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Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)

Medical Profession

That the draft Human Organ Transplants (Unrelated Persons) Regulations 1989, which were laid before this House on 15th November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

Question agreed to.

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County Down Fishermen

Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

1.26 am

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : Last week, when the decision was made to have an Adjournment debate on the fishing industry in County Down in Northern Ireland, I was overjoyed because there has been a problem for our fishermen in Portavogie, Kilkeel--I am glad to see the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) here--and Ardglass. Little did I know that by this time tonight I would have the flu. My temperature is somewhat high, so the level of debate will be somewhat low. I want to make it clear that this is only an opening shot. The fishing industry has faced this problem for six or seven years and seems to be going through yet another stage in the ever- developing negotiations between the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man. The fishing industry in Northern Ireland employs about 1,600 people in County Down--about half on the boats and the other half in processing. The largest section of the industry is involved in the fishing of nephrops, especially in Portavogie. Just as every fifth child born in the world is Chinese--so if one has five babies, it is likely that the fifth is Chinese--if one has a prawn cocktail in London, one in every four of the prawns will be from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland produces 25 per cent. of United Kingdom prawns.

The nephrops and other fish that come into the County Down ports are caught either in the north Irish sea or in the Manx fisheries. Some 70 per cent. of the value of the catch in Portavogie, which has almost 70 boats, comes from waters three to 12 miles around the Isle of Man. That fishing limit is the subject of this debate. If Northern Irish fishermen lost their ability to fish there, dramatic damage would be caused to the economies of Kilkeel, Ardglass, Portavogie and the south and east coast of County Down, where there are no alternative sources of employment.

The matter first became controversial in 1983 when the Isle of Man Government appointed a commission to prepare a report. On page 10, the report recommended :

"The future of a successful fishing industry in the Island will depend upon the Island Government having sole control of the fisheries within the territorial sea around the Island."

It meant, of course, within the 12-mile limit around the island. On page 12, the report made one of the most controversial of the many proposals. It said :

"Manx vessels should receive priority in licence allocation." Licence allocations would be made by the Isle of Man Government and they would discriminate in favour of Manx fishing boats and against those from Northern Ireland.

That prompted what must be a rare event in this House. Two Adjournment debates on the same subject took place in the same week. The first was on 29 November 1983 and the second was on 1 December 1983. In the first, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department stated :

"Their immediate concern is to strengthen the measures of fish stock conservation which currently apply there."

That was the reason given by the Manx authorities, according to the Under- Secretary. All they were concerned about was to improve conservation. He went on to say that the Isle of Man Government hit

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"on the rawest of nerves"

and that there would be

"an element of discrimination to favour Manx fishing vessels."--[ Official Report, 29 November 1983 ; Vol. 49, c. 861.]

In the subsequent Adjournment debate two days later, the former right hon. Member for South Down, Mr. Enoch Powell, asked "what consideration the Manx authorities have offered Her Majesty's Government in return for any agreement to extend the Manx fishery control limits in the way suggested?"- -[ Official Report, 1 December 1983 ; Vol. 49, c. 1099.]

He meant the extension from three to 12 miles. There was, of course, no reply to that question.

We begin to see that there was some form of cover-up. We find the Manx authorities saying that they want control of the fishing limits so that they can give priority to their fishing fleets against the interests of Northern Irish fishermen--and incidentally those of the fishermen from the west coast of England and Scotland. Alternatively, when challenged, they say that it is not to do that, but to improve conservation. We must ask tonight in what way the level of conservation that is applied to these waters by the United Kingdom authorities is inadequate. If it is not inadequate, there is no need for the question to arise as to whether it would be wise to transfer these matters to the Manx Government.

After that, there was a gap of about four years in which nothing happened, and the matter seemed to have come to a standstill. There was relief throughout Northern Ireland, in Scotland and in England until in 1987 the Government presented a Bill, now the Territorial Sea Act 1987. Section 4 provides

"for the short title, commencement and extent of the Bill and includes provision authorising the making of Orders in Council extending the provisions of the Bill to the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man subject to any necessary exceptions, adaptations or modifications".

That means that the fishing limits of the Isle of Man can now be extended by an Order in Council. It is regrettable that yet again in a debate on a Northern Ireland matter we should be talking about Orders in Council. That Order in Council has never been presented to the House, but we now have reason to believe that behind our backs preparations are being made suddenly to present such an order to the House.

In the debate on 14 May 1987, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave this guarantee to the House in his opening speech :

"I assure the House that I remain determined that the arrangements for conservation and management of fisheries in those waters should not, in any way, be to the detriment of the fishermen in the United Kingdom, and I include Northern Ireland in that."--[ Official Report, 14 May 1987 ; Vol. 133, c. 442.]

That was a very firm assurance, and we wish to hear it repeated tonight.

After that the subject once again became quiescent. Fishermen in Scotland and on the English and County Down coasts settled down. There was no concern until this year, when on 10 October, the Isle of Man Examiner, the local newspaper in Douglas, ran a story headed "Island finally gets 12-mile fish limit".

It went on to quote none other than the chief Minister, Mr. Miles Walker, who said that there would soon be an Order in Council. He said :

"We have every reason to believe that the United Kingdom will make the Order in Council to extend the limit to 12 miles"

before Christmas.

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That prompted me to table a question to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the 12 mile limit around the Isle of Man. The reply came :

"The 1987 Territorial Sea Act made provision for a 12-mile territorial sea for the Isle of Man. Fisheries and other Departments have been in discussion with the Isle of Man as to how this should be put into effect.

About 15 per cent. of Northern Ireland fishing industry's take is caught within 12 miles of the Isle of Man."

As I said, fishermen's organisations in Northern Ireland would strongly dispute that figure. The reply continued :

"As well as ensuring the United Kingdom's responsibilities in relation to the implementation of the common fisheries policy were fully met, any arrangement made would clearly have to safeguard the interests and traditional rights of all fishermen within 12 miles of the Isle of Man."-- [ Official Report, 15 November 1989 ; Vol. 160, c. 331. ]

That seemed somewhat reassuring--until a few days later, on 22 November 1989, the Isle of Man Government began sending out to fishermen a letter from their Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I have a copy, although I shall leave out the name of the fisherman who received it. It is headed :

"Permit to Fish within Manx Territorial Waters."

It says that his permit

"will no longer be in force after 31st December 1989. After this date, you will NOT be authorised to fish in the sea for sea fish within the territorial waters of the Isle of Man. The Department will consider duly completed applications for authorisation after this date."

The letter's publicity in the press in the Isle of Man created tremendous alarm among the fishing fleets, so I tabled a second parliamentary question to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, asking him

"what fishing limits around the Isle of Man have been agreed for the period commencing 1 January 1990."

The reply was :

"The present three mile limit around the Isle of Man will apply on 1 January 1990."--

no change--

"Consideration, including in relation to fishing, on how the provisions for a 12 mile territorial sea around the Isle of man contained in the Territorial Sea Act 1987 might be implemented is in hand."--[ Official Report, 4 December 1989 ; Vol. 163, c. 112. ] The subject is therefore being discussed quietly behind the scenes. Although we have an assurance that, in the interim, from 1 January 1990, there will still be a three-mile fishing limit around the Isle of Man, we now have confirmation in black and white that shortly a 12-mile territorial sea around the Isle of Man will be agreed with the Manx authorities.

It is important that the fears of fishermen in the ports I have mentioned are allayed as quickly as possible. We must know something about the state of these talks. What progress has been made? We must know what the time scale is and have presented to fishermen a draft of the order for their consideration and discussion before it is presented to the House as an Order in Council and pushed through, as so many are, without our having a chance to amend it.

This is a matter of great importance to us, whether we be Catholic or Protestant, Unionist or Nationalist. It affects fishermen throughout County Down, in Cumbria and the south-west coast of Scotland. Our task is to restore their confidence and to give them a guarantee that they will see a document that will ensure their historic rights within the three to 12-mile limit before any order is presented to the House for debate.

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1.41 am

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean) : I sympathise and commiseratwith the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) on managing to conduct his Adjournment debate when he is suffering from the ghastly effects of Shaghai 'flu. Perhaps he will extend the same sympathy to me, as I feel that I am coming down with the same bug. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reciprocate my commiserations. I shall try to make clear what is happening. The matter which the right hon. Gentleman has raised is of great concern. As my colleagues have said in several parliamentary answers recently, Parliament passed the Territorial Sea Act in 1987 which extended the breadth of territorial waters adjacent to the United Kingdom from three to 12 miles. The provision to do the same for the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands was not implemented immediately.

Implementation is not a simple matter because it may involve transferring jurisdiction over rights on the exploitation of the sea bed or of other marine resources and the ability to try criminal acts within 12 miles of the shore. Implementation has therefore been the subject of discussion between the Isle of Man, the Home Office and Government Departments with an interest in, for example, oil, coal and mineral extraction. We have also discussed fisheries. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that fisheries are a special issue. We are dealing basically with a hunting industry catching migrating natural resources. We are dealing with important traditional rights in fishing grounds from which some United Kingdom communities, including those in County Down, take some or all of their catches. We are dealing with obligations to Irish, French and Belgian fishermen who have traditionally fished these waters as well. We are also dealing with ensuring that any measures are compatible with the common fisheries policy--with all our Community obligations, the need to manage fisheries and the need to manage them in a

non-discriminatory manner.

Officials have therefore explored whether, if the territorial sea is extended to 12 miles around the Isle of Man, the essential features I have just outlined can be safeguarded. There has been no secrecy, no conspiracy and no cover-up. So far officials have been exploring the possibilities, and Ministers have yet to take decisions.

Let me also be clear that we are fully cognisant of the importance of the fishery to all our fishermen. In Northern Ireland, fisheries within 12 miles of the Isle of Man represent up to 15 per cent. of the value of landings in Northern Ireland. The important fisheries are nephrops worth £600,000 ; cod and whiting, each worth £360,000 ; and herring worth about £235,000. In any one trip, about half the 150 boats involved will go within 12 miles of the Isle of Man. In Scotland, the catches of scallops and queens are worth just under £1.5 million, with a further £500,000 earned by herring, whiting and nephrops. This fishery is very important to about 45 boats, and to Kirkcudbright, where the fish and scallop processor is a major local employer.

For Wales, the dogfish catch of about £150,000 and scallops of more than £30,000 are important ; and for fishermen landing in England, more than £300,000 worth

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of fish are caught around the Isle of Man, with the autumn fishery for dogfish and the spring fishery for cod being particularly important.

Looking to the wider international scene, Belgian, Irish and French fishermen have rights to the demersal fisheries around the 12 miles. We are therefore conscious of the value of fishing to many communities whose fishermen go within 12 miles of the Isle of Man. I stress that we recognise the importance of ensuring that such fishing rights continue.

The sorts of measure which would be necessary would be ones which met our fundamental objectives. These are : first, traditional fishing rights of all United Kingdom fishermen would have to be safeguarded. We are only too conscious of the value of landings from catches around the Isle of Man, as I have already outlined to the House. Our second fundamental objective is that the agreed fishing rights of French, Belgian and Irish boats, encapsulated in the London convention of 1964, would also need to be safeguarded. Thirdly, any laws passed by the Isle of Man would have to be compatible with maintaining fishing rights, and compatible with EC and international law. I do not know how to stress that more strongly or more forcefully to the right hon. Gentleman, but it is a vital point. To meet such concerns, any fisheries law passed by the Isle of Man would have to be ratified by the United Kingdom Government. Thus, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are not discussing a 12-mile exclusion zone for fishing.

So what would be the point of such a law? I shall digress to cover a constitutional point. As the House is probably aware, the Isle of Man is a dependency of the Crown and has its own legislature, judiciary and system of government. However, its legislation must receive Royal Assent from the Queen in Council. Its Tynwald is probably the oldest legislature in continuous session in the world. The United Kingdom Government are, nevertheless, responsible for defence and foreign affairs and have ultimate responsibility for the good government of the Isle of Man. The inclusion of fisheries in its extension of the territorial sea would enable the Isle of Man laws to mirror United Kingdom laws, as it has already done in respect of drug trafficking, serious fraud and other international matters. That would enable infringements of United Kingdom fisheries laws to be tried in Isle of Man courts, thus avoiding the need to have boats found offending necessarily having to be returned to the United Kingdom mainland to be tried for offences.

Mr. John D. Taylor : If such an event took place and a court hearing was held in which a United Kingdom skipper was involved, would he be restricted to employing an Isle of Man legal representative?

Mr. Maclean : That is not something that I can answer off the cuff. I suspect not, but I shall happily write back to ensure that the right hon. Gentleman has the exact legal opinion on that. There is nothing sinister about this proposal. It has also been suggested that there will be new so- called conservation measures which will outlaw Northern Irish and other fishing boats. I stress as strongly as possible that this is not so. At present, there are no discussions about new conservation measures. The discussions are only about the feasibility of including fisheries in an extension of the territorial sea. If there were to be proposals on

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conservation, they would, as my predecessors promised as far back as 1983, require discussions with all interested or potentially affected parties. Even if we found a way to include fisheries in the 12-mile extension, this position would not change. We would still require the safeguard of ratifying any Isle of Man law on conservation measures before it could have effect, and we would require such consultations.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : In view of the grave concern which has been so eloquently expressed, will the Minister state what time scale he envisages for the conclusion of the discussions and for a statutory reassurance to be given to the fishing people we represent?

Mr. Maclean : Perhaps I can deal with that point later. I do not have a particular time phase in mind. I do not think that negotiations must be concluded within a certain period. We want to ensure that things are absolutely right, no matter how long it takes.

The right hon. Member for Strangford quoted from an Isle of Man paper. It is purely coincidental that the discussions on a 12-mile extension were featured in the Isle of Man press some three months before three-year licences given by the Isle of Man to fishermen working within the existing three-mile territorial sea came up for renewal. These permits are renewed regularly. They relate only to the three-mile limit and do not extend to the 12-mile proposal. They are issued on a non-discriminatory basis without preference for Manx fishermen.

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The United Kingdom and the Isle of Man already work closely together on fisheries management matters. The Irish sea herring fishery is already jointly managed by the United Kingdom Fisheries Departments and the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man participates in the management of the Irish sea fisheries as a member along with several representative fishing organisations on the area VII advisory committee. There is clearly already a good working relationship so that the many and complex issues of fisheries jurisdiction and management are well understood between us.

I give the assurance that the Government have no intention of abdicating their responsibilities for fishermen who have access rights in the area of possible extension. It is understood by the Isle of Man that territorial jurisdiction does not override legal and treaty obligations. The United Kingdom has responsibility for international relations off the Isle of Man and it has a duty to ensure that treaties and commitments are honoured. That is fully accepted by the Isle of Man. Traditional rights and Community and international obligations must be fully safeguarded. It is with these clear objectives in mind that Fisheries Ministers are examining the possibilities, and I can give the assurance that the House will be told as soon as we have reached our conclusions.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Two o'clock.

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