Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Hurd : I am answering his question.

Supposing that considerable numbers of people come here, what would be the nature of the penalty that we would be paying? We would be paying the penalty of a sizeable but limited number of professional people, selected for their talent and experience, coming from one of the most successful societies created in the 20th century. I put one final point to my right hon. Friend. He was a very successful chairman of our party, and he knows its traditions. This is just about the last main chapter in the story of this country's empire. I am rather keen, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend is rather keen, that that last chapter should not end in a shabby way.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : Is the Foreign Secretary aware that no one in the House can beg the problem that will face Hong Kong in the next eight

Column 369

years? In the same spirit, let me add that it is an open secret that in the past three or four months there have, quite properly, been disagreements and arguments throughout the Government, and the Foreign Secretary should not be surprised when similar disagreements and arguments follow his announcement of the scheme to the House. The fact that hon. Members may disagree with any scheme proposed by the Government does not mean that they do not appreciate Hong Kong's problem.

I wish to ask the Foreign Secretary only one question : is this special measure necessary? Some of the other schemes that have been discussed--the Foreign Secretary mentioned one--would, in my view, constitute a better approach. It is all very well to describe this scheme as a special measure, and as primary legislation, but the Government cannot avoid affecting the British Nationality Act 1981. That is the weakness in the Government's approach, and in the coming months, as the legislation comes before the House and I attack it, I shall not be arguing that the problem does not exist ; I shall argue that the Government have set about dealing with it in the wrong way. It would be interesting, incidentally, to know whether the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary will pilot the legislation through the House.

Mr. Hurd : Both Departments have been studying the problem, and they have sent a joint team of officials to Hong Kong. We have done our best collectively, as a Government, to reach what we believe to be the right balance between the considerations that are clearly in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Parliament will wish to examine the scheme and then make its decision, which is entirely right. In a way, by choosing the citizenship route we have increased the amount of parliamentary scrutiny and debate that would otherwise have been necessary.

The right hon. Gentleman covered a point that I had already touched on. There is already provision--although it would mean a change in stated policy--to expand the discretion of the Home Secretary regarding public servants, but there is nothing comparable in the private sector. My main quarrel with the official Opposition is that they have entirely ignored the crucial importance of the private sector to the running of the life of Hong Kong. A scheme is necessary to deal with the problem, and we believe that the scheme most likely to serve its purpose of keeping people in Hong Kong and not encouraging them to come here is a citizenship scheme. We have therefore decided that the most straightforward approach is the presentation of a Bill to the House.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : Will my right hon. Friend reassure us that the sole, or central, aim of his proposals is to anchor people in Hong Kong for years ahead and not to encourage them to come here? Does he accept that if the success of this or a similar policy is undemined and confidence collapses in Hong Kong--as it may well do--this country may be faced with an immigration challenge, and with the arrival of refugees in numbers exceeding the worst fears of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, for which they would have to take some of the blame?

Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether any thought has been given to the tiny number of non-ethnic Chinese, including the Hong Kong Indians--I believe that there are

Column 370

about 1,500 families in all--who will not be accepted as citizens after 1997? They once thought that they were citizens of the United Kingdom ; unless we do something, they will become citizens of nowhere.

Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friend's first point is correct. We are anxious--as, indeed, they are--that those people should continue to ply their professions in Hong Kong, and the main aim of our scheme is to enable them to do so.

My right hon. Friend's second point is also right. In answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), I acknowledged that, in my own experience, it was right that, for the sake of good relations between communities in this country, immigration control should be strict as well as fair. If, however, because of political difficulties, we fail to make the necessary decisions about Hong Kong, now and in the years ahead-- and I warn the House that they will be several and difficult--we shall ultimately have a refugee problem on our hands. [ Hon. Members-- : "No".] That is a statement of fact. We shall have a refugee problem on our hands that will make the numbers that we are discussing today seem relatively insignificant.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : The Secretary of State may not be aware of the close relationship that has developed between Northern Ireland and many families in Hong Kong in the past decade. Many thousands of Hong Kong citizens now live in Northern Ireland, and they have turned out to be first-class and welcome people in the Province. They provide employment in the catering industry and electronics, and many Hong Kong families now send their children to boarding schools in Northern Ireland and to the two universities. For years the United Kingdom has been keen to stand by its relationship with Hong Kong, within the old British empire and now, in the Commonwealth. We face the sensitive problem of 1997, and it would be an outrage for the United Kingdom to shirk its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that, when the legislation is presented to the House, the Ulster Unionist parliamentary party will look upon it sympathetically.

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to the right hon. Member.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate) : My right hon. Friend's statement fills me with foreboding for the future of race relations in Britain. How will he explain to the ethnic minorities who already live in Britain, many of whom have lived here for a great number of years, that we have to maintain strict controls on the permissions granted to their relatives when, at the same time, we have amended the law to create preferential class treatment for the Hong Kong Chinese?

Mr. Hurd : I shall explain it on the grounds that I have already given to the House. My hon. Friend knows Hong Kong, and he knows the difficulties and the problems that we have to wrestle with. We are responsible to our constituents, but we are also responsible for supervising and monitoring what the United Kingdom Government and, to some extent, the Hong Kong Government do to steer the colony through the next eight years. We have tried to strike a balance for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, and they are valid reasons. We have turned down the suggestion that was put to us powerfully by people in Hong Kong and by some

Column 371

Members of the House, to allow everybody in the colony the right of abode. We did that for the reasons that my hon. Friend has in mind. For the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, we do not feel entitled to say that we will take no action, and there will be no scheme or effort to give assurances to those people who are key to the running of the territory. That would be an irresponsible line to take, and in the long run--perhaps not too long--my hon. Friend and hon. Members who have worries, which I understand, would live to regret it.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Does the Foreign Secretary agree that what he has announced today is one law for the rich and another for the poor in Hong Kong and he is prepared to bend and break the British Nationality Act 1981 to achieve that? Will he join me in condemning the words of his right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), which do nothing to help race relations in Britain?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Member is wrong. If we were interested simply in extending privileges to the rich, we would have set about it in a different way. We are talking about the public sector. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made that accusation before he saw the scheme, but now that he has considered the proposals, and knows that it is not true, he did not raise that objection today. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has not had the advantage of looking at the proposals for a few minutes, and is therefore repeating the old parrot cries, which are wrong. We are talking about key people in the public service regardless of their capital and affluence--head teachers, civil servants, engineers. The test is their importance to Hong Kong, and the danger to the territory if large numbers of such people left, and not their affluence.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the purpose of the proposal today is to restore confidence in Hong Kong and to enable it to continue successfully and in prosperity through 1997? Therefore, is it not surprising that he has made no mention in his statement of what is probably the most important way to restore confidence in the colony and that is to allow the development of democracy in Hong Kong in the fastest possible way, to ignore the veto attempted by the Chinese Republic, and to ensure that its arrangements--that it dictates after 1997--converge with those that my right hon. Friend and the Hong Kong people may make before 1997? Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is the best way in which to restore confidence and that this divisive measure- -it is divisive in Britain and in Hong Kong--will not achieve that objective?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend raises a different and important matter. Before long, we shall have to make clear, and inform the House of, our decision about the nature of the democratic content of elections in Hong Kong in 1991. It is clear from the way in which my hon. Friend phrased his question that he knows the difficulties there, the problems of the Basic Law, and our aim to produce continuity before and after 1997. I shall inform the House about our conclusions on that fairly soon, I hope. I think that my hon. Friend is being unrealistic if he supposes that we can continue the successful governance of Hong Kong without a scheme that tackles this nationality problem.

Column 372

I apologise to the House. I failed to answer an important question about the non-Chinese minority asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). We have considered the matter carefully. They will of course qualify for inclusion in the scheme I have announced. They have assurances that were given to them by Lord Glenarthur in, I think, 1986. We do not think that it would be sensible to expand the number or the total scheme by making a special and different provision for them.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : Is the Foreign Secretary aware that this is a bad day for the Government, but a quite disgraceful day for the Labour party, which seems bereft of all moral principle and is in a position of shame, being linked to the point of view of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)?

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the House has absolute power over the 3.5 million people in Hong Kong we are talking about, but that some right hon. and hon. Members do not want to exercise any responsibility for them and are prepared to wash their hands of them so that they may be handed over to what is known to be a murderous regime in Peking? Is he aware that, if he is to have our support--to judge from the noises behind him it might be important this time--we shall need assurances that among the vulnerable group he talked about will be journalists and local politicians, who are vulnerable to retaliation from Peking? Will he take this opportunity to demolish the myth that has been going about that the Government and the British state have no unqualified objection to people entering the United Kingdom? Will he confirm that there is a commitment to 1 million people from South Africa under the nationality legislation and to unquantifiable millions from north America, all of them white?

Mr. Hurd : I accept the hon. Member's support without accepting his adjectives or most of his arguments. I have made it clear that we are talking about people who may be vulnerable because they have taken part in the democratic process in some way.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst) : My right hon. Friend referred to the need for a statement on Hong Kong. Is it not a fact that the United Kingdom has a clear duty, as the governing power in Hong Kong and as co-signatory of the joint declaration, to maintain stability and prosperity there? Is it not also a fact that British and Chinese business quarters in the territory have made it clear that measures similar to these are just what they want to ensure that stability and prosperity?

Mr. Hurd : They would like more, of course ; I acknowledge that. We will have to explain why we have pitched on a scheme and on a number which is considerably smaller than the upper end of the scale that was hoped for in Hong Kong. Otherwise, my hon. Friend is perfectly right. Of course the Government and the House have a duty. The House has a long tradition of looking after the interests of those who live under the Crown in different parts of the world. We are coming to the end of that story and, as I said before, I should like to make a reasonable end of it.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : How many entry clearance officers does the Foreign Secretary propose to send to Hong Kong? Will there be a primary purpose rule

Column 373

in the legislation that he will introduce to the House? If there are to be entry clearance officers, will he send some of those from Islamabad, who in the past few years have kept wives from their husbands, children from their fathers, fiancees from their future husbands, and grandchildren from their grandparents and have prevented a host of people who have a right to be here from coming to Britain? Will there not be a new word in the English language--Hurdism, standing for privilege, elitism, professionalism and all those who have wealth and authority as opposed to all those who are poor and underprivileged?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman appears to be advocating the total admission of everybody. No other meaning can be drawn from his question. I wish that the Opposition would get their act together. The accusation that the hon. Gentleman made against me stands up for a second only if he is in favour of admitting everybody ; otherwise, it makes no sense at all. Of course the scheme will have to be carefully administered. The dependants selected will be spouses and children under 18 ; therefore, the question of primary purpose does not arise.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster) : Will my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister accept congratulations on standing firm against more than a little pressure from Conservative Members and more than a little hypocrisy from the Opposition? Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary press on with the proposals, fulfil Britain's obligations to Hong Kong, and restore confidence in Hong Kong without forgetting that Britain wishes to play a part in what will be an outstanding success story in future?

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The anxieties which have been expressed by Conservative Members are perfectly natural. It would have been surprising had they not been expressed. Conservative Members realise far more clearly than Opposition Members that immigration control which works is essential to decent race relations in Britain. We do not need persuading of that. That is why we have not gone nearly as far as has been suggested by almost everyone in Hong Kong. We have struck the right balance.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : Surely the answer to the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) is that after what has happened in Tiananmen square, long after the Conservative manifesto, honour demands that the House meets the obligation to do more to sustain the prosperity and security of Hong Kong. The scheme that the Foreign Secretary has advanced, which is selective and based on service, has a very good chance of retaining those skilled people beyond 1997, as our responsibilities go beyond that, and ensuring a successful transition to Communist China's control and a successful Hong Kong into the 21st century.

Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman is right. By and large, our imperial story is overwhelmingly honourable and we should try to keep it that way. But in this case honour and self-interest coincide.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : My right hon. Friend has to choose between his perception--which

Column 374

I believe is mistaken--of the interests of the people of Hong Kong and the desires of the people of these overcrowded islands whose home he is, I believe, arrogantly, making available. He will understand that people here feel deep resentment after a generation of imposed immigration into Britain. I believe that they will feel that he has chosen the people of Hong Kong, and, although I have the deepest respect for my right hon. Friend, I believe that he will not be forgiven.

Mr. Hurd : It is not a question of the Government choosing the people of Hong Kong over my hon. Friend's constituents ; that is not the issue at all. We have struck a balance which we believe is necessary to safeguard an interest of this country, of my hon. Friend's constituents and, in particular, of the Conservative party. I do not think that we would be forgiven--to borrow my hon. Friend's phrase--if we simply took the short -term easy way, pretended that the problem would go away when clearly it will not, and failed to take any action on the lines that I have described. That would not only be wrong but would come back and seriously hit us before too long.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Will the Secretary of State accept--from one speaking as, in the words of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), an imposed immigrant and Member of Parliament--that no Opposition Member has suggested that Britain should play host to 5.5 million Hong Kong Chinese this week or next week? Many Opposition Members and many people outside the House have listened with mounting incredulity as elements on the Tory Back Benches have outbid each other on the subject with sub-Powellite rhetoric.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many people outside the House know that we should not be hearing from the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) if the subject were white South Africans? Many people outside the House are concerned that hon. Members continue to treat the issue for what it is--a unique and difficult issue about how Britain withdraws from its last outpost of the empire with honour, and not in the shabby and shameful way that some Conservative Members--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she must ask a question.

Ms. Abbott : The question is--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady might be able to ask her question when we have a debate.

Ms. Abbott : Is this an issue of how we withdraw from Hong Kong with honour, or is it, as some Conservative Members would have us believe, an issue of an imminent yellow peril?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Lady mistakes the position. It is perfectly natural that my right hon. and hon. Friends should express concern and anxiety. I do not think that anyone can seriously criticise them for doing so. Anyone who has followed events in Hong Kong and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President have been saying for months will know what the problem is and how we propose to tackle it. It is perfectly reasonable that people should express their anxieties and concerns. I have not had any complaints or objections of the kind that the hon.

Column 375

Lady made. Now that we have agreed on a scheme, the Government must show, as I believe we clearly can, that it is better to go ahead with it, to implement it and to offer assurances to key people, as it proposes, rather than to sit back and say, "This is too difficult ; we propose to do nothing," and allow our last substantial colony to decline and perhaps slide into chaos.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I must have regard to the subsequent business before the House. As the House well knows, it is a Back-Bench Members' day today, and we have a further statement before reaching that. I shall allow three more questions from each side, and then we must move on. It will be perfectly in order for hon. Members to raise this matter on the Christmas Adjournment motion if they are not called on the statement.

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby) : Does my right hon. Friend recall the spontaneous generosity with which British people accepted the sudden influx of Ugandan Asian passport holders in 1972 when they were confronted with the terrorism of Amin? Does he agree that his proposals for a new human line of credit, which may never be drawn on fully, to safeguard the future of the citizens of Hong Kong will be accepted by the same British public with the same generosity of spirit?

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Of course these are difficult questions, and they stir feelings that have been quite accurately reflected in the House. Nevertheless, we must make decisions and take responsibility. I believe, as does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that they will be much more clearly and sympathetically understood than is being assumed by some people.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East) : Will the Minister accept that Opposition Members and others have constituents with relatives in Hong Kong? Will he say how he thinks confidence can be brought to a society by the creation of first and second-class citizens and apartheid by passport? Will he say what will happen to the rest of the community if the Chinese people's army moves in, because he has said that that is the only occasion on which the passports will be used? Is the majority of the community to be abandoned by the Tory party?

Mr. Hurd : The scheme is of course only part of the total policy but it is an essential part. We will not be able to keep Hong Kong in security and prosperity without a scheme of that kind. Our main effort must be to enable the colony to go forward on the basis of the joint declaration, with all that that means.

Mr. William Powell (Corby) : Will my right hon. Friend accept that the true key to the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong lies in Peking? Only if the Chinese Government are able to show enthusiastic confidence in the future of Hong Kong will proper stability be retained. Will he also accept that the scheme he announced today will go some little way to providing reassurance, pending the wider support that Peking must show for the future of Hong Kong?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is absolutely right on his first point. We must not be passive but constantly active in

Column 376

seeking to show the People's Republic of China that it is in its interests, as well as those of the people of Hong Kong, that the joint declaration should be fully honoured in the spirit as well as the letter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : What reflections, thoughts or advice come from the place where the Secretary of State once worked--our embassy in Peking? Does he accept that what was said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) was far too facile, and ought we not to recognise that the complex position that arose after Tiananmen square cannot just be described as a "murderous regime"? In those circumstances, ought we not to remember that the history of China is that China has stuck to its international promises and there is no reason to believe that it will not do so in future, whatever the internal difficulties, in relation to 1997?

Mr. Hurd : The House has expressed its views on what happened in Tiananmen square, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) would dissent from what was said. We must have important and continuous dealings with the People's Republic, for the reasons that I gave in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell).

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, until 1962, more than 1.5 million residents of Hong Kong enjoyed the right to a full British passport and to abode in this country, and that relatively few of them exercised that right? That supports strongly the belief expressed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that, unless things go badly wrong in Hong Kong, very few of the people under discussion will exercise the rights that he has announced. If things go badly wrong, we have a strong moral obligation to help.

Mr. Hurd : I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful for the way he expressed his view.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) Why does not the Foreign Secretary admit that, although there are two tenable logical positions that the Government could have adopted, there is only one tenable principle position? The two tenable, logical positions are eiher that everyone should be given the right to come to Britain or that no one should. The one tenable principle position is that everyone should be given the right to come to Britain.

Mr. Hurd : That comment comes from below the Gangway. It was specifically repudiated above the Gangway a few weeks ago. This matter will now be opened up for further discussion. The Government's measures will be discussed, and so will the total lack of coherent Labour party policy.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I give an undertaking to the hon. Members I have not called that I will bear them in mind when the matter is next discussed, as I am sure it will be.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I will take it after the statement.

Column 377

Fisheries Council

4.43 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement. Together with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I represented the United Kingdom at the recent Council of Fisheries Ministers in Brussels on 18 and 19 December.

The stocks in the waters most important to us are seriously depleted and there is no way in which a responsible Community or Government could seek to allow fishing on a scale which would further endanger the future. Therefore, no package could have been agreed which would provide all the fishing opportunities that fishermen would like. Our purpose was therefore to gain the best possible opportunities for British fishermen compatible with a responsible conservation policy.

To that end, our first aim was to maintain the principle of relative stability and thereby guarantee our fishermen their fair share of community fishing opportunities. The key test of that was the allocations under the second Greenland protocol. I am pleased to inform the House that these have been made fully in accordance with that fundamental principle, despite the strong opposition of certain member states.

Our second priority was to argue against the Commission's proposals which would have set the total allowable catches and therefore British quotas below the figures recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas--the scientific body to which we all adhere. We succeeded in obtaining our aims fully in respect of haddock and largely in respect of cod, the two main edible species. In the case of whiting, we negotiated changes which gave us a much improved quota.

Our third priority was to ensure that the special arrangements that protect our most vulnerable fishing communities under the Hague preference would be continued.

From an isolated position, we again secured recognition of our Hague preference for North sea haddock, obtaining 87 per cent. of the community stock available. That is over 10 per cent. more than we would otherwise have got. As all that comes from allocations of fish which would otherwise have gone to other Community countries, the House will recognise what an important achievement this is. During the debate last Thursday, we defined our fourth priority as securing a continuing arrangement to safeguard the important mackerel fishery to the north of Scotland. That proved extremely difficult, and most of the last session of the council was devoted to it. We were eventually successful in convincing other member states of the reasonableness of our case and secured the continued flexibility to catch a part of that stock in the North sea.

In total, 17 United Kingdom quotas, including Channel cod, Irish sea herring and west of Scotland and eastern Channel sole, were increased above the level proposed by the Commission. Moreover, we again made a number of useful swaps, bringing advantages, including increased North sea herring and sole as well as extra quantities of a number of stocks off the south- west.

Column 378

The House made it perfectly clear that both sides were dissatisfied with the agreement initialled by the Commission and Norway, and I was particularly critical of it. It is therefore particularly satisfying that we secured a number of important changes which made possible the increases for our fishermen.

Conservation is the key to increasing opportunities for our fishing industry. Total allowable catches and quotas canot achieve that on their own. Last week, the Government undertook to press the Commission yet again to bring forward improved technical conservation measures. We were supported in that by almost every speaker in the debate last Thursday. I am therefore encouraged by the Commission's commitment to produce proposals on that by the end of July. Following the useful discussions we have had with our industry over recent months, we will also be putting our own ideas to the Commission in the near future.

These are urgent matters, and although we have ensured that the unacceptable proposals for community involvement in our quota management have been withdrawn, we have committed ourselves to take immediate steps to reduce our fishing effort against North sea haddock.

We will also be having an intensive dialogue with our industry to find ways of improving our fisheries management systems so that they encourage rational investment and exploitation.

It is clear that only by working with the industry and harnessing fishermen's own skills and judgment can we hope to secure the necessary improvements in how our fleet prosecutes its fishing opportunities. Centralised planning and subsidy are certainly not going to produce satisfactory results.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said in the House last week, a decommissioning scheme would not be a sensible use of the taxpayers' money. Moreover, subsidising the construction and modernisation of fishing vessels serves in general to distort rather than encourage sensible investment decisions. In future, subject to clearance with the Commission in accordance with article 92 of the treaty of Rome, we plan to continue to grant aid essential safety improvements for fishing vessels. Otherwise, we intend to restrict vessel grant aid to those cases where it is needed to back up Community grant aid.

We have shown our commitment to the industry by our determination at this week's Council to preserve the fundamental principles of relative stability and our Hague preference and to secure the best possible outcome for our industry consistent with conservation. That is what the House asked us to do. We have achieved it in almost every particular.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : I am sure that the Minister will accept that the Opposition recognise the importance of conservation measures, and that quota figures must be based on scientific advice if fish stocks are to be protected and improved. To suggest otherwise--that advice and quotas should be ignored--would be totally irresponsible.

We welcome the fact that the agreed quotas are better in most cases than those that the Commissioner was seeking, although the figure for cod was less than was hoped for. We also welcome the deals on access to

Column 379

Greenland waters, the mackeral quotas and the improvements on Channel cod quotas after the swaps are taken into account. Overall, however, the deal still represents major problems and some notable failures which will cause severe difficulties for the fishing fleet. Why have we done so badly with the cod quota in north Norway? Does the Minister accept that that will severely hit what is left of our deep- water freezer fleet? Why did the Minister manage to get the maximum available quota--according to scientific advice--for haddock, but fail to get that for cod?

Will the Minister confirm that he agreed to allocate 500 tonnes from the United Kingdom cod allocation to the Danes? Is that right? Was that a trade -off as part of a deal to obtain Hague preference levels? Does the Minister accept that, with the industry in severe difficulties, a firm package of conservation measures is required to be drawn up by the Ministry to reduce the discard levels by increasing mesh size and type, to protect juvenile fish?

Does the Minister also accept that firm policing measures of agreed quota are vital? Can he confirm that expenditure on fishery protection in Scotland decreased from £6.14 million last year to £5.4 million this year, according to the provisional figures? Does he agree that that does not imply that there are adequate protection measures?

I am sure that the whole industry will be disappointed to hear the Minister rejecting central planning and the decommissioning scheme. It is not the industry's fault that it is at the mercy of Community planning and regulations. A free market approach to the industry struggling to survive this period would lead to bankruptcies, redundancies and the undermining of the whole fishing industry. The industry needs a planned structure of support. Last year £21.8 million was spent in aid for building and modernising the fishing fleet, even though the Ministry knew that there was over-capacity in the fleet. Why cannot some of that money be switched to a proper decommissioning scheme, taking into account the problems of horsepower and all the other problems? I believe that the industry is playing its part in trying to adapt to these difficult times. The Government must accept that they also have a responsibility to assist and protect the industry on which so many jobs and communities depend.

Mr. Gummer : I thank the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) for his rather grudging comments about our successes. The industry was rather more generous and said that we came away with the best possible deal. I heard that from the industry leaders themselves directly after they had heard details of the deal. We gave details to them as soon as they were complete. The hon. Gentleman must recall our debate last Thursday in which hon. Members did not believe that it would be possible to get the whole agreement with Norway reopened. In fact, we have had it substantially changed.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : We asked for it.

Mr. Gummer : Of course the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked me for it. However, if he looks back at what he said last Thursday, he will see that he asked for it as if he did not believe that we would have the determination to do it. He did not believe that it was possible. We did what he asked us to do. It is a bit hard for

Column 380

the hon. Member for South Shields now to appear to say that we did not get everything on every point that the United Kingdom, among 12 other nations, wanted. We got almost everything we sought, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : The Minister is the "nearly man".

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who speaks so often from a sedentary position, has not followed or understood the negotiations. That is obvious from that comment. The United Kingdom has fought for a Common Market policing force. That force has been substantially supported and extended by the United Kingdom. We have spent a great deal more money in recent years on enforcement, but we have spent it more effectively. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has found a number of ways in recent years to improve enforcement, but at lower cost. That seems to be valuable. It is very odd that the Opposition measure expenditure and not efficacy. That is an element of their economic policy which has brought them to rack and ruin for so long. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe said that the industry was at the mercy of European Community planning. It is not : it is at the mercy of reduced fish stocks. The point of the Community planning is to share out the fish equitably between countries. At a time when we have greater capacity than we can possibly use with the available opportunities, I do not believe that it is sensible to continue to grant-aid the modernisation of that capacity, which only increases it. Therefore, I believe that it is more sensible to do what we are doing.

I have considered the details of the decommissioning scheme, and I believe that the Public Accounts Committee was right. The scheme as it used to be caused exactly the opposite effect from what was intended. Opposition Members believe that we could have a different scheme, but I do not believe that any scheme is the proper way to deal with the problem. To deal with the problem we should have the conservation measures that we will put before the Commission and a more sensible way of dealing with our quota management, both of which factors will be changed considerably. I am sure that Opposition Members will be pleased with what results.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there will be a debate later tonight on the future of the United Kingdom fishing industry. Perhaps detailed questions could be raised in that debate--although I accept that I am not an expert on fishing. If that were the case, perhaps we could reach that debate more rapidly.

Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough) : Mr. Speaker, you will always be welcome in Scarborough.

During the negotiations, was it accepted either that the scientists were consistently wrong in fixing quotas or that the fishermen were wrong in not keeping to the quota system? As a result of that examination, did my right hon. Friend the Minister conclude that enforcement should be better in future? I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his tremendously successful period of negotiation. Anyone who has studied the problem must conclude that he has done a first-class job within the limits for our fishermen.

Column 381

We have a complete haddock quota. Now that that quota is for the country as a whole, will new enforceable arrangements be made to make sure that all our fishermen get their fair share of it?

Mr. Gummer : We shall seek to do the latter in the fairest possible way. On my hon. Friend's original question, we discussed the reasons for the continued decline in the stock. It is our view that there was considerable over-fishing, certainly in earlier years. That has been very much reduced, but there is still a great deal to be done in that direction and in the direction of discards. That is why we must have a real package of conservation measures. I shall hold hon. Members to their words in the previous debate. They said that they would support those conservation measures, even though they will be difficult.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I give credit where credit is due. In the negotiations, the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends succeeded in achieving success with regard to critical TACs and flexibility on the north of Scotland mackerel fishery, and obtained proposals on conservation measures to come forward next year. However, he will cause great dismay to the industry by effectively jettisoning any plans for decommissioning. He will ask the industry to accept a much reduced fishing effort. How does he propose to manage the reduction in capacity without decommissioning? What will be the effect of his proposals today on meeting the target set under the multi-annual guidance programme? With the exception of safety improvements, vessel grants will be allowed only when the European Community is also giving grant aid. Does that mean that he is handing the Commission responsibility for the future structure of the industry? Is that not an abdication of his responsibility?

Next Section

  Home Page