Previous SectionIndexHome Page

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman raises a good point. It is at the heart of the dilemma. If the international community cannot reach agreement on an issue, in what circumstances should military action be authorised? We supported it in Iraq, in the end, because last November I felt that we had reached an effective agreement in the international community that Saddam was to be given a last chance, and that if he did not fully comply he was to be dealt with by military action. He did not fully comply.

The history of UN resolutions speaking of a specific security threat in relation to Saddam was well known, but the right hon. Gentleman's point is valid, and there is no easy answer to it. We know of the appalling way in which the Burmese authorities have once again treated the opposition leader in Burma. These are difficult issues. I have been met by a chorus of, "We should take military action in Zimbabwe," on the Opposition Benches, but if people actually think about that they will realise that it is quite a difficult thing to do.

The point is that there is a need, at the very least, for the international community to come together and exert concerted pressure on those brutal and repressive regimes. History teaches us that if we do not deal with those regimes, in the end they become worse and worse, and finally their impact affects us all.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): Did the G8 consider the worrying signs that the world economy might be moving towards deflation? In particular, did the group consider what concerted steps might be taken to counteract deflation if the threat proved more definite?

The Prime Minister: There was a discussion about the world economy, obviously. Most people, in fact all people, indicated their belief that the world economy would pick up. I think that the two most necessary things are a sense of confidence in both the United States and the eurozone—there are at least some signs that that is happening—and, obviously, an improvement in the

4 Jun 2003 : Column 174

security and terrorism situation in the world as a whole. Part of the downturn in confidence has resulted from the security and terrorism threat.

I would say that the consensus around the table was that the prospects of the world economy, and those of the American economy in particular, are rather better than they were.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I supported the coalition action in Iraq without reservation. I believed what the Prime Minister said then, and I believe what he says now about intelligence information on weapons of mass destruction. I have little doubt that the inquiries being held by the various committees will find nothing other than that the Prime Minister dealt with that information properly. Does he understand, however, that there would not be such widespread scepticism about what he is saying today had not he and his colleagues for the past six years subordinated the instruments of the state to the narrow partisan interests of his Government?

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the first part of what he said. As for the second part, I recall exactly the same allegations being made about a previous Government in the 1980s.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): By you!

The Prime Minister: Probably by us, yes. That is absolutely true.

There is often a very great gulf between what is actually the position and the exaggeration that is sometimes simply part of the business of politics.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): Given the positive signs emerging from both the Israeli and the Palestinian negotiating teams, we seem to see a real prospect of the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within the next three years. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that a viable state alone is not enough? Such a state must also have the economic means to lift its people out of the grinding poverty that they have endured for more than 30 years. What economic aid will the United Kingdom Government give the nascent Palestinian state, and will it be reflected in aid from the other G8 countries?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We will do what we can in the United Kingdom, and also in the European Union. There is an important role for Europe, which often wishes to play a bigger part in the middle east peace process. We can help the Palestinians with their living standards, infrastructure, investment and development of the country. That will not work, however, unless we ensure that the peace and security situation is better stabilised. The truth is that if we did manage to secure greater

4 Jun 2003 : Column 175

security normalisation, the lifting of restrictions accompanying that would of itself have a huge and beneficial impact on the Palestinian people.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): We welcome what the Prime Minister said about tackling AIDS and HIV, and look forward to a more positive outcome at the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Mexico.

In answer to a question, the Prime Minister spoke of people being naive. Does he not accept that some of the countries at the summit were naive in not recognising the possibility of evil regimes? Can we trust North Korea and Iran, which have been brutalising their own people in different ways, subsiding terrorism with Hezbollah, and threatening South Korea and Japan, to act on the guidance given by the G8?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman's point is worthy of consideration. That is why the G8 agreed that we must call on both countries to co-operate with the international authorities in respect of their nuclear weapons programmes.

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the central point. The weapons of mass destruction programmes of some countries allow them to divert enormous amounts of energy and resources, and to justify the repression of their people. That is why it is important to deal with them. The thought of either North Korea or Iran having a serious nuclear weapons capability is a thought that should trouble everyone.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Can the Prime Minister explain why he and President Bush blocked the

4 Jun 2003 : Column 176

UN weapons inspectors' return to Iraq earlier this year, just before the bombardment started? Can he also explain why the current weapons inspection in Iraq is being undertaken not by the UN, but by an American and British operation? Does he not think that if people are to believe his assertion that weapons of mass destruction exist, there must be an independent inquiry in Iraq and an independent, open and public inquiry in this country? Many people simply do not believe that the cause of the war had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction. They think that it had everything to do with American military power and with handing out contracts to American companies—which is now happening.

The Prime Minister: Let me try to disentangle the various conspiracy theories from what my hon. Friend is actually saying.

We did not continue weapons inspections because back in November we said that Saddam Hussein would have a last chance to co-operate fully and unconditionally. He did not do that. Indeed, we believe—and our belief is based on what we know and the information that we have received—that instead he embarked on a systematic campaign of concealment. That is precisely what he did last time. It is not as if Saddam had no track record on weapons of mass destruction; he has always had a track record. We took the action for the reasons stated.

I want to make this absolutely clear. We agreed on the basis of that resolution last year that Saddam should have a final chance to comply fully. If he had complied fully, there would have been no conflict; but he did not, and that is why there was a conflict.

4 Jun 2003 : Column 177

Fishery Limits (United Kingdom) Amendment

1.39 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): I beg to move,

This is a simple, sensible, even innocuous measure to provide that the European Communities Act 1972, which made European Union law superior to British law, shall not apply to the Fishery Limits Act 1976, by which Britain followed the worldwide trend that had been pioneered by Iceland, which placed fishery limits at 200 miles; in our case, the limits were at the median line. However, we were not able to benefit to the same extent as everyone else because European Union members were exempted from the Fishery Limits Act.

The world took that step to ensure proper conservation, to build stocks and to develop domestic fishing industries. The national waters of most of the world's fishing nations experienced benefits. After a certain amount of trial and error—there were errors in Canada with cod—nations placing 200-mile fishing limits were able to control foreign access, to rebuild or to replace stocks that were over-fished, to develop fishing sustainably and to build and to develop domestic fishing industries.

For all those purposes, control of national waters is surely essential. It is only the nation state that has an interest in building and handing on a flourishing, sustainable fishing industry with sustainable stocks for future generations of its fishermen. Alone among the great fishing nations, Britain was not able to do that because, in 1972, the then Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, in his desperate rush to get into what was then called the common market, accepted a common fisheries policy of equal access to a common resource. That policy was of doubtful legality. It was cobbled together just before the start of negotiations with Britain and Norway, two major fishing nations, deliberately to get access to our stocks. The policy kept Norway out then and has kept Norway out since.

We have attempted to live with the common fisheries policy for 30 years. We have attempted for 30 years to modify the policy, especially in the direction of greater national management powers. No one has attempted that more energetically than the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), but we failed.

The common fisheries policy itself has failed. Indeed, it was bound to fail because it is not a conservation policy. It is essentially a political policy to dole out shares of fish to European nations. Most of the fish—70 per cent. at least—that are being doled out are in British waters. Therefore, it has led inevitably to over-

4 Jun 2003 : Column 178

fishing; to illegality—any policy that means that fishermen are on the verge of bankruptcy drives them into illegality to survive; to deep damage to stocks, particularly cod, which in certain areas is near extinction, to a shrinking United Kingdom fleet; and to a damaging crisis where sacrifices have been required of this country. Industrial fishing, which has a massive by-catch of immature and edible species, goes on. Spanish vessels are admitted to our waters. They may be restricted in what they can catch but there are inevitably by-catches—fish we want to conserve.

My Bill gives powers to Government to say, as the industry is saying, "Enough is enough." They will decide when it is appropriate to use it. I do not conceal the fact that it will take will to use it, but it is about time that national will was exercised for the benefit of the fishing industry instead of fishing being continuously sacrificed to other purposes, whether it is the common agricultural policy, the rebate or whatever.

The Bill gives the Government power to stop over-fishing and, when they care to invoke and to use it, to control our waters. It gives them power to come to agreement with other fishing nations such as Iceland for reciprocal swap arrangements and for exchange of catches: our catches in their waters, their catches in ours. It allows anything like that to happen on a reciprocal basis.

The Bill gives the United Kingdom power to rebuild what have been described as the world's most perfect—they were certainly once among the world's best—fishing waters. It gives Her Majesty's Government power to keep out not only Spanish vessels but that long queue of other nations, the new entrants, many of which have big fishing fleets, which will inherit from membership the right of equal access to a common resource—again, I emphasise, our resource.

The Bill gives Ministers power to stop proposals that are currently in the draft European Union constitution to give the European Union exclusive competence—I think the only exclusive competence in the constitution; it is difficult to see why competence over fishing is in a constitution—over the marine products of the sea, whatever those may be, which could take that competence up to the beaches by eliminating the six and 12-mile limits. Just as important, the Bill gives Ministers a new weapon in those endless common fisheries policy negotiations, in which we always start at a disadvantage because we have the richest fishing grounds and everyone else wants sustained rights to those fishing grounds.

The Under-Secretary—it is marvellous to see him here today—is a big man. He has a big mission and he has a big problem, which is to save Britain's fish. I hope that, when the House tumultuously passes my humble Bill into law, my Bill will give him the one thing he needs to add to those characteristics: the big stick that he deserves.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Austin Mitchell, David Burnside, John Cryer, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Kelvin Hopkins, Lawrie Quinn, Mr. Alex Salmond, Sir Teddy Taylor, Ann Winterton and Mrs. Iris Robinson.

4 Jun 2003 : Column 179

Next Section

IndexHome Page