern way.

Finally, I should like to thank my noble friend for raising this vital subject and my noble friend the Minister for having read the Statement, although I have had the benefit, as some other noble Lords have not, of hearing the Government's Statement. I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on concluding what I believe is a satisfactory policy to enable the fishing industry to look forward with security and confidence to the future.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for bringing this subject, such a topical one, before your Lordships today and for introducing it in such a well informed and clear way in his speech. I welcome the agreement which was reached yesterday upon the new common fisheries policy. It has come after 10 years of very hard negotiation. We have been told that it has been guided by the overriding principle of conservation and I am sure that the whole House would approve of that principle. This means that total catches of different species, in particular areas, over specified periods, will be agreed, based upon scientific data and assessments.

The agreement as a whole is being welcomed already and greeted by fishing communities with a sense of relief, because it brings an end to the uncertainty which has bedevilled the industry for so many years. Soon fishermen should be able to start making plans ahead instead of having to live from day to day. Some fishermen's organisations though, I suggest, will be expressing anxieties. This is bound to be. For example, they will ask how will the agreements on quotas and other restrictions be observed and enforced correctly.

I have three questions to put to the Government. First, I would ask if my noble friend at the end of the debate can tell us something about the methods of monitoring, policing and enforcing which they have in mind. There will be unlimited access for EEC vessels to the EEC "pond", as it is called, but as regards access to certain areas fishing will be limited to vessels belonging to individual members of the Community. First, there is the coastal band between six and 12 miles from the shoreline—that is our base line in the case of the United Kingdom. Then there is also the Orkney and Shetland box, where there are restrictions, I understand, for foreign vessels except for vessels under a certain length, which I believe is 80 feet. I assume that in both these cases, the band and the box, the system will be one of licensing of individual boats, but I would be grateful if my noble friend could confirm this. I believe that such a system of licensing is the only reliable system in which fishermen themselves have confidence in those circumstances. Outside those areas but within the EEC fishing limits—that is to say, in the Common Market "pond"—it seems that there will be no check on numbers of vessels belonging to member states. Here control, it seems, will be through checks on the landings of fish at ports and spot checks on vessels at sea, no doubt looking into not only the catches on board but also the size of mesh of nets and other matters of that kind. I suggest that it must be a reliable system if it is to gain the confidence of our fishermen. Otherwise, the United Kingdom will lose the benefit, which has been gained from this agreement, of having 37.3 per cent. of the seven main edible species as quotas in the EEC fishing area. The prospect of flourishing fish stocks in the future will also recede if there is not a reliable system of enforcing the agreement.

My other two questions to the Government relate to Spain and Portugal, who are expected to join the EEC in the foreseeable future, probably within the next six or seven years. What will the arrangements be when those two countries join? Spain has a considerable fishing fleet which will certainly have an impact on the agreements under this fisheries policy. From the press we understand that this agreement, which has just been reached, is to last for 20 years. Spain is expected to join within the next five years.

I would also like to ask about the present position, and this is my third question. Are the Government content that, according to the latest statistics, 60 Spanish vessels are registered as United Kingdom fishing boats? All that a Spanish boat has to have are United Kingdom nationals as skipper and as mate and a United Kingdom address. They are now registered at ports all round the United Kingdom. My noble friend did assure me last week that they are not receiving subsidies; it really would be too much if they were receiving subsidies from the British Government. But it does look as though they will be entitled to part of the quotas for British fishing vessels. How many more Spanish vessels are likely to join the 60 already registered here, using this flag of fishing convenience? This is regarded as a great inconvenience by the British fishing fleet, and it illustrates an enormous loophole in the system of quotas.

In contemplating the future development of the home fishing industry, there are two matters to which I would draw attention. The first is that the deep water fleet, the large trawlers, have been drastically reduced in numbers since the mid-I970's. This was caused by the international acceptance of 200-mile fishing limits. It was not caused by membership of the EEC. In the past most of the fish caught by British fishing boats and landed were caught many miles away from this country. That was the traditional system. First, Iceland attempted to change that system by unilateral attempts to extend her fishing limits before general agreement on extension had been reached by the other maritime countries. But by 1976 the United Kindom, with other countries, legislated the extension to 200 miles because by that time it had become customary international law. There were too many large trawlers then built and designed for distant fishing for the United Kingdom; they could not all return to home waters and compete with other boats there. That is the reason for the depressed emptiness of the chief ports concerned, Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood, today.

I refer next to our inshore fleet working in those home waters—and here I am using the terminology I am used to; that is to say, I am not referring to the inshore fleet simply as small boats making daily excursions and operating within six miles of the shore; I use it in the sense in which it is normally used by Government departments and in international negotiations as the fleet which operates in our own home waters, where vessels go to sea for as much as a week at a time. In numbers the inshore fleet is about the same. It has not changed over recent years. Indeed, the numbers of the Scottish part of that fleet have actually increased recently. They now form at least half, if not more, of the whole United Kingdom inshore fleet. There has been this extraordinary transformation in our fishing industry, and in its shape, over the past ten years. It has not been a painless one. The remaining large vessels in the United Kingdom designed for distant water fishing should now be given every opportunity to take up their fair proportion of the quotas in agreements which the EEC reaches with other countries—for example, with Canada, for fishing on Canada's distant grounds.

Turning to matters close to our own shores, I ask the Government to address themselves now with urgency, to arrangements within the 12 miles of our own coastline and to the box, or boxes, and any other nationally regulated areas which are agreed. In 1978 the Commission proposed that there would be local fishing plans. In the United Kingdom much thought and work has been devoted to devising certain local fishing management schemes. The Government should now give urgent attention to these within the new fisheries policy.

I add this comment, that the idea of local schemes, proposed by the EEC some four years ago, carried with it the notion of the very small fishing boat—the lobster boat and the half-day fishing excursion. But nowadays, in the remote areas where there are fishing communities dependent upon fishing as their main industry and livelihood, there is a combination of boats, so that there can be a small boat which is operating on that basis—in Scotland it would usually be by the crofter fisherman system—and at the same time neighbours living in the same fishing village can be operating the most modern fishing boat costing more than £1 million; for example, a purse-seiner, which carries lethal catching power. All these categories must be considered and catered for. We cannot penalise the efficient, and at the same time we must make sure that those who are dependent on the industry for their livelihood have a reasonable opportunity.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question arising from what he has been saying? Does he not agree that now we are on friendly terms with the Danes we should suggest to them that they should seriously consider going easy on the catching of immature stocks, with small fishing vessels, which they are doing all over the place and which I myself am convinced is the main cause of the decline of the herring fishing industry?

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, knows more about the fishing industry than many of us will ever know. I take this opportunity of thanking him for the kind words he said about me earlier today. Of course he is right. There have been continuing discussions with the Danes over the question of their industrial fishing. So much of their fishing is for small fish and not for edible purposes. The pout box and other arrangements have been devised with that in mind. I also draw attention to what the noble Lord said about the importance of convincing the Danes on this, and of reaching agreements about it.

I close by congratulating the Government on achieving a satisfactory end to a very long chapter. Now I urge them to work with urgency and vigour to create the systems which are needed to give effect to this new agreement.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for having introduced this debate in so timely a fashion. It has given many of us who have a close interest in the fishing industry an opportunity to bring its many problems before your Lordships' House.

I also join in congratulating my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on his non-stop battle to obtain a fair deal for the British fishing industry. I have known my right honourable friend for 35 years and when he gets his teeth into something he does not let go until he has a fair bite for Britain.

I also thank the Minister of State, in particular, because I think that Mr. Buchanan-Smith has been among the first of a succession of Ministers to recognise that we also fish down south and has been ready to visit the South to see for himself He has held many discussions with the port owners and the trawlermen in the South-West, and they are very appreciative indeed of the fact that he has taken such a real interest in them.

My interest obviously stems from personal experience in the South-West and, in particular, with inshore fishing, because I have been a director of Sutton Harbour, Plymouth, for 18 years. In the South-West we have suffered in the past from the sturdy—some people have called it pig-headed—independence and isolation of each individual fishing port. Against the well-organised Scottish, North-Eastern and North-Western fishing organisations, the voice of the South-West rarely reached Westminster. This afternoon we have eight Scots speaking, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Walston, who drew timely attention to the problems of the inshore fishermen in the South-West, and I feel that it is only fair that I, too, should speak up for them.

As a result of the parlous state of the industry, with the laying-up of many trawlers and the depredations of foreign trawlers flouting the regulations, I am now pleased to say that the South-West has got together and presented a united case. But, over the past seven years, as one trawlerman put it, "it has been just one damn thing after another". First, there has been straight poaching within our 12-mile limit. I accept that the Government have taken steps to provide better and more vigilant patrols. These have helped, but poaching has not been eliminated and fishing boats from overseas put in late at night when, certainly during the winter season, the ports may not be staffed and when fishery inspection officers are not on duty. They also put in, and out, at seven o'clock in the morning, without paying berthing dues, putting some of their fish on trucks which is then immediately taken off on the first ferry to France or wherever.

More seriously, we have the huge trawlers and factory ships lying just outside the 12-mile limit which are buying direct from United Kingdom trawlers, As the noble Lord, Lord Walston said, the purse seiners from the North came down and they sold direct. In the main these "Klondikers", as they were called, came from the Eastern European countries, although we had Portuguese, Spanish and even Egyptian ships lying just outside the 12-mile limit. They are notified of a catch by a little gentleman who sits in a hotel room in Falmouth. The trawlers are told that such and such a ship just over the 12-mile limit will take their entire catch. The location is given and they are told to "go to it".

The largest proportion of a fishing port's income comes from landing charges. Nowhere is this more important, where there are no great commercial docks and transportation, than in the inshore fishing docks. For centuries fishing boats have paid incredibly low berthing charges. At present at Sutton Harbour we have an excellent fishing harbour and fish market with all the most modern facilities. The charges for a trawler are 75p a foot a year. Therefore, a 40-foot trawler pays £30—that would not pay one of our staff on the docks for two days. But, by tradition, when the fishermen do well on a catch, the port does well. Currently we get 2p in the pound on all the fish auctioned at our market. So a £5,000 catch from our type of trawlers brings £100 into the port on a morning when they come back with a catch of that size. Therefore, landing charges are the basic bread and butter of a fishing port. Already over the last six or eight years we have lost 50 regular trawlers at our port. and the number is still diminishing.

I know that recent regulations—and I congratulate the Ministry—are more stringent on the "Klondikers", but the new levies being raised with these "Klondikers" in lieu of landing charges imposed on these foreign ships are going to the Ministry: they are not going to the port. I fully appreciate, and the Ministry have explained to me time and time again when I have protested, that it would be administratively extremely difficult to allocate a particular ship's catch to a particular port even though the ship may be berthed there overnight. But it is of vital importance if 70 or 80 per cent. of your income comes from landing charges. Moreover, that fish counts against our quotas because it is caught by United Kingdom ships within our 12-mile limit. It is, therefore, very important that we should try to help the ports in some other way if it is not administratively possible to see that these landing charges come back to where they really belong, because the alternative is that we shall not have any local inshore fishing harbours worth talking about in five or 10 years' time. We are delighted that the quota has increased to 37.3 per cent. But we are concerned about how much of that quota, genuine United Kingdom fishermen will, in fact, bring in.

I now turn to the "foreign fiddles". We are by nature a pretty law-abiding nation and our network of enforcement officers is in many ways far more comprehensive and impartial—some of our neighbours overseas are very good at turning blind eyes to their own people—than those of many other countries. As a result, by and large, our fishermen keep the law far more regularly than our foreign competitors. Time and time again, as my noble friend mentioned a few minutes ago, ships from abroad have used, and are still using, illegally small mesh nets, and they are wrecking the whole of the EEC effort to conserve our fishing stocks. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, so rightly said that, because of that, we have over the years fantastically depleted our fishing stocks. Indeed, we have had to place a ban on the fishing of herring at certain periods because of such depletion.

This morning I sought the advice of two South-Western experts. Both were emphatic that, if the losses through small nets and the depredations on conservation continue, in 10 years' time there will not be any mature fish stocks left to fish. Magistrates do not seem to have appreciated how desperately important the situation is for the whole of the fishing industry—not only for us, but for the EEC as well. In a recent case there was a fine of £600, but a trawler of the size in question could bring in anything from £3,000-to £10,000-worth of fish in one catch. In my view, a £600 fine is derisory.

Finally, I turn to the phoney foreign registered companies who have found a loophole in our Companies Act. I raised this issue four months ago in your Lordships' House. I have received two very long and very detailed letters from my noble friend Lord Cockfield and I am grateful to him for the comprehensive, nature of those letters, although I cannot wholly agree with them. I accept that it would possibly be extraordinarily difficult to alter the Companies Act, with all its multitudinous ramifications, in the interests of one particular industry. However, it is a vital industry which stretches from the Hebrides down to Land's End and all around our coastline. We must take stronger measures to prevent those boats being registered as if they were genuine UK fishing boats.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, for kindly bringing to my attention the Lloyds List for 4th January. I should like to quote one paragraph: Spanish fishing companies whose ships have operated off Ireland for centuries, found that their ships were being excluded and they decided to exploit the weak British fishing vessel registration requirements to maintain their operations. British companies were able to operate the ships, but the British connection can be as little as 5 per cent. I have had some first-hand evidence down south. There is a gentleman living in most modest surroundings who is technically one of the UK registered owners of two vessels worth at least £250,000 each. It is a £100 company with £5 paid up. He is also the English skipper, who, by law, has to go to sea with the ship. However, this is a Spanish ship with three skippers and three mates. It has the English one who goes and puts the documentation in at Plymouth, Southampton or wherever. He goes aboard with his mate, he sits down and he does precisely nothing thereafter until the ship comes back to port. Then there is the skilled skipper who is the navigator and who brings the ship from Barcelona or some other port in Spain; he also has a mate. Then there is the highly skilled trawlerman who is the skipper on the fishing side. He also has a mate who knows all about trawling. They are all paid the due rates and they all get their bonus. One can appreciate the size of their catches, and all those catches—which go in the main back to Spain or to other ports of their choice—will stand against our fishing quota and that 37.3 per cent. Therefore, I beg my noble friend to look more closely at these phonily registered boats. Today it is the Spanish, but, if they get away with it, it would well be the French, the Egyptians, the Portuguese or those from Eastern Europe. All the success of my noble friend's negotiations will be nullified if these foreign fiddles are allowed to continue.

I have spoken strongly because I feel strongly about this matter. Whenever I go to Plymouth I am assailed with the question, "What are you going to do about it?"—and by "you" they mean the Houses of Parliament and not me personally. I hope very sincerely that we shall be able to deal in particular with these encroachments by boats which take our fish against our quota—fish that the British market will never see.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness, but she has mentioned my name and I wondered whether, in the letter from the Minister to which she referred, the Minister replied to those facts which I presented to the noble Baroness from Lloyds on this matter. Was that included in his letter?

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, that would have been in the third one, and I have not got that far.

5 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for introducing this debate. The fact is that you cannot go two yards in this House without tripping over either a landowner or a farmer, or both. But fishermen are a little scarce. Fishing is a very important industry, and we are very grateful to the noble Earl for raising this matter. My connection with fishing is precisely that of many people, in that I have fought and represented a constituency in which fishing is a major occupation. In the main they are the seine netters whom the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, described, and also the crofter fishermen. Of course, their delight is to take the Member of Parliament or candidate out in a boat on a fishing trip, invite him down below and then see whether they can make him sick with a mixture of sweet tea, tobacco smoke and excessive heat. But that is all part of the training of a good politician, and very good for one.

However, they are extremely direct people. If this debate has shown anything, it has shown that there are many snags to overcome; and the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, gave the grossest example of the sort of thing that can make a nonsense of this successful agreement. In the constituency of Caithness and Sutherland we also have a very good example of their dislike of incoming fishermen from far away parts like Orkney, in that the crofter fishermen who lay their pots along the coast of Caithness for crab and lobster, and who go out daily to try to preserve the fishing, can suddenly find a foreigner from Orkney, and a seine netter, coming along and dropping 100 pots, coming hack a couple of days later, picking them up and disappearing, to return a year later.

I believe that this fisheries policy must be a developing one, and it must develop within our own legislation. Twenty years ago I said to my friends who were crofter fishermen, "Some day you will have to rent a bit of this coast, look after it properly and farm it in order to keep your lobsters". At that time they said, "Ah, man, the sea is free to all". But they have changed their tune now because they know perfectly well that, with the development of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, called the lethal purse-seine netter, a great deal has to be done to conserve the stocks and to conserve the communities around our coasts who fish in a perfectly satisfactory and competent manner. If they are to be preserved, some agreement and some system needs to be reached whereby, for example, an area of coast is licensed to the lobster fisherman who is competent at laying pots from a small boat, just as the fisherman in a big boat with 100 pots on board is competent.

If you talk to any fisherman he will tell you about the number of times a foreign boat has had to put into Wick, Aberdeen or Peterhead, and along the quayside there are nets piled up with meshes so small that they would not let a fly through, let alone anything else. That is why we must have a system of control which will be seen to work by the fishermen as well as by the Government. One is alone on the sea, and our own chaps are not averse to nipping inside the three-mile limit if they think that the cruiser is not about. I very much doubt whether the intelligence available to our patrolling vessels will be as good as it was in the case of Captain Kirk, when half the press of Europe were on board sending daily messages as to his position. Therefore, much work has to be done on that.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, was a good one. He said that perhaps we need an international body which will be the controlling and the recording agents in the various ports. In Scotland we have that glorious product, whisky, and the exciseman, who holds the key to the stills and other things, really is the brother of the manager. I think that there is something to be said for a community body to oversee the development.

What has been said on all sides of the House is absolutely essential: that we must ensure that the rules of conservation are not broken, that areas are sacrosanct in the periods when fishing is not supposed to take place and that young stocks get a chance to survive, to grow and to give us the sort of supply of fish which we require. I think it is admitted on all sides that the fishing fleet will change in character and will become more of an inshore fishing fleet, and there will be fewer deep sea trawlers. If we succeed in developing in this way and making the system work, then I think we can be assured of a supply of fish.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, made a fascinating speech. I disliked it because she said all that I wanted to say, but very much better. However, she put her finger on the point when she said that we had to do something about marketing. In some areas it is enormously difficult to buy good fish. In the old days the fish train from Aberdeen was more important than the express, because the fish had to be got to market. Today fish are transported by lorry, and very few fish, if any, go south by train. Therefore we must look at the system of transport and try to get the fish onto the customers' tables tasting like fish does if you have a high tea in the town of Fraserburgh. It is well worth visiting Fraserburgh to experience that.

However, it is shocking that, in these days of modern transport, the eating of fish per capita in this country is declining. Famous chains of fish shops are declining, and something must be done about this. In the old days, round the farms of Aberdeenshire there were ladies walking with their creels on their backs carrying the fish that had been caught the night before, and in that way fresh fish was brought to the farms. A few people still do this in a van, which nearly always has an annoying horn which plays a tune when it enters the middle of the farm when you are trying to sleep during an afternoon, if you ever do such a thing. But it is the sort of enterprise that we need to encourage to get the fish about, because it is a product which is good and which people like. For goodness sake, why the devil can we not get fish to where people will buy it?

I turn to the industrial side of the fishing industry; to the fish required for that famous institution, the British fish and chip shop. Here we need the best of freezing methods. It makes an enormous difference if the fish are frozen immediately and as fast as possible with a good blast freezer. If we did that, with the advance of technology, that fish could probably reach the shops almost as fast as the fresh fish. Certainly an immense effort will have to go into marketing, and I hope that Food from Britain might eventually include fish from the sea as well as that from fish farms. I see no reason why it should not.

I have said enough. It has been a very interesting debate. The unanimity of opinion that the opportunity is there has been quite extraordinary; but it is only an opportunity, and a great many things have to be worked out before it will work.

5.10 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, as my noble kinsman has just said, the unanimity in this debate has been tremendous and it does not leave one very much to say at the end except to agree with almost everything that has been said. Before doing so I should like, with everyone else, to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on initiating the debate and his good luck in initiating it on such a day. It shows the character of the man when he started by expressing sympathy for the men out of work, those losing their jobs, and the tribute he paid to the societies helping these men. That showed a nice human concern, and I thought it was a good opening to this debate. The whole business was started, I think nearly all are agreed on this, with the loss of the Icelandic waters to our long-distance fishing fleet. I have seen the figures—I forget which noble Lord produced them—and something more than four out of five boats were laid up at the end of that period. I do not think that the fishing fleet has ever recovered from that. In my home town of Aberdeen, which is built of granite paid for by fish, it would have been a disastrous situation for that town if the oil had not come along at the same time. Nevertheless, there are in the harbours round about Aberdeen rusting trawlers that will never be used again.

There is tremendous scope for doing something about it now that we have this fishing agreement, for which I pay tribute to the Ministers who got it, and especially to my late Member of Parliament and neighbour in Scotland, Mr. Alec Buchanan-Smith, for the work he has done. Having got this agreement the thing to do now is to get ahead and see what can be done to resuscitate the fishing industry. As my noble kinsman and others have said, it will require a considerable effort. It will not just happen. A lot has to be done.

There is great scope for spending the money that we are going to get from the £140 million. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said that it was to be 30 per cent., which was not quite the 37.5 per cent. I suggested it might be. However, it is still a considerable sum. The refurbishing of boats that can be refurbished and the building of others will create employment. That will be a great help in many of the areas where we have high unemployment.

Again it was emphasised that there could be a surplus of fish, and occasionally there is a surplus of fish at the present moment. Therefore, processing plants would require to be given some money in order to be able to handle not only the processing of fish for human consumption but of course processing for animal foods such as fish meal, and so on. There is a strong case for our having a look at what the Russians and the East European countries are doing and having some processing ships ourselves, especially if we were to follow the example (I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Walston, who mentioned it first, and then someone else) of looking for waters other than the ones we have at present—even going to the Falklands Islands, where it would be necessary to have a support processing ship to handle the fish. That should be looked at carefully.

We import an enormous amount of fish meal. As most farmers in the House will know, it is one of the best proteins, if not the best, that one can use for animal feed, provided it is used properly. I am sure that a lot more fish meal could be made in this country. I should like to think that some of the factories could be in areas where they are required for employment. There is a suggestion that one should be put on the Isle of Barra. I hope that that would come to fruition because there is unemployment there. It would employ up to 20 men, and that would be excellent for that area.

I was surprised when I was given the figures of a deficit in our imports and exports of fish. It is running at the rate of £246 million a year. It is an enormous figure. Surely we could redress that a bit now that we have a long-term policy for our fishing industry. If that figure could be redressed the other way it would be an enormous saving; a quarter of a billion in foreign imports. I thought that the noble Earl might have mentioned—and I mention it in this respect for increasing our fish supply—that there is tremendous scope for fish farming. I am not sure that it comes into the picture in this debate today, but I saw a film the other day. about fish farming in Ireland. The amount one can produce in tonnes of fish a day with small and not too expensive equipment was most impressive.

I return to a point that everybody has mentioned, and that is the question of marketing. I know that only inland fresh water fish comes under Food from Britain, but there is tremendous scope for either bringing fish from Britain under the same umbrella or else having an equal umbrella somewhere to carry this out, although in the Minister's Statement and in the EEC Statement it says that marketing is going to be assisted as well. I, like my noble kinsman, lived within sight of fishing villages in the North-East of Scotland, and of course a fresh fish from these boats, eaten the same day or the next day, is so different from the stuff we get nowadays in this part of the world. A better system of getting fresh fish to the shops all over the country is very necessary indeed.

I come to a point that has been raised by practically every speaker, and that is the question of policing, enforcing, and monitoring. The noble Lord, Lord Stodart, started with that. He was worried about the disparity that there might be in standards, and practically everybody else mentioned this. I hope that the noble Earl on the Government Front Bench will take note of that because it has worried everybody who has spoken today, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, who was worried about the Spanish ships using every conceivable method of avoiding the regulations. I am sure that something should be done there.

My noble kinsman mentioned vans. There are people trying to get fresh fish to customers in this country. I have a friend in my local village of Nazeing (a village I am sure you all know) whose wife started a small business which became very successful. He was employed on something else in the town but he said, "If she can do that, I ought to be able to do something better". He started getting fish down from Grimsby and then dispersing it, by one van to begin with. Now he has a big lorry coming to a selected point, emptying into about half a dozen vans, and dispersing it round South-West Essex. It has been a huge success. It shows what can be done in marketing. That is something that should be looked at carefully not only from the EEC's point of view but from our point of view inside this country.

I do not think that I can say much more. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned the Spanish ships, and that must be looked into. This is the second time within a couple of weeks that he has mentioned this, and I feel that something ought to be done.

The last point I should like to make was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and that is the question of the EEC. I should like to agree with them both. Here we have an agreement that I do not think could possibly have been achieved without being members of the EEC. It is something with which I thoroughly agree. I am a dedicated European, and I am sure that it is a point in favour of the EEC. I have not anything more to say except that we look forward to hearing some of the replies to the questions that everybody has put to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I think that we have given him a fairly big job.

5.20 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, this has been an interesting and important debate. Everyone has a natural sympathy for fishermen. They live a hard, tough and rugged life, and for who they are and what they do they earn respect for themselves. What has been said this evening in all quarters of your Lordships' House has been a clear indication of our concern for their future and the way in which they earn their living.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kinnoull on his capacity for clairvoyancy. The timing of this debate has been remarkable, in that it comes the very day after the conclusion of the agreement with the European Community on a common fisheries policy. This has been a particularly difficult subject on which to get agreement with the other member states, and I suggest it is a cause for approval and satisfaction, even rejoicing, that the Community has at last been able to find a common accord and a common agreement. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that the agreement on the common fisheries policy does not end all the problems for the fishermen. Of course it does not, and the debate has shown that. Nevertheless, it removes one massive area of uncertainty which affected all fishermen.

A great deal of midnight oil has been burnt in trying to achieve this common policy, not just in this country but in other countries, too. My noble friend Lord Kinnoull was right to say that during the whole period of negotiation there was inevitably an aura of uncertainty, and in the protracted negotiations the atmosphere of uncertainty has been difficult for our fishermen. My noble friend wanted to know if we understood the short-term problems of our fishermen. I need only ask him to reflect that over the last three years we have understood their problems sufficiently well to give them a special grant in aid of £57 million to help them over a period of recognised substantial difficulty. That uncertainty is now over. It should enable our fishing industry, as well as those of other countries, to proceed with a certain knowledge of what are the parameters of the new common fisheries policy.

When my right honourable friend took over the negotiations he found a Europe in which eight other members of the Community had, almost between themselves, come to a fishing agreement, of which the United Kingdom was not a part, at a meeting in Berlin which the Minister of Agriculture of the day decided not to attend. We were isolated. Now we have an agreement from which the United Kingdom is not isolated but of which it is very much a part. It is an agreement which has been accepted by all member states; and not only is it agreed by all member states, but it also has the approval of the United Kingdom fishing industry. At the beginning of his attempts to negotiate a sound fishing agreement my right honourable friend gave an undertaking to the fishing industry that he would not accept any agreement which did not have their approval. This agreement does, and it is therefore appropriate to see what these years of negotiation have achieved.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull said in opening the debate, when he was at the disadvantage of not having heard the Statement, that he doubted if he would understand the Statement. I do not think that was necessarily a reflection on his intellectual capacity but merely an indication of the complexity of the issue. I will, therefore, explain what it has achieved.

Before 1964 our fishermen had exclusive rights to fish up to three miles only. After 1964, under the London Convention, the exclusive rights went up to six miles; and between six and 12 miles there were exclusive rights except for those other countries which had an historic record of fishing there. They had rights to continue to fish there. Those rights to fish between six and 12 miles were extended on our accession to the Community. Now we have the same exclusive rights up to six miles; and between six and 12 miles there are even fewer rights of access for other countries than those which existed before our accession to the Community.

If I may try to put it in a clearer way, our 12-mile limit, if drawn out in a straight line, would amount to 2,667 miles in length. Under the terms of the Treaty of Accession, member states had rights in 1,999 miles of that length. In the agreement which has now been reached, these rights will either be eliminated or reduced in no less than 1,441 miles of that length. A major improvement in our waters has therefore been achieved in 72 per cent. of what is known as our 12-mile limit, in which rights have historically existed for other countries to fish. I can confirm, in answer to my noble friend Lady Elles, that there is no question of foreign vessels fishing, as it is sometimes graphically put, right up to our beaches.

The United Kingdom has also obtained important rights for our fishermen in the six to 12-mile limits of other member states. A box has been obtained around the north of Scotland where commercial fishing by larger vessels will be licensed so that important stocks in that area can be carefully conserved and, over the years, enhanced. My noble friend Lord Campbell asked particularly about this box. A conservation measure has been agreed by the member states which has the effect of applying limitations on the fishing effort in an area of sea around the north of Scotland. It is effective by limiting the number of larger vessels—those of over 26 metres between perpendiculars—which may fish for human consumption commercial species in the area. Each vessel will have to be licensed individually. The box provides protection for the coastal fisheries in the north of Scotland, and it represents a considerable achievement. Of course, vessels can fish for industrial species, and small vessels can continue to fish there without a licence.

There has also been agreement on quotas. Of the seven main species of fish, six provide more than 80 per cent. of the United Kingdom's landings. Our share of the seven main species, at 37 per cent., is above the level of our share of the catch every year since 1974, and substantially above our share of the catch in 1980, when it was 33 per cent. It is now 37 per cent. Indeed, for most stocks our quotas are now as great as, or greater than, the exceptionally high level of fishing in 1981.

To illustrate this, the average United Kingdom catch of North Sea cod in the years 1973 to 1978 was 85,000 tonnes, while the quota provided for in this agreement is 114,700 tonnes. The quota percentages which have now been agreed will continue from year to year. We have secured for the United Kingdom 47 per cent. of the Community's permitted catch of North Sea cod: 60 per cent. of the permitted catch of West Coast herring; and 59 per cent. of the permitted catch of West Coast mackerel. With the conservation and enforcement measures which have now been agreed, it is likely that the stocks will increase over the years, instead of declining. These percentages will, therefore, give the industry a reasonable prospect of increased landings. These arrangements provide a guarantee of at least 20 years of security for our fishermen in the fishing areas which are of vital importance to us.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister able to tell us what control and check there is on industrial fishing which, I understand, will be allowed in the north of Scotland box?

Earl Ferrers

Industrial fishing does not come within this agreement, my Lords. One of the most important demands of our fishermen was to have a sensible system of enforcement in which member states could not overfish their quotas and could not infringe the access provisions. That has been repeated this afternoon almost universally.

My noble friend Lord Stodart asked if policing would be uniform—would the states lose their enthusiasm to police, he wondered—and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, was worried about that, as were the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and his noble kinsman. The new agreement provides a system which would ensure the effective control of fishing in the Community. The United Kingdom in fact provided the first proposals for these regulations, and under the agreement each member state will be responsible for ensuring that the Community fisheries rules are obeyed in their own waters. The United Kingdom will be responsible for enforcement within our own ports and fishing limits.

However, in addition to that, at the United Kingdom's insistence, the Commission is to establish a special unit, the specific task of which will be to ensure that member states are fulfilling their enforcement responsibilities. Inspectors from the unit will make regular visits to all the member states concerned, and they will have the power of on-the-spot inspection. There are inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland. There are district inspectors and fishery officers at main ports, and they cover an area of the coast.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull asked what were our protection resources? Without going into a great deal of detail, I would say that they include a mix of seven Island class and two New Castle class off-shore patrol vessels of the Royal Navy, and seven-ton class coastal minesweepers. Other Royal Naval vessels can be used from time to time as appropriate and convenient in order to maintain a proper level of inspection. Occasional air surveillance is also provided by naval aircraft and helicopters when required. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland has two 230-ft ships, two Island class vessels, and two other vessels; and two 20-metre fast patrol launches will be coming into operation this spring. The RAF provides maritime patrol by Nimrods, which currently fly 160 hours per month. The Ministry of Agriculture has a contract for the operation of two civilian aircraft when necessary, and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland has the same. That is a fairly substantial fisheries protection line-up, and when my noble friend Lord Kinnoull asks whether it will be increased, I am bound to tell him that it is not our intention to do so.

There will be substantial penalties available under the United Kingdom law for offences against the Community fishing rules. A fine of £50,000, as well as confiscation of the very costly gear, will add up to a fairly substantial incentive not to over-fish. There will be a new régime for conservation, which will meet very important United Kingdom requirements. It will establish on a permanent basis the vital Norway pout box. Our own previous national measures are now put on a Community basis, and this will, again, give the fishing industry a prospect of increasing, rather than declining, stocks of fish.

My noble friend Lady Elles asked about salmon. The conservation regulation bans fishing for salmon outside 12 miles. Our own national rules continue to apply within 12 miles. Apart from the Greenlanders, who have a special exemption, there is no fishing outside 12 miles for salmon in the waters of the Community.

There will also be what is known as a structure package, which will include substantial grants for scrapping, modernisation, and construction of boats. The grants will be made available to our fleet. The Community will finance 50 per cent. of all scrapping grants, up to a maximum of £360 per tonne, and will provide 25 per cent. modernisation grants for approved projects. These Community grants for improving and building vessels will be additional to our own national grants, and of course we shall be discussing all of this with the industry and the Community, as my noble friend Lord Kinnoull requested.

So for the first time we now have a Community which has agreed on a common fisheries policy, an agreement on access, on quotas, on conservation, an agreement on policing, an agreement on grant-aiding the modernisation of the Community fishing fleets, and an improved marketing regulation. Our own industry welcomes these improved arrangements. and I really believe that they ought to bring stability to the market. We intend to discuss the marketing arrangements annually with the fishing industry in order to secure a stable and prosperous future.

I think that it was my noble friend Lady Elles who referred to the importance of exporting fish. Of course, this is absolutely correct. It is very important that we should export fish, and we already do so to a very large extent. When I say "to a large extent", I think that I am right in saying that it is in the order off £155 million of fish that we export, and the Sea Fish Authority will be concerned about, and will look for, increased export opportunities. But of course the real effort must come from the individuals who want to do the trade.

My noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston was concerned about withdrawal prices. There are Community withdrawal prices in the main species of interest to our fishermen. My noble friend asked, are they the same throughout the Community? The withdrawal prices are the same in European units of account (ECUs), but of course when they are translated into national currencies by the green rates there can be differences. They are set each year, taking into account a number of factors that are set down in the Treaty of Rome and in the Community's marketing regulations for fish. Therefore, the situation is similar to that in regard to agriculture.

The Government's aim has been to get guide prices set at realistic levels. We accept that in some cases they remain lower than we would wish, but fixing prices for fish involves a measure of compromise between conflicting views on where prices should be fixed; and in that regard it is just like agriculture. The guide prices for cod, for example, have been increased by 58 per cent. since 1979. The Commission is considering setting in hand an in-depth study of guide prices and their effect on prices in the open market. The aim is to provide a better basis for the decisions. We welcome this proposal, and I am confident that it will help in our efforts to see that guide prices are set at realistic levels.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull asked, was there to be a consultation document? Discussions with the industry on what needs to be done to restructure the United Kingdom industry, and how to set about that, using the European Community schemes which have now been agreed, will begin as soon as possible.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, referred in terms of genuine anxiety to the foreign vessels that are registered in the United Kingdom. I was interested to hear about the triplication of skippers, which I did not know about previously. The noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, drew that to our attention, and I think that it is very valuable information. This is a very genuine worry; I accept that. These vessels come largely from Spain, and my right honourable friend is pressing ahead urgently with plans at national and Community level to find a solution to the problem. I hope that the solution is not too far away, and in the meantime we are monitoring the situation very carefully.

Reference was made earlier to the position with regard to North Sea cod—the 2,000 tonnes for Denmark. This is a stock that is shared between the European Community and Norway, and catches for the two parties are mutually agreed annually. The EEC total is further subdivided between the member states. Our percentage of North Sea cod is unaffected by the special limited deal with Denmark for 2,000 tonnes over three years. Our percentage will last for 20 years at least. With regard to the mackerel for Denmark from Norway, the agreement is that up to 25,000 tonnes will be found for Denmark from the annual agreements with third countries; but Denmark have renounced all their claims to western mackerel; that is, the stock in which the United Kingdom fishermen are primarily interested.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull referred to the role of the trawlers in the Falklands. The five freezer trawlers which went to the Falklands played a very valuable role and I should like to pay tribute to those men who were involved. I have no doubt that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is aware of the important part which these fishing vessels and others like them can play, have played and may play in the future in any similar role. My tribute would go out to them and to the men who manned them for what they did.

My noble friend asked whether there was any possibility of encouraging fishing within the Falkland Islands. I think I can best reply to him by quoting the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he said of the Shackleton proposal for exploratory off-shore fishing and the establishment of a 200-mile fishing limit, The implications of such a limit, not least its policing and the degree of commercial interests in fishing need to be carefully assessed". He went on: We want to see the possibilities of fishing explored much more widely. We are considering how best to do that. There should be further studies before we put any money into that venture. We hope that it will turn out to have good prospects. But that remains to be seen". My noble friend also asked—as did another noble Lord, whose name, I regret, escapes me—about the position with regard to monitoring the reserves of our fish. The International Council for Exploration of the Sea, which is a scientific body, makes annual reports on the state of fish stocks and these are being monitored very carefully.

As a result of all this, I think it can be said that for the first time for many years fishing will have a secure future, a future in which fishermen will be able to make rational and responsible decisions in the full knowledge of what the rules of the game will be. It will also enable the Government, and all Governments in the future, to pursue policies which will enable our fishermen to try to earn a reasonable living. it has been a long, hard slog to get to this point. At times, many wondered whether it would ever be possible. I think it is no small triumph, not just for the United Kingdom, but for the Community as a whole, that persistence and understanding have paid off and that there is now agreement between all.

It is far too easy to vilify the Community and its shortcomings; it seems to be a fashionable thing to do. But this agreement shows yet again that conflicting interests can, by patience, understanding and negotiation, he translated into harmony. I should like to add my tribute to those which have already been expressed to my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, to his Minister of State and to the Secretary of State for Scotland for the very substantial part that they have all played in ensuring the success of both the Community and our fishing industry.

5.43 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, both for enriching the debate and for the brevity and quality of their contributions. There is a little time left on the clock but your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to take it up. The timing of the debate, sadly, I can take no credit for; I wish I could. But I think the limitation has made it the more stimulating. I was concerned after we had spent 40 minutes on the Statement that it was somewhat eating into our time, but, of course, it did not actually affect it.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Elles for putting the record straight over Captain Kirk. I am glad to hear that she did not support his efforts. I, too, wondered about his temerity in putting out to sea in a force 12 gale and drew the, obviously wrong, conclusion that no sensible fisherman would go out in such seas. I should like warmly to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ferrers on the achievement of the agreement today, and for the very helpful and sympathetic reply he has given. I was very glad indeed to see the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, present to hear that Statement, and to hear the moving tribute he made to it.

I believe that the message that goes out is that there is a lot to be done within this agreement to see that it works in practice and does not just look good on paper. I wish the industry well and trust that the high hopes expressed today about the agreement are achieved. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.