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The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack): This has been a debate of powerfully expressed views, of strong emotions and--from many Conservative Members--of sound common sense. I pay tribute first to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe), who made a thoughtful and considered speech. I defend him against the cheap jibe from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who accused my hon. Friend of allowing his opinions to be bought by the Government. My hon. Friend has served with distinction for the past six months as a parliamentary private secretary and he has shown more concern for his constituents in the fishing industry than have many Opposition Members for theirs.
My hon. Friend's excellent and realistic speech brought a note of realism to our consideration of these matters. His was an honest statement; he spoke of the difficulties experienced by many in the south-west, and I listened carefully to what he had to say.
Column 809Whatever the final arrangements for Spain and Portugal may be, playing by the rules will clearly be central to them. We take that very seriously. Once the final details are settled, I assure the House that my right hon. Friend and I will examine all the implications for enforcement. If the common fisheries policy is to have real credibility and be seen to work, enforcement must be effective. There will be no no-go areas in the Community in respect of the inspection of Spanish vessels, to ensure that they play by the rules.
I have already sent an invitation to the new fishing Commissioner, asking her to the United Kingdom for talks. I hope to persuade her to come and meet some real fishermen from the south-west of England. When she comes, I shall put enforcement at the top of my agenda, because it is central to confidence in these policies.
By contrast with my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne, who dealt with real issues in the real world, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) asked us yet another list of questions. Besides the importance of enforcement, the other obvious factor in this debate has been the total lack of any clearly stated policy on fishing from the Opposition parties.
Mr. Salmond rose --
Mr. Jack: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that I have been generous in the past, but this time I have a great deal of information with which to educate him on the subject of fisheries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) made a gritty speech. He was right-- [Interruption.] It was certainly a deal stronger in its content and better thought out than some of the pap that we heard from Opposition Members. My hon. Friend was right in emphasising what I can describe only as one of the most shambolic performances that I have ever heard from an Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang). I shall return to the hon. Gentleman for special treatment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr was right to emphasise the importance to all our fishermen--especially those in the west country--of the market in Spain, France and wider Europe. If we are to have the benefits of a common market and a common fisheries policy, there must be a two-way process. We have the gains that come from that market and that policy. Those who advocate that we should leave the CFP set out a false agenda and put at risk the very market that gives a livelihood to our fishermen throughout the land.
My hon. Friend mentioned enforcement. I hope that he takes assurance from what I have said about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) made a thoughtful and moving speech. I take the opportunity of thanking him for his personal kindness and courtesy, which he has demonstrated throughout in dealing with me over these issues. It is-- [Interruption.] The ribald laughter of Opposition Members does a great disservice to my hon. Friend, who has laboured long with the difficulties of his constituents and the issues now before us. I have put to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives on many occasions the arguments that my right hon. Friend the Minister and I have deployed--I think with
Column 810skill--in negotiations in Europe. My hon. Friend knows only too well the difficulties that we face. He set us a challenge, and I responded to it. He asked us whether we could keep the Spanish out of the North sea, the Bristol channel and the Celtic sea. My right hon. Friend, after tremendously complex negotiations, achieved two of the three targets.
My hon. Friend asked us whether we could restrict the activities of Spain in the remainder of the Irish box. We did. We restricted it to 40 vessels. It is relevant to refer to the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture on fishing, which was published in August 1993. In its report, the Committee drew the attention of the House to the fact that before Spain joined the Common Market it fished in the western waters from which it has since been barred with a fleet of 460 vessels. When Spain joined the Community, it was constrained to not 460 vessels but a basic list of about 300. Of that list, only 150 could fish at any one time.
The negotiations that my right hon. Friend and I conducted have restricted Spain to 40 vessels in the same area. To answer the question, "What happens in the other area?", though the Spanish fishing effort that can be deployed will have to be in ratio to the catch quotas that are available in the areas, the idea that there will be a limitless Spanish free-for-all is not possible as a result of the negotiations. That is what I say to those who denigrate the CFP.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives has stood on the quayside at Newlyn, no doubt, and agonised with the fishermen about the problems that we have been discussing. I hope that even in these last minutes of the debate my hon. Friend will understand that we negotiated with the needs of the fishermen in his constituency and of all the fishermen of the United Kingdom in mind in our deliberations at Brussels. We fought extremely hard to the end. There is still work to do. Whatever my hon. Friend decides to do at the end of the day, I can assure him that we shall continue to be dedicated to the interests of west country fishermen and of others in our proceedings.
My hon. Friends the Members for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) have associated themselves with emotional speeches over whether they thought the CFP had served the country well and whether we have had protection from it. I hope that in my remarks, with particular reference to the number of Spanish vessels, my hon. Friends will see quite clearly that the common fisheries policy has provided a defence for the interests of our fishermen.
Let us examine for a moment the situation if we did not have that policy-- the dream world of a return to the 200-mile limit, of little no entry signs at the front of the English channel or half way out in the Irish sea. That would not stop anybody. There would also have to be negotiations with others who have traditional rights to fish in those waters. What power would we have to stop them? None. It is an illusion, a false promise. For the hon. Member for Great Grimsby to associate himself with such an argument does his interest in the fishing industry a grave disservice.
Column 811My hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the west country know, as do other Conservative Members, that we have responded to the needs of the fishing industry. Many hon. Members have talked about the fishermen's livelihood. My right hon. Friend, in winning the additional resources for decommissioning, has made it possible to bring into better balance the catching capacity of our fleets with the possibilities presented to them, so that those with old vessels and those who wish to retire from the industry can take their capacity out with money in their pockets and leave for the rest of the fishermen a livelihood to enjoy for the future. That is true investment in the future of the fishing industry and shows which party in the House has the interests of the industry at heart. I am also aware that my hon. Friends the Members for Torbay and for Ludlow are concerned about rule breaking. I give them the assurance that I and my right hon. Friend will make it one of our principal priorities to ensure that the common fisheries policy is properly and fully enforced. I share their concerns. I cannot argue to the House that it is a policy with credibility unless it can be enforced with rigour, transparency and openness. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay that, if he had had a chance to examine the achievement of the negotiation, he would know that we secured from the Commission the promise of a report for the first time to shine a light of transparency into the activity of Community inspectors. We will know where they go and, more importantly, where they do not go, and challenge it.
Dr. Michael Clark: My hon. Friend is talking about Spain obeying rules. Does he recall that, in the previous debate, I reminded him that Spain had tried to link the extension of the European Community to access to the Irish box? I suggested to him that we should link access to the Irish box to Spain behaving properly with regard to the Gibraltar border. Did he take that up with the Foreign Secretary? Was it discussed with Spain? Will Spain obey the rules here, too?
Mr. Jack: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is aware of my hon. Friend's point. I have already rechecked the situation in case my hon. Friend, having studied the debate last time, raised it again. He will understand that it is not directly a debate about foreign affairs, but I understand the point that he makes about linkage. Indeed, the Government are maintaining pressure on the Spanish to reduce the inconvenience caused on the border by the overzealous border controls to which my hon. Friend refers. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised that issue with his counterpart on 19 December and those secondary restrictions have now been lifted. I shall emphasise that point again to my right hon. Friend.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow--I hope that he is listening--that as a result of my right hon. Friend's negotiations, the armada that he saw in his mind's eye will not be able to enter the waters off our western shores. We stopped it; we stopped the Spanish going into the Irish sea; we stopped them going into the English channel. We restricted them to 40 in the remainder of the Irish box and we will constrain, by our
Column 812negotiation, the effort of Spain in the remainder of that water. They will be limited. There will be no free-for- all on that particular matter.
I shall now deal with the speech by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. It shows that with no policy the Labour party is a divided party on Europe and on the common fisheries policy. At least the hon. Gentleman is consistent with his own line and, unlike the Opposition Front-Bench Members, has some ideas. I do not agree with those ideas. His is an anti-Community stance. He makes no secret of that. The hon. Gentleman nods in agreement. I say to him and other hon. Members that to suggest in any way that an easy solution to the problems is to come out of the common fisheries policy is a false agenda. We are signatories to the European Union. We cannot leave the common fisheries policy. It is better that we work within it for change.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: The argument is simply that unless Ministers have the guts to stand up for Britain and fight for a better deal, the fishing industry will turn against the common fisheries policy, as is shown by the rising strength of Save Britain's Fish throughout Britain.
Mr. Jack: The hon. Member for Great Grimsby is doing a grave disservice to the British fishing industry if he is peddling that particular line. The policy that he advocates is a non-starter. He would do far better to turn his intellectual fire power on to reform, joining in with ideas for the working party which my right hon. Friend has established. His line is clearly incompatible with that of his Front-Bench spokesmen. I do not know whether they have a line, but it is incompatible with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang).
I remind the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that on 10 December 1985 the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), said:
"We welcome the accession of Spain and Portugal. It is the right move for the Community and for Spain and Portugal. We welcome it because we recognise the merits of those two new democracies joining the rest of Europe and facing Europe's problems with us. The Opposition do not welcome accession blindly, ignorantly or oblivious of the difficulties and anxieties."--[ Official Report , 10 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 883.]
The Opposition knew what they were letting themselves in for and they cannot run away from those responsibilities now. They had the opportunity to change the common fisheries policy.
Column 813On 15 July 1982, the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now Lord Walker, said:
"I wish to remind the Opposition that they decided when they renegotiated the terms of our entry they did not wish to renegotiate the terms on fishing."--[ Official Report , 15 July 1982; Vol. 27, c. 1186.]
That is the policy that we are following. Lord Walker negotiated improvements in the common fisheries policy with no help from Opposition Members.
I come now to remarks made by the hon. Gentleman and others on a technical question about the North sea. I owe the hon. Gentleman an answer on that. He asked whether swaps could allow the Spanish into that area. Theoretically, Spain could swap, but she could not fish those quotas as she has no right of access to the North sea. That is a crucial part of the agreement. My right hon. Friend secured an absolute barrier to Spain coming into the North sea. There is no mention of that in the Opposition's motion.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East gave a shambolic performance. It contained no positive ideas. We are none the wiser about the Opposition's fishing policy. The hon. Gentleman showed scant knowledge of what happened in the negotiation. He asked about allies. We had nearly every member state on our side in the September Fisheries Council in order to turn back the Commission's over-bureaucratic and complex proposals.
I remind the hon. Gentleman what Labour Members of the European Parliament did to that proposal. When it came to the vote in the European Parliament for the over-complex, bureaucratic system of standard vessel days, about which the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe asked, Labour Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of that proposal, which would have put an unacceptable burden on our fishing industry. They voted against proposals agreed by his own representatives in the European Parliament's fishing committee to modify those proposals to the benefit of the United Kingdom's fishermen.
That shows the duplicity of and divide in the Labour party and the opportunism of its approach to the common fisheries policy. We worked hard to get the necessary alliances together in order to fight for and win the concessions that we did. We kept Spain out of the North sea, the Irish sea and the Bristol channel and we limited Spanish vessels.
Tonight is not the night for my hon. Friends to give smug satisfaction to socialists whose parliamentary predecessors did nothing properly to safeguard the future of the common fisheries policy for the United Kingdom.
I have mentioned the European Parliament. Tonight is not the night to vote for the "Brussels knows best" party, which would have no stomach for the fight for our fishermen. It was Conservatives who stopped the Spanish free- for-all; it was Conservatives who brought extra resources to the common fisheries policy; it is Conservatives who are fighting for an industry of brave men with proud traditions. Conservative Members have a proud tradition of fighting socialism: let us do that in the Lobby tonight.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question: --
The House divided: Ayes 294, Noes 312.
Column 814Division No. 40] [10.00 pm
Column 814Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Blair, Rt Hon Tony
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D N
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)