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Column 1007D. Price) said earlier--that perhaps we need to play by the French rules. It is instructive that, to my knowledge, not one Spanish vessel has been transferred to the French register. The French would not tolerate it for one minute."
If the French can make effective provision to prevent Spanish vessels being put on their register, why cannot the British Government do the same? The hon. Member for St. Ives asked that pertinent question, but I do not think that he received an answer. Perhaps we will have an answer tonight.
The hon. Gentleman also said :
"My plea is to ensure that the legislation works. If it does not, the anger of fishermen, especially in Cornwall, will indeed be great. I hope and believe that it will work."--[ Official Report, 28 January 1988 ; Vol. 126, c. 532-33.]
He had better watch out for the ire of the Cornish fishermen if he votes for this order. It will repeal the measure that he rightly championed 18 months ago.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) were not indisposed, he would be here saying these same things. Fishermen will be greatly angered and annoyed if the Government do not come up with some satisfactory means of meeting the particular abuse that we tried to cure in the 1988 Act.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) was a little churlish to say that the Government had not stood by the fishermen. I hope that he recognises that no one has worked harder or with more determination, right up through the House of Lords to the European Court, than my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor- General.
Just what is the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) advocating that this House should do? Is he saying that we should break the law, even one passed by a European Court? I do not believe that we should break the law, whether national or European. If the SLD, with all its pontificating about Europe, is now advocating that we should defy the European Court, let the hon. Gentleman say so. Mr. Wallace rose --
No one could take any pleasure or satisfaction from this order. It has been described as "wretched", and it is. The Government have no alternative but to bring it forward if they are to obey the law. If-- [Interruption.] If people think that we should not obey the law, let them say so-- [Interruption.] That applies to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who is barracking me. I stand by every word of my speech on Second Reading, which various hon. Members have kindly quoted this evening. I have been fighting this issue for a long time --probably about eight years--
Before I was a Member of the House--when I was a Member of the European Parliament--I urged the Commission to take action on its front, and urged the House to take action on its front too. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) will
Column 1008explain to me after the debate what pressure he put on the House before Spain was a member of the European Community--when the problem was building up--to nip this in the bud. I was trying to press people to take action outside the House ; I hope that he was doing the same when he was a Member of it.
In the immediate wake of the interim judgment, it has been said that only 10 or so Spanish boats will be allowed back on to our register. I believe that that is 10 too many : I do not want any Spanish boats on our register. I took pleasure in that long overdue legislation : I said in my speech that I hoped that it would work, and that it was no good having legislation if it did not. I have a quarrel with the Commission, however. I believe that in bringing this action it is, in effect, driving a coach and horses through its own common fisheries policy. As other hon. Members have said, that policy is built on national quotas--which must mean quotas for our nation's own fishermen. I take issue with the views expressed by the European Court. Paragraph 35 of the judgment states : "The Commission makes the observation that the establishment of the new register of British fishing vessels has had the effect of forcing the entire Anglo-Spanish' fleet to remain idle The owners of the vessels in question are suffering heavy losses as a result of the vessels' remaining idle".
Yes, I think that they are suffering heavy losses, but many of us warned them when they came on to our register by bogus means--which we were daft to allow at the time--that they should be aware of what they were doing, and that if they were tipped off the register, as many of us were advocating, that was their own fault and they should have their eyes open.
Of course--as other hon. Members have said--the fact that those Spanish fishing vessels have been fishing against our quota has caused great damage to our own fishermen, and to the standing of the industry and its economy. I have no sympathy at all for the Spanish boats. The issue to which we should now direct our thoughts is, "Where do we go from here?" I support the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland : we should find other regulations by which to prevent those 10 or so boats from coming back on to the register.
I also believe, however, that there is an urgent need to take political action, and I applaud the steps taken by my hon. Friend the Minister to rally support from other member states against the pernicious practice of quota-hopping. I am delighted that he has--apparently--obtained support from Germany and Ireland. I urge him to redouble his efforts and to try to achieve a political solution--and to put pressure on the Commission to bring forward its own proposals.
We must stamp out the practice of quota-hopping. It has done immense damage ; it is undoubtedly a serious setback ; but it is not the end of the story. We must go on, and make sure that the Spanish boats do not come back on to our register. If they do, we must find means of getting them off it as quickly as possible, in the interests of our own fishermen. I hope that the House will unite on that point.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : As a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Merchant Shipping Bill, I share the dismay that has been expressed on both sides of the House at the way in which that
Column 1009valuable section has been overturned in response to the interim ruling. As time is short, I shall not go over ground that has already been covered by other hon. Members, but we must not lose sight of the background that led to the crisis and to the need for tonight's measure. In concentrating upon the legal and constitutional matters, we should not lose sight of the crisis that fishermen are experiencing and that led to the desire to implement such a section in the Merchant Shipping Bill.
I suspect that the real significance of tonight's order is that it signals the beginning of the end of a common fisheries policy based on nations and national quotas. The current crisis in the fishing industry--the quota cuts, the gross failure to tackle the overcapacity problem, the consequential loss of FEOGA European Community finance from sections of the British fishing industry that desperately need that finance and the current debacle which has led to tonight's order--is evidence of the emerging bankruptcy of the common fisheries policy which, as has already been mentioned, is based upon the notion of national quotas. The court judgment refers to the principle of nationality which underlies the present common system in the European Community.
The root failure of that fisheries policy increasingly has been recognised, even by the European Commission in trying to get itself out of its current position. A Commission communication issued on 19 July proposes a Community framework for access to fishing quotas that appears to be moving away from a common system based upon national quotas, and shows a greater appreciation that even within a national framework distinctions between regions and localities have to be considered. Paragraph 2.5 of that communication states that "the sense of the special needs of those regions where the population is particularly dependent on fisheries and related industries must be viewed as one of the basic principles" that must underlie a common fisheries policy in future. The root problem is that the present common fisheries programme cannot distinguish between the different conditions which exist between regions and localities in Scotland, far less between Scotland and England. That failure has resulted in regions and localities getting dragged into a crisis which is none of their doing but which the present framework has made common to them all.
In my constituency in the Western Isles, we feel the squeeze in various ways. I have already corresponded with Ministers on those matters, and as time is short I shall not go through them. However, to get us out of the present crisis, three things must now be done. First, the Government must immediately introduce a decommissioning scheme or some other set-aside scheme. If the farmers can have such a scheme, surely the fishermen can have one too. I am taking the opportunity to raise these matters, as the Minister responsible for fisheries is in his place.
Secondly, the Government must develop a long-term strategy to reduce and contain the overall capacity of the national fleet. The Government plainly have been derelict in their failure to produce that strategy before now.
Thirdly, it is essential that the Minister develops a common fisheries approach with his European colleagues that distinguishes properly and clearly between the
Column 1010different regions and localities of the European Community and the different regions and localities of the east and west coasts of Scotland.
A common fisheries policy must recognise the different styles of fishing and the different types of fleet in each locality. It must not unnecessarily and stupidly afflict one locality with the travails of another.
Until now, the Government's response to the fishing crisis that is breaking around our heads has been pathetic. I sincerely hope that the new Minister will have the vision and determination to tackle the problems at their root, where they must be tackled before it is too late.
Last year, Parliament passed a law, following weeks of debate. We thought that that was the right thing to do and that it was consistent with European law. At the time, the Minister said that the legislation was essential to safeguard the interests of British fishing. Yet, not a court but one chap, Mr. Due, has told us to scrub it. For months we worked out how we could pass legislation that was consistent with the law of Europe, but tonight it is being temporarily suspended.
It is wrong and unfair to the British people for us to be discussing the order at 3 am, when nobody will hear about it. Whether it was right or wrong for the Government to ask us to debate it at this time of the morning, people should know what is happening, but Ministers know that they will not have the slightest idea. If one said to someone in the street, "Do you know that one chap sitting in a court can suspend a law passed by Parliament which it debated for months and discussed with European officials?" he would say, "What nonsense. Parliament is supreme." The Government should be ashamed of themselves for arranging for us to debate such matters at this time, when no one will hear about them. It is wrong and undemocratic.
Mr. Cash : Has my hon. Friend noticed that the order is made by Her Majesty the Queen? It is not made by a Minister and does not recite any power derived from statute other than the European Communities Act 1972. It is simply a prerogative order.
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend well knows that it does not matter two hoots whether we vote against the order, and I am sure that the Solicitor- General, who fights these cases so superbly, will confirm that.
We must stop kidding ourselves. People are saying that the order will affect only 10 vessels, probably 12 but perhaps eight. Why do they not also say that in two weeks time another case will start, about which we must give our final submission? The case is called Crown v. Factortame Limited and it will raise issues of residence. The idea that the order is limited is a load of rubbish. It may be a year or 18 months before judgment is passed in that case, but by saying that the order is limited we are kidding ourselves. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) was right. We must accept that we have joined the Common Market. Whether we like it or not, the court is constantly creating new powers, not because of laws but because that is the way things are going. Can we honestly
Column 1011vote against this proposal? We can. The court made an interim judgment and said, "Please implement with urgency." How on earth is it fair and reasonable to the fishermen of Britain that we should implement something which discriminates against Britain and which does not apply to all members of the EEC? Is it not fair for us to say, "Yes, we will apply your judgment, but not until it applies to everyone"? If Spanish vessels claim to be British, why should we accept this measure until the same applies to all parts of the European Community?
When something as shameful and dreadful as this is done, why should it be that, when the papers arrived on 18 October, the Government should announce on 19 October that the matter will be debated in the next week? That is not the way to respond to such a dreadful loss of sovereignty. A huge increase of power is taken by the European Community.
What can we do? I hope that we will stop saying, "Let us have new discussions. Let us try to work out new policies. Let us have new negotiations." We must accept that, sadly and tragically, in this matter we are as effective as a county council.
On this sad night for Britain and for democracy, please will Ministers and Opposition spokesmen stop kidding themselves and pretending that things are as they are not? Please, will they accept things as they are? We should vote against the order, not because we are rejecting law and order, but because we are saying, "We will apply it when, as under the treaty of Rome, it applies to all countries of the EEC." If something nasty is driving a coach and horses through the common fisheries policy, let it apply to all members of the European Community. We should not say, "Reject law and order or the judgment." We should say, "We will apply the law, but it applies to all of us."
One of the problems with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) is that he is so wrapped up in his opposition to the European Community that he cannot see the Government's incompetence. At present it is not the European Community which is depriving fishermen of access to decommissioning funds or lay-off funds which would help in the current crisis ; it is the total, drift and incompetence of the Government's fisheries policy. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman's relationship to the Secretary of State for Scotland is like Sir Alan Walters' relationship to the Chancellor, but he should let me make my speech, given the shortage of time.
Hon. Members should examine our proceedings in Committee--perhaps the hon. Gentleman has done so. They would then see that a succession of proposals to tighten up the legislation were presented to the Government by myself and other Opposition hon. Members. This is the third failed attempt to deal with flag of convenience vessels. We got no support from the Tory Members in Committee. On 18 February last year, I moved an amendment to extend qualifications to restrict flag of convenience vessels, not just to the directors of companies, with whom the Government are obsessed, but to vessel crews. It also dealt with nationality qualifications. I was told somewhat ironically that that would be contrary to and run foul of the European Court of Justice. The debate also dealt with the residential qualifications of
Column 1012crews of fishing vessels. That is just as important when defining whether they are legitimately Scottish or English as who owns them and who the company directors are. We must look at the crews manning such vessels.
I was told by the Minister that my amendment was not necessary and that the legislation was watertight or "fishtight", as he put it. Given the judgment of the European Court of Justice, will the Government come forward with a residential qualification and stipulation in respect of the crews of fishing vessels and do something about this serious matter?
I will certainly vote against this measure. It would be incredible for anyone concerned with the fishing industry to vote for a measure when the Minister has told the House that he does not know the consequences that will follow if the order is passed this evening. We should require the Minister to tell us what further measures, such as residential qualification or associating registration with proof of title, he will introduce to stop once and for all flag of convenience vessels pilfering the quotas of Scottish and English fishermen.
Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth) : This subject deserves long speeches without a time limit from every hon. Member. My hon. Friends have already commented on the absurdity of our discussing this measure at 3.25 am. However, I will be brief because I know that many of my colleagues want to speak.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) expressed the feelings of many hon. Members very effectively. He referred to various fishing ports, but he did not refer to those in East Anglia. I come from Yarmouth and my distinguished predecessor in this House fought tooth and nail to prevent us from joining the European Community and running into these sorts of problems. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) has been quoted on many occasions because of his sterling fight for the British fishing interests. I pay tribute to him for that. My hon. Friend wants to know where we go from here. I will go back to Norfolk county council, where I started from, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said, we are becoming more and more like a county council, closer even than those who wanted European integration.
My hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor- General have come to the Chamber tonight like grand old Dukes of York. They were party to leading us up the hill to vote for this excellent measure and we heard quotations from the then Secretary of State telling us how important it was that we voted for it. The grand old Dukes of York are now leading us down the hill, running from the European Court of Justice. That has nothing to do with not following the rule of law or not following international agreements to which we are party.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said that one man could overturn what we have spent many months in Parliament achieving. My hon. Friend is wrong. It is the Government's choice that we are being asked to do this now. The Government could have waited for the measure to face the full Commission and then brought it back for our consideration. If I were taken to court for a speeding offence because I was travelling at 30.5 mph in a built-up area, I would go to court. If I were found guilty,
Column 1013I would pay my fine. However, it is worth contesting and it is worth contesting this measure in the interests of the fishing industry which has received very little help in recent years. It has been said that there are too many fishermen chasing too few fish. We know that. However, why should all the fishermen be Spanish and have the support of other European countries, some of which have no interest in the fishing industry?
No one could accuse the Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, of kowtowing to or being supine before the EC. But this is an issue of vital importance to fishing and to the constitutional arrangements of this House. We should be standing firm.
Why make a fuss about cigarette packets? Does that matter a tinker's cuss? This issue is of enormous importance. We are talking about people's livelihoods and a fishing industry that has been decimated over the past 20 or 30 years and has virtually disappeared in some parts of the country, not least in my port of Great Yarmouth.
So, Madam Speaker--
Mr. Carttiss : It is only a matter of time, Madam Deputy Speaker. The person who occupies the Chair in 10 years' time will be wasting his or her time if we allow this sort of order to be introduced every time the EC makes an interim injunction against us.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : I shall be brief. We are entitled to pick up on the fact that the Government are pressing ahead without being able to give us any information about the implications of their actions. We certainly received no such information from the Minister. Seldom can any Minister at the Dispatch Box have blabbered through a speech and been so uncomprehending of what he was talking about.Will we get that information in the wind-up speech? What a pity that we shall not have a speech from a fisheries Minister who could tell us something about the fishing and legal implications of the interim decision. We read in the Fishing News the reassuring words of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who said :
"We shall need to study the judgment carefully but we do not expect that it will have much real impact. It will not let a new armada of boats into the British fishing grounds".
That is poetic stuff, but it is scarcely reassuring. We have heard mention of 10 vessels, but the Minister told us that 121 Spanish vessels were refused registration. What proportion of those vessels will subsequently be eligible to apply for registration?
It is not just the number of fishing boats that matters, but the tonnage and catching power. The pressure stock licensing farce has shown us that one can have 10 small vessels and 10 large vessels. The implications go far beyond the mere number of vessels.
If the Government cannot give us any information about the implications of the decision, surely that is a pressing argument in favour of not proceeding at such breathtaking speed. I do not need to rehearse that
Column 1014argument, but the speed with which Government have moved is bewildering. Why have the Government rushed to the House to push the order through on the basis of an interim judgment?
The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) has followed a consistent line on this. Unlike many of us, he has not engaged in intellectual gymnastics to defend his position. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) was right when he said that, in some cases, one defends the pro- European stance, but in others one advocates that the European law should be ignored. The Conservatives may represent the party of law and order, but, on occasions, it states that some European judgments should be ignored. Therefore, sometimes it is necessary to engage in intellectual gymnastics, but I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Southend, East who has never done so as he has always been consistent about Europe.
What we are discussing is not some great power of law and order, but the interim decision of one man. There is no obligation on the Government to act with such speed. I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that we could use next year to seek to achieve what is sought in the interim decision. That might not satisfy the anti-European stance, but it would defend our fishermen. The Government give a low priority to fishing and peripheral matters. The French would not accept the interim decision for two minutes, but the Government have blundered on and have allowed that to happen. At the end of the day responsibility lies with the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) is right to say that a common fisheries policy, even within national boundaries, is an unsatisfactory mechanism. It is not nearly sophisticated enough to take into account the different nuances of the fishing industry around the shores of Britain and even within the northern half of Scotland.
The fishing industry on the west coast is very different from that in the north-east of Scotland. Indeed, it could even be said that in the past the problems of the west coast fishermen have been the east coast fishermen, more than any foreign fishermen. Because fishermen do not always see things in perspective, one of the ironies of history is that, in the referendum on EEC membership--I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East remembers this--those in the north-east fishing industry were among those who were deeply supportive of our entry into, or rather our remaining in, the European Community simply for their own short-term gain.
I assume that by now the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is safely tucked up with his prayer book and Horlicks. As a Tory Minister responsible for our fisheries, he must have set a record by winning in so short a time such an editorial in Fishing News as this :
"Could it be that Mr. Gummer is all too well aware of the mess his government is in over the fishing industry--a mess they have largely created--and has decided that the best form of defence is attack?" The editorial concludes :
"If he and his government are not prepared to work with the industry to try to resolve the problems, they need not be surprised at the result they will get at the ballot box when the time comes. Although, judging by Mr. Gummer's present attitude, Scotland must already be regarded as a hopeless case by the Tories. For, whatever else he may be, Mr. Gummer is not a fool or a political greenhorn."
Column 1015We may dissent from some of those latter sentiments, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East, in his new role as eminence grise to the Secretary of State will take back the message that what the Tories are doing to the fishing industry in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom is yet another nail in their coffin.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : If I have to go into legalities at some stage, I hope that the House will forgive me, but I should first like to take a few moments to explain the interim judgment--I emphasise that it is only an interim judgment or order of the European Court--and to put it into context.
I know a great deal about this case. I have appeared at every level in-- [ An hon. Member :-- "You have lost what you knew."] The hon. Gentleman says that I have lost it, but I am afraid that that comment only shows how little he knows about it. It is a great mistake to say that we have lost this case. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) was right when he brought the House to realise that that is not the case. I shall now put the position into context, adding only that I well understand the strength of feeling among hon. Members of all parties who represent fishing interests.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked why we had to act so quickly. I must advise him and the House that the purpose of the draft order is to give effect to the obligations of the United Kingdom, arising from the interim order of the Court of Justice, which requires us to suspend the nationality
requirements--the House should remember that it applies only to the nationality requirements contained in sections 14(1), (2) and (7) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 pending final judgment in the infraction proceedings brought under article 169 of the treaty by the Commission against the United Kingdom. Although the order of the court is only interim in nature and we shall seek to overturn it--I believe that we have reasonable arguments for overturning it--at the substantive hearing, it is our obligation to give effect to it without delay. The order is only given because there is urgency. This country not only has a good record in obeying the law, we also have a good record in arguing vigorously and successfully in defence of our interests before the European Court of Justice--
Mr. Cash rose--
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) was anxious about the fact that, as he thought, this was a prerogative order, which it is not. We are implementing the order by exercising the powers of the Crown under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 whereby, subject to schedule 2 to that Act, Her Majesty may, by Order in Council, make provision for the purpose of implementing any Community obligation of the United Kingdom. Since this order involves amendment to key provisions of an Act of Parliament, we have chosen to adopt the affirmative resolution procedure, taking account, inter alia, of the view of the Joint Committee on Delegated Legislation in its second report of 1972-73 that
Column 1016such procedure might normally be appropriate in this type of cause. That is what makes it proper to hold this full debate tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East was anxious about the erosion of sovereignty, as were other hon. Members. This case involves no erosion of sovereignty over and above that which we accepted in 1972-73. While it is true that this is the first time that section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 has been used to implement an order of the Court of Justice requiring the interim suspension of part of an Act of Parliament, it is no more than the exercise of a power pursuant to an obligation arising under the treaty of Rome--the obligation to give effect to an order of the Court of Justice. That obligation was accepted as part of the whole package of rights and obligations entered into by the United Kingdom when we joined the Community on 1 January 1973.
Mr. Cash : I have the greatest sympathy with the skill with which my hon. and learned Friend has sought to put the case on behalf of the Government in the Court of Justice, but does he agree that this order goes further even than the court requires? It not only suspends the Act in question--it amends it, which is more than the court is asking for.
Mr. Prescott rose --
The Solicitor-General : I want to make it very clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) that it is entirely mistaken to say that we have lost the case : we have not lost it. I am disappointed that an interim order, even on a limited basis, has been made against us, and I argued vigorously and cogently that it should not have been--
Mr. Wallace rose--
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) rose--
The Solicitor-General : My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under- Secretary has mentioned the arguments that I advanced at the hearing--I believe that they were cogent. We shall continue to deploy these arguments at the substantive hearing of the infraction proceedings brought by the Commission--
It is mistaken to believe, as some hon. Members appear to, that the whole legislation has been suspended. As my hon. Friend said--
The Solicitor-General : The precise effect of this order will depend on how many vessels which have hitherto had strong and often dominant connections with other member states, usually Spain, can establish that they are or
Column 1017would have been ineligible for registration only by reason of the nationality provisions in section 14 of the 1988 Act ; and that they are able in good faith to fulfil the other requirements for registration which remain in force.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) leapt up to ask why we did not introduce legislation that involved a residence provision. Before he takes that line in this sort of debate he might do the House the honour of reading the section that we are debating, because it does involve a residence condition--
Mr. Salmond rose--