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The negotiations are likely to reach a conclusion next week, but it is possible that that may be on the basis of a text that leaves more to be done under the next presidency.
Mr. Steen: I am glad that my hon. Friend knows where his friends are. May I remind him that currently Spain is receiving about £6.5 million a day from the European Community and that £4.5 million goes from Britain to the Community every day. When he goes to negotiate, will he satisfy himself that cross-border enforcement is as strong as it can be? There is no point in agreeing anything if other countries do not enforce what has been agreed. The concern on Conservative Benches is that we always follow what we say we will do when other countries enact laws and do absolutely nothing to implement them.
Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend has put his finger on a central issue. I have made it clear to Commissioner Paleokrassas on more than one occasion that I will not tolerate any no-go areas when it comes to the Community investigating the way in which the common fisheries policy is being implemented. It is vital that once the matters before us are decided, enforcement is considered
Column 1002seriously and that we are convinced that the necessary measures will be properly administered. I realise that unless I can convince our fishing industry that there can be proper policing, it will, however hard I negotiate, not have confidence in the final outcome. I give the House the assurance that I shall do all in my power to pursue enforcement and adherence to the rules as vigorously and as completely as I possibly can. These are important issues.
Mr. Foulkes: How will the Minister do that?
Mr. Jack: The hon. Gentleman, who is a member of a party which espouses the cause of Europe, will understand that negotiating in a European context is one of the ways in which we must proceed. It is a question of arguing our case and of making it clear that, on the question of enforcement, we will not accept no for an answer. Obviously, we shall examine our own enforcement in the light of the agreement; I know that it is central to the issue, and I shall pursue the matter with all the strength at my disposal.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): I felt that my hon. Friend was rather dismissive of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and supported by seven of his hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Minister said that the amendment was not relevant. How can he say that, given that it was tabled by eight Conservative Members of Parliament and is undoubtedly supported by thousands of British fishermen?
Mr. Jack: I said it was not relevant for the simple reason that it discusses a solution to the problem outside the terms of the common fisheries policy. We are discussing the problem within the terms of that policy. The amendment uses some amazing language, concluding with the words
"thereafter to negotiate, where appropriate, reciprocal arrangements with other nations in the interests of the British fishing industry."
That is rather sloppy language, which gives no indication of the way in which the trick would be pulled. What, in the circumstances posited by the amendment, would we say to Spain if it said to us, "If you are outside the common fisheries policy, it is open door, boys: in we come"? It is an open- door policy, and I cannot associate myself with such logic. That is why the amendment is not relevant; I believe that we must negotiate within the terms of the common fisheries policy.
Throughout the negotiations I have wanted to stay in the closest touch with fishermen. I have told them frankly how matters have been progressing, and I have taken their wishes into account as fully as possible. The industry has set Ministers a tough negotiating brief because, understandably, it has stuck to its preference for what it considers an ideal solution. It wants the toughest possible restrictions on Spain, no new constraints on itself and continuation of the full protection of the Irish box after its expiry date. I pursued that approach because it was sensible to do so: it enabled me to gain understanding for the United Kingdom's position and it has been valuable to me to be able to point to the unity of the industry.
The time has now come for us to negotiate--as we will next week--on a new document that the presidency will table. I have made it clear to the industry, and I repeat now, that on an issue such as this, which is subject to qualified majority voting, to fail to negotiate is to be sidelined and to lose all influence over what is ultimately
Column 1003decided. We will not put ourselves in that position; it would not be in the industry's interest, the fishermen's interest or the national interest. We will do all that we can to assist the Fisheries Council to reach a conclusion, but above all we will do everything possible for the interests of our fishermen from all parts of the United Kingdom. We will negotiate, to the best of our ability, a successful conclusion to these vital matters.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East): I beg to move amendment (a), to leave out from "Norway" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
`supports the industry in its opposition to government policy on days at sea restrictions; calls on the Government to ensure that the UK fishing industry does not lose fishing opportunities in order to accommodate Spanish and Portuguese vessels; urges that there should be no increase in Spanish and Portuguese fishing effort in UK waters and that access should be confined to vessels with a historic trade record in UK waters; recognises the importance of the Irish Box to protect threatened stocks and believes that it must be replaced with comparable measures which take into account the historic rights of established fishing communities and their traditional fishing patterns; recognises the pressure on fish stocks in UK waters and the need for a sustainable policy based on effective conservation measures; and calls on the Government to do all in its power to secure the effective enforcement by all member states of Common Fisheries Policy conservation measures.'.
As the Minister has reminded us, this is the main fisheries debate of the year; indeed, it is often the only one. It precedes the December meeting of the Fisheries Council, at which a number of important decisions are made on, in particular, total allowable catches and quotas. As the Minister pointed out, on this occasion a major decision will be made about the arrangements for Spanish and Portuguese integration into the common fisheries policy.
I wrote to the Leader of the House some time ago to point out that half a day is an unacceptable amount of time to allow for the main fisheries debate of the year, given the industry's importance to so many communities. Certain communities are particularly dependent on it. Some people will think of Hull and Aberdeen for historical reasons. Those towns are still very involved in fishing, and especially in fish processing; but we should also consider fishing communities in small towns such as Brixham, Falmouth and Newlyn on the south coast, Milford Haven in Wales, Ardglass and Kilkeel in Northern Ireland and Mallaig and Ullapool in Scotland. I could name many more communities that depend on the industry. It is vital to those communities that we make the right decisions--that we do not allow our stocks to be exhausted and long-term fishing opportunities to be diminished for them, and for future generations.
Another reason why it is important for us to have a proper debate is that no industry is more regulated than the fishing industry. Inherent in the industry is the fact that the Government determine the opportunities, and have a major impact on the industry. It is even more regulated than agriculture. There is good reason for that: technological advance has been such that our stocks could be diminished or even exhausted. Government--I use the word to apply to European institutions as well as to our domestic Government--have a responsibility to implement and enforce conservation measures to protect stocks, and a responsibility for the long-term future of the communities which I mentioned and the country as a whole.
Column 1004Let me refer to some developments in conservation that have taken place over the past few years before I deal with the major issue of Spanish access. The European Union has agreed that all member states should comply with multi-annual guidance programmes. We are expected to reduce our fishing effort by 19 per cent. by the end of 1996, compared with the 1992 level. One way in which to approach that target--the most efficient way, some would argue--is to establish a substantial decommissioning scheme.
I do not want to make a meal of this, because we have been over it time and again. Towards the end of the 1980s, however, we engaged in debate after debate: hon. Members on both sides of the House who represented fishing communities urged the Government to introduce a major decommissioning scheme as other countries in the European Community--as it was then--were doing, thus securing money from the Community for decommissioning.
Many hon. Members will recall the repeated refusals of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), now Secretary of State for the Environment. He simply would not accept the case for a decommissioning scheme. We have such a scheme now, but it is too small. That is certainly the industry's view. I appeal to the Government to think again about the possibility of an enlarged and bolder scheme, which will be necessary if we are to achieve the multi-annual guidance programme target. It is important that we achieve that target. As the Minister will understand, if we do not do so by the end of 1996 we may find that we are ineligible for European Union financial support for a range of fishing measures.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr. Strang: I shall do so sparingly. I am keen to let others speak.
Mr. Mans: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned a larger decommissioning scheme. How much more money does he think would be appropriate to make it effective, and what effect does he think it would have on the fishing communities that he mentioned?
Dr. Strang: The answer to that is in the Hansard report of last year's debate. If the hon. Gentleman takes the trouble to read it, he will get a very precise answer.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point: decommissioning is not a panacea. It has a part to play, however. We can keep the rest of the industry viable only if we take out a certain amount of capacity, so that what is left operates profitably. Decommissioning is not the only way in which we can achieve our target, but the industry is united about the case for a better decommissioning scheme. It has also been united over the years in opposing the Government's proposed compulsory tie-up scheme--the proposed days-at- sea restrictions. That is why the amendment refers to it. The reference relates not to Spanish access, but to an important issue that is still hanging over the industry.
I do not think that, in the last 10 or 20 years, any issue has aroused such anger and opposition in our fishing communities as the proposed compulsory tie-up scheme. When the current Secretary of State for Education took over as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the Minister of State, they inherited the policy and
Column 1005they announced that they would reconsider it. Indeed, they postponed the implementation of the days-at-sea restrictions, and it is worth recalling that if that postponement had not taken place and the scheme had not been challenged in court, the days-at- sea restrictions would have been in operation from 1 October this year. There was much hope in the industry that the new team of Ministers would abandon the policy of restrictions and adopt an alternative approach to reducing our fishing effort.
Ministers invited the industry to submit its own proposals, and I believe that the Minister of State congratulated the industry on the lengths to which its representative organisations had gone to produce conservation proposals, sometimes even encountering difficulty with their own members--I am glad to see that the Minister is nodding. However, the Government and the industry are now going to the European Court, still on the issue of compulsory tie-up. There has been no response yet from the Government to the proposals made by the industry, although, if my memory serves me correctly, those had to be in by the end of September 1993.
That is unsatisfactory. There is a vacuum, and the Government should be implementing conservation policies to defend our stocks throughout British waters. I appeal to the Minister and the rest of the Government to think again. How can it be right for us to continue with that hiatus? What sort of spectacle does it present for our industry and our Government to be fighting it out in the European Court of Justice?
Conservation measures work only if they have the support and co-operation of the industry, and the Government's proposals on days-at-sea restrictions did not have that support. Indeed, it is clear that in the form in which they were suggested, they will never have support, so I ask the Government to think again on that important issue.
On some things we agree, and there is no dispute. I accept without question the fact that the Minister has to take scientific advice on levels of total allowable catch, on quotas and conservation, and so on. Surely we cannot go on for another year without an agreement, still awaiting the proceedings of the European Court of Justice. I say to the hon. Gentleman, "Be bold; abandon the whole idea of days-at-sea restrictions and sit down to talk to the industry on the basis of its proposals." Let us go forward with an approach to conservation that the whole House can support.
As the Minister has rightly said, the major issue facing the Government, the House and the Council concerns the arrangements for the incorporation of Spain and Portugal into the common fisheries policy. Let us start by being clear about the importance of what is at stake. Our waters are crucial--the Irish box, the south-western approaches, right up the west coast and beyond the north-west of Scotland. Those are vital fishing grounds for our people and our communities. They must be protected.
The stocks there are already under enormous pressure. That is why Spain made the agreement on the Irish box in relation to the treaty of accession, and it is why there are limits on the Spanish vessels allowed to fish from the so-called restricted list in those waters. The Minister of State knows better than I that one has only to examine the
Column 1006quota figures to realise what pressure there is on the stocks. It is vital that nothing should happen next week to do long-term damage to those stocks. Of course, any system that is agreed will not come into operation until 1 January 1996, but once it is agreed it will be in place for a long time.
That is what we have to defend. I think that we agree about the threat. It is not unfair to say that the Spanish vessels operating in our waters have not demonstrated a willingness to comply effectively and rigorously with conservation measures--and that is putting it mildly. We have seen example after example. There is a lot at stake, and there is an entirely legitimate concern that any increase in the number of Spanish vessels operating in our waters would do enormous damage over a period to our stocks, and eventually would severely curtail the fishing opportunities and the economic well- being of some of the communities in the south and south-west of England, in Wales, in Northern Ireland and right up to Scotland.
Sir Teddy Taylor: What can we do about it?
Dr. Strang: That is a good question, and I shall come to the point. Where are we? We already have the treaty of accession. I do not want to get into an argument about the position in the year 2002, but it is certainly not in dispute that the Irish box had to be renegotiated, because the arrangements automatically fell at the end of 1995. What is important now is what happened at the end of last year and in the early months of this year.
As the Minister has said, those discussions were linked to the question of Norwegian entry. None the less, important decisions were taken, as a result of which we now have a timetable that demands an agreement on all the arrangements that will govern the access of Spanish vessels to our waters.
As I said to the media at the weekend, I do not know what happened at Essen. However, I know that the Spanish Prime Minister, with the support of his Parliament, wrote to President Kohl saying that Spain would block the access of the three new member states if it did not secure a satisfactory deal on fishing. I believe that the Minister will confirm that that threat has not been lifted. The nearest that Spain has come to lifting it was when its Foreign Minister said yesterday that he was 99 per cent. certain that his country would get a deal that would make it unnecessary to carry out the threat. But the threat is still on the table.
There is an agreement whereby there has to be a settlement by the end of the year, the Spaniards are threatening to block the access of new member states if they do not get an acceptable deal, and provided that the arrangements made are within the terms of the treaty--no doubt they will be --the decision can be made on a majority vote. Given what the Government agreed in the earlier Councils this year, they seem to have boxed themselves into the necessity to reach a decision next month by majority vote. The only justification for their having done that must be that they can mobilise the support that they need in the Council to secure a satisfactory deal for the British people. It would be utterly unacceptable for the Government to be outvoted in the negotiations. Surely it would be unthinkable if we ended up by accepting a vote against us.
Column 1007I shall now respond in part to the amendment to which the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) has put his name, although I am sure that he did not mean that amendment to carry such an implication, as it mentions voting. It will not be good enough for the Government to come back to the House and simply say, "We voted against the agreement." Given the way in which the Community works, the basis for what the Government have already agreed can be justified only if they are confident that they can muster the support in the Council at least to block a bad deal and, it is to be hoped, to ensure that there is an arrangement that is satisfactory for our country as a whole.
Mr. Jack: When we managed to sideline the wholly unacceptable proposal by the Commission in September, we set about mustering support to ensure that the arguments and arrangements moved closer to a United Kingdom agenda than the original position. The fact that no decision was reached on the matter last November was a sign of the success that we achieved. We shall continue to negotiate and to seek all possible support for the simple, non-bureaucratic,
straightforward, light-touch regime that our industry will understand.
Dr. Strang: I accept that. No one is criticising the hon. Gentleman for his efforts to keep close to the industry. Indeed, recent decisions have been made rejecting the Commission's initial compromise--although of course, that is still on the table--and subsequently the German presidency's "mark 1" compromise. No one is faulting the Minister of State for the way in which he handled himself then. I was referring to decisions taken earlier in the year, associated with Norwegian entry, which have meant that we are almost certainly boxed in and have to settle the matter next week. I shall make my final point now because many hon. Members want to speak in the debate. I believe that the Opposition amendment gets it right. If we accept that our stocks are already under pressure, and that fishing in our waters should not increase, and if we are to protect the interests of our own fishermen, who traditionally fish in those waters, we cannot have an increase in Spanish fishing there. Given the track record of the Spanish on conservation, the only effective way in which to achieve that is to control the number of vessels in those waters tightly. Indeed, logically, to say that there can be no additional fishing is to say that there can be no more Spanish vessels.
Surely the fairest way in which to control the Spanish vessels is to say that those vessels that will continue to be allowed to fish in those waters --obviously, I am not referring to the new arrangements in the Irish box, where we hope that the Minister will negotiate to continue to keep vessels out of that general area--are those that have a historical track record in those waters. That is not incompatible, I would argue, with Spanish integration into the common fisheries policy. Indeed, we have only to look at the latest proposal of a new list of vessels, or the Shetland box, to see that there are plenty of precedents for operating on that basis.
The Labour party has laid down the minimum conditions which have to be met. They have the support of the fishing sector throughout the United Kingdom. There has been much speculation about whether, somehow, the amendment has been drafted to undermine the Government, to embarrass the Government. That is
Column 1008not the issue at all in this debate. The issue is quite clear. It is about protecting a vital national interest. It is about defending our long-term future.
Mrs. Ewing: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the British Labour Members of the European Parliament have had to invoke a conscience clause so that they would not support Spanish accession to the European Parliament?
Dr. Strang: Frankly, to come up with that in the context of this debate is a bit rich. The position, as I understand it, is that the Scottish National party is against the integration of Portugal and Spain into the common fisheries policy. I have just been explaining that we accept the principle of Spain's accession and we believe that our amendment is quite consistent with that. The hon. Lady should not be complaining because British Labour MEPs and one SNP Member of the European Parliament happen to be voting together on the issue. Our amendment lays down the minimum required to defend the long-term interests of our fishing communities and I urge all hon. Members to support it.
Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East): I recognise that at next week's Fisheries Council, the Minister faces a very difficult task. He has not only to reconcile the British sector and regional interests with the requirements of the common fisheries policy, but on that occasion, he has to take into account the added difficulties and complications associated with the accession of Spain and Portugal. I have to admit that as a Member of this House who voted for UK membership of the European Community in 1971 -72 and who still believes that it is in our national interest to be at the centre of the European decision-making process, I would not use the example of the common fisheries policy as one of Europe's success stories. I say that with genuine regret. Indeed, since it was hastily contrived, just prior to our entry, with the proposal for rights of automatic access to the beaches of member states for all fishing fleets, the common fisheries policy has lacked a strategy and a direction. For the past 10 years or so, attempts have been made at reform and the defining of objectives. Those have usually resulted in short-term remedies that have failed to address the underlying problems and weaknesses. That means that today we have a common fisheries policy which, frankly, is a shambles because it lacks cohesion and direction. It is difficult to monitor and virtually impossible to implement and police.
Given that unsatisfactory background, one may have been forgiven for thinking that, with the accession of Spain and Portugal, an opportunity had arisen for a basic review and assessment of the fisheries policy. One has to accept, however, that that will not happen. I must say that I have-- sadly--come to the conclusion that existing and proposed arrangements cannot go on indefinitely. I do not say that lightly to my hon. Friend the Minister. A crunch will come. I do not know now what specific set of circumstances will trigger it off, but the common fisheries policy as we know it today will not survive.
Meanwhile, next Monday, Fisheries Ministers will continue with the present approach of seeking to accommodate new problems and requirements within the context of the present unsatisfactory framework. Obviously, we all look to the Minister to secure and
Column 1009confirm certain objectives for the UK fishing sector. Those include--they have been mentioned this evening--the safeguarding of fishing opportunities for our fishermen and the conservation of fish stocks backed by enforcement. This time, of course, there is the added complication of Spanish accession.
In that context, my hon. Friends the Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) and I have tabled an amendment which, in effect, seeks two bottom-line assurances from our hon. Friend the Minister. We call on the United Kingdom Government to reject any attempt by either the German presidency or the European Commission to impose further bureaucratic controls on United Kingdom fishing vessels. That, of course, is a direct reference to the days-at-sea restrictions, on which I, like many other hon. Members from all parties, wish that Ministers would give a definitive response and say that, as far as UK legislation is concerned, that proposal is dropped once and for all.
Mr. Sebastian Coe (Falmouth and Camborne): My hon. Friend will remember the night when the orders for the conservation measures--days-at- sea and tie-up--were brought before the House. We may not have been in this situation tonight, waiting on a European Court ruling, had Labour and Liberal Democrat Members--
Mr. Austin Mitchell: What about Conservative Members?
Mr. Coe: --bothered to maintain their discipline on a three-line Whip after 10 o'clock to come along and vote against the measures.
Mr. Mitchell: All the sheep are over there.
Mr. Coe: You cannot have it both ways. The majority that night was far smaller than the number of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues who did not stay behind to vote the measures down.
Mr. Mitchell: How did the hon. Gentleman vote?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): If the hon. Gentleman on the back row wishes to catch my eye at a later stage, he had better keep a little quieter now.
Mr. Hicks: I know that on the occasion to which my hon. Friend referred, he, our hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives and myself, who all represent Cornish constituencies, voted against what we thought were ill- conceived Government proposals. Nevertheless, we were certainly heartened by the Prime Minister's statement in the House on Monday when, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, he confirmed that the summit had agreed in its conclusion that a non-bureaucratic solution would have to found to meet the fishing requirements.
The second requirement is that, given the importance of fishing to the regional economy of Devon and Cornwall, the United Kingdom must not lose fishing opportunities to accommodate Spanish vessels, especially in areas of the Irish box which are not traditional fishing grounds for Spanish vessels--indeed, to the best of my knowledge, they have never yet ventured there to fish--but which are the traditional fishing grounds of south-west fishermen.
Column 1010That seems to be a reasonable requirement to ask of my hon. Friend the Minister on behalf of my hon. Friends from Cornwall and myself. We look to the Minister to persuade his Council colleagues of the validity of our arguments, which are shared by a much wider section of the House of Commons. The Council should not ignore regional requirements and the political, economic and social significance of traditional fishing patterns and methods. My hon. Friend the Minister should be very robust in his approach next Monday. If, by chance, his colleagues in the Council of Ministers should not be persuaded by the validity of his arguments, my hon. Friend should stand by not only our fishermen but the regional economies of which fishing is such an important component part.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): It is rather good to see the comparative interest in and high attendance at this debate. It is even better that, at last, we have a three-line Whip for a fishing debate. It is about time we had such a concentration of interest. The debate is taking place at a time when I have never seen the fishing industry in a worse state. Morale has collapsed. The industry feels that the Government have given up on it. Because the Government could not impose their will on the industry and get the days-at-sea limitation that they wanted, they now hope that the fishing industry will die and go away. The Government are using the fishing industry as a trade-off in Europe.
We have no sign of a Government strategy for the support, encouragement, development and improvement of our fishing industry. It desperately needs a testament of Government support and interest. It needs protection from intensifying competition, but it is receiving nothing. There has been no response to the industry's pleas. It is important for the Minister to listen occasionally to the debate. He might notice that we have not even had a proper response to the conservation plans that the industry put to the Government as an alternative to the days-at-sea limitation. There was a meeting four months after the plans were presented, but nothing has happened. The plans have fallen into a pool of silence. All proposals for encouraging fishing seem to fall into such a pool.
I am particularly concerned about the industry in Grimsby. Our fleet is shrinking below the critical mass that is needed to underpin facilities and, in particular, the improvements that are now taking place in landing and market facilities in Grimsby. Millions of pounds are being spent when the fleet is shrinking and is probably getting too small to underpin or support those facilities. The fleet is struggling to continue because catches are down, prices do not provide the necessary income, and there is a threat to the financial stability not only of some vessels but of some firms in Grimsby. That will cause disintegration. A failure in fishing has knock-on effects on suppliers, engineers and the rest of the industry. Everybody in fishing is in debt.
That shrinkage could cause a house-of-cards collapse in fishing. I dread that happening. That is why the Government must make a commitment and provide backing and encouragement for the fishing industry. It is a matter not just of negotiating in Europe, but of keeping a vital, active fishing industry going, and the Government
Column 1011do not seem to be interested. Every other European Government are doing more to support, encourage and back their fishing industries. Grimsby will be particularly badly hit next year by the reduction in the plaice quota and the 47 per cent. reduction in catches. The scientists got it all wrong. They estimated an increase a couple of years back, but suddenly drastically cut it, taking out the consequences of their own mistake on the fishing industry. The result is that the Grimsby fishing industry, for which plaice is our second catch and which was accustomed to catching between 5,000 and 10,000 tonnes a year, will suddenly be reduced to catches of 2,000 tonnes of plaice a year. That will be the quota.
At the same time, non-sector vessels, the big-beam trawlers--they are big boats--will be upping their record, catching more plaice, and getting a better record in plaice at the expense of traditional fishing boats from Grimsby. That is an unreasonable balance between the two sectors of the industry. Grimsby is suffering because of the reduction in the plaice quota. There is a need to encourage and build not only the Grimsby industry but the national industry. We need a national plan for fishing. We need incentive, vision, encouragement and stimulus to invest in the industry.
I now refer to the wider issue of Spanish accession, about which the Minister talked at length. I must say a word of congratulation and encouragement to him--I mean it sincerely--because he is learning fast and coming out very strongly in defence of the industry. I say that because there was a bad start, which was the days-at-sea limitation, which alienated the British industry, and then the agreement in principle to allow the Spanish full access to the CFP. With such a bad start, it is difficult to recoup lost ground. In all sincerity, I must say that the Minister is working hard at recouping that ground. He started from a difficult position, but he is strenuously defending the claims and the position of the British industry in the Spanish negotiations.
Yet we are in an impossible negotiating position when it comes to Spain, because the terms of Spanish accession in 1986 were that Spain brought no great additional stocks or waters to the Common Market pool, of which we provide the great bulk. Eighty per cent. of stocks in the more valuable species are provided by Britain. Spain brought a huge fishing fleet, which doubled the fishing fleet and pressed on a pool to which it made no great contribution in terms of fish. In other words, if British and other European fishing industries have to be cut, and if our effort and the number of vessels are to be reduced, that is to make way for a Spanish fleet that is far too big. The importance of the agreement was that there was a 16-year period of adjustment, during which it was clear that the Spanish fleet had to be massively cut. That period has effectively been shortened, as has been pointed out. That is the reason why our fleet is being cut. The overcapacity is not ours--it is theirs, yet the consequences of that overcapacity fall on us. The consequence of that overcapacity carrying on fishing is a threat to our stocks--British stocks--which we contribute to the Common Market pool.
In that situation, it is daft to agree in principle to accelerate the full accession of Spain to the CFP. Perhaps the Minister was not his own master in the negotiations. I accept that he is subject to the decisions of Cabinet and other matters and that the British Government are always
Column 1012interested in gains on other fronts. Fishing is small beer for the British Government; they are not particularly interested in fishing. That has been our tragedy all along. The British Government are never sufficiently interested in fishing to fight on the issue. There is always something more important. In this case, it was more important to bring the three Nordic states and Austria into the Community. To achieve that aim, the Government were prepared to make concessions to Spain. But that has now been totally vitiated. It was also hoped that Spain would receive concessions in Norwegian waters when Norway became a member of the European Union. The basis of our concession has now collapsed because Norway has decided not to join. The Norwegians were right in voting not to join the European Union. I visited Norway to tell them not to join; it was very sensible advice. I do not claim that Norway decided against joining as a result of my persuasiveness--not entirely because of it--but the Norwegians were worried that what had happened to our fishing industry would happen to theirs if they joined the Union. That was a major argument in Norway when membership of the Union was considered.
Norway is not joining the Union, but Spain still wants its pound of flesh. It has been given, in principle, full access from 1996. I accept that the Minister is making a brave stand, but he will not get anywhere because the principle has been conceded without regard to safeguards and how it would be implemented. That is a bad negotiating position from which to start.
We have 35 documents to refer to in the debate, but they contain nothing about next week's proposal. We have not been told what will be discussed. According to the Library brief, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a restricted document entitled "First Thoughts Towards Proposals", which we are not allowed to see. The Minister has not even told us about it. There have been three presidency compromises that we have not seen and know nothing about. How can we discuss next week's proposal sensibly if we are not allowed to see all the documents?
We know that the Spanish Prime Minister has said that he has an agreement. I have no knowledge of the Spanish, but the Spanish Prime Minister would be daft to tell his people that he had an agreement if he did not have one. It makes me wonder who is telling the truth. I fear that we shall see a Government climbdown next week. There will be some agreement that will allow the Spanish fleet to fish for stocks with no total allowable catches and for non-pressure stocks in the North sea.
If a gradual build-up of the Spanish fleet is allowed, which will be policed by the relevant coastal state, it will impose a considerable burden upon our industry. The document talks about "non-bureaucratic administration". If that means that our vessels will not be burdened with a reporting system, I welcome it. But I fear that if Spanish vessels are allowed to fish in our area, we shall see a universal reporting system for everyone.
I fear that the limit of 150 vessels will be raised. It may be a gradual increase, but it will soon reach the eligible number of 220 vessels. There will be a gradual build-up in the number in the Irish box. Everyone is being threatened with a days-at-sea limitation. The point is that the Spanish fleet will be allowed full access to our waters under the common fisheries policy.
Column 1013Spain has a massive fishing fleet. It has a £80 million programme, probably spanning five years, to rebuild its fleet when it should be shrinking. It will mean that the Spanish will dominate the seas and decimate fishing stocks. Once they are allowed access to our waters, there is no effective way of controlling the over-large fishing fleet of a nation which we know cheats. We know that Spanish vessels have false fish holds. We know that the fleet does not observe the quotas-- it catches too much and hopes to get away with it-- and that it fishes when it is not entitled to do so. Once the fleet is allowed to fish in the North sea for non-pressure stocks--turbot, dogs, monks and so on-- our stock will disappear.
In a sense, the Spanish are the Commission's blue-eyed boys because they have fulfilled their multi-annual guidance programme. It has come down to that: we are well behind and we have not fulfilled our programme. The Spanish have counted all their fleet as gill-netters, for which they do not have to make any reduction-- there is a 20 per cent. reduction for trawlers -- and have therefore fulfilled their multi-annual guidance programme. The Spanish practices that were common in Fleet street are common in the Spanish fishing fleet. The number of Spanish boats with access to our waters cannot be policed effectively. If they are not allowed access to the North sea, they will do what so many others are doing and set themselves up as British vessels and catch our fish that way. The Government will accommodate them by removing the Aliens Act amendment of 1919. That is a limitation which requires a vessel's crew to comprise at least some British officers. Spanish boats with entirely Spanish crews will be based in Britain and they will catch British fish.
Drake repelled the Spanish armada, but now a second armada is being allowed to play ducks and drakes with our policing system. I must warn the Minister of the consequences of allowing Spanish vessels to fish in our waters. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and Grimsby fishermen have told me and headlines in Fishing News warn that there will be anarchy.
If British fishermen see Spanish vessels taking catches in our waters effectively unpoliced--because they cannot be policed--our fishermen will not want to obey the rules either. They will not recognise the restrictions, they will not be kept in dock and they will not co-operate with the Government. The Government will be unable to police our vessels, so great will be the anger of British fishermen about the way in which they have been treated. British fishermen will be forced to cheat to survive or go bankrupt. They will be driven to it by Government policy.
That brings me to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), with which I agree, about the common fisheries policy. It is a farce for hon. Members to pretend that the common fisheries policy is effective. It has failed and it cannot be made to work
Column 1014effectively. There was enthusiastic argument in favour of it on the basis that fish do not carry national flags -- [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. This is not the first time that I have had to tell the House that I deplore what appear to be conversations across the Chamber while formal debate is taking place.
Mr. Mitchell: The policy is unworkable for several reasons. It emerged from a political decision-making process, and there are certain things that one cannot do in such a process. We need to get rid of industrial fishing. It is decimating the fishing stock and the natural feeding cycle of fish. It is producing by-catches on an unknown scale.
However, we cannot get rid of industrial fishing because the Danes will not let us. As long as their resistance continues, there is no possibility of taking steps that are in everyone's best interests--they are certainly in the best interests of our fishing stock.
The British Government never get their way in negotiations. They never really try, because they always have another objective. The Minister responsible for fisheries is always told, "Keep quiet on this one, lad, and we'll get our way on something else." The Foreign Secretary will come along in his reasonable and avuncular fashion, and the Minister will have to climb down on an issue that is basic to fishing but not basic to the Foreign Office or to the Government, who want to give way.
Fishing is always sacrificed on the altar of Europe, and it has been consistently since we joined the Community, particularly since the derogation ended in 1982. The majority of countries in Europe are against us. It is easy for Spain to satisfy its ambitions, its fleet and its fishermen at our expense because the stocks are ours. We contribute the overwhelming majority--I calculate 80 per cent.--of the most valuable species in this so-called Common Market pool. How easy it is for everybody else to gang up on us. They say that they are sympathetic to poor old Britain, but that their fishermen must be kept fishing. When they are kept fishing, the policy fails again because there is no adequate way of policing catches. It is not in the interests of the other nations to control the landings of fish that have been caught in our waters, or to have an effective and proper reporting system.
For all the other countries care, their fishermen can exhaust and decimate our stocks, and that is what is happening. The fish are not properly controlled or policed at the port of landing, and as long as nation states do not enforce the rules, that will go on. We enforce them properly, and we conserve stocks. They do not, and that will go on. Shall we overrule them? We effectively have no veto. The Minister has said that he will fight next week, but, in the end, he will be overruled because it is in the interests of everyone else to overrule him. The member states will solve their difficulties--a present difficulty is that of the Spanish accession--at our expense. They catch British stocks, and it does not matter to them.
The only thing central to the common fisheries policy is common access; everything else is derogation and temporary regulation. The basic principle is clear--the others get their nets into our stocks. Any restrictions are temporary, and can be swept aside. They may well be
Column 1015swept aside in 2002, because what will the basic principle be then? All the derogations will be up for grabs, and they will continue only if they are kept by all member states.
The principle of common access, it has been argued, should apply in full. Austria and Luxembourg--even if they do not have fishing fleets--can set up fishing companies in this country, take over British fishing vessels and catch our stocks for us. That is the trap we are in. It is a Sisyphean job to roll the stone back to where it was before it was betrayed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who sold the pass to British fishing in our entry negotiations.
The CFP for us will always be a no-win game. Whoever wins, we lose. That is the principle by which the CFP works. It seems to me that the Minister has two choices. He is either intransigent on the CFP and rolls the stone back uphill--I think that that is impossible, but keeping Spain out entirely is a central part of the problem for the industry--or he gives the industry massive support, financial backing, incentives and encouragement, and develops a new plan for fishing and gives it a place in the sun. The Minister cannot abdicate his responsibility to fishing on both those fronts as that would be a double-track, no-win situation for fishing. He must do one or the other. It seems to be difficult, because the trend has always been to abdicate on both fronts.
I warn the Minister that overwhelming support is building up in the fishing industry for the Save Britain's Fish campaign. More and more fishermen are coming round to back that campaign, which wants us out of the CFP. They see the damage that the CFP has done, and they say that we should act for ourselves. The more the Minister betrays the industry, the more he gives way next week and the more he refuses to help the fishing industry, the more support he will build up and generate for that campaign and for the basic argument that I am making. We have been in the CFP too long for any good that it is doing us. It is time to go.