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Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): That is an important point. It is a matter of concern. The hon. Gentleman says that Spanish skippers and vessels have been buying into United Kingdom stocks. Does he agree that every buyer must have a willing seller, and that the stocks must come from British fishermen? Does he understand why in France, for instance, the same kind of transactions have not taken place?

Mr. Wilkinson: I agree. British fishermen believe that they had better get out while the going is good. They recognise that the common fisheries policy allows no long-term future for them in the industry and that they had better realise their assets, even if it means selling them to Spanish interests, as soon as possible. As to what happens in France, I have no specific information.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre): If that is the case, what is in it for the Spanish? We are all in the common fisheries policy, so why should they be buying up those vessels?

Mr. Wilkinson: I imagine that the Spanish fishermen want to maximise their catch on a short-term basis, which is their traditional manner of operation, before they move on to what they regard as more profitable fishing grounds elsewhere.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Further to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), I wonder whether the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) would be interested in the contents of a letter from someone in Portugal whom I have consulted about fisheries there. He says:

Is that not the answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and possibly that of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)?

Mr. Wilkinson: That is indeed the answer. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, who speaks wisely and with great experience in these matters.

I hope that the House will agree with me that the common fisheries policy is fatally flawed and that it offers no hope of preserving essential fish stocks or of securing sustainable employment for the fishing communities around our coasts. The principal fishing communities are, of course, in the most remote parts of the kingdom, and decommissioning grants from the European Union merely exacerbate an

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injury which EU-sponsored policies themselves have already inflicted. The cruel irony is that British taxpayers' money is necessarily involved in the process.

Instead of showing a continued dispiriting acquiesence to the acquis communautaire on the common fisheries policy, Her Majesty's Government should use the forthcoming intergovernmental conference to issue a declaration of intent to our European Union partners that the United Kingdom proposes to withdraw from the common fisheries policy and declare a 200-mile exclusive fishing zone around its coasts. Where propinquity to neighbouring countries precludes that, the median line will constitute our national fishing limit. Naturally the United Kingdom would consider carefully any applications for bilateral fishing agreements on an equitable basis with other countries, be they EU members or otherwise.

Those proposals should be put to the British people for their endorsement in the Conservative party's manifesto for the forthcoming general election as the first stage of a carefully considered Conservative process of recuperation of powers and competences from the institutions of the European Union to the British judiciary, Government and Parliament to help create a European Community of sovereign states in which the national interests of the participating countries are fully safeguarded. I believe that the British people would regard those proposals as courageous and fair, and they would be relieved that at last they had a Government who shared their common aspiration that the United Kingdom should remain proud, independent and free. Our brave fishermen would also have found an effective champion at last.

9.54 am

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): I congratulate the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) on securing this debate and on the strength and vigour with which he has put an argument which is extremely strong and very difficult for Ministers to rebut. I have no doubt that they will try to do so, but it is an argument that is impossible to rebut because the common fisheries policy has been a disaster for Britain and it was always intended to be such.

The principle of equal access to a common resource is the basis of the common fisheries policy. The policy was stitched together a matter of months before the British application for membership. It was deliberately designed to obtain access for European fleets which had outfished their waters to the rich fishing waters around the British coast. The principle was misguidedly accepted by the then Prime Minister in his impetuous rush to get into Europe. He was perfectly prepared to sacrifice the interests of a small and, to him, unimportant industry to get at the major point, which was membership of Europe.

Half of the fishing industry protested loudly. The inshore fishing industry saw what was coming and saw that the intense competition would drive it out of business. The big boys--the distant-water fishing fleet--were preoccupied with Iceland. They thought that they would be able to continue catching enormous quantities of fish in Iceland. So they thought that European waters were of no importance to them. Therefore, they made no particular protest.

So the industry was effectively not consulted. The national interest was not consulted. We were pushed into a situation in which we contributed more than 75 per

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cent.--let us say three quarters for convenience--of the major stocks of the so-called common market pool. That three quarters was in British waters. We were given a small catch, perhaps a quarter of the total catch--less by value--in return for our enormous contribution. That was a massively unfair principle. It produced the consequence that it was impossible to do what was logical in the 1970s when Iceland took its 200-mile limit and started the trend to 200-mile limits. It was impossible to follow suit by taking our territorial limit to 200 miles or the median line and redeveloping and rebuilding our fishing industry in our own waters. That was the logical thing to do. That was what everyone else did.

Although it is true that other countries now suffer problems of overcatching, it is also true that only the nation state has an interest in building up and conserving its stocks because only the nation state has an interest in handing them on to future generations of its fishermen. That is in no one else's interest. Other countries want to fish them out as a disposable resource and keep over-large industries going.

Mr. Mans: Let us get the record straight. Is it not right to say that when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was responsible for fishing matters in the 1970s, he was offered 64,000 tonnes of fish by the Icelandic Government, but turned it down because he wanted more? As a result we got nothing. That is one of the main reasons why our deep-water fleet has ceased to exist in international terms.

Mr. Mitchell: It may be convenient for the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) to blame the demise of his distant water fleet on my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook, (Mr. Hattersley), but the facts are different. If the hon. Gentleman wants to read about the matter, he will find in next week's issue of The House magazine an article--if I can give it a plug-- written by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby which details what happened in those negotiations. The offer of 68,000 tonnes for a limited period was turned down at the insistence of the industry. Not the Government but the industry insisted that it wanted more. It wanted more than it had the capacity to catch. That was a foolish negotiating move by the industry. That was the reality. Therefore, it is unrealistic to blame the Labour Government. I do not want to go into the history.

The abdication of British rights to control British waters by the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was the crucial factor in preventing us from following up our loss by building up our own fishing industry in our own waters, which are the richest in the world. That was the crucial failure. We would do better to do what is obviously in our interests, which is to catch our own fish and land them here, rather than doing what we are doing, which is to allow other people to catch our fish and sell it back to us, getting the jobs and profits.

The argument that is usually put forward, that fish migrate, is fallacious. Most of the stock breed, live and are caught in our waters. Only a minority of species move about. It is stupid to suggest that European countries might catch those while they are young and immature just for the sake of spiting a British Government who take control of their own waters. It might apply to the Spanish, but not to anyone else.

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The fact is that we should come out. It is in our interests to do so. It is in the interests of the British fishing industry and it is straightforward. All that we have to do is to provide that the European Communities Act 1972 does not apply to the Fishery Limits Act 1976 and revoke the licences given to vessels from specified European countries to fish in our waters under that legislation. Parliament cannot bind itself and a present Parliament can easily provide that the legislation shall not apply. The mechanics of doing so are very straightforward, even simple.

The question is whether we have the will to do so. Have Ministers got the will and the determination to do it and to face up to the confrontation that will inevitably result? That is the real area of doubt. I do not think that Ministers have that will. Even in the present situation, they are always overruled when it comes to European negotiations. The interests of the fishing industry are always sacrificed to gain some so-called higher good for the Government. That is what happens and it has happened repeatedly. The present Minister is heir to that long legacy of betrayal of the interests of fishing because something else is more important to the Government.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood gave the classic instance--the desire to get Norway and the other states in, which led the British Government to overrule fisheries Ministers and give the Spanish access to the common fisheries policy six years early. It was a fallacious desire in the case of Norway and we gave the Spanish full status early.

That is a constant pattern. It is only the most flagrant example of what has been going on for years. Frankly, rather than defending and justifying the common fisheries policy and pretending that we derive benefits from something that manifestly does damage, it would be more intellectually honest and convincing to the House if Ministers gave us an honest picture of the position and said that the advantages lie with coming out, but that they have not got the will to do it.

We certainly do not gain anything from this common fisheries policy. Ministers' usual argument is that we have access to markets for our fish, as if it will be turned away from European markets. The world is desperate for fish and it is inconceivable that the Community would block British fish going to Europe if we did the logical thing and caught our fish with our vessels, landed the catch here and sold it on European markets. Access would certainly not be refused; it could not be.

So, that is a stupid argument and it shows a grovelling intellectual attitude towards Europe. We always abdicate our case. We do not recognise the realities and we always start negotiations from a very weak position. We are negotiating on our knees, saying, "Yes, yes. The common fisheries policy is wonderful," and asking what little change or benefit can be given to us by moving the goalposts in a common fisheries policy that, frankly, is disastrous for this country.

We should recognise realities because the crunch is coming. There will have to be a massive reduction in the British fishing effort because we are well over our multi-annual guidance programme targets--further over than anyone else. That will force Ministers to enforce a massive reduction on the British fishing industry. Yet, we

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are the nation with the stocks and the waters--the nation that contributes everything to that policy, to make room for Spanish vessels.

That reduction will be forced on us by European overfishing and by the principle of equal access to a common resource, which has decimated our stocks. Because of that decimation, Ministers will have to close large sections of the British fishing industry and that is a monstrous thing to do to this country.

The second crunch that is coming is the same one as applied with Spain--the principle of nations coming into the Community with huge fishing fleets, but no waters to contribute to the common fisheries policy, whose demands are satisfied at our expense, in our waters. That has already happened with Spain. Ministers have supinely given way to that monstrous principle.

This country is now anxious to turn the European Union into some sort of continuous rolling row and to weaken and dilute it by bringing in a confused babble of other states. We are now pressing the cases of eastern European states, many of which have huge fleets but no waters in which to catch the fish. On the principle of equal access, they will have a claim to fish in British waters. How are we going to resist them? We could not resist that claim in Spain's case. When Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania come in with their fishing fleets, what will be our answer? That will break the common fisheries policy.

It would be intellectually honest and much more acceptable to the House if Ministers said this: although a disaster is looming, we have certain strengths in that we contribute waters and that we are prepared to take a tough stand for Britain; we will do that and, if it risks putting us in an exposed position, we will come out. That is the only ultimate safeguard for our fishing industry and that is the intellectual position that I want Ministers to take.

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