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I agree; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole tenor of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Stone, who is no longer in his seat, was that it was they who were doing this to us, not that we were part of the European Union. We are part of it, and we must make a big impact within it. Our effectiveness will be judged by how we wish to contribute to the process, not by our opting out or withdrawing from it. The real agenda behind the amendmentsand, no doubt, others to comeis that the Conservatives would rather not be part of the European Union; they want to say, in the words of the hon. Member for Stone, No, no, no. It is unfortunate that we have not had the opportunity to put to the test the Liberal Democrat amendment that was not selected, because it would have been interesting
to see whether the Conservatives voted for it. However, we shall not have that opportunitytoday, at least.
I shall conclude[Hon. Members: Hear, hear!] It is nice to be so popular. I shall conclude by saying that the essence of this debateas with many othersis the fundamental choice of the way forward. The Conservative Front Bench has been captured by what was once an insurrectionist minority [ Interruption. ] The former leader of the party, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) is now waving his hands at the back. I remember the debates on Maastricht, and the debates in 1992 and 1993
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Perhaps surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who is just coming back to his place, on one issue: I do not believe that we have enough time to debate all the amendments this evening. We have four groups in front of us, so hon. Members will be pleased to know that I intend to keep my remarks fairly short.
Despite agreeing with the hon. Gentleman on the lack of time for our debate, I cannot support his amendments. I shall not repeat the points that I made in my earlier speech, but I believe that stating the competences of the EU that already exist is an eminently sensible move that will clarify the situation. We might disagree on whether shared competences on energy and other matters are a good thing, but I believe that they are. I will therefore not be able to support the amendment.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): May we have some clarification on the position of a variety of representatives of the hon. Ladys party who represent coastal communities? Whether MPs or MSPs, in Orkney and Shetland, they are quite happy to traduce the common fisheries policy but, in this House, they are apparently in favour of it. What is the position of the Liberal Democrat party on this policy?
Jo Swinson: The hon. Gentleman anticipates me; I was about to come to marine biological resources, or fish, and to talk about his amendment No. 222. I hope that he will have a chance to put his points on that this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is not here at the moment, but I know that heand, indeed, the relevant Members of the Scottish Parliamentshare many of the hon. Gentlemans concerns about the common fisheries policy. Indeed, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent coastal constituenciesand landlocked constituencies such as mineshare the hon. Gentlemans concerns.
We have problems with the common fisheries policy, but the reason we cannot support
amendment No. 222 is that, even if it were passed, it would not change the current position. The European Court of Justice ruled in 1979 on marine biological resourcesso in effect the EU already has exclusive competence saying that the
power to adopt measures relating to the conservation of the resources of the sea has belonged fully and definitively to the community.
Jo Swinson: Will the right hon. Gentleman first let me pursue the point further? There would be no change to the current situation, even if the amendment were passed. We want to see change because the current position is inadequate, so we will continue to argue for root and branch reform of the common fisheries policy. Decisions must be made locally, but fish move, so it is sensible to have some co-ordination of fish stocks at the European level. That is not to say that it is impossible to have much more devolved local decision making. I also welcome the new scheme, which means more control over cod stocks in Scotland through conservation credits, which provide a different way forward.
Mr. Salmond: I happily accept the endorsement of the wonderful work of the Scottish Fisheries Minister, Richard Lochhead. May I ask the hon. Lady about Elspeth Attwooll, a distinguished Liberal MEP, who on 24 November 2004 supported a motion saying that the Fisheries Committee
considers that, within the context of the often exclusive competences of the EU which are detailed in the draft Constitution, the inclusion of the conservation of marine biological resources is anomalous and unjustified?
Jo Swinson: The right hon. Gentleman quotes from a European Parliament document issued three years ago, but the Liberal Democrat position is incredibly clear. Exclusive competence is currently set out in EU legislation, and should recognise that, as I have already said, even if his amendment were passed tonight, nothing would change. This is pure political posturing by his party.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: It is delightful to rise after the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has roused the House to a sufficient crescendo of excitement to allow me to introduce my amendments, although they have already been denounced in a rather long speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) before I have had the chance to put my case before the Committee. It was effectively argued that to come out of the common fisheries policy is to come out of Europe. That is supposed to be what is really behind the amendment, but what nonsense my hon. Friend spoke.
I wish to speak to my amendment No. 225, which the cream of the Labour party support. It is designed not to withdraw from Europe, but to add to the exclusions
from the treaty of Lisbon, which the Government have decided to accept on common foreign and security policy, the Councils powers on a proposal from the Commission to adopt
measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities.
In other words, the amendment knocks down the basis and the worst parts of the common fisheries policy. Those worst parts are seen in the treaty powers on the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities. In Europe, of course, they are fixed and allocated by quotas. The North sea and areas around the British coast comprise mixed fisheries where quotas inevitably lead to discards. If a vessel catches a fish that it has no quota for, it simply dumps it back in the sea. It effectively kills it, making no contribution to conservation. It is a ruinous system. The smaller the quotas become, the greater the discards become. It is an automatic process. My amendment would knock out that provision, thus eliminating the discards problem.
The amendment would also knock out the power to give aid. Although that power has not given much aid to the fishing industry in this country, it has given massive amounts, financed by our contributions, to countries such as Spainenabling it to rebuild and re-equip a fleet that is already far too large, and to use it to fish our waters for our stocks and loot the grounds of developing nationsand Morocco, where the Community buys, with our money, quotas for the Spanish fleet to catch, usually smashing up local boats and ruining local stocks in the process.
The other powers that the amendment would remove have made the common fisheries policy undoubtedly the worst fisheries policy in the world. I can think of no fisheries policy that is worse than the common fisheries policy, which has decimated stocks all around the British coast, especially in the North sea. It should be struck out. It is amazing how few people want it. I have heard no one support it, apart from the occasional Liberal Democrat. We have just heard one speak in favour of it.
Jo Swinson: If the hon. Gentleman checks the record tomorrow, he will see that I was arguing for genuine reform of the common fisheries policy. It is nonsense to suggest that passing an amendment tonight would change the future of fishing in the European Union, but of course we should ensure that decisions are made more locally. A great deal of change is needed; I do not support the policy as it is now.
That raises the question of the Liberal Democrats proposals for a referendum. Incidentally, if those proposals were applied to Scotland they would require a referendum not on devolution, but on the
1707 treaty of Union. The question to ask about the common fisheries policy is: does the Liberal Democratic party support it, as a whole, or does it not?
Mr. Mitchell: There is a word called yes and there is a word called no. Which would the hon. Lady use in this context? Will she tell us? Very well: she cannot tell us whether the Liberal Democrat party supports the common fisheries policy or not. In any event, very few people want it, and only those Liberal Democrats who say yeswhich presumably includes the hon. Ladysupport it.
All my hon. Friends regard the common fisheries policy as a disaster. They are all embarrassed by it, and they all want to change it. However, they tend to view it as part of the package. If you like Europe, you must like the common fisheries policy. Well, my amendment allows them to dissociate themselves from it and to say We like Europe and we will accept the treaty, but we are going to exclude the common fisheries policy. That is the sensible thing to do. It gives us a real power to choose. It is not necessarily part of the package: it can be taken out, and it would be taken out by my amendment.
However, I tabled the amendment not just to knock out the faults in the treaty that I have enumerated, but to prevent the coping-stone of the words in the treaty from being incorporated in the arch of the common fisheries policy. I intended to prevent a rather messy, anomalous policy, which no one likes but everyone feels obliged to support for different reasons, from being a requirement of the treaty. If we ratify the treaty unamended, the common fisheries policy will remain as an essential policy, sanctified and upheld by the treaty, from which we cannot deviate. That policy should not be part of the structure. Indeed, it was only fiddled into the structure by means of a very devious approach. There was no fisheries policy in the treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Unionit simply was not mentioned. That treaty provides for a common market in respect of trade in agricultural products including, it is stated, the products of fisheries, or fish. There is nothing about a policy of controlling catches, regulating quotas and providing aid for vessels, or about what species can or cannot be caught. All that is mentioned is internal trade in fish. That is how the arrangement rested from 1956 until 1970, which is a long time not to have a policy.
Then Britain entered negotiations to join the Common Market, as did Norway. Those nations had among the richest fishing grounds in the world, and certainly the two richest fishing grounds in the Common Market if they were to enter it. It was therefore thought necessary to cobble together a policy to get access to the fishing grounds of Britain and Norway. Negotiations started in June 1970, and they quickly resulted not in a policy, but in a statement that there should be equal access to a common resource. That was all that there was to the basis of the so-called common fisheries policyjust equal access. European vessels would have equal access to our fishing grounds and those of Norway, and to all our waters.
That was in fact a negotiating gambit, not a sine qua non, but Edward Heath took it to be compulsory. He thought that that proposal had to be accepted if he was going to get entry to the Common Market, and he was desperate to get entry because he had no other strategy. Therefore, he regarded fisheries in the way set out in the documents in Scotland. I ask the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) to remind me of the phrase.
Mr. Salmond: The quote the experienced hon. Gentleman is searching for comes from the civil service. I can paraphrase it fairly accurately. It said that in light of Britains wider European interests, theythe Scottish fishermenwere expendable.
Mr. Mitchell: Expendable: that is what the fishing industry was in 1970. The shameful policy of equal access to a common resource was put together, regardless of the interests of fishing, and particularly those of the inshore fishermen who opposed the whole businessthe distant-water fishermen were making rich catches in Iceland at the time, so they did not care much and were not bothered about European or British waters. Effectively, the interests of the British and Norwegian fishermen were expendable under this system. Therefore, without an attempt to renegotiate it and to say that it could not be part of the treaty, and without an attempt to say we must make other provisions when we extended our territorial limits, the Prime Minister at the time, Edward Heath, shamefully accepted the common fisheries policy. Geoffrey Rippon, then a Minister, told the House that these were just transitional arrangements that automatically ceased at the end of a fixed period. That is what he said. Lady Tweedsmuir in the Lords got it slightly wrong, because she assured the other place that the whole business would be renegotiated in 1892; but although she was 100 years out, she too indicated that it would be renegotiated. On the basis of that, we accepted the common fisheries policy and Ted Heath sold the fishing industry down the river, as the fishing industry saw it at the time and has seen it ever since. Norway did not accept that, and it stayed out for that very reasonit had no intention of being sold down the river.
As the common fisheries policy was not really a policy at all, it had subsequently to be written into the Maastricht treaty to give it a post hoc legal basis. That was done: an attempt was made to put it on a legal basis by writing it into the treaty. That was then taken further by Giscard DEstaings abortive constitution. The British Government had not had the guts or the gumption to challenge its legality. It is clear, however, that the Commission was worried about that legality, which is why it got the policy written into the Maastricht treaty and tried to write it in further in the constitution.
the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy.
That was an historic first: it was the first time that fish were included in any constitution and it was the first time that marine biological resources, which presumably include seaweed, dolphins and presumably anything that goes into marine areas, were included as a crucial part or arch of a constitution. I suggested at the time
that had the provision been written in some of the magnificent language of the American constitution, it would have said, We, the marine biological resources and fish of the Union, regard these truths to be self-evident. We are a common resource and may be caught by any country. That is a basic right for us and for them.
The wording from the constitution has just been transferred into the treaty of Lisbon; it is almost identical. The Government tell us that it is a treaty and not a constitution. I believe them implicitly to be wrong, because it is de facto a constitutionit defines the way in which the European Union will work. Writing provisions into the treaty is more effective than entrenching them in a constitution, because a constitution with entrenched rights will need some way to dig those rights in and ensure that they cannot suddenly be reversed by a small majority in the House of Commons. That does not need to be done with a treaty because once provisions are in a treaty they are entrenched for ever. They can be modified or removed only by another treaty, which must have the support of 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 or 33 member stateshowever many are in the Union at the time. That approach is more effective than constitutional entrenchment, and it is the one that we are taking if we allow the current words to remain in the treaty of Lisbon.
Mr. Mitchell: I think that the occupants of the Treasury Bench find it difficult to defend the interests of the British fishing industry, because each time a fisheries Minister goes to a negotiation in December, the Government have other fish to fry. They might want a concession on this or to move forward on that, and the fishing industry is always expendable. It is always the area where the Government can make concessions and improve relations with Europe to secure a gain in another direction. That is the sort of process that goes on. Fishing is never regarded as a front-line interest and something to be defended. [Interruption.] Fishing is an important industry that makes a contribution to the national economy, so it is irresponsible of hon. Members to giggle at the mention of fishing as being important. They presumably support the inclusion of fish in the constitution and they then laugh at themthe poor fish. That is a cruel approach to take to a vital national resource.
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