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Dr. Strang: I want a broad expression of view from Conservative Members. As the hon. Lady knows, we cannot accept her position on the European Union or the common fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy is flawed and it is time to address that problem.
It is a bad deal. The Government's first defence is the pretence that it is a good deal. The Government's second defence is that it was inevitable and there was no alternative but to negotiate an agreement along those lines. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that it was our opening position. In October 1993 the Minister of State explicitly said that the Council of Fisheries Ministers needed to agree to continue the current restrictions on access to the Irish box and the North sea. He said that the United Kingdom Government's concern was that the new arrangements should, in practice, confine Spanish and Portuguese fishing activities as closely as possible to the current pattern, but that was not accepted. Far from saying that increased access was inevitable, the Minister of State wanted the fishing activities to be confined to the historical pattern.
The deal is a reflection of the Government's failure to represent the United Kingdom's national interest in Europe. Since 1985 the Government have had a chance to win support for a fair deal for our fishermen. All the Government needed to secure was the support of two other member states, one of which had to be a major state such as Italy or Germany. [Hon. Members:-- "Who?"] Conservative Members ask, "Who?" How was it that the Government could not obtain the support of even Germany or Italy? It is disturbing to realise that we have come to the stage when, if an Opposition spokesperson asks the Government why they could not obtain the support of one large member state and one small member state in the European Union, Conservative Members laugh. That is a measure of how far we have sunk and how hopeless our position is in Europe. The Government are totally unfit to represent the British national interest.
The Government's policy on Europe does not reflect what needs to be done. It does not reflect the interests of our fishermen, but the Government's need to go with the shifting pattern of opinion and divisions on Europe within the Conservative party. It is a clear example of
Column 774the Government's failure, not just on this subject, but on others, adequately to argue the case and win the argument for Britain in the European Union.
Dr. Strang: I am grateful for that intervention from a sedentary position and I shall answer the question of how we move forward from here-- [Interruption.] Hon. Members might not think that the debate is important, but many people outside the Chamber are interested in it. There are many people in the fishing communities and the wider British community who are interested in our debate and hon. Members should have the courtesy to allow the mover of the motion to be heard.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to a lack of interest in the debate among Conservative Members when our Benches are packed and the Opposition Benches are sparsely occupied?
There is a strong rumour that the Government will this evening announce that they are to provide additional cash aid for the industry. Hon. Members who take a close interest in fisheries matters will be aware of the state of play between the industry and the Government. But some hon. Members participating in the debate may not be fully apprised of the situation. They may not recognise that we are soon to see the spectacle of the United Kingdom Government fighting the United Kingdom fishing industry in the European courts. The Government's compulsory tariff scheme has been referred by the High Court to the European Court of Justice.
Hon. Members may not be aware that in July 1993 the Government invited fisheries organisations to submit proposals for the way forward on conservation. Those organisations--including the Scottish Fisherman's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations-- submitted excellent proposals, which they went to great lengths to achieve and which often caused controversy in their ranks. What has the Government's reaction to the proposals been so far? Nothing.
Hon. Members may not be aware that, after years of refusal, in 1992 the Government finally conceded that a decommissioning scheme should be introduced. A small scheme has been launched. The Select Committee on Agriculture concluded that it was so small that the cuts achieved would be more than offset by efficiency gains in the remainder of the fleet.
Column 775Extra money is needed for the modernisation and improvement of our port facilities. If the Government announce extra money tonight for decommissioning, modernisation and our port facilities-- additional aid from our Government for the fishing industry--that will be welcomed. But there is a problem. If extra money is to be made available for a decommissioning scheme it must be remembered that the point of decommissioning was to bring our fishing effort and capacity into line with the stocks. It is unacceptable that money should be announced for decommissioning that is intended to facilitate Spanish access in our waters. It is unacceptable that our fishermen should be asked to take up a decommissioning scheme which proposes to scrap their vessels not in order to bring the fishing fleet in line with fishing stocks, but to enable Spanish vessels to catch our fish. Of course, Government assistance is welcome; but it is not sufficient. We have to address the issue at the European level.
Much of the package is yet to be agreed. For example, we do not know how many additional Spanish vessels will have access to the waters north of the Irish box. We know that vessels must be listed on a register and that each Government will put forward their proposals for controlling the fishing effort of each member state. Therefore, it seems that not only will Governments put forward vessels to go on the register but each Government will propose a system for controlling the fishing effort. Presumably, that means that different countries will have different arrangements for controlling the fishing effort. Perhaps the Minister will explain that.
Important parts of the deal are yet to be settled. The House of Commons must make it clear that we want a better arrangement and a more satisfactory outcome than the one that was agreed before Christmas.
Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has said that he does not favour abandoning the common fisheries policy, although that is what the fishermen now want. He said that he is in favour of improving the common fisheries policy. Can he list the improvements that he made to that policy during the Labour Government of 1975 to 1979?
Dr. Strang: The common fisheries policy as it currently exists came into operation in the early 1980s and it was reviewed in the early 1990s. Of course, there were arrangements prior to that. The Minister should tell the Commission that, as a result of the latest agreement, our fishermen have lost any faith that they had in the common fisheries policy.
Effective conservation is possible only with the co-operation and support of the fishermen. Our motion calls on the Minister to raise with the Commission the question of access by non-British vessels to our waters.
I believe that the common fisheries policy is fundamentally flawed. The overriding objective of any fisheries policy--whether it is a British fisheries policy, a common fisheries policy for the European Union, or
Column 776a Canadian fisheries policy--should be to conserve fishing stocks for future generations of fishermen. In my opinion, the common fisheries policy is not designed to achieve that aim. The Government have an obsession with avoiding national discrimination and they have reached the point of allowing foreign vessels with no historical pattern of fishing in the area to enter our waters. We have to meet that issue head on.
The problem will not be solved overnight. The Government should not pretend that it is a good deal; it is not. It is no use their pretending that it was the best that could be achieved in the circumstances. I am not talking about what happened at the December Council; the situation has built up over two or three years. We are now in a position whereby we cannot muster the support needed to block the deal on the basis of qualified majority voting. It will not be enough for hon. Members to abstain from voting on the motion this evening. The fishing communities and the British people as a whole want the motion to be carried. Britain has a proud maritime history. Our fishing communities are part of the economic and social fabric of this country.
Dr. Strang: If the hon. Gentleman does not understand the way that the British people feel about our fishing communities he does not understand what the debate is about. The British people want the motion to be passed because they want to see arrangements which will enable our fishing communities to have the opportunity--I put it in no stronger terms than that--
Dr. Strang: No, I will not give way. Madam Deputy Speaker has asked us to make our speeches brief. The new arrangements recommended by the Jopling report also ask Front Bench speakers to be brief. I have already given way on numerous occasions.
Our motion is in the best interests of the fishing communities. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks). Their amendment accepts the Opposition motion in its entirety and simply adds a few sentences with which I do not disagree.
The Opposition motion, which has been accepted by those Conservative Members who represent fishing communities, aims to defend the long-term future of our fishing industry. It has the support of the British people and I urge the House to vote for it.
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"congratulates the Government on securing the exclusion of Spanish fishing vessels from the Irish Sea and the Bristol Channel, the limiting of Spanish fishing within the rest of the Irish Box to 40 vessels simultaneously and the inclusion of special restrictions on Spanish vessels within the Box West of Scotland; notes that the agreement does not call into question the continued exclusion of Spanish vessels from the North Sea and the principle of relative stability; recognises this outcome represents a major improvement for United Kingdom fishermen compared to the original Commission proposals, the negotiation of which was made more difficult by the failure to win Hague Preferences for South West English fishing communities in 1976; welcomes the undertaking the Government secured from the Commission to provide annual reports on the findings of Commission Fisheries Inspectors; notes the Government's current annual expenditure of some £25 million on fisheries enforcement and welcomes the Government's commitment to ensure effective policing of the agreement; welcomes the Government's success in extending the benefits of the EC's structural programmes to areas of the United Kingdom dependent on fishing; notes that the Government are also spending some £17 million per annum on fisheries research and monitoring and some £5 million per annum on other forms of assistance to the fisheries sector; notes the Government's current substantial programme of decommissioning expenditure; and welcomes its commitment to provide further programmes in 1996-97 and 1997-98.".
Madam Deputy Speaker, you requested Front Bench speakers to be brief in their remarks during the debate, but I do not think that you precluded hon. Members from making speeches. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) failed to make a speech; it slipped his mind.
Indeed, the issue has slipped the Labour mind on a number of occasions. A good way of gauging the importance that a party attaches to an issue is to look at what it says about it in its election manifesto. The hon. Gentleman does not want to be reminded that the Labour party said nothing about fishing in its election manifesto of 1992. It is even more extraordinary-- in view of the common fisheries policy and other crucial European issues-- that there was nothing about it in the Labour party's Euromanifesto either. That is a better test of the Opposition's sincerity than the hon. Gentleman's rather thin speech.
All hon. Members know that the Labour party does not care two hoots about fishing; with one or two honourable exceptions, it knows nothing about the subject. The hon. Gentleman moved the motion in an attempt to score some political points and to make a few headlines tomorrow by persuading one or two of my hon. Friends to support him. That is what the Opposition's motion is about; it is not about United Kingdom fishing communities at all.
Mr. Sykes: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for at last allowing me to say something in the debate. If he goes back even further he will find that the Labour party's 1987 election manifesto also did not say a word about fishing. One needs a magnifying glass to find what the Labour party has said about fishing. If the Opposition are so concerned about the issue, why have they tacked on a
Column 778measly three-hour debate at the end of an Opposition day debate? If they really cared about fishing, they would have allowed a full day for debate and not a measly three hours.
Mr. Waldegrave: It is clear that the Opposition consider the matter far less important than through ticketing on the railways. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East made some straightforward mistakes. He said:
"I mean, for a start, originally these changes were not going to come into operation till year 2002."
In fact, the Spanish act of accession provided for the Irish box arrangements to end after 1995. It also provided for the other restrictions to be reviewed in 1993. The hon. Gentleman ought to correct that misstatement. The radio interviewer was not fully briefed on the subject and did not realise that the hon. Gentleman had not got it right.
Dr. Strang: If the right hon. Gentleman reads the transcript of the debate that we had before Christmas, he will see that we reached agreement on the position. The Irish box arrangements ended automatically, but a whole lot of other arrangements outwith the Irish box could have continued until 2002.
On the "Today" programme today, when the question at issue was the Irish box, the hon. Gentleman said:
"I mean, for a start, originally these changes were not going to come into operation until the year 2002".
He should have made it clear to the interviewer that the Irish box failed, as it would have done in 1996.
The Opposition's own policy, which I shall mention as the hon. Gentleman has not done so, is called regionalisation. The hon. Gentleman made it up in one or two radio studios around the country. As I understand it, the basis of it is that we should have controls to limit the access of fishermen from one region of the United Kingdom to other regions of the United Kingdom and other parts of the Community. That would be wonderful for the fishermen at Brixham, who spend a great deal of time in the North sea, and for the tuna, mackerel and herring fishermen who have to follow stocks which migrate. Sailors from Lowestoft, and the Grimsby sailors who are well known to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), go to Norwegian, Dutch and Danish waters. The hon. Gentleman's policy would restrict them--or, in his words, regionalise them-- around the coasts of the United Kingdom. It is a typical half-baked, meaningless Labour policy made up on the run in an interview studio and probably already abandoned.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I understand that the Minister's own track record is that he attended one Fisheries Council and abstained at one. Does he feel sufficiently in command of his subject to lecture anyone else about their knowledge or lack of it in respect of the fishing industry?
Mr. Waldegrave: I feel every confidence in lecturing the Labour Front Bench spokesman. If the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) wishes to defend the Labour party on this, that is an internal problem for him which I shall not seek to enter into at present.
Column 779The fact that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East is confused is confirmed by the fact that he said something completely different before Christmas, when he stated:
"The problem is in the short run and right up to the year 2002 we have to operate within the framework of the current CFP". That is the end of the regionalisation policy, so the pirouettes have already taken place, as they do elsewhere in his party.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who I am sure has a great deal of good will and sympathy from everyone on this side of the House. Among the farrago of nonsense from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman was the question of how one explains to the fishing community why we are paying to take our boats out of the water so that the fish that they would otherwise have caught will now be caught by the Spanish and Portuguese. Would it be right to suggest that the answer is that under qualified majority voting the Luxemburgers have 20 times as much influence per capita over what happens to British fish, so there is very little that the Government can do about it until we come out of the Common fisheries policy?
Mr. Waldegrave: I shall come to decommissioning at the proper place in my speech. I remind my hon. Friend that there is nothing in the deal or in the accession deal which gives any more fish to Spain under the quota system. We have about 43 per cent. of the quotas in the relevant western waters. Spain has about 2 per cent. of the quotas in those relevant western waters. That has not changed, and nor has the balance between them.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the agreement that he reached, which was better than was predicted, raised our quotas by £14 million above the level originally suggested by the Commission?
Mr. Waldegrave: That is indeed so. We negotiated a number of the swaps that are usually undertaken. For instance, we got a large extra tonnage of cod and whiting for the northern Irish fishermen, which is extremely useful to them.
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): One understands about the quota, but Spanish fishermen will also be allowed to fish without limit non-quota stock in the Irish sea, which will affect the fishermen of Brixham considerably.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East made great play of how I should have done this or that. For five years, between 1974 and 1979, his party negotiated with various specific objectives and had the benefit of the veto as it
Column 780was before qualified majority voting. Its performance was lamentable. Mr. David Owen, who was then part of the Labour party and may be again for all I know--
Mr. Waldegrave: The hon. Gentleman says, "No chance". Lord Owen gave away the vital issue of Hague preferences for the south-west. Had he not made a complete mess of that negotiation in 1976, much of the pressure on south-western fishermen that we are debating today would have been relieved as they would have had the same privileges as Irish and Scottish fishermen. That was a poor piece of negotiation and he had the veto to deploy.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford): My right hon. Friend knows the ins and outs of the matter, but can he explain why we did not properly renegotiate the common fisheries policy in the run-up to the Maastricht negotiations?
Mr. Waldegrave: It was not on the agenda at that time. I shall come to the future in due course, but I hope that my hon. Friend will hear something that he likes about how the British Government will approach the measures.
The truth of the negotiation before December was set out with typical lucidity and clarity by my right hon. and noble friend Lord Tebbit talking on the radio just before Christmas. He was kind enough to agree with the interviewer, who put the proposition to him that I got the best possible deal for Britain. My right hon. and noble Friend went on to say:
"It does go back to the accession agreement and it was thought at that time to be in British national interests that the Spaniards should be brought in, and I guess in the longer term it probably is."
At the time, the House supported that position. My noble friend Lady Thatcher said:
"The terms are very satisfactory for the United Kingdom." The then Leader of the Opposition, now the European Commissioner for Transport, said:
"I welcome the enlargement of the European Economic community membership with the accession of the newest democracies of Spain and Portugal".--[ Official Report , 2 April 1985; Vol. 76, c. 1061-62.] The Labour spokesman, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), said:
"We welcome the accession of Spain and Portugal. The Opposition do not welcome accession blindly or ignorantly or oblivious of the difficulties and anxieties".--[ Official Report , 10 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 883.]
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), speaking for the Liberal Democrats, went a great deal further, saying:
"By bringing Spain into the fisheries regime and now applying to Spain the regulations on, for example, mesh sizes, we are exerting a control which would not have been possible if Spain had remained outside the Community. It was very difficult to get and I congratulate the Government on it."-- [ Official Report , 4 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 335.]
Column 781I hope that the Liberal Democrats will be honest enough to stand by what their spokesman said then and vote down the motion today because they know perfectly well that the negotiation-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): Will my right hon. Friend reflect for a moment on his remark that the Labour Government were negotiating with the advantages of the veto? After his experience, where many of us would concede that he made a good job of a difficult position, is it now the Government's considered view that negotiations about our territorial waters ought not to be subject to qualified majority voting?
Mr. Waldegrave: If things had fallen out differently and we had had no qualified majority voting on the matter, I would have found negotiating easier and I would have done a great deal better than John Silkin, who gained nothing even though he had the veto to deploy.
The position now, as my hon. Friend knows, is that as part of the Single European Act, out of which great benefits came in the establishment of the single market, qualified majority voting covers those issues which affect the single market. It is a good moment to make the point that our fishermen benefit greatly from the single market. We export about £450 million worth of fish and fish products to the single market and to the European market. Fishermen from our ports catch species which do not have a real market in the United Kingdom for historical reasons. Those fish are sold at much higher prices in Europe than if the single market did not exist. If our fishermen had to export against tariff barriers, they would not enjoy that income. By a tradition going back hundreds of years, people in this country eat much less fish than the French or Spanish. The Spanish eat 70 lb of fish per head each year while the figure for the UK is 14 lb. We must maintain access to that market for the sake of our fishermen.
Until an hour or two before the December negotiations ended, we were steadily winning back ground and secured extra
gains--particularly in relation to Scotland, which is why I abstained rather than voted against. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East rightly said, the negotiations are continuing because there are other matters to negotiate. If people are giving things, it is bad negotiating policy not to respond. The hon. Gentleman has experience of that. He was good at negotiating with his colleagues
Column 782between 1974 and 1979 and obtaining nothing. After five years of steady negotiation to extend fishery limits from 12 miles to 50 miles, the limits remained at 12 miles.
Mr. Waldegrave: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I did not claim then and do not claim now that we returned triumphant, having won everything, but we achieved two thirds of our objectives. If the strict legislative and legal basis had been followed, we could have returned with nothing. People know that it was not a bad deal. The Spanish know that, too. Just before Christmas, the Spanish newspaper El Pais commented:
"Inevitably, the Spanish fishery associations will see no cause for celebration."
Correct. El Mundo quoted Jaime Tejedor, chairman of the Basque country fishermen's association, describing as "terrorism by the state" the agreement allowing Spain limited access to European Union fisheries in 1996. He said:
"If they were going to give up like this, there was no need to go to Brussels to negotiate. I thought they were going to be firm this time, that they were going to defend our fishing industry to the hilt, as the President of the Government, Felipe Gonzalez, promised, even to the extent of vetoing the enlargement of the EU, but that isn't what happened."
That is quite right--it is not what happened. The report continued:
"The Galician fishermen spoke in similar terms, and consider `unacceptable' the discrimination against the Spanish fleet regarding its exclusion from the Irish Box. They believe the agreement will bring little benefit to Spain from 1996, since it establishes further limitations on the fleet's access to resources and maintains the unequal treatment to which Spain has been subjected since the treaty of accession was signed."
Another El Mundo report stated:
"Spain will join the Common Fisheries Policy on 1 January 1996 . . . The compromise agreed yesterday is a long way from the full participation in the CFP sought by the Spanish Government." Those are true and sober assessments from the Spanish end--how it looks from Spain. We returned with a continuation of the Irish box, with only 40 ships in it, whereas halfway through the negotiations the Spanish still wanted 70, and there might have been no Irish box protection. We kept them out of the Irish sea and the Bristol channel, and we maintained their exclusion from the North sea, which is crucial to British fishermen.
When there are further big negotiations on the common fisheries policy in 2002, or perhaps earlier, we shall have established Spain's exclusion from large areas as part of a non-discriminatory and balanced policy. That will give far better hopes of keeping control in the long-term future. We have added two extra zones to the North sea under that principle.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East correctly quoted a headline from Fishing News , but for some reason he did not quote its comment on 6 January:
"The Ministers did fight hard in Brussels and got more than many feared."
That, too, is correct. People who really understand the issue know that it was not a bad deal in a weak situation.