European Economic Community (Fisheries)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th December 1971.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Wolrige-Gordon Mr Patrick Wolrige-Gordon , Aberdeenshire East 12:00 am, 15th December 1971

I do not think that what we have heard so far from the Opposition really amounts to a great debate on this topic. Although they have tried hard, it does not see, unless the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) has something up his sleeve, that the debate will be seen as having been of great significance or a major crisis of confidence in the Government. The fact is that the arrangements for the initial period are perfectly acceptable. The Minches, the Clyde, the Solway Firth, the Moray Firth, the North-East coast and the Orkneys and Shetlands are all protected and no reasonable person, in Scotland at any rate, could possibly ask for more.

The difficulty comes, as we all know, with the ending of the initial period and what is to happen then. My right hon. and learned Friend has the great gift of extreme verbal agility, and unfortunately for some of us who sit at his feet this is not altogether an unmixed blessing because sometimes the facts seem elusive. I agree with those who say that we do need to know just what the facts are. The same applies to Norway, and I believe that the real reason why Norway has so far not seen fit to accept the arrangement is because she is not specifically clear about the facts involved.

Is Norway unreasonable, are we unreasonable, in wanting to do this? Can anyone say anything definite about what will happen in ten years' time or expect the Government to do so? Maybe not. But to me there is no question of our Government in ten years' time surrendering, for example, the North Sea oil royalties. Yet fisheries are as much a natural resource as oil—and the oil is much further out than the fish in the North Sea. Nor is this question affected by the interests of the deep sea fleet, because it does not fish nearer than the 12-mile limit anywhere now. That is just one example of the way the Community's common fisheries policy seems to me to be alien to its own practice and why I believe it does not need to be fundamental to the concept of the Common market and to what my right hon. and learned Friend has done so skilfully in Brussels.

As the nub of this difficulty concerns 10 years from now, we should try, difficult as it is, to think what conditions then will be. Politically, it seems to me, whatever emerges as a result of this debate, that there will be a repetition of what has happened up to now, with the Community countries battling to get into British inshore waters and the British battling to keep them out.

What will have happened to the fisheries themselves? Oceans will have become even smaller in terms of man's capacity to deal with them. Catching techniques will have developed beyond anything, perhaps, that we can now imagine. We may be beginning to herd fish; and perhaps nearer land we may well be farming fish much more extensively than we can contemplate now. In any event, pressure on the oceans' resources can only increase.

To resist that pressure, limits will certainly go further out for the sake of conservation and the most efficient exploitation of a natural resource, and because most of us are selfish. What, then, is to be the future for our European fishermen? In future, of course, Western Europe will operate any extension of limits as a continent. In that context, historic rights for national deep sea industries will have to be negotiable in concrete terms, or they have had it. Secondly, the inshore waters must continue their existing protection as a minimum, if only to give everybody room to breathe and to keep the industry's structure sound. Thirdly we will have to police and exploit the oceans in a united fashion in future if we are not to run the risk of obliterating their riches forever.

As for Scotland, doubtless it will be felt that the conditions could have been better, but if we are to build a more worth while Europe than we have had in the past selfishness and blind allegiance to self-interest at all costs will have to go and our fishermen know that, like everyone else. On that basis a continuous and prosperous future for our industry is definitely possible.