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I am interested in the Minister's reference to the language of the text of the Spanish treaty. Perhaps we could return to that matter later. Will he, in the context of what was said at Essen, give an indication of what was meant when Mr. Gonzalez said that he had achieved everything that he wanted in the context of Spanish accession? Who said what to whom? What was the status of those exchanges and what exactly does it mean?
straightforwardly that I did not have the pleasure of being at Essen. I cannot explain why the Spanish Minister went off in such a high propagandist tone when in fact what he got was simply an underpinning of the agreements within the EFTAn arrangements. I know of no deals being made at Essen, for the simple reason that, because there was no proposal to consider that particular matter, a deal could not have been made. I shall come back to the question of the Essen declaration in due course, because it is central to these matters, but I must give way to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Allason: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Will he at least state whether it is a fact that there was an agreement in the 1986 treaty of accession with Spain that Spain would not have full access to Community waters until 2002?
Mr. Jack: What was very clear in the treaty of accession was that the arrangements for the Irish box would end on 1 January 1992-- [Hon. Members:-- "1996."] I apologise. The question of whether matters could have been postponed until 2002 was considered and has been debated in the House, in the European scrutiny committee. Opposition Members shake their heads. I am sorry if they were not there. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)
Column 992gave me a detailed quizzing on that point. She and I may still disagree, but the treaty of accession was fully debated, as she will see from columns 158 and 350 of Hansard of 4 December 1985. There was a question of the legal base and the timing. That was resolved by the Community's legal services. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) looks troubled. I am not surprised. This is perhaps the detail that he ignores in these matters. It was debated and the Community's legal services say that there was a proper basis for the matter to be considered in the terms now before the Council.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East): What the Minister says in relation to the Irish box is, of course, correct, but I do not believe that what he says in relation to the other waters is correct, and it is not the view of the House as a whole or, indeed, the legal advisers.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North): To follow up the intervention from the hon. Member for Moray, it is no good the Minister saying that he cannot comment on what was said to whom and where at Essen because he was not there. He must have known that, given the strong statement about the Spanish getting everything that they wanted, the matter would be probed in the House. What inquiries has he made of the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary? Can he therefore categorically say that what the Spanish said was totally wrong, that there has been and that there will be no change?
Mr. Jack: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, when I give a straightforward answer that I was not present at any conversations that took place, I am not going to invent one. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) averred to earlier, was pressed on this matter in the House on Monday and made his position entirely clear. I inquired through the official channels as to what was agreed. What was agreed was the published text in the Essen statement, a copy of which is in the Library. The hon. Gentleman will have read it and understood the text that is in it. I cannot explain why Spanish politicians choose the language that they do. I suspect that the message that the hon. Gentleman has received has been more a media-based report than what actually happened. The fact of the matter is that a straightforward agreement was reached on the terms of the timetable, with some helpful language in it, which I will come on to.
Mr. Jack: I have given way generously to the hon. Lady and would like, in deference to the House, to make a little progress. As I said, as a result of the review, in April this year, the Council agreed the sensible guidelines to be applied when Spain and Portugal are integrated in the common fisheries policy. The timetable for concluding agreement on these matters was established in the enlargement negotiations and was reconfirmed by the Council in Essen
Column 993last weekend. That means that the future arrangements for Spanish and Portuguese integration into the common fisheries policy need to be settled by the end of the year.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): The House will accept that, as a man of honour, the Minister knows of no conversation. Is he confident in his own mind that if an impasse is reached next week at the Fisheries Council the Spanish will not call in some deal that was done with Prime Minister Gonzalez and Chancellor Kohl last Saturday or Sunday?
Mr. Jack: I am sure that if the Fisheries Council does not come to an agreement next week, I may not be enjoying a turkey at Christmas. The Council might have to resume discussions, because, as I point out to the hon. Gentleman, it meets on 19 and 20 December and there are still a number of days left before the end of the year. He will also be aware, I am sure, that people always make contingency plans. It would not be the first time on which Europe had negotiated right down to the wire. There does seem to be a genuine effort being made to find a way forward on this matter. No deal was done. The words are there in the Essen declaration and they mean what they say. I will say more about that in a moment.
As required by the April guidelines, the Commission made proposals, but these were, in our view, enormously complex, bureaucratic and unenforceable as well as being based on dubious arithmetic and unsound assumptions. We rejected them and so did the rest of the Council. I am glad to say that the United Kingdom led the charge. Since then, no further official proposals have been made, but the presidency has been striving to find a better way forward and to reach agreement, at least on the elements of a compromise on the principles for integration. The essence of the presidency's latest thinking is that member states should draw up their own list of vessels entitled to fish in the various fisheries, work out the amount of fishing effort they need to catch fish there, and, if there is excessive effort, install a means for controlling it.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): My hon. Friend makes a great stand on behalf of Britain's fishermen under difficult circumstances. My hon. Friend may not be aware that my wife is called Rachel and that she comes from near Plymouth. He may, therefore, imagine my pleasure recently at seeing a fishing boat called the Lady Rachel from Plymouth-- [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I cannot hear what is being said by the Opposition.
Mr. Robathan: My hon. Friend may not know that the Lady Rachel is currently tied up in Coruna because, although it is registered in Plymouth, it is a Spanish boat that fishes British quotas. My hon. Friend will know that we have previously opposed the Spanish taking our quota by registering boats in Plymouth. I hope that my hon. Friend will be fighting hard against the Spanish, because they do not have a record of good faith in fisheries policy.
Column 994He will know that, sadly, despite our best endeavours, Anglo-Spanish boats have the opportunity to use British quotas to fulfil their fishing opportunities. I understand that that is still a matter of considerable concern in the industry, but it has now been settled.
Finding satisfactory arrangements is a difficult challenge. We have at all stages had extensive consultations with the industry. Even today I met industry leaders to bring them up to date with the latest developments. I have made clear to the industry and to the presidency the United Kingdom's objectives in the negotiations. We want a simple, non-bureaucratic scheme. We want one that allows our fishermen to take their quotas. It must be enforceable at reasonable cost and it must not put new constraints on our fishermen so long as their effort does not increase. We want proper protection for the Irish box. As I have said, there was never any question of its continuance. We need to find new management tools for western waters which will replace what is in the treaty. That is what I am negotiating for.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): My hon. Friend has given an admirable list of objectives. Will he go a stage further and assure me and my colleagues from the south-west that another objective is to give special protection to those areas of traditional fishing for our own fishermen? I am referring in particular to the area between Cornwall, Devon, Wales and Ireland. Will he assure me that he will fight for that and that he will vote against any proposal that does not secure it?
Mr. Jack: I have one or two words to say about the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). My hon. Friend has raised an important point in the discussions so far. We have battled very hard in respect of the Irish box. It is worth pointing out that in the presidency's efforts so far to satisfy our requirements, it has conceded that the zones in the areas mentioned by my hon. Friend do require special protection. One of the successes is that already area VII a is indicated to be available for traditional fisheries and, therefore, closed to Spain. We seek to build on the base that we have established with area VII a and, as I have said, we wish to expand the area of protection as far as we can in respect of those very important fisheries which have long been the home of those who fish from our west coast ports. I understand my hon. Friend's point and I shall try to secure what he seeks. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives will understand that, as a negotiator, I will not at this stage tell the House or my hon. Friend--I am sorry to put it firmly--what the United Kingdom's position will be on this matter.
Mr. Jack: If I go into the Council wearing a large badge that tells everybody which way I am going to vote, I will have given away my most precious negotiating position. It would be irresponsible and lunatic for me to go into the negotiation telling people my position. If the hon. Member for Moray has ever been a card player, she will know that the last thing she should do, if she is to have any chance of winning, is to show her hand to her
Column 995opponents. My task is to win the game for Britain's fishermen. I am not in the business of giving our position away by declaring my negotiating hand.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles): In previous statements about the Government's objectives the Minister has talked about no change in relative stability and no increase in fishing effort. He did not use those phrases in his list just now. Are they still part of the Government's objectives?
Mr. Jack: In the text that was agreed for the regulation in April, the maintenance of relative stability and the question of no increase in fishing effort were two of the underpinning principles. I did not rehearse the entire content of that regulation so I did not mention it. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked about that and I assure him that those fundamental principles of the common fisheries policy underpin the negotiations.
Mr. Harris: I understand my hon. Friend's point about not revealing his negotiating hand. Can he assure the House, my colleagues from the south -west and, above all, the fishermen of the south-west, that one of his objectives is to keep the Spanish out of not only area VII a but of areas VII f and VII g? Can he assure me that that is one of his objectives and that he will do his damnedest to achieve it?
Mr. Jack: I told my hon. Friend that we want to build on the concession already won about area VII a. I said that we want to extend the protection as widely as possible because those areas are within the terms of the current Irish box. I shall do my very best to include the areas mentioned by my hon. Friend. I must tell my hon. Friend very quietly that his amendment mentions area VII b. I assume that that was a typographical error. That shows that I have studied his amendment with great care.
Mr. Ainger: Is there not a fundamental contradiction in the Minister's negotiating position? If we accept that by 1 January 1996 the Irish box will disappear either in part or entirely, and that the basic list of some 200 Spanish vessels will come in to all or part of the Irish box, how can we maintain relative stability unless there is a massive reduction in fishing effort from British--that means south-western English, Welsh and Scottish--fishermen?
Mr. Jack: It is important to distinguish between the effect of relative stability and the question of fishing effort. Relative stability is the basic mechanism of calculating the key points in the allocation of stocks within the common fisheries policy. That is not the subject of these discussions, except that in the terms of the April agreement, the regulation makes it clear that relative stability must be maintained. There is no dispute about that among any of the participants in the discussion.
Fishing effort is a different matter. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) talked about a Spanish fleet of 200 vessels. When the basic periodic list system was established, we saw a basic list of 300 Spanish vessels, of which, at any one time, 150 could fish. The Spanish have argued that the size of their fleet has diminished. It remains to be seen, however, what type of basic list or reference list system will be devised under the light-touch type regime that is being considered at the moment and under successive regimes. Clearly, that will be of
Column 996particular importance in the determination of the amount of fishing effort to be applied in relation to stocks and quotas to be fished.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye): I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Will he assure me that, when he goes into the negotiations, he will bear in mind the interests of inshore fishermen? Will he take account of the fact that, if pressure is placed on the deep-sea fishing sector, by a process of osmosis that pressure will also be placed on inshore fisheries? Fishermen off Hastings have trouble from beamers that destroy their nets and whose engine sizes are far too large. We must ensure that our enforcement deals much more efficiently with engine sizes.
Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on behalf of inshore fishermen in her constituency and I pay tribute to that. [Interruption.] Clearly, she has a lot of support in the House for that position.
Mr. Foulkes rose--
Mr. Jack: The hon. Gentleman has had his share of my total effort. I must deal with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait). I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman at this stage. My hon. Friend talked about the position of inshore fishermen. The 12-mile limit has been one of the benefits at least of the common fisheries policy. She will be pleased that, during the many long hours that we spent negotiating on the subject of Norway, the position of inshore fishermen was very much acknowledged. Sadly, those discussions did not lead to Norway's entry into the European Community, but I assure my hon. Friend that the position of coastal communities is important--
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Jack: In due deference to hon. Members, I feel that I should make a little progress. I shall give way a little later, so hon. Members will have to stay their hand. I think that they should listen to the rest of my speech, which is very good.
We want a simple, non-bureaucratic scheme that allows our fishermen to take their quotas. I have said that those are some of the key objectives for which I argued at the November Council.
Mrs. Ewing rose --
I have personally lobbied with other Fisheries Ministers to explain the strength of the British case. I shall give way to the hon. Lady for the last time.
"potential fishing effort . . . a reference list . . . and assessed effort"?
Column 997Has he any clear definition of exactly that what means for our fishermen?
Mr. Jack: There is a difference between talking about the elements that will have to form part of a new agreement and the way in which it will be worked out. It is clear from the Essen text, which contains the word "non-bureaucratic", that simplicity will be the order of the day. That is the stuff of the negotiation and any document that the hon. Lady may read is very much an interim document. I am not certain where she has obtained the document, but, wherever she obtained it, until the Council meeting, we will not know precisely the nature of the text that we shall discuss. I assure her, however, that we shall continue our fight against over-complex, over-bureaucratic systems that would bear down unfairly on our fishermen. As I said, that has been our negotiating stance all along and the hon. Lady has been kind enough to acknowledge that.
Sir Teddy Taylor: As the splendid fishermen of Southend-on-Sea have been sending me faxes all day containing the demands that I should make and how one should vote, will the Minister, to avoid any misunderstanding, make it abundantly clear to them that, although he will try hard and fight valiantly, he or any alternative Government could give no assurance that the decisions will be made by a majority vote of the Council of Ministers? Will he further appreciate that Southend fishermen have been slaughtered since the United Kingdom entered the EC and that many of them greatly sympathise and respect the good people of Norway, who voted to retain their freedom?
Mr. Jack: The hon. Member knows as well as I-- [Interruption.] If he could contain himself for a moment, I might be able to give him an answer. He knows as well as I do that the matter will be dealt with by qualified majority voting. I am surprised that he did not advert to the singular success that we achieved in keeping the Spanish out of the North sea, which will be of particular interest to Southend fishermen. I am also disappointed that he does not advert to the fact that one of the things that we achieved in the reform of the licensing and quota management arrangements, which was of particular concern to me, was to protect the interests of small-sized boats in the Southend fleet by underpinning the non-sector. Those are important gains for his constituents and I should be happy to discuss them with him in detail.
Mr. Foulkes rose --
As I have said and as hon. Members are perhaps sensing, the negotiations have been an uphill struggle. Despite our best efforts, the presidency has not been able to adopt our straightforward approach. As a result of our
Column 998efforts, however, it has begun to focus on the United Kingdom's concerns and to accept that we mean business in pursuing them.
Our position, however, was not helped last weekend when it became clear that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East had been putting it about that some shady deal had been done in the margins of the Essen Council and that our fishermen's interests had been scuppered. I know that because when I was waiting to be interviewed on BBC South West's parliamentary programme, I heard the hon. Gentleman telling the audience all about the matter but clearly indicating that he had no idea what was in the Essen text when he was putting that about. I was able to put him right and to tell him, as I have told the House, that no deal had been done and that the content of the Essen text is helpful to our cause.
As I have also said, the text contained the provision that future arrangements should be "non-bureaucratic". The hon. member for Edinburgh, East may have thought that he was gaining some short-term political advantage by what he was doing, but he well and truly frightened many fishermen into believing that the game was up. That was wrong.
Dr. Strang: The Minister is totally misrepresenting what I said in that programme. I suggest that he reads the transcript. I made it clear that I did not know what had been agreed at Essen, but I noted, as others had done, that the Spanish Prime Minister met Chancellor Kohl and said that he believed that he was in a position to lift his block on the new entrants because he had got what he wanted. I emphasise that I did not know what was agreed.
Mr. Jack: I should not want to be unfair to the hon. Gentleman, but I said that he told the audience that he did not have any idea of what was in the Essen text. I assume only that perhaps he and other politicians put it about in the media last weekend that some deal had been done when that was palpably not the case.
Mr. Jack: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that and obviously I accept his assurance that that was the case. All I say to him is that some of the questions that I was asked by the media showed that information had reached them that deals had been done. I had to spend my time refuting that view and making clear the contents of the Essen text.
Mr. Douglas French (Gloucester): Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a result of many of the Opposition spokesman's comments on this matter, much concern has been expressed in the industry and unnecessarily so? Does he also agree that that has partly come about as a result
Column 999of the hon. Gentleman's ignorance about these matters? Before the hon. Gentleman makes statements like that in public, he should learn a bit more of his brief.
Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend makes his own point. I rang fishing sector leaders at the weekend to give them a personal assurance about what had happened in relation to the Essen text to calm the position down.
Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to the Minister. I want to calm the position down as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) asked about the criteria for the scheme, which the Minister described. The Minister--who I am not sure is listening--said that one of the criteria was enforceability at reasonable cost. How does he envisage enforcing the scheme when an armada of 150 or 200 Spanish boats--
Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend corrects me. How does the Minister envisage enforcing the scheme when an armada of 220 boats comes into the Irish sea in the Firth of Clyde? How will he possibly ensure that that Spanish armada abides by the agreements that have been made by him and his colleagues?
Mr. Jack: We must keep matters in perspective. The fishing industry is valued at about £500 million a year, and we already spend in total about £50 million on the industry. Enforcement is an important part of that expenditure. We must balance expenditure against objectives. We shall examine enforcement in the light of what is ultimately agreed.
Amendments have been tabled to the motion--
Mr. Marlow: I am grateful. How will it be possible to give the Spanish and Portuguese fish from British waters without reducing the amount of fish that is available for British fishermen in British waters? How will it be possible to satisfy the Spanish and the Portuguese without causing a grave injustice to British fishermen?
Column 1000Gentleman is not aware that Spain already has quotas in the western waters and that there is no intention of increasing them. Portugal does not fish there.
I fully understand the problem that my hon. Friends the Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) have raised through their amendment. I explained only a few moments ago our attitude towards the assurances that have been sought for protection in the areas mentioned in their amendment. I hope that I have convinced my hon. Friends of the Government's negotiating endeavours and that they will be able to support us tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor)--I am glad that he is still in his place--tabled an amendment which was not selected. I merely say that the amendment is not relevant to the debate as discussions are taking place in the context of the common fisheries policy.
The substance of the Scottish Nationalists' amendment has been dealt with in earlier debates. They know the Government's views. We agree, of course, with the importance of proper policing for whatever measures are adopted.
The amendment of the Liberal Democrats is interesting. I re-read last night the report of the debate on the accession of Spain and Portugal. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was one of only two Members to say anything in the debate about fishing. When he reviewed the position of Spain and Portugal in that context, he congratulated the Government on the negotiations and on what had been achieved and said that it was a difficult matter. He said that he recognised that a good job had been well done. We have explained the biological sensitivity of the Irish box to the Commission and the presidency. We are already using every means to secure the interests of our fleet, and we recognise the importance of enforcement. We have been promoting the point. Liberal Democrats should not feel uncomfortable about supporting the Government's motion this evening.
Before I mention the Opposition's amendment, which has been selected, I shall remind the House of what the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said in Committee in December 1985 about Spanish and Portuguese accession. He said that the Opposition welcomed the accession of Spain and Portugal and described it as the "right move" for the Community and the applicant states. He said that the Opposition took that view because they recognised the "merits" of the two new democracies joining the rest of Europe and facing "Europe's problems with us." He added that the Opposition did not welcome accession "blindly, ignorantly or oblivious" of the difficulties and anxieties. That implicitly acknowledges that difficult issues would face us all over integrating Spain and Portugal fully into the European Community. We are facing those difficulties now and they cannot be ignored. The difficulties must be resolved.
It is clear from those remarks that the Opposition of the day knew exactly what they were signing up to and exactly what was in the list of forthcoming attractions.
Column 1001The present Opposition, like the rest of us, must recognise that the solution lies within a European context. Much of the language in their amendment is compatible with the Government's negotiating position. But the text is not helpful in three specific ways. First, the amendment introduces into our considerations an irrelevant point about days at sea. That is not what we are negotiating about. Secondly, on the reference to the Irish box, will the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East accept that I will do all in my power to find ways of protecting as much of the box as I can? I would say that despite the specific reference in the accession treaty to the box vanishing at the end of 1995, our firm negotiating stance has already won a concession from the presidency that area VII a can remain exclusively open to those who have traditionally fished there. I shall build on that in the negotiations. Thirdly, the amendment calls for access to be restricted to vessels with an historic record in the western waters. That would not be acceptable to our industry if, as would certainly be the case, the rule would also be applied to United Kingdom vessels.
I say quietly to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, who takes a keen interest in these matters, that his proposal could well rule out the possibility of boats from the east coast prosecuting a fishery, in his terms, on the west coast. There is danger in what he suggests.
In the light of all that I have said and of my desire to ensure that the House sends this Minister in to bat in Brussels with a best chance of achieving a good result for our industry, I ask the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, in the light of my remarks, whether he really wants to press his amendment.
I have made it clear that our objective is to reach agreement in the Council next week. I do not want to hold things up. We want to see whether it is possible to assist the presidency to meet the deadline and to stay within the terms of the Essen declaration.