Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
After an interval of only six weeks, the Opposition have thought it both necessary and right to return to the subject of the fishing industry. We do so out of criticism of the Government's inaction, or excessively delayed action, but also in that constructive spirit which has characterised and informed the debates that the House has held on the subject.
We are, naturally, very sorry that the Minister himself is not here. We know that he is in Luxembourg at the Council of Ministers, and we hope that he is doing good work on behalf of the fishing industry while he is there. If he is, perhaps we shall be able to forgive his absence. In any event, we hope that the Minister of State will have something significant and hopeful to say to the House, because every hon. Member, wherever he sits, who knows anything about this industry is worried almost to the point of despair. As far as we can see, precious little has been done to stem the decline in the industry or to establish a sound basis upon which it can operate successfully and confidently in the future.
Only 10 days ago, at Question Time on 25th March, the Minister of State said this about fishing:
In April last year my right hon. Friend said that this was an urgent matter. Talks are still under way."—[Official Report, 25th March 1976: Vol. 908, c. 617.]
It was a year ago that the Minister himself said that, and very little progress has been made.
After the last debate the Government were left in no doubt about the anxieties felt by hon. Members in all parts of the House. Only the day before the debate the Commission had produced a set of new proposals as an attempt to cope with the wholly changed situation that has arisen in this industry within the past two years. The right hon. Gentleman had not seen those proposals at that time, but he did not conceal his disappointment with them, and he expressed this disappointment at col. 1524. I have no doubt that that disappointment has been massively underlined since by the further representations he will have received.
The scale of the decline in the industry is alarmingly steep. Despite the temporary financial assistance provided last year, during the past two years the trawler fleet has decreased by about 25 per cent, from 466 vessels to 350. Some withdrawn vessels have been put to oil rig duties for the time being. The rest have gone to the scrap yard. Of the present fleet, some 40 vessels are laid up in dock awaiting a decision on their future, so that the active fleet is only a little over 300 vessels. Today it appears at least unlikely that any of the vessels laid up or on oil rig work will return to active fishing, although obviously we hope that they will be able to do so. Whether they do or not depends in large measure upon the urgency and realism of Government action.
This decline has happened in only two years. To rub salt into the wound, one hears stories every day of foreign vessels all round our coasts fishing for all they are worth. No wonder our fishermen are angry.
The main reason for the decline in the British fleet is the rapid inflation of costs combined with depressed quayside prices. Cost inflation ravages all businesses, but, if returns are inadequate to cover higher and increasing costs, profits give way to losses and ultimately to bankruptcy. This industry was running at a loss last year and is still running at a loss today. That is why this debate is so important, because continued loss-making would be fatal. We want effective action, which in the circumstances can be taken only by the Government.
I do not think that there is any difference among us about the rôle of the industry. Our fish stocks are one of our few natural resources. Properly managed and conserved, they are a permament asset. They are a part of our national diet and an important contribution to our food supplies.
With the reduction in the fleet such as I have described, there goes a loss of jobs. Already these losses are numbered in thousands. Sea-going jobs alone are down by 3,000 to 4,000 and shore jobs by an even greater number. I believe that the ratio is approaching four or five jobs ashore for every job afloat. Although unemployment ashore has not reached this scale yet, the implication of a major fleet reduction for jobs in all the ancillary trades is very serious. This is a secondary but nevertheless in its own right very powerful argument for acting vigorously to sustain and maintain our fishing capacity.
Unfortunately, Iceland's illegal and unilateral action has exacerbated the employment position, quite apart from its impact on supplies of some traditional fish, especially cod. There are also all the other implications of the action taken by Iceland. The closure of Humbert St. Andrews, for example, was in part due to the Icelandic dispute.
I shall not spend much time on the question of the Icelandic dispute. I want to say how absolutely right and admirable it has been that the fleet has adhered strictly to the scheme of voluntary restraint on catches. The Royal Navy has protected our trawlers, which have continued their lawful fishing, albeit on a restricted basis and in the face of un-abating harassment. We congratulate and thank all the seamen on what they have achieved.
I do not think there is dispute in the House as to the causes of the crisis, but to allow that crisis to develop into an emergency, which I believe it to be today, was unnecessary and could and should have been avoided. The really big change was the world-wide move towards the doctrine of a 200-mile limit and the median line principle in narrower waters which gathered momentum at Caracas in the summer of 1974 and which may be actually agreed in New York this month or in May.
This dramatic change was bound to affect every country's fishing interests, and acutely so for the member States of the European Community. The common fisheries policy was set up in entirely different circumstances and conditions by the Conservative Government of the day.
Nobody on either side of the House then could or did predict what would happen, and nobody has pretended that the original arrangements could any longer make sense. The Government have consistently acknowledged this—not only the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and his Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), who was very specific on this matter well over a year ago, in January 1975, and the other Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who on 24th March, in his statement about the forthcoming ministerial meetings, said:
That common fisheries policy was decided before the 200-mile-limit was envisaged. . . What has to happen now at the Heads of Government meeting and at other levels is to reconcile the common fisheries policy with the new possible 200-mile provisions."—[Official Report, 24th March 1976; Vol. 908; c. 402.]
He went on to say that substantial political points were involved, as indeed they are.
We are glad that a close personal interest has been shown in this matter by the Foreign Secretary—or should I call him the Prime Minister-designate? We do not know. We shall know later this afternoon whether the expectation is to be confirmed. If it is, this will be an added advantage for the fishing industry, because, should the right hon. Gentleman be so elected, we shall undoubtedly expect him, as will the fishing industry, to continue the interest which he has been taking in this industry. He has taken the closest possible interest, and so has the Secretary of State for Scotland. Their diplomatic activity in this matter has been much more marked in recent weeks, but if they had begun a bit sooner this emergency could have been avoided.
There were warnings enough from the industry last year. My right hon. and hon. Friends took a Supply Day in June last year to explore the whole situation, and they did so on other occasions as well. All the time the Government accepted the need for revision of the common fisheries policy, but it now seems that they were neither persistent nor resolute in their handling of the matter. In fact, it is not clear to us what they did about it. Here is a major British interest, no less than two-thirds of the whole Community pond, and virtually all of it for human consumption. Today, however, despite all that has happened and all that has been said, nothing has actually been achieved or settled.
I do not wish to say anything today that will make the Minister's task any harder than it is, but it seems to all of us, and it certainly seems to the industry, that new arrangements might have been made and prepared before the Law of the Sea Conference comes to an end, because otherwise there will be the most awful scramble and decisions will have to be taken in a hurry, and it seems to us that all these details might have been gone into first. As I understand it, the United States Congress has fixed 1st July next year for the extension of United States' limits in any case, and Canada and Norway have also decided to take a similar line.
There is another aspect, and that is the Icelandic issue. If British vessels were to be compelled to leave waters in the Icelandic region before British limits were extended, with other nations already reaching bilateral agreements, the industry would be placed in an even harder situation. That seems to me to be another reason for the urgency in settling this matter. As I say, I do not want to say anything that will make the Minister's task harder, but I want him to achieve a solution, and I am entitled to say that I expect the British interest, which is by far the largest in the Community, to be upheld and protected. I was glad to hear M. Lardinois admit, and readily so, in London a fortnight ago the predominance of the British interest and its validity. This is important because the magnitude of the revision now required as a result of the new circumstances can fairly and genuinely be described as a renegotiation.
Let me make this perfectly plain. I am going to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to record their strictures on the Government in the Lobby tonight because of the delay and the resultant plight of the industry. The record shows how reluctant we have been to do this and how patient we have been. What we require from the Government—this is our object and purpose today—is a satisfactory and fair outcome, a new deal that will secure the future of the industry.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that there are two Ministers, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, both of whom have been negotiating? Why have the Opposition decided to have this debate today when they would get a fuller and better answer if they were to wait until after Thursday to see what might happen during the four days this week?
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have been extremely patient. We raised all sorts of doubts in the debate which was arranged last June. We have been discussing it for ages. Ministers have been talking about it since April last year, and nothing has happened. What we see is the deteriorating position of the industry. Frankly, we think that the situation has been reached when it is reasonable that we should take this action.
As I have said, our object and purpose is to get a new and fair deal for the industry that will secure its future. I have had an opportunity already, although only a brief one, of explaining to M. Lardinois the importance that we attach to our fishing interest and the urgent need for a new common policy. I shall take every opportunity that comes my way to press this matter in Europe. I hope that there is no division between us as to what is needed for the future.
The difficult but crucial aspect is the extent of the internal exclusive zone and what happens outside it. The Commission has proposed no further extension to the limit of 12 miles, and beyond that limit the Commission places reliance on a catch quota system. Whatever may be the merits and advantages of such a system, it fails utterly to command today either confidence or credibility within the industry. A herculean task confronts any Minister who decides to try to restore the industry's faith in it.
I want to examine the quota arguments and exclusive zones rather carefully. To begin with, the catching capacity of the Community's fishing fleet is so grossly excessive that the temptation to overfish is too strong to be easily capable of restriction. There is no convincing or effective control of gear, catches or anything else, whatever the theory may be. This by itself is enough to vitiate the viability of the quota system. It is impossible to police it adequately. Where-ever one goes, to the ports or to Billingsgate, the stories are the same—foreign boats helping themselves to our fish on an unacceptable scale. All this adds up to a lack of sound fishery management and effective conservation. Without these, our precious fish stocks will be ravaged and one of our few natural resources and assets will have wasted away. The optimum use of this asset requires sound management of every fishery.
There is widespread agreement that this degree of management control can best be achieved by each country organising it and taking responsibility for it within its own far wider internal zones. Policing would become much easier, and I think it would be practicable and successful as a domestic task. Certainly our fishermen are sure that it can be made to work on that basis.
For all these reasons, the case for a big extension of limits for each country beyond 12 miles is very powerful and, indeed, overwhelming. The industry has nailed its flag firmly to the 100-mile marker, and in the last debate I said that there was a strong argument for it. I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said at a meeting as long ago as April last year that the common fisheries policy
would be negotiated … on the basis of the first 100 miles to be kept for the British fishing industry.
I think that that again is support for this view. However, I do not want to give the Minister an impossible or unattainable task or to tie his hands specifically, so I press him for a zone far wider than 12 miles.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the significance of the different limits and to the stocks of fish actually available within limits of various widths. Within a zone up to 12 miles wide, stocks have been estimated to be equivalent to 1·1 million tons of fish per annum. That, of course, is on the basis of sound conservation and management. Up to 25 miles the estimate is 1·9 million tons, up to 50 miles it is 2·5 million tons, and up to 100 miles it is 2·8 million tons per annum.
I ask the Minister of State to give his own estimate and to comment on those figures, but on the basis of that assessment it is plain that the importance of the first 50 miles can scarcely be exaggerated, though the extra stocks in the next 50 miles are not so significant, the difference being 0·3 million tons. However, no one can begin to be satisfied with 12 miles, and I understand that that is the Government's view too. Something far wider than that is required.
At whatever point the limit is settled—one hopes for 100 miles, but whatever it be—there must, presumably, be some kind of quota system outside it, and the question is how such a system could be made more disciplined and, therefore, more acceptable. There seem to be a number of essentials. First, a way must be devised for phasing out historic rights. One cannot expect them to be ended suddenly or abruptly. There must be an orderly move away from these rights, and this has to be worked out. Indeed, it ought already to have been worked out. Perhaps it has been done and we shall be told today. Certainly it should have been done.
Next, full weight must be given not only to the volume of fish caught in each country's own waters but also to catches which are for human consumption. Here, the United Kingdom's record is by far the best. Nearly all the fish we catch is for human consumption, and it seems to me that this is an added argument in our already strong negotiating position.
In addition, any quota system would have to be on a species-by-species basis, and—most important of all—there must be a foolproof method of monitoring catches, a method in which the whole industry can have confidence. The content and record of all catches at all ports must be rigorously examined and checked. I have already spoken of the grossly excessive fishing capability of the European Community's fleet. A monitoring system of unchallengable integrity is an indispensable requirement, and we shall want to hear more from the Government on this vital aspect of the matter.
I turn now to the marketing side. This is a far from simple matter, but there is no doubt that our markets have been disrupted by cheap imports. This may be all very nice for the consumer in the short run but a disorganised market is never in f anyone's long-term interest. The Minister of Agriculture recognised and accepted this in our last debate—I refer here to c. 1527 of Hansard—when he virtually said as much himself.
The volume of imports has been rising and quayside prices have not been all that good. Many hon. Members will have received a memorandum this morning from the British Trawlers' Federation. Here is one sentence which I take from the first page of that document:
Quayside prices have risen by only about one-eighth over a period of two years while costs per day have increased by much more than half.
Then, at the bottom of page 2 the Federation refers to imports:
Thus, in 1975 imports were about 18 per cent, greater while the average prices of these imports were 6·5 per cent, lower than the distressed levels of 1974.
Hon. Members will also, no doubt, have read the March issue of the Trawling Times, in which some stark figures are revealed. I quote from the front-page main article, which is headed
Britain did not need to spend £12 million".
The article argues that
The White Fish Authority analysis shows that frozen cod imports increased by 38 per cent, last year … while the price per cwt. dropped".
Later it is said:
Thus the total import bill for cod increased by £4 million … a rise of 23·8 per cent.
Then it talks about plaice, a fish which traditionally has always been brought to us by our own fleet in adequate supply, "until"—here I quote again—
the Dutch, with their disproportionate share of the North Sea quota taken by their oversize fleet of beamers, started raiding our market".
It then refers to the fact that imports of plaice cost our balance of payments £8·5 million last year, whereas previously they never used to cost us anything at all.
It may be that in the last week or so some of our boats have done slightly better, but the trend is clear and extremely alarming. The Community system of guide, reference and withdrawal prices is complicated, to say the least, and totally unsatisfactory in that it does not actually work. The hopeful sign that it is to be replaced some time this year by some kind of Community minimum import price system is greatly to be welcomed. I do not know whether this is yet a definite arrangement, and I hope that the Minister of State will be able to say something about it. He cannot deny that the reference price system has failed to produce any kind of support in the market, and we look forward to hearing more from him about that. In the same connection, if it happens that a minimum import price system is introduced, may we know what arrangements we can or shall make with Norway?
Up to now—and still today—there are no minimum prices, and we have thus seen large quantities of fish dumped on our markets. For some reason, we always seem to be the suckers in all this. Our own fleet is in a state of disastrous decline, while other countries are actually increasing their fleets, with the result that serious overfishing of British waters is taking place, and, to compound this nightmare, fish caught by foreign boats is being put on our market to undercut the catches of our own fishermen.
Heavy imports of fish, in varying quantities, at unpredictable times, and at uneconomic prices are one real and direct cause of the emergency in the industry. A review of all these arrangements has long been promised, but so far nothing has happened. One of the reasons why our market disruption is aggravated is the weak United States demand. Some of our strong foreign competitors, unable to use their normal outlets, find our market an easy option, and we have no protection against that. As I said, this is nice for the housewife in the immediate short term, but it does not bring stability and it does not amount to anything which could rejoice in the name of a fisheries policy.
In addition, there are the subsidies provided by foreign countries to their fleets. The Norwegian fleet is, I believe, the most heavily subsidised. In 1975 £100 million was spent on it, and this is continuing at a high level in the present year. The French fleet received 90 million francs last year, and the Dutch granted aid for the modernisation and expansion of their fleets. The Canadian fleet receives Government aid. One has only to mention these facts to show the raw deal which our own fleet is now receiving.
In our view, the situation has been allowed to deteriorate to such a point that, if we are to bring a British fleet of suitable and appropriate size through the present emergency, it will have to receive temporary financial assistance. I emphasise "temporary" because we are convinced that there is no need for any system of continuing or long-term support. The industry is entirely capable of standing on its own feet, and it wants to do just that. It is capable of making a highly significant and positive contribution to the whole national economy. All it wants—all it is screaming for—is the right basis for its operations and the right conditions in which to work. It does not have those today, and that is what we are pressing the Government to provide.
We are talking here of a great British resource—that is, British waters and the British fishing fleet and the British consumer, who is entitled to expect a continuing flow of fresh and frozen fish from our own resources. It seems to the Opposition that the Government have never fully or properly understood the fishing industry, the nature of its present emergency or, indeed, how to put things right. We have shown too much forbearance and patience, all, we believed, in the best interests of our fishermen and consumers.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the Government accede to the request for even a temporary subsidy, assistance should be available to the owners of boats of less than 40 ft in length—namely, to most of our inshore fishermen? Does he agree that the Government should be able to devise some form of registration to ensure that the assistance goes to full-time fishermen and not part-timers?
There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. I regret that there should be any necessity for me to suggest that there is a need even for temporary assistance. I do not believe that such assistance is fundamentally necessary. The point of our criticism is to draw the attention of the House, especially the Government, to the situation they have forced upon the industry and which we want to be put right. We may have shown too much patience already.
By demonstrating the strength and force of our criticism by dividing the House this evening—I hope that we shall receive support from Members representing all parties who have fishing interests in their constituencies—we do not intend to turn this issue into a party political matter. It has never been treated in such a way. We shall divide the House because we believe that the stage has been reached when no alternative is left.
I repeat that our sole intention and objective is to bring the Government to their senses and to give our great fishing industry a fair and reasonable deal.
I begin by apologising for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is in Luxembourg. As will become evident later in my remarks, the fishing industry is one of his major preoccupations at the Council meeting. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and his hon. Friends will be pleased to know about that. I listened with interest to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I have studied Early-Day Motion No. 316 in his name and in the name of his hon. Friends. I welcome this opportunity to deal in detail with some of the points that have been made.
My speech will be a lengthy one, but I do not apologise for that. The House and the industry have a right to know where the Government stand on the issues confronting us.
It is only a few weeks since we last had a debate on the fishing industry, in which we were able to range widely over the many issues now affecting our fishermen. That debate took place the day after the Commission in Brussels had produced its second paper on the implications of 200-mile fishing limits for the common fisheries policy, and on the day when the Icelandic Government severed diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom.
Today's debate also takes place in the context of considerable international activity on fisheries. The United Nations Law of the Sea Conference is meeting in New York, and last week my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the question of the reappraisal of the common fisheries policy with his EEC colleagues at the meeting of Heads of Government in Luxembourg. Tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will take the discussion of the CFP further in the Council of Foreign Ministers. Tomorrow, too, in the Council of Agriculture Ministers, my right hon. Friend will be pressing for action on the EEC market situation for fish. This is the moment, when everyone is away looking after British interests, that the Opposition choose to debate the fishing industry and to vote against the Government to demonstrate their disagreement.
Before I turn to the current situation and the future, with which we shall no doubt be preoccupied during this debate, I shall briefly remind the House of some of the things we have done for the fishing industry over the past year or two. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be unaware of them or to have forgotten them.
We reintroduced vessel grants and loans soon after we came to power. We introduced temporary financial aid during the whole of 1975. We have made two new vessel grants Orders. We have taken action on reference prices and we have reached agreement with Norway on conservation measures. I refer to the trawler-free zone agreement of January 1975. We have made considerable efforts to reach a reasonable agreement with Iceland. I reiterate the tribute paid by the right hon. Gentleman to all those who have been concerned in demonstrating our right to fish in waters around Iceland, international waters for which we formerly had an agreement. We have continued to undertake substantial research and development work.
I shall have more to say on some of these aspects later, but the House must not forget what we have done already. Our support for the industry last year amounted to £32 million—a considerable figure by any standard.
I shall now deal with the market situation in the United Kingdom. We have heard a great deal recently about low first-hand prices, about imports undercutting the market and about vessels being scrapped.
It is true that first-hand prices for domestic landings fell in February. However, the market firmed up again in March. In England and Wales in March prices of demersal fish were 25 to 30 per cent, above those for March 1975. The value of landings in England and Wales for the first quarter of the year was 7·5 per cent, above the value for the first quarter of 1975, despite smaller landings and less fishing effort. In Scotland the corresponding figure is estimated to be about 17 per cent. The market situation is not, therefore, as gloomy as some make out.
Taking the period January to February, it is true that imports of frozen fish have increased this year as compared to last year, although they are still less than in 1974. The same is true of total imports. But total supplies—that is, all imports together with all domestic landings—have remained roughly constant.
This emphasises that imported supplies are filling a gap which the United Kingdom fleet is not filling. But that is not to say that we can contemplate any undermining of our market by unduly low-priced imports. However, Norway, our principal supplier, has recognised this by increasing its minimum export prices. We interpret this as a helpful gesture, as I am sure does the United Kingdom industry. Norwegian imports are not the only ones which can cause problems on our market. As the House knows, the situation on the United Kingdom market is considerably influenced by the decisions taken in Brussels on reference and withdrawal price levels.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made it clear soon after we took office that there were many aspects of the marketing section of the common fisheries policy which did not make sense in terms of our market. A review of the marketing provisions of the common fisheries policy was put in hand and has been part of ongoing business in Brussels for some time. Our industry has expressed its own view through Community machinery.
M. Lardinois has recently promised to bring forward proposals for improving the EEC reference price arrangements. Officials have followed this up and a report is expected to an early Council. We are pressing for rapid progress. In particular, as I have already said, my right hon. Friend will be pressing for action to improve the market situation at the Council of Agriculture Ministers tomorrow. He will be asking the Council to request the Commission to bring forward proposals to stabilise and strengthen the market. We shall be looking for proposals that pay close attention to the actual market situation.
In regard to the scrapping of vessels, we have heard about the number of vessels which have been lost to fishing over the past year or two. It is often claimed that the scrapping of vessels represents not only lost employment opportunities but also the loss of the catching capacity of the United Kingdom fleet which will be needed to exploit the fisheries open to us in the future. I would remind the House that at the beginning of 1975, there were roughly 900 inshore and 53 deep-sea vessels over 20 years old. Some of those which went out of fishing, far from representing lost employment opportunities, were of obsolete type and were frequently unable to attract crews.
Last year, as the House knows, the Government introduced temporary financial aid for the fishing industry. The aim of this aid was to provide, as we said at the time, breathing space and assistance for the continued operation of modern efficient vessels, while necessary adjustments to a new cost situation were being assessed and effected. It was never intended to distort prudent economic judgment on the part of the industry, and the scrapping of older, less efficient vessels which has taken place was perfectly consistent with the purpose of the temporary aid scheme.
As I have said, the aid granted last year was specifically aimed at allowing the industry to adapt to changed cost circumstances in an orderly way. It was essentially temporary, and we stated categorically that we did not intend the aid to continue beyond the end of 1975. This conformed to the Community's policy on such aids for the fishing fleets.
As for present economic circumstances, my right hon. Friend has on more than one occasion made it clear that he remains willing to consider a well-documented case of overwhelming need, but no such case has been presented to us.
I should like to have notice of that question, but I have no doubt that the Minister who replies to the debate will be able to give that information.
With regard to the comparisons about aid given by other countries to their fishing industries, recently a great deal of publicity has been given to this matter. It has been alleged by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, among others, that the United Kingdom is less generous than are other major fishing nations.
Most fishing industries receive aid of one sort or another. It can be extremely misleading to seek to make direct comparisons because of variations in regard to purposes, methods and effective purchasing power. Various attempts have been made at a comparative analysis, most notably by the OECD and by the Community, but without any meaningful result. Aid to the United Kingdom fishing industry last year exceeded £32 million—a very considerable figure. It is difficult to make comparisons between one industry and another because of the importance attached by the countries concerned to their own fishing industries.
I say this subject to checking, but I doubt whether we should be in order to continue aid at present under EEC regulations. This is not a matter we can undertake without some kind of consideration there.
I should also like to mention, in the context of aid to our industry, the Iceland (Compensation to Fishermen) Scheme which my right hon. Friend announced in the House on 29th January. The purpose of the scheme was to compensate fishermen for loss of earnings in the period 24th January to 4th February this year if they were prevented from fishing by the activities of the Icelandic coastguard. This was the period between the meeting of Prime Ministers in London and the date by which a response was expected from the Icelanders.
The Minister in reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), said that he was not certain whether we would be able to take such action. But earlier in his speech he said that if the Government felt that the industry needed a subsidy the Government would consider it. How can he say that he will or will not give the subsidy when he does not know whether the Government are able to do so without consultation elsewhere? If that is so, there is no point in continuing the argument. May we have an answer to the question?
I do not think the point is relevant unless the Government see the need for a subsidy or for some other financial help. I am saying that, as far as I am aware, the approval of a subsidy of the sort with which we have been concerned is not likely to continue in the Community. Perhaps that matter can be confirmed in the Government's reply at the end of the debate. If a case had been made out by the industry to the Government, the Government would have to make the necessary arrangements in Brussels in order to ensure that the subsidy was payable.
I have a long speech still to make and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his remarks later in the debate.
I was dealing with the Iceland (Compensation to Fishermen) Scheme. The Government decided that a fair rate of compensation would be £400 per day for all vessels except Fleetwood side trawlers, which would get £350 per day. Parts of a day's lost fishing time would be payable on a pro rata basis. It was arranged that vessel owners should make claims on behalf of the men and apportion the compensation in accordance with current port agreements. All claims have now been processed and a total of £74,358 has been paid out under the Scheme.
I referred at the beginning of my remarks to the amount of international activity on fisheries matters at present. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as everyone connected with the fishing industry, are rightly concerned about the future of the United Kingdom fishing fleet in the changed situation which will result from these deliberations. The Government, as we have said often, share this concern.
As the House knows, the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference is meeting at present in New York and we all hope that it will finish its work successfully later this year. It is almost certain that provided a convention can be drawn up as a result of the Conference, it will provide for the adoption of 200-mile fishing limits by maritime States in the near future. The Government are continuing to work for agreement at the Conference and we have accepted that such an agreement must provide for 200-mile fishery limits.
Even if no agreement should emerge, the general trend towards extended fishery limits is clear. A number of other very important maritime States, including the United States, are preparing to extend their fishery limits during the course of 1977 if no general international agreement can be reached by then. Her Majesty's Government will of course be prepared to take appropriate action in those circumstances.
There is no doubt that this development must affect the future of the CFP. Before I deal with that, however, I would like to emphasise what seems to me a crucial point. The general adoption of 200-mile fishery limits would bring our fishing industry face to face with great problems whether or not there was a common fisheries policy. The industry will have to adapt to changed circumstances and I know that the industry's leaders fully recognise this. I make this point because it is perhaps too easy to talk as though it were the CFP which has created the problem of the reorganisation of our fishing industry.
Let us remember therefore that we would in any case have had to prepare to take a large part of our fish supplies from waters nearer our coast and we would have had to make changes in the market—that is to say, the balance of types of fish available for our consumers would have to change.
Let me say a few words about CFP, which is of very great importance to our nation's future. Nevertheless, the existence of the CFP in its present form greatly increases the difficulty. It does so in two ways First, it limits our ability to switch the weight of our fishing from distant waters to inshore waters and at the same time creates the danger that the weight of fishing effort off our coasts will be increased and will threaten fish stocks which are already hard pressed.
Secondly it adds to uncertainty. Until the CFP has been considered by the Community, and the necessary changes made, our industry is unable to take the necessary business decisions to build the industry for the future. That was one of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire.
The Government have made clear the importance they attach to these problems from the moment that it became evident that fishery limits would inevitably soon become much wider than they are now. It is now some two years since we began to press our colleagues in the Community to recognise the need for changes in the CFP to meet changing circumstances. It was last April—a full year ago—when my right hon. Friend formally requested his colleagues in the Council of Agriculture Ministers to carry out a reappraisal of the CFP. We have lost no occasion since then to re-emphasise the importance which we attach to this and the urgency of the issue.
This was illustrated by my right hon. Friend's statement on the CFP at the Heads of Government meeting in Luxembourg last week when he told his colleagues that the United Kingdom attached great importance to the revision of the CFP. He pointed out that United Kingdom waters, once fishery limits are extended, will contribute over half the fishery resources of the Community in the North-East Atlantic and that at the same time we rely heavily at present on catches in the waters of third countries which are endangered by their extensions of limits. He also stressed that significant areas, especially in Scotland, are disproportionately dependent on fishing.
Progress on the revision of the CFP may seem, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to have been slow. Certainly, the Government had hoped that it would be much quicker. Nevertheless, important work has been done. Two very important documents have been produced by the Commission to provide a basis on which the Council of Ministers can consider the facts and reach their decisions. These papers have been placed before the House by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They bear out our case. They make it clear that in the general move towards 200-mile fishery limits it is the fishing industry and the economy of the United Kingdom which would be far the greatest loser in the Community. They also bring out the point that as a result of the expected change in international law, the United Kingdom would contribute well over half of the total fishing wealth of the Community. Those are two points on which our case for a revision of the CFP is based.
When we last discussed fishing in this House on 19th February, the Commission's second paper, which sets out the lines along which the Commission thinks the CFP should develop, had only just been produced and we had not had an opportunity to study it. We can now see that it contains two extremely important propositions. The first is that there should be coastal belts reserved for the fishermen of member States. The Commission's paper proposes an exclusive coastal zone of 12 miles. At the last Council meeting my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary made it quite clear to his colleagues that 12 miles was not enough, and this has been echoed by the right hon. Gentleman today.
But it was no mean achievement to obtain recognition by the Commission of the principle of exclusive coastal zones. The common fisheries policy is based on the principle of equal access to all Community waters for all Community fishermen, and that was the point I was making in relation to the situation so far. Several member States remain wedded to this principle. This is the starting point from which we have to negotiate. Of course we cannot ignore the situation which was created through the Treaty of Accession which is due for reappraisal by 1982.
Nobody on either side was able to forecast—nor did they forecast—the turn of events and the move towards the 200-mile limit. Was the revision of the CFP part of the 1975 renegotiation undertaken by the then Prime Minister before the referendum campaign when, of course, the 200-mile arrangement was within the purview of everyone?
I will deal with those points in the course of my speech.
The common fisheries policy is based on the principle of equal access to all Community waters for all Community fishermen and several member States remain wedded to this principle. The derogations in the Treaty of Accession, which allow member States to restrict fishing in waters off their own coasts up to the six-mile limit or, in certain specified areas, the 12-mile limit, are due for review by the end of 1982. Thereafter, unless fresh arrangements are negotiated, the principle of equal access will apply. That was the point which my hon. Friend was making a moment ago. We are working from the position that we have inherited from those people who made the agreement, and they are the people who say they are impatient about the lack of progress.
So, in that respect at least, the Commission's latest paper is a considerable step forward. But we remain of the view that a 12-mile zone is not adequate, and the House need have no doubt that we shall aim to get arrangements which give due weight to the importance of fishing in the British economy and to the contribution we are making to Community resources. The industry has called for a belt of 100 miles. I think it only fair to tell the House and the industry that in the Government's view that is not a realistic or necessary demand. We must have regard to the content of the common fisheries policy as a whole, and also to the very real advantages that membership of the Community brings us.
The hon. Gentleman will know what we think of the Icelandic situation and its unilateral 200-mile limit. We believe that a 200-mile limit is relevant in a negotiated and general internationally agreed situation.
That takes me to the other aspects of the Commission's proposals. It proposes that there should be quota arrangements within the Community based upon the traditional levels of catch by the different member States and that those quotas should take into account the level of fishing still possible in the waters of third countries. On that point the Commission makes clear its view that the Community should use its very considerable negotiating power to maintain satisfactory arrangements for Community vessels in distant waters. Obviously the main beneficiary would be the United Kingdom. As I say, we must bear these points in mind. We must not see the question of the coastal belt as if it were an isolated issue.
The Government are generally in favour of quota arrangements. We have taken a leading part in North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission in trying to persuade other fishing countries to adopt adequate conservation quotas. But our attitude towards the CFP will be strongly influenced by the arrangements made for proper enforcement. In our last debate several hon. Members were critical of the enforcement arrangements in NEAFC, and these criticisms are bound to have an effect upon our views about the Commission's proposals for the Community.
I should like to mention two problems——
The Minister referred to the coastal belt. Are the Government prepared to reconsider assistance in the coastal belt for those fishermen with boats less than 40 feet in length? Are they considering, or will they consider, a form of registration to ensure that all full-time fishermen—I stress "full-time"—fishing in those areas have access to the assistance, regardless of the length of their boats?
In the negotiations we shall certainly have regard to the factor that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and to many others, in order to protect the interests of the British fishing industry as a whole, having regard to the historic rights of certain areas. What is most important is that at the end of the day our industry as a whole has access to waters where it can catch the tonnage of fish that will ensure that it is viable.
I should like to mention two problems which have occurred in operating the NEAFC quotas. One is that individual countries have declined to be bound by decisions accepted by the majority. This problem has been important in, for example the case of North-East Arctic cod.
Another problem is the sheer difficulty of ensuring that all Governments enforce the quota arrangements in a uniform manner and to the same degree. However, if we had a Community system the circumstances would be different. In the first place, most of the waters used by Community fishermen would be within the economic zone of one member State or another. In particular, the United Kingdom zone would be much the largest, and the Government take the view that member States would have to be responsible for enforcing Community regulations in their own economic zones. Much better policing of the regulations would therefore be possible than is at present possible in the case of NEAFC, where most of the waters concerned are high seas.
Similarly, we would certainly expect the Community itself to play an important part in ensuring that all member States had adequate means of enforcing their quota arrangements. In the case of NEAFC everything depends upon the arrangements made by the 15 individual Governments and naturally one cannot produce a system as effective as would be possible within the Community. I emphasise once again that the Government attach great importance to this and that it will be an important point in the discussions on the CFP in Brussels.
That concludes my survey of the present state of the fishing industry and the main points of the CFP discussions. On this matter I believe that all parts of the House have a united feeling. I would be deceiving the House if I gave the idea that our discussions on the CFP have been, or are likely to be, easy. I hope, however, that what I have said will have reassured the House, if it were in any doubt, about the importance and urgency which the Government attach to the fishery question.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is very generous in doing so. Nobody thought that the revision of the CFP would be easy or straightforward, but the overwhelming significance of the British interest is accepted throughout Europe. That is our negotiating strength, and it is the argument in the wholly new circumstances, which nobody could have forecast, for making an adjustment which would certainly have the support of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) and everybody involved in the industry. M. Lardinois accepts the sheer strength of our interest.
We should not sit down meekly and say "These were the arrangements made at the time"—as they were. The British interest, being overwhelming, must be given absolute weight by the Government. We sometimes doubt whether they are giving due weight to it. I do not think that the Minister has shown that he has great confidence in it and that he is using it as a forthright negotiating weapon, which is clearly his duty.
I am happy once again to assure the right hon. Gentleman of the importance that we attach to our industry. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I attended a meeting of the Scrutiny Committee a week or so ago and made that point then. I said that there were minus aspects of the situation, where we have to start from what other member States assess the Treaty of Accession to imply. It is a very difficult situation, in that it could be said in the Community that every mile out from the coast could be a concession to our interests. We do not accept that, but it could be a point of view.
I also said at that meeting that our industry, which catches about a million tons of fish a year and has invested about £500 million of capital, has important employment, economic and social aspects. These are the plus aspects. I quote the figures off the cuff, because they are so well engraved on my mind as showing the importance of the British fishing industry within the Community. My right hon. Friend has emphasised all these points in the Community, and will continue to do so.
I think that it would be helpful if I outlined the back-up support provided to the fishing industry through the comprehensive programme of research and development undertaken by the laboratories of the Fisheries Departments and the White Fish Authority's Industrial Development Unit. When people ask "What are you doing for our industry?", we are right to emphasise that, in so many ways, this research and development is helping to provide the information and the back-up necessary to maintain the viability of our fishing industry. No less than £7 million was spent in the last financial year on this work. This provides ample testimony to the great importance which the Government attach to research and development work. I was very pleased only a few weeks ago to visit the Torry Research Station before I flew off from Kinloss to look at the fishing grounds around Iceland. One of the most important elements of the departmental programme is the work associated with stock assessment. This alone accounts for well over £1 million of the total budget.
Recently a great deal of attention has been paid to the possibilities of developing farmed fish as a source of protein for the United Kingdom. I assure the House that we take this activity very seriously, as is shown by the large programme of research and development work on marine fish farming. Last year we spent about £333,000 on this. However, I would also like to make clear that fish farming, important as it is, offers no prospect of providing sufficient supplies of fish to overcome any difficulties which may be encountered by the catching industry.
I hope that what I have said will indicate to the House the substantial effort which we devote to ensuring the technological development of the fishing and fish processing industry.
We tend in this House to concentrate on the major international issues confronting the fishing industry, or on the local difficulties which cause particular concern to our constituents, and perhaps we are right to do so. But we must not forget the less dramatic aspects. I believe that the research and development work I have just described provides a concrete illustration of the Government's confidence in the future of a viable United Kingdom fishing industry. We will do all we can in the difficult negotiations which lie ahead of us to ensure that this confidence can be justified.
I have spoken at some length, but I believe that we have a duty to the House and to the industry to be as forthcoming as possible, within the limitations of the position we have taken in the negotiations which are now under way in Brussels, Luxembourg and elsewhere.
I hope that I have demonstrated that the Government are sensitive to the need to maintain the industry through a difficult period. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Scottish Office maintain close contact with all the sectors of the industry as well as with the all-party Fisheries Group in the House. My right hon. Friend and I last year made a series of visits to fishing ports all around our coasts, visits which we believe were extremely valuable in keeping contact with the industry and making us aware of its problems. We are continuing the visits this year. Indeed, I plan to spend part of the Easter Recess visiting ports in the South-West. It is our intention to maintain the closest possible contact with the industry over the coming months. We shall be fighting here and in Europe to maintain a viable fishing industry.
The Minister of State is an optimistic character as well as a rapid reader; but he is certainly being sanguine beyond the limits of reason if he supposes that his speech will reassure the House. We are facing a most alarming prospect for one of the principal natural resources of the United Kingdom. The marine life and the fisheries in the waters surrounding the British Isles are an important part of our national patrimony. The right hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Pym) was certainly right when he said that if that patrimony is properly protected and developed there is no reason to suppose that the industry which exploits it will stand in any need of artificial assistance: it will, on the contrary, make a positive and really substantial contribution to the totality of the national economy.
Very often the fishing industry, for purposes of discussion, is split up into different sections; but in reality it is one industry. I suppose that most hon. Members taking part in this debate represent, as I do, constituents who are engaged in what is rather misleadingly called "inshore fishing". Yet what happens in each of the zones, from the remotest trawling areas to our immediate shores, forms one continuous whole, and what occurs in one section of the industry has its repercussions upon all the others. So we are considering the welfare and future of the industry as a whole. We are not thinking just about the trawler industry or the inshore fishermen. It is the industry as a whole which every one of the measures we are considering, and every one of the dangers which we fear, will affect.
The Government appear—to me, at any rate—to have so far lost out in the protection of this industry in every major sector. They have now admitted that the trend towards international 200-mile exclusive zones has become irresistible. But there is a great difference between the attitude of this Government and that adopted by other Governments. I am far from arguing that while engaged in international negotiations we ought to jump the gun and behave in the lawless way which we reprobate in others.
However, other nations, such as the United States, Canada and Norway, have already taken such measures, and made their position clear in such ways, as not only to give reassurance to their own industries but to provide themselves with powerful bargaining positions for the next phase of the story. We have refrained, not merely scrupulously but supinely, from exercising our right to make declarations and, if necessary, to initiate action in this House and to secure resolutions which would place us in a strong position in the months to come. In fact, we face the prospect of being more weakly placed than any other of the major participants in those discussions.
Of course, there is a relationship—a hinge—between the Law of the Sea Conference—the whole question of international exclusive zones—and the common fisheries policy of the EEC. That hinge was referred to in remarkably dramatic fashion in the intervention of the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). He asked, if a 200-mile exclusive zone is good enough for Iceland or the United States or Canada, why 100 miles is too much for the United Kingdom to expect? I echo and share his question; but, alas, we know the answer. The answer is that those other countries are independent nations, while we, by our own action, have surrendered our rights as an independent sovereign State quite deliberately by our membership of the EEC. What is more, we have surrendered them without securing in advance any leverage or bargaining position for ourselves.
The derogation which is in the Treaty of Accession, which very generously enabled us to continue for a few years the six-mile, and in some cases 12-mile, limit is an example of what might be called the reverse veto in the working of the Common Market. It puts us at the receiving end; it places all the leverage in the hands of the takers, and leaves none in our own hands.
The Minister seemed to have the notion that because the United Kingdom, more than any other of the member States of the Community, enjoys this wealth of fisheries around her coasts, and because her fishing industry is of such importance to her, that strengthens our position and gives us a bargaining handle. The truth is the opposite. We are the people who are in the very weakest position, because it is we who have most to lose and the others who have most to take. It is the other countries in the Community—I exempt Luxembourg from this stricture—which have fished out and devastated their own fishing grounds and which now look forward to taking over the riches which surround the shores of the United Kingdom. That is not where bargaining strength lies: the bargaining position was given away before the outset in the Treaty of Accession.
I think the right hon. Gentleman's comments are as much directed at the Opposition as at us. I would emphasise that within the Community every member State has industries and commodities of varying importance to its economy. The French and the Italians have wine, for instance, and they expect consideration of the importance of these commodities to their own economy and their employment situation. It is no less important for us to safeguard the interests of our fishing industry, which is of economic and social importance to our own people. This we shall do.
I am not for a moment arguing that we should not seek under these disadvantageous conditions in which we are caught to safeguard our fishing industry as best we can. I would be happy indeed if I thought that the mood and attitude of the Government were such that we were going to hold the other countries of the EEC to ransom where it hurts them most if we do not get our way in the negotiations over fisheries. If that is what the hon. Member means—that we are going to hold to ransom the wine producers of France and Italy, that we are to play the Gaullists in our management of the EEC—then well and good. I can only say that his intervention is the first sign, if such it be, of any such spirit on the part of the Government.
Where are they starting in these negotiations which are already weighted against them? It is common, normal, even prudent, to start negotiations at the top end—to start from the strongest end of the position which one wishes to maintain. But this not the approach of the hon. Member. He starts by saying that an exclusive zone of 100 miles, half the size of the exclusive zone which the hon. Member for North Fylde and I want to see and believe to be justified, was "not realistic". The Minister used the actual words "not realistic". There is a present for the other side before we begin !
What is now on the table is a bid from the other side in the form of the 12-mile exclusive zone. As the Minister of State admitted, we shall have to fight uphill every mile of the way to extend that 12-mile zone. Not only are we caught by the reverse veto—the fact that any renewal of the derogation and any new scheme can be vetoed by any member of the Community—but we have started out upon the bargaining process not by putting on the table the full justice of our case—which in the international area the Government admit is generally accepted—but by supinely waiting until the very bottom bargaining position was placed on the table as the first, basic proposal to us from the Community.
For myself, I do not believe there is any acceptable starting point for this country other than that the 200-mile limit or the median line should mark the exclusive zone which we need and claim Of course it is easy to discount British interests as "not realistic" when they are put on a par with those of the other nations. I noted with interest that the Minister of State explained how we would be allowed to carry out the policing in whatever exclusive areas we finish up with, though I do not know who is to police the areas between our strip and the strips of the other EEC countries. But (everybody knows that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire was right when he said that there is no effective control of quotas and that they are impossible to police. I am saying nothing contrary to international comity when I declare that it is a well-known fact—it does not depend upon fishermen's hearsay—that the worst offenders, whether they be within or outside the EEC, in the devastation of the fishing grounds are the very people whose activities will never be successfully policed.
We ought to take it as a principle in this subject that there is no substitute for the exclusive zone. There is no other way in which the conservation and protection of fishing stocks can be assured. We ought to begin with the 200-mile limit or the median line and fight every inch of the way any limitation upon that which the Common Market seeks to secure from us. I wish that the Government had adopted that attitude rather than thrown their cards away before they went to the bargaining table.
It would have been to the advantage of the House if we had been able this evening to record our positive view of what the Government's position ought to be. We are told that inside the EEC this House is still very powerful, that we can record our wishes and actually give the Government instructions. It seems unfortunate, and not consonant with the seriousness of the subject, that a Division should take place tonight upon the question whether we adjourn or go on to consider the lead content of petrol in the EEC, when we might and should have had placed before us the views of Her Majesty's Opposition on what was the minimum that was acceptable to this country. Then we could, each of us, have gone on record in the Lobby not about whether we should adjourn at 10 o'clock but about what, on behalf of our constituents, we are prepared to accept for this nation in the management of our resources.
We are brought face to face by this debate with one corner of what we have given up by sacrificing inside the Common Market the position of an independent sovereign nation and Parliament. But there is more to it than that. Behind the desolate scene which those of us who represent fishing constituencies face there lies the lack of pride—even of defiance—which has characterised the behaviour of this country in recent years. We have no reason to apologise to anyone in the world, in Europe or elsewhere, either for the use we have made of the fishing resources around these islands or for the manner in which we have helped to exploit other fishing grounds throughout the world. Neither need we apologise for making the claim that this nation, the United Kingdom, these islands, are entitled to insist upon as large an exclusive patrimony as any other country on the face of the earth.
I always enjoy listening to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Today I found him a little gloomy. It is a question of temperament. He is a cautious pessimist and perhaps I am a cautious optimist. I agree with him on one thing, however, The common fisheries policy negotiations have started, and before we finish the bargaining we must stick to the point that we do not go outwards from 12 miles but rather that we begin at a 100-miles exclusive zone. If we are forced to do so, we come in from that. Psychologically it is important. Further, it will define where we stand.
I echo what the right hon. Member for Down, South said about this amazing set-up today. This is a most unusual debate, as I pointed out in an earlier intervention. We have had lots of talk about how important it is that no party politics should enter into the problems of the fishing industry. Why on earth could we not have waited until the two senior Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, had returned from their four days of tough bargaining with their eight opposite numbers? We could then have held the debate in the context of what those Ministers were able to tell us. Today we are laying down the law without knowing what the answers to our questions will be.
It is nonsense to divide on the inadequate information that we have. This debate is ill-timed. The Opposition knew that those Ministers were going for these talks.
That is a political explanation, which does not satisfy me.
I view with dismay the sad plight of the fishing industry. Recently an all-party meeting was held in Westminster Hall with Scottish fishermen to discuss the industry. As chairman I was asked to convey the views of that meeting to the then Foreign Secretary. I gather from what I have heard unofficially that my right hon. Friend has moved into another sphere. Nevertheless, we can still see my right hon. Friend as a deputation. I wrote to him and received the following letter:
We are actively supporting the concept of 200 mile economic zones (including fishery limits) at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference, with maximum coastal state rights over fisheries. At the same time we are considering with our Community partners the adaptations which will have to be made to the Common Fisheries Policy to meet the very different situation which will follow the agreed introduction of 200 mile limits. Among the questions being considered is that of the extent of any coastal belt reserved exclusively for our coastal fishermen. The EEC Commission have suggested a CFP with 12 mile reserved coastal belts, and the allocation of stocks outside these belts by national quotas among Member States. This falls short of what the Scottish fishermen have called for. We have already made it clear in Brussels that we require improvements in the Commission's proposals. However, it is the future CFP as a whole which is important as it will apply throughout the 200 mile limits of Member States, both within and beyond the reserved belt.
That is the position, and we must accept that. We are now fighting as one of nine, or one with the other eight inside the CFP, to get the best we can for our own people.
No one needs to convince me about the continuing difficulties of the deep-sea fleet. For decades—although not now—we have had over 100 vessels in St. Andrew's Dock in my constituency. Over the years those of us who know each other in these debates have been saying much the same thing. What I have said does not need any repetition today. However, I want to put on record the fact that there have been three excellent reports about the fleet, issued or published in Hull, by British United Trawlers, which is the biggest single firm, the Humberside County Council and the Hull City Council, in conjunction with the industry and the port.
There was an exchange earlier in the debate in which I think the following phrase was used:
a well-documented case was put forward.
The case in well-documented. There was an exchange earlier between an SNP Member and the Minister of State about whether we would be able to give what financial aid we wished if we had a well-documented case. I hope that we get an answer to that question before the end of the day, because it is fearfully important.
I do not want to have the British Government having a veto placed upon them at the EEC when there is an excellent case that has been put up by our own people to have aid from our own Government. This seems a little unusual. I shall say no more about it, but I hope that we get an answer.
What are the economic difficulties? One does not want to blind people with too many figures. However, I understand that the whole fleet, of some 262 vessels, last year lost an average of £90 per day at sea. The case is documented in all sorts of places and by independent auditors to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The large wet fish trawlers had a surplus of £12 a day. The freezers, mainly in Hull, were making £70 a day. But let us be careful about these figures, because they are before depreciation and payment of interest are taken into account, and they must be added on before, as in any other business, such as textiles or steel; one can say that one has something put by for investment next year or the year ahead to buy new vessels.
The Icelandic dispute is critical to our wet fish trawlers. Some 90 per cent, of The wet fish landed in Hull is out of waters around the island of Iceland. Therefore, one can appreciate how much we, and even more so Fleetwood, have this difficulty.
Fuel costs have risen about fourfold since 1973. Quayside prices, on which we had figures earlier, have lagged behind. I can complement what was said earlier. The price of cod on the Humber ports is 13 per cent, higher than it was in 1974. However, the top and bottom of it all is that the quayside prices have risen one-eighth while the whole costs per day are about half as much again as those of last year. There is no fishing constituency Member who does not know this and no civil servant in the Fisheries Department of the Ministry who does not know it too. I hope that we shall hear no more today about "well-documented cases".
No one in his heart likes subsidies. No one likes to go to a money-lender—still less do independent fishermen. I gather that Canada has given or will be giving about £23 million this year to her fleet, and I think that the Norwegian figure is more than £60 million. Here we have those other two dominant fishing Slates in the North Atlantic and we are the third of the trinity. However, at this difficult time there is a case for an injection of cash now because of the unusual conditions. Austen Laing has recently made a statement on behalf of the BTF to the effect that "We must not let our industry fade away". Of course we must not. No one here intends that. I hope that we shall scotch any rumours that there is any intention on either side of the House to let our fleet fade away.
I come to the Law of the Sea Conference and related matters. I believe that all activity in the oceans should be subject to international agreement. That is why we are against the uncivilised behaviour of people in Iceland. Fishing is particularly sensitive in this matter of international agreements. I believe that quotas should and must be fixed by bilateral negotiation—that is, between ourselves, perhaps, and the Norwegians—subject to approval by the EEC. I further believe that these agreements must and shall only be fixed in relation to the existing capacity of the industry, with, of course, historic rights, though these must be phased out over the years because, like anything else, they become anachronistic in a changing and dynamic situation.
It is not my understanding, but there is no doubt that if we have these limits extended we can dispense, within those areas, particular fishing agreements to particular nations. However, I do not want to have continually, for ever and amen, foreign fleets coming in off the Minch or anywhere else filching millions of tons of fish. We have said earlier that these are our waters—not in a chauvinist sense but geographically—and we should administer them within this exclusive economic zone.
We must maintain our existing fleet. As I see it, quotas for the future are being based upon present catches, and if we allow our fleet to fade away we shall be in difficulty. However, there is all the time an imperative need to conserve our stocks.
I come now to the monitoring system that has been mentioned. I accept all that was said by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym)—but that means enforcement. We must have a much larger fishery protection fleet. I hope that no pacifist on either side of the House will demur if I say that we should build more gunboats—and I use the word quite openly, like the Icelanders do—to protect the waters around our shores and to stop any poaching that may take place. I gather that many hon. Members representing parts of Yorkshire and hon. Members from Cornwall complain bitterly about the French, as we complain bitterly about the Dutch and their behaviour off the Yorkshire coast.
I come now to the CFP. It is no earthly good—this is why I deemed the right hon. Member for Down, South to be somewhat gloomy—being gloomy and almost hidebound about the EEC. We are in it. The country voted to stay in the EEC and we must attempt to work within it. Twelve months ago the Minister discussed these matters in Luxembourg and we received concessions from other nations. There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in the conditions on which we were taken into the EEC by the Conservatives. At that time, there was mutual access up to high-water mark until 1982, after which there were to be changes.
That has been changed now and we have a 12-mile exclusive limit. I do not want to start bargaining at 12 miles and go out; I want to start bargaining at 100 miles and come in. There might be some horse-dealing. We might agree to a line between 12 and 100 miles and in return make a concession for access to our markets for other agricultural commodities. I accept the proposals for a 12-mile limit, but we must negotiate for an extension, and I take it that we are all agreed upon that.
I understand the Opposition strictures about the lack of clarity of our position on the common fisheries policy. I do not accept what Conservative Members say about the behaviour of the Minister and the Government. When the two Ministers come back from their four-day safari, I hope that more light will be shed upon this matter. I hope that the planned review of the common fisheries policy will take place without inordinate delay. I share much of the Opposition's impatience, but I hope for good news in four days' time.
I have not the time to discuss the market organisation for the industry, but I do not want intervention systems for fish on the lines of the common agricultural policy.
The Government must take action about the large quantities of fish which are unloaded on the dockside in Hull and many other places. Twelve months ago, following the fishermen's blockade, we were able to tell the Norwegians to stop dumping large quantities of fillets on the United Kingdom. We got our way then and I do not understand why we cannot act in the same way now to prevent the unloading at our ports of about 800 tons of fish. I hope to hear that we are taking action against Norway, which is the chief offender.
What are the Government's plans for the future size and shape of the fleet? Hull has invested heavily in the distant water fleet. In the last decade we have spent £70 million on big freezers which fish off the Barents Sea, Greenland, and the North-East Arctic. 'What will happen as the emphasis moves from distant waters back into middle waters and nearer home? In the past five years the Government have given aid mounting to £32 million.
I hope that the Minister will not forget that there has been criticism in Hull and on the Humberside by workers, and others who are not actively engaged in the industry, of the lack of adequate public accountability. People want to know what they are getting. There is even more criticism about the working conditions of the men at sea. With a Labour Government in power, comments are also made about public ownership.
To nationalise the total fleet, or the inshore section, would be nonsensical. Over the years I have persistently urged in the Chamber—and still do—the necessity for a State sector. I do not understand why the Labour Government have not nationalised a fleet of perhaps 10 vessels as a pace-maker for the family firms about which there is so much criticism.
Among my constituents and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), there is criticism about the way in which the industry has been organised in the past. It is felt that the owners have failed the workers. No one can deny that there has been a manifest neglect of working conditions. A Select Committee was appointed in 1968–69, and many changes have taken place since the Holland-Martin Committee of Inquiry reported. That action was sparked off by the appalling disasters at that time.
No one can deny that deep-sea fishing in the Arctic is perhaps the most dangerous of all occupations—it is more dangerous than deep coal mining. Much more attention should be given to the working conditions of the men at sea. The unsolved mystery of the "Gaul" is still the cause of much feeling in Hull. On Saturday morning I received a deputation of women who were concerned about that disaster. I have always looked upon a fishing vessel as a floating factory. Fishermen deserve the same protection as is given to their fellow workers on shore. They should be covered by the Employment Protection Act and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.
The Government should be looking carefully at the decasualisation of the work force in the fishing fleet. Since the late 1960s I have discussed this matter with many Ministers. The late David Shenton, National Fisheries Officer for the Transport and General Workers' Union—whose untimely death is a great loss to the industry—did a great deal for the fishermen in Hull. He spoke to a Back Benches' committee, and since then the matter has been on the carpet. The matter was discussed by the Select Committee inquiring into trawler safety in 1969. This is still on the Minister's desk and we need action. I hope he will look at this matter very carefully.
I do not believe that the industry is dying on its feet as some of the gloom mongers claim, but there has been a decline which we must halt. Whatever happens at the Law of the Sea Conference or in the EEC negotiations will go alongside the financial and constitutional measures we take for our fleet.
We must work with might and main to get a viable industry and one which, after it has received short-term subsidies, will provide more civilised working conditions for the intrepid men without whom there would be no fish on anyone's plate tomorrow.
I very much regret the attack of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) on the trawler owners. Profit is a dirty word among many hon. Members opposite, but without profits it is not possible to establish good working conditions. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said ships were losing money at the rate of £90 per day at sea. How, then, can owners improve conditions?
Owners will do all they can to improve conditions if they can make profits, but at the moment they are making losses. The hon. Member's answer is to nationalise the industry because then it would not matter if it made a loss. Looking at the gas, electricity, railway, Post Office and other nationalised industries, I can see what he means, but that would not help the country.
The hon. Member also mentioned the loss of ships, including the "Gaul", and it might be assumed from his remarks that he was attaching some responsibility to the owners for those losses. I am sure that he would not wish to give that impression.
The hon. Gentleman and I have neighbouring constituencies and he knows the fishing industry has had its ups and downs. There have been many good years. If there had not been, we would not see all the houses and cars in his constituency where many owners and skippers live. In the bad years, we should help the industry, but the hon. Gentleman should not gloss over the fact that a lot of money has been made in the good years and that there should have been better working conditions in force long before now.
In the good years money is generally ploughed back into the industry, but I agree that in the bad years we should give it some assistance.
Every hon. Member, except one, knows that the industry is in a critical state. The exception is the Minister of State. He is a very nice person who takes a real interest in the industry. He has visited the fishing ports and has been most amenable to me and other hon. Members in accepting deputations of hon. Members and fishermen.
However, for month after month he has been giving us the same speech. Today's speech was very similar to the one we heard on 19th February and the one in the debate before that and in the debate before that. I do not blame him; I blame his Government. There is nothing much else for the Minister to say, because the Government have done nothing about the industry's problems.
The Minister has told me that many of these matters, including limits and fisheries policy, are international problems beyond the Government's control. I accept that, but the Minister has said little about the 100-mile exclusive zone or about the fight the Government intend to make. The Government should be telling us that they will fight in the Common Market and use the veto if necessary.
The Minister spoke about the wine war between France and Italy and we all saw the pictures of tractors blocking the roads to Paris. Does he want our fishermen to block the major ports again? They have done it once and would no doubt do it again. I am sure the Minister does not want that.
We are complaining about the Government's lethargy. They have done nothing and that is why we intend to vote tonight.
The hon. Gentleman has said he does not want to be personal, but I am a member of the Government he is criticising and what I said represents Government policy.
His remarks are extraordinary in view of the fact that his party negotiated the Treaty of Accession, which is the starting point for the current negotiations. I hope that I have injected a degree of realism into the situation.
The hon. Member is critical of the fact that we have not made progress, but a number of Ministers are now abroad doing the kind of things for which he has been asking. I do not know what the pairing arrangements are for tonight, but they may have to be brought back from those negotiations at a critical moment in order to vote. The timing of this debate is extraordinary and one must doubt the Opposition's sincerity.
The Minister talks about Government policy, but we are talking about the lack of policy. He mentioned the EEC negotiations, but he will recall that many hon. Members, particularly those from Hull, told the Government to make sure the common fisheries policy was worked out before the referendum. They did not even start the negotiations until after the referendum—when all leverage had been lost.
The House will recall that, in the original discussions undertaken by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) when he was Minister of Agriculture, the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) blew hot and cold about a proper fisheries policy and, at the last moment, when we had only a derogation, decided that he was satisfied with that and voted in favour of our joining the Common Market. He should come off it.
I could not hear the hon. Gentleman very well and did not understand what he was saying. I shall read his remarks in Hansard tomorrow and then take them up with him.
The Conservative Government took us into the Common Market, but the terms were renegotiated—at great length we were told—by the present Government. They were warned that the common fisheries policy should be clarified before the referendum, but they did not get it clarified. That is one of our complaints.
The industry faces crises, both long-term and short-term. In the short-term, the distant water section is facing serious financial difficulties and, in the long-term, there is a lack of confidence due to uncertainty over the extension of limits. The inshore industry's short-term financial problems are not so severe, but they are still serious and in the long-term there will be a danger to fish stocks if we do not have a wide band of exclusive limits. The whole future of the inshore industry and our fish and chips depends on these exclusive limits.
Taken together, these factors could spell the end of the industry as we have known it, and certainly the end of the distant water industry in Hull. The problems of the distant water industry concern catches, costs and prices.
In the past year catches have been 10 per cent, down and costs have increased 500 per cent, since 1972. The cost of fuel has increased by more than 30 per cent, this year alone. But since 1972 prices have increased by only 33 per cent, and by only 2 per cent, or 3 per cent, this year.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West pointed out what this meant in terms of losses per day at sea. It also means that a vessel over 80 feet lost £17,000 last year before depreciation and about £35,000 with depreciation. No industry in the world could run with losses like that. In addition to all the many international problems, the industry now faces these financial problems, and that is why we believe the Government must help.
The result of this financial loss is that the numbers of BTF trawlers have declined from 328 vessels in January 1975 to 278 in January this year and to 246 in April. That is a decline of about 25 per cent, in 15 months. That decline cannot be allowed to continue if the industry is to survive.
The effect on unemployment has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), who took the rule of thumb as one to five. I have always taken it as one to seven. One job at sea gives work to about seven people ashore. Whichever figure one takes, it has a marked effect on unemployment.
Another rule of thumb is that each vessel at sea is equivalent to 84 jobs ashore. I have given this figure to the Minister of State before. If 84 people are put out of work, it means about £3,000 a week in social security payments. That should therefore be put on one side of the equation.
The main fishing ports are areas of high unemployment, ranging from about 8 per cent, to 10 per cent. What are the Government going to do about the situation? We asked them in February and at the end of the debate last year. We still have not had an answer. The Minister of State in reply to Questions and in the debate said "We might do something about it if the case for overwhelming need is established."
The BTF has published its average operating results from September 1974 to September 1975. The Minister has those figures. At the moment the projection for the year 1975 to 1976 is being worked out. How long must we wait? Frankly, with a 25 per cent, decline in the distant-water fleet in 15 months, if we have to wait another 15 months for the Government to make up their mind about the operating subsidy, there will not be much fleet left. The rate of decline increases with growing lack of confidence.
There is an overwhelming argument for a temporary operating subsidy. I emphasise that we are asking not for a permanent subsidy, but for a temporary subsidy to take care of the present situation, which is not the fault of the industry. When will the Government work on the projection and come to the House and say that they will do something?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the comments made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in the debate on public expenditure? The right hon. Gentleman said:
The Opposition's view is that subsidies are a substantial part of our troubles. They form a veritable cat's cradle of distortions."—[Official Report, 10th March 1976; Vol. 907, c. 432.]
I recognise that the industry does not want subsidies if they can be avoided, but it is important to give the industry a future, for which we are fighting, to make it viable without any help of this kind.
The Minister of State has producted an old chestnut. Subsidies spread over the board, like food subsidies, do not help very much. Subsidies are justified by temporary emergency situations, such as that facing the fishing industry. A relatively small temporary subsidy would help the industry in this crisis.
When the quotas are worked out for the 200-mile limit, our quota will be based on the size of our fleet, which is contracting when other fleets in the EEC are increasing. That is another basic reason for immediate financial help.
Imports make the position even more difficult. I do not want to go into this matter at length. I understand that in 1975 imports increased by 18 per cent., though average prices fell by 6·5 per cent. Imports obviously force down prices. There is a suspicion of dumping on the part of certain nations. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West made this point, so I shall not weary the House by repeating it. With dumping and the Norwegian subsidy of £100 million last year and £60 million plus this year, we are facing a serious situation. The Government should do something about it. I recognise that this is a difficult matter, because it is subject to international negotiation, but the Government should get tough with our partners in Europe.
I believe that the Icelandic problem will be a long haul. I congratulate not only the Royal Navy, but the support ships, tugs, and the maritime reconnaissance aircraft of the Royal Air Force on the magnificent work that they have done. It seems that all we can do is to go on and show the Icelanders that we can catch our voluntarily restricted quota, which I understand is 85,000 tons of cod each year. When they see us doing that, they may achieve a more amenable state of mind.
The House must realise that the problem is not here, but in the coalition Cabinet in Iceland. If one side wants to be reasonable, the other side takes the opposite view—no doubt in the hope of forcing a General Election. We cannot get anywhere with that state of affairs. It is rather like the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), whom I would congratulate as he is, I understand, now Prime Minister, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) being in the same coalition Government. It would be difficult for them to hold the same opinion on an international problem that rouses deep public feeling such as this one. Those are the facts of life. We must bear in mind that the Icelanders have a coalition Government, that public opinion is roused and that in those circumstances very little can be done.
I have just come back from a visit to NATO's political leaders and commanders-in-chief in America and Canada. NATO is worried about the position in Iceland and wants a settlement. We want a settlement. Our European partners want a settlement. It is to the advantage of all nations that there should be a settlement. I hope that we get one before too long. We must maintain our present position until the Icelanders decide to start talking.
World opinion has changed. In the past, world opinion took the line that big Britain was bullying little Iceland. Now, in view of our removal of the Royal Navy for a time, the continued negotiations, the Icelandic Prime Minister's visit to this country, and so on, it is clear that we are doing all that we can to reach agreement and that it is the Icelanders who are dragging their feet.
The inshore fleet has problems which will be developed by my hon. Friends who have a specialised interest. The problems are basically limits and quotas. Considerable poaching goes on within the six-mile and 12-mile limits. Something must be done about it. There is no doubt that quotas do not work. Foreigners are catching immature fish. One has only to visit the sales in Boulogne, Dunkirk, Dieppe or Calais to see that immature fish are being sold. Belgians are fishing off our south coast. Their quotas for sole ended in April 1975. However, they were fishing off the south coast in August and again in November. Clearly, they have been exceeding their quotas, whereas our people are forced to fish within their quotas by proper policing. We must have international control of quotas or they will not work.
The Minister of State referred to a 200-mile limit and having national quotas within that limit. It is essential, if the quotas system is to work properly, to have international policing before any extension of limits, as such an extension will only make the present situation worse.
On the common fisheries policy, a 12-mile exclusive limit will give 1·1 million tons of fish. That is not enough. I hope that the Minister will not claim any victory because the Common Market has conceded a 12-mile exclusive zone. If he does and if he goes to the fishing ports, I dread to think what will happen to him. I think that he knows as well as I do.
We must go for 100 miles. I accept that a 100-mile limit would give us 2·8 million tons, that a 50-mile limit would give us 2·5 million tons, and that there is not much difference. But if we have a 100-mile limit it is much easier to police the outer 50 miles effectively and to keep poachers out of the important inner 50 miles. Therefore, a 100-mile limit is essential. The industry knows what it wants and has made it clear. Our task is to tell our partners that we intend to have this limit and that, if necessary, we will bargain for it with other commodities and concessions elsewhere. It is wrong to expect other maritime or fishing nations, such as Iceland and Norway, to have a 200-mile limit and for us to be content with a 12-mile limit. That is not acceptable to our industry or the nation.
We must have an adequate protection service. We have not built it now when we are protecting only 12 miles, but we must have a force of aircraft, fast patrol boats, and slower gunboats to protect not only the enlarged limits, but the oil rigs, and to carry out environmental control and air sea rescue. We can do that at a comparatively cheap price by an integrated force.
To sum up, the Government have been unlucky—I admit that—over the cod war and with the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference taking so much longer than expected, but they should have renegotiated the common fisheries policy before the referendum. I submit that the Government have not taken sufficient action internationally to obtain a proper balance and quotas. There has been a lack of action over distant-water subsidies—a lack that we have deplored time and again in this House. There has been a lack of action over a common fisheries policy and a lack of action in trying to obtain an exclusive limit.
The industry is in a crisis largely because of lack of Government planning and action. Bitterness is growing in the industry, and this bitterness will be directed wholly against the Government. The vote tonight will be a clear warning to the Government, and I hope that for the sake of the industry this warning will be heeded and that some positive action will be taken in the very near future.
Like the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), I regard this debate as particularly ill-timed. In fact, I believe that it is naive in the extreme to have a debate while negotiations are going on and I intend to give no kudos to its initiators. When one realises that barely six weeks have passed since the last Supply Day debate on this subject, when my party divided the House and the Tories did not see fit to go into the Division Lobby with us, one recognises the sheer hypocrisy of the Tories on the subject of fishing.
However, I suppose that we should, in some way, be pleased that the Tories have at long last tumbled to the need for urgent action on fishing. It was they who presided over the present loss of confidence that is pervading the industry. It is their neglect from which the industry is suffering today, and it is their negligence that has led to the situation that our fishermen have only 12 miles or less of our own rich fishing waters, which are the richest waters in the North-East Atlantic.
It was the blind insistence of Tory Members on getting into the Common Market at any price that was at fault, and that price, as everyone knows, was the throwing away of all rights over those waters that should belong to our fishermen. At present, 60 per cent, of all fish in the EEC fish pool are in British waters, yet Tory members threw all that away. Though the Tories belated conversion is welcome, I should be better pleased if that conversion were borne of a genuine wish to help the fishing industry but, as usual with that party, it is purely political expediency, faced as the Tories are with further massive defeats in fishing constituencies at the hands of the SNP.
If the Tories think that their display of concern for our fishermen at this late hour may still save them in the odd seat, I have news for them. They are too late—they have squandered the good will that was theirs for so long. The fishermen of Scotland, who used to be Conservative to a man, now state openly that the only hope for their fishing industry lies in Scotland's independence—not devolution, but independence. I know of leading skippers who have always voted Tory, and have never voted for me who now tell their fellow fishermen and everyone else who will listen that only independence at the earliest possible moment will save the herring industry from extinction. These are changed days indeed.
When the House considers that Britain—and when it comes to herring for Britain read Scotland—has a quota of only 4 per cent, of the total allowable catch of herring in the North-East Atlantic, amounting to 18,000 tons, while Denmark has a quota of 105,000 tons, I think the degree of past neglect can be gauged. It is all the more galling to realise that Denmark has established a right to that quota of herring by scooping up immature fish purely for fishmeal, while our men go fishing for herring for human consumption and allow immature herring to spawn and so further propagate the species. The Danes are hell-bent on destroying our stocks, just as they destroyed their own.
Only three weeks ago off the west coast of Scotland our herring men were stopped from fishing for herring, while just outside the 12-mile limit there was a fleet of foreign boats waiting for the shoals to move out. I wonder how many of those herring are alive today. Our fishermen are fully aware of the need for conservation but all must practise it—not only our men, but foreigners, too.
Does the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who must accept much of the blame for the past neglect because he was involved in the negotiations as we went into the Common Market, think that at this late stage a few Press releases condemning the inactivity of the Government will help to save his skin? Does he think that a few bitter attacks on the Government from the Opposition Front Bench will exonerate him from responsibility for his disgraceful part in the EEC negotiations? If the hon. Gentleman were to consult the prospective Tory candidate for Banffshire, who resigned two weeks ago, or the Tory candidate for Moray and Nairn who resigned last week, about the Tory Party's future prospect in Scotland he might learn a few home truths, and we might then have a little less pomposity and a bit more humility from the Opposition Front Bench.
The present Government are now equally to blame. During their two years in office they have done nothing to rectify the mistakes of past Administrations and are, indeed, aggravating the situation. They give the fishing industry no indication of their future fishing policy—if they have one. They refuse to give the industry any protection against subsidised imports of fish and fish products, whatever the country of origin. They refuse to give the industry an operating subsidy, when almost every other North Atlantic country gives one.
But worse than all those faults is the fault of harassing the very country that should be our ally in fishing matters—Iceland. That tiny country, which is totally dependent upon fishing for its livelihood, is showing this country the way we should be going. We should be protecting our stocks from extinction.
No. The situation with Iceland shows more than anything else the total lack of understanding of the situation, and here I include both the Tory and Labour Parties in my remarks. Hon. Members in this House all fight a comfortable war in this place, tearing at each other's throats, snarling at each other, threatening each other and achieving nothing. You may frighten each other, but you frighten nobody else, and nobody in the world is any longer impressed with what is said in this House.
It is high time that hon. Members stopped quarrelling with one another and started to recognise the common enemy. I am not surprised by the lack of attendance in the Chamber tonight. It is typical of what happens in every debate on this subject. It is high time that we recognised the common enemy and stopped scoring ponits off one another. Hon. Gentlemen are so busy scoring points off one another that they cannot recognise common ground when they see it. The Government's present indecision and inaction make our fishermen the laughing stock of the world's fishing fleets.
My party has repeatedly called for both sides of the House to get round a table and thrash out a fisheries policy. Then, united in purpose, we might be able to do a deal with the Icelanders—so many thousand tons of their cod for so many thousand tons of our herring. That is the way in which we must act in the future.
If hon. Members of all parties had got round the table prior to the EEC negotiations, perhaps they would have recognised a good ally, Norway, whose fisheries are akin to ours. Norway looked after her interests when she went into the Common Market. [HON. MEMBERS: "Norway did not go in."] Norway decided it was not in her interests to go into the Common Market, of course, but, had we sat round the table with Norway, perhaps we might have recognised that it was not in our interests to go into the Common Market. On the other hand, we might have found a formula allowing Norway to go into the Common Market along with us.
When we have negotiations with the EEC it is important that we start from a premise that is agreed on both sides of this House. Such a round-table conference would throw a spotlight on the real enemies—countries such as Denmark and Belgium—which persist in industrial fishing, and place the entire future of North Atlantic fishing in jeopardy.
Here I digress for a moment. Although everyone deprecates the present huge mountain of skimmed milk powder in the Common Market, no one seeks to do anything about it. Would it not be proper if we were to suggest to our partners in the EEC that for a year they should stop all industrial fishing for fish meal? Instead of using fish meal in poultry rations, pig rations and other animal rations, we should use the mountain of skimmed milk powder. The two products are virtually interchangeable. If we stopped the fishing for industrial fish meal for a year, we might, perhaps, just at the vital moment, save our stocks of fish from extinction.
There are so many matters which require discussion, in our efforts to put our fishing industry back on an even keel, that it is difficult to know which of them to highlight in a debate such as this. Most of the problems are better suited to a detailed discussion. For example, when will our fishermen get a fair deal from the oil companies for the damage continually being done to their nets by the debris left behind when an oil rig moves on? It is absolutely imperative that at the Law of the Sea Conference the Government should now go for a 200-mile limit, and then insist, with our EEC partners, on reaching agreement that the inner 100 miles be reserved for the exclusive use of the coastal State.
I believe that the outer 100-mile fishing limit must be controlled by licence and that the licences must come under the jurisdiction of the coastal States. We have so much to offer that we should virtually have the power of veto on all other countries' operations. The entire fishing industry is now united in its call for a 100-mile exclusive right in a way in which it has never been united on any subject before.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made a great fuss about my party's plans for a Scottish navy. We make no apologies whatsoever for these plans. A navy will be needed for use in our own waters to protect our own fishing interests and to prevent overfishing. I trust that our record of arrest and prosecution will be better than that of the London Government.
My fishermen are furious that foreigners continually get away with fishing within the 12-mile limit. If they are arrested, they are usually let off with only a caution, whereas the small men in our own fleet are constantly harassed by protection vessels. My party proposes that Scotland should have a separate Ministry for fishing and that it should not, as at present, be an appendage of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
I plead with the new Prime Minister—I congratulate him on his appointment—to seize the opportunity to take the Ministry of Food away from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and put it where it belongs—together with consumer protection. Perhaps while he is doing this the new Prime Minister will appoint somebody better equipped to look after Scotland's fishing interests. From the action of the Front Bench today, it is obvious that it would be better if we had a completely new deal on fishing. Surely the fact that the Government do not know what they are about, or do not take the problem seriously, is indicated by those on the Front Bench.
This is a time for hard bargaining. The future of the industry is at stake. Let us get some tough horse traders on the Government Front Bench. Let us get some results. [Laughter.] The laughter in the House is again indicative of the way in which the Government regard horse traders in this country. It is high time that this House stopped knocking horse trading in our society. Ten tough horse traders would do more good than 100 of the hon. Gentlemen on any of the Benches on either side of the House. Do they not realise that the kid-glove trade died years ago?
Has anybody wondered why the recent negotiations with Iceland failed? The Icelanders sent fishermen to the talks. The British Government sent academics who did not know the difference between a cod and a queen. For the benefit of anyone who does not know the term, a queen is a shellfish.
I wish the Government well in their negotiations in the next few vital weeks and months, but I doubt whether they have the will or spirit to succeed. Certainly they have been left in a very weak bargaining position by the negligence of the previous Governments. It is, however, absolutely essential that the Government stand firm now, and I wish them some steel to their backbone.
I hope that the debate will highlight the gravity of the situation and engender some fresh thinking and fresh determination to get a fair deal for our own people. In all future negotiations we must insist on a new deal. Historic agreements and past quotas must be set aside. These historic agreements are not the law of the Medes and Persians. The Government must take firm control of the present situation and carve a better future for fishermen.
This House has at present a mandate to negotiate on behalf of Scotland's fishermen. I charge the Government to use that mandate well. But I give the House fair warning that, should the deal done on our fishermen's behalf be unsatisfactory, the moment the mandate of Government returns to Scotland, we shall reserve the right to declare null and void any such deal, and we shall seek new arrangements to safeguard the interests of future generations of Scottish fishermen.
In the previous debate on 19th February 1976 I highlighted the difference in the importance of fishing as between England and Scotland. I mentioned that fishing is 20 times more important to Scotland than to England. The quarter of Britain's fishing industry that is comprised by Hull and Grimsby is well looked after, and I pay tribute to the men who look after that section of the fishing industry. Indeed, the cod war is being fought on their behalf and only on their behalf at this moment. But the half of the fishing industry that is represented by Scotland has had appalling representation in the past, and if the fishing constituencies in Scotland choose to change their representatives, it is their prerogative to do so.
After only two years in this House my colleagues and I recognise the total futility of presenting the Scottish case in this forum. If in days to come the people of Scotland choose to use another more meaningful forum that is relevant to their needs, that is their prerogative. One thing is certain—they could not fare worse.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) began his speech by making some very entertaining references to resigned Tory Party candidates in the North-North-East of Scotland. Then we had the statutory references to the Scottish navy and a boatshed with no boats. We were then treated to further statutory attempts to score points across the Floor of the House.
All hon. Members know full well that the hon. Member himself is a failed Tory Party candidate and that in recent days there has been a great panic in Scotland over certain statements made by members of his party. He told us that he was making a great appeal today to the fishermen on the North-East Coast of Scotland who were very concerned about the small area of sea in which they could fish and who were conservatives with a small "c". He said that they were leaving the Tory Party in droves and joining the Scottish Nationalist Party. It is no wonder that his leader was upset when Margo McDonald, senior vice-president, said that the Scottish National Party was a Socialist party.
What the hon. Gentleman said has been denied. The Scottish National Party is not a Socialist party, we are told. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) has said that the Scottish National Party is not a Socialist party but a Social Democratic party. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) disapproved of that as a term for those who wished to be Labour but not Socialist. Such contradictions and waverings are understandable, because there is always fear and terror in their hearts about their own future.
I was rather upset by the hon. Member's last remarks. I must ask him to clarify them. The members of his party are rather prone to making vague statements in the House. They get very fed up with presenting a well-argued case. So they are prone to making Delphic utterances. They speak in riddles all the time. The hon. Gentleman said that, if the fishermen of Scotland are dissatisfied with their present representation and decide to take some other meaningful and relevant means of solving their problem, that is their prerogative.
What does that mean? Does it mean that when the time comes—when an election comes—they are entitled to vote for those who, they think, will more adequately represent their views? Does it have a more short-term meaning than that? By his references to the wine war, is the hon. Gentleman exhorting the fishermen of Scotland, and presumably the fishermen of England and Wales as well, to take direct action of some kind to bring about a change?
It is very strange that the hon. Gentle man is silent. I do not know whether he is nodding, but he should clarify for the House precisely what he means so that people may know what he believes the fishermen should do. In future it is necessary that we should be absolutely clear. If the hon. Member is advocating direct action, let him say so. His silence means either consent or disagreement.
I am asking the hon. Gentleman to clarify what he meant. It is no use his uttering these vague phrases which, he knows, mean nothing. The only conclusion we can draw is that which I have stated. The position with this one, as I suppose with so many other matters, is that we shall have to wait for the statutory Press conference which is always held on a Monday to see what has been said about different matters. Then we shall have to draw our own conclusions.
There are times when the House takes on an almost surrealist atmosphere. The words of the past echo through the Chamber: they come back almost to haunt us at times. The voices may change Indeed, the personnel themselves may change. Often the rôle of individual hon. Members may change. But it is remarkable how often discussions are greatly similar. Often, too, they have a depressing similarity.
It is the repetition of different words and phrases which makes us feel that as regards the fishing industry we have been here before. It is now necessary to refer back to some earlier debates. I have here the report of an earlier debate in
which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East said this:
The harsh fact that the Government must face is that from the date this scheme was announced there has not been an order placed in my shipyard in the North-East."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 17th June 1971; c. 66.]
That was not the present hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson). That was a remark by his predecessor, Patrick Wolrige-Gordon.
Earlier that year, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) put a Question to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food asking
what consultations he had, and with which fishermen's organisations, prior to the drawing up of the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Amendment) Scheme 1970".
I recall that there was a considerable amount of concern about that in Scotland. The Minister replied:
There was no consultation with fishermen's organisations before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the reduction in rates of grant on 27th October last …".—[Official Report, 10th March 1971; Vol. 813, c. 131.]
All was not sweetness and light in previous days between the Government and the fishing industry in the matter of consultation. At least it can be said that my right hon. and hon. Friends have consulted the fishing industry closely on the various points.
We have been greatly concerned about what the position has been since we joined the Common Market. It is interesting to reflect on the words of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) before we joined. The hon. Gentleman sometimes comes to the Dispatch Box emitting such sound and fury that we are led to imagine that he has been absolutely opposed to the EEC since its inception. He said in the same debate in the Scottish Grand Committee:
We are entirely seized of the anxiety within the inshore fishing industry about the Common Market. We have reserved our position. We are negotiating on it. … Whilst I appreciate the anxieties within the industry, when one looks at figures over the last year of the increase in landing, value of landings and profits earned, particularly in our inshore industry, I believe that they need not be too apprehensive about the Common Market, provided that we can negotiate the right conditions.
At a later stage the hon. Gentleman objected strongly to the fact that he was being criticised by his hon. Friend the Member for Banff, who at that time was Bill Baker. Mr. Baker said this in the same debate:
The inshore fishing industry in Scotland has precious little to gain from Britain's entering the EEC, but it has absolutely everything to lose, and if the present limits are not maintained and a complete recasting is not done of the EEC's fisheries policy before we go in, then I fear the worst.
Many of us fear that the state to which the former Member for Banff referred has already arrived.
I finish my list of quotations by making this quotation from something said by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns, who had been attacked by a number of hon. Members in that debate. He said:
May I turn, in the minute or two left, to the very important question of fishing limits. I have been asked what precisely is the Government's position on this. However much the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland may dislike the use of the term ' reserving cur position ', and however much he may ask exactly what the term means, I would make the point that we did this as long ago as 30th June last year".—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 17th June 1971; c. 80, 88, 108.]
We are still waiting to hear precisely what the definition was of "reserving our position". In fact, all it meant was that the then Government accepted the common fisheries policy, which, as has been said time and time again, was cobbled together before we joined the EEC and we simply accepted it with a derogation. I hope, therefore, that at least from the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns we shall have a little less humbug and rather more humility when he winds up the debate, because we know what "reserving our position" meant and what was meant also by a successful outcome to the negotiations. We know that in the scramble to get into the EEC the fishing industry was neglected. I must say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that unfortunately, when we came to renegotiate the terms of entry into the Common Market, we did not make fishing one of the first priorities. That was left until after the referendum.
We are bound to ask exactly where this takes us. It takes us to the Law of the Sea Conference and the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. In all the debates we have had on this issue, the Government have kept their cards very close to their chest. They have remained very quiet about precisely what they are going to do. I regret very much that the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs declared our hand in relation to the 100 miles. He said, if I remember his words correctly, that it was not realistic. He should have known beforehand what our unanimous opinion was. If he did not, I am surprised.
When the inshore fishermen came to see us at the House of Commons three or four weks ago, they came not only from Scotland. There are some things for which the Scottish National Party Members should give credit to fishermen outside Scotland. They came from Cornwall, Devon, the East Coast, the West Coast and Ireland, all saying exactly the same thing: that they wanted a limit of at least 100 miles. We have apparently abandoned that. What is quite certain is that the 12 miles which we have been offered by the Commissioner is far too small. I do not wish to go into the question of the reverse veto. We have pointed out time and again that we cannot use the veto in any of our negotiations on the common fisheries policy because, in effect, we would simply be vetoing the derogation. We would be back to the free access policy which we all agree is totally disastrous.
Some of those who were so keen and enthusiastic in their advocacy of the Common Market, those who said that it was a harmonious organisation, each member working with the other in the best interests of the whole, now have to cast aside some of their starry-eyed enthusiasm and come to grips with the realities of the situation. The realities are that ever since the Common Market was formed—and this is an accelerating process—each nation State within the EEC has fought for its own policy, and if it wanted to be really awkward it would not agree to any proposal unless acceptance ensured that it got its own way. I think we need some of that sort of behaviour on our part to counter the question of the reverse veto.
It is no use the Government saying "We want to work within the spirit of the Treaty of Rome. We still retain our ideals and our belief that the Common Market can become almost a supreme State in its own right, working on behalf of all its members." It is not working that way. The Government must declare where they stand. They must say whether they intend to be difficult about other things if they do not get their way in the common fisheries policy.
I now want to say something about the Scottish trawler fleet. In common with most Members in the House today, I spoke in the debate on 19th February. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland criticised me for what he called my exaggerated pessimism. It had been forecast by the Scottish Trawlers' Federation during the last week in January when it held a Press and television conference, which was attended by Members from the North-East of Scotland, that there were 55 days left to save the industry. That was the dire warning that we were given. It was stated specifically—I have checked the record and have gone through the Press cuttings—that, unless the industry received an immediate subsidy from the Government, virtually every trawler sailing from Aberdeen or Granton would be tied up.
I admit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is correct in his forecast on this occasion. Bad though the position is, it is not as bad as we were told. Since then there have been four further boats tied up, totalling 43 in the last three years. But, whilst earnings have been increasing, the underlying trend is still not optimistic. The Scottish Trawlers' Federation sent Members a copy of the letter from Mr. Gillett in the Scottish Office in reply to the claim for a subsidy, and the figures are as follows. In January-February 1975, vessels over 83 ft. in length caught 2·8 metric tonnes; in January-February 1976, the catch was 3·3 metric tonnes. Vessel earnings in January-February 1975 were £561 per day; in January-February 1976 the earnings were £836 per day. It is true, as is admitted in the letter, that of the increased earnings 20 per cent, goes to the crews and that there has been a 30 per cent, increase in oil prices and a 15 per cent, increase in other costs.
The Government's view now is that the industry can survive without a subsidy, and in fact the claim for a subsidy has been turned down. I understand from the letter sent from the Scottish Trawlers' Federation that that is the Government's view. The figures which I have given are not disputed by the Federation. It may not accept every single figure, but basically it is accepted that the position is better than was expected. Nevertheless, the Federation is still pessimistic about what may happen.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right in his forecast that the market and earnings will hold up. If he is, members of the Scottish Trawlers' Federation will have to be a little more careful in the future about their Press and television propaganda, because it is no use telling us in such sombre terms that there are 55 days left to save the industry. In that sort of situation, I do not intend to come here to put the Federation's case as it is given to me and then find that it has been pulling a fast one. I hope that all that it means is that the Federation has been a little too pessimistic and not that there was any intent to mislead. In fact, I am certain that there was no intent to mislead and that the Federation simply became too pessimistic.
Nevertheless, the Government should not say" We have proved the point in relation to January-February 1975 as compared with January-February 1976 and, therefore, having rejected the operating subsidy, we do not need to think about it again". That is not the case. The Government should say" If figures can be presented to us to show that the industry needs an operating subsidy, it will be provided". I want to know whether the Scottish Office has made contingency plans so that, if the pessimism of the industry is proved, the Government will move in quickly and there will not be long delays caused by drafting time or the age-old difficulty of arranging consultations. I repeat what I said on 19th January: that it is essential to keep the industry in being, and not just for its own sake. People do not go to sea because they like the sea. They go there to make a living. The owners do not keep boats simply for the joy of having boats. They own boats to make profits. That is their business.
I think it is a little odd that when the industry is doing well the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) says that the industry should be left alone to go along without Government interference but that when it is doing badly he says that the Government should step in and support it. This view has been held for far too long. What is overdue is a proper plan for the industry, discussed by the Government with the industry and the trade unions. We certainly want a structure for the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) mentioned decasualisation of labour within the trawling fleet. The inshore fleet is a little more difficult because of the share ownership factor. Nevertheless, once the situation in relation to the common fisheries policy and the law of the sea has been clarified, we must have a White Paper, and I hope that the Government are working on it now. It is not necessary for the Government to wait until everything has been tied up. They should have contingency plans ready so that they can produce a White Paper as soon as the future is known.
The fishing industry is important, not only for the owners and not only for those who go to sea in the vessels. It is important for the consumer too. If we allow our fleet to diminish and if we allow the catches to go on to the extent that stocks are so depleted that we lose much of the varieties and species of fish which we have now, we shall lose a first-class protein food. Moreover, prices in the shops now are rapidly becoming so high that fish is pricing itself out of the ordinary consumer's pocket. This is an aspect of the matter on which all too often we do not concentrate enough attention.
It is a pity that our debates on the industry are held at times of crisis, when there is a change of subsidy or when something else affects the industry, and I regret that there are not more hon. Members from parts of the country which are not fishing constituencies who take part in our debates. As I say, it is left to us to say the same old things time after time.
The official Opposition have said that they will vote tonight. I cannot see that that will achieve anything. Certainly, I am disappointed that much of our negotiating hand in regard to limits has been displayed, but a Division tonight can only accentuate the divisions among us and make clear to our Common Market partners that we are divided. They will fasten on to that. I hope, therefore, that even at this stage the official Opposition will recognise the extent of common ground in regard to limits and the importance of the industry and will send the Minister off to the negotiations with a united message that we are determined to support him if he fights for the industry, if he fights for what we want and if he goes on to renegotiate the common fisheries policy in a way which befits this country.
I suppose that I have a rare opportunity to make myself immensely popular on both sides of the House inasmuch as I intend to make virtually the same speech as I have made in the past on the fishing industry, and in the circumstances I could leave it at that and sit down. Nevertheless, in common with my fellow parliamentarians, I feel compelled to continue because there is something to say, and it must be said. Nothing has happened to change the fishing industry's prospects since the last time I spoke, just as nothing happened between that occasion and the previous debate in which I spoke. All one can say is that in both the inshore sector and the deep-water sector the industry's problems have become immensely more critical.
Without doubt the common fisheries policy requires improvement, and we hope that the current negotiations and discussions will lead to an ability to bring that improvement. But if our inshore fishing industry is to continue at all, something must be done pretty quickly, because the other European Community countries now have the capability to wipe us out. Unless action is taken by the Government to protect the British inshore fishing fleets, they will have ceased to exist not many years hence because they will have been fished right of business, especially by the French and the Belgians.
My prime concern is for the fishing grounds along the south-east corner of England, along the coast of Sussex, where we are especially open to probing from across the Channel from the French and Belgian fishing ports. We seem never to take advantage of the fact that we have the best cards to play in all fishing negotiations in the European Community. All the other eight countries need something from us, and they come to the bargaining table with virtually nothing to offer in return. The French and the Belgians come across the Channel to fish along our coasts because they have no fish around their own coasts. They cannot offer us any quotas in return because they have no fish to put into the bargaining basket.
My hope, therefore, is that, with this eternal opportunity open to us, we shall somehow, even by the necessity for a Division tonight—which in some ways I regret as much as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) does—be able to persuade the Government and all concerned that we ought to be attacking more vigorously in all the negotiations in which we have our forces deployed.
Why do the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food always pussyfoot in these negotiations? We do not play the strength that we really have. It is remarkably difficult to find out what goes on in the Ministry, and I shall tell the House now of how I fared when I put down some Questions during the course of last year, in order to illustrate the situation in which we are in fact as opposed to where the Department thinks we are.
In January last year I asked whether the Minister
will publish his Department's calculations of future sole and plaice stocks and landings which were used to support the agreement made between Her Majesty's Government and The Governments of Belgium and France about fishing in the English Channel in 1975".
I was told:
The agreement to which the hon. Member refers was made by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission
—no doubt, it was nice to be told that, but we knew it already—
The Commission's scientific advice regarding total allowable catches is provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
That was an interesting answer, but it was no answer to my Question. I wanted to know what the Government did. There was no answer about that, and presumably the Government had no figures to deploy. A little research revealed, however, that the International Council for
the Exploration of the Sea is an organisation domiciled in Charlottenlund in Denmark, and it is composed of 17 countries including such experts on sole and plaice in the English Channel as Canada, Finland, Iceland, Poland and the USSR. I am sure that these people are extremely skilful in telling us what we ought to do, but I cannot believe that they know much about it, and they ought not to tell us what to do.
Pursuing the matter, I asked another Question to find out, once we had the quotas decided,
what methods of inspection of the weight and size of sole and plaice catches will be used by the Governments of … France and Belgium within their catch quota agreement for 1975.
The answer was:
The arrangements for regulating the quotas for Belgium and France are the responsibility of the countries concerned."—[Official Report, 28th January 1975, Vol. 885, c. 111–2.]
Again, that was all very nice, so late last year I thought that I would try to find out what had happened in 1975. I was told that the latest figures took us to the end of August, and they showed that the Belgians had by the end of August returned a statement that they had already landed 97 tons out of the 100 tons of sole which they were allowed. My Question was asked in October, and we could still see the Belgians going up and down with their trawlers as we watched from the Hastings cliffs. They must have been well over the top by then, but there was no sign of any fishery protection vessel on any day. Our fishermen complained, but nothing happened.
That was bad enough in the case of Belgium, but with France it was even worse. The answer was:
No information is available on the catches of French vessels".—[Official Report, 20th October 1975; Vol. 898, c. 21–2.]
That would not be so bad if their quota was 100 tons, the same as the Belgians, but it was in fact 870 tons.
Thus, nearly at the end of 1975, having agreed to catch quotas, we have absolutely no idea what has been landed by the people from who are seeking protection.
To crown it all, I recall what was said in reply to a Question when I had once more pleaded, as we have pleaded all along for the South Coast fishermen, that there should be some sort of ban on beam trawling within the 12-mile limit off the Sussex coast. I was told by the Minister of State:
the main threat to fish stocks arises from general overfishing …"—[Official Report, 3rd July 1975; Vol. 894, c. 507.]
We all know that. We can see it. It is going on all the time. The trouble is that we have no protection. We have agreements, but nothing happens and all we are offered are talks which go on and on.
When I sought to pursue the case of our full-time fishermen by suggesting that we should try to limit the number of nets used by part-time fishermen, I received a prize reply—namely, that the Ministry had no plans to do so. We did nothing to protect ourselves. That does not make sense. You will understand our feelings, Mr. Speaker, about the need for a Division so that we can express the strength of our feeling about the need to protect the livelihood of our fishermen.
I shall bring the House up to date with the views of one of our sea fisheries districts. It is the district which represents the Hastings fishing fleet—namely, the Sussex Sea Fisheries District. I have a report from its chief fishery officer, Mr. Howell. The district will debate the report at its next meeting.
Mr. Howell describes the situation as he found it in the quarter ended 29th February 1976. He quotes my constituency as an example. At Hastings we have eight trawlers and 22 trammel fishing vessels. Mr. Howell reports that the local fish salesmen said that landings were well below those of the corresponding period in 1975. Therefore, we have gone through a whole year, spattered with Questions which have received answers to the effect that everything was all right, without doing anything to protect our fishermen.
The fishermen knew that landings were diminishing, and no group is better qualified than the fish salesmen to offer confirmation. Why are they diminishing? We have gone over this matter time and time again. There is the herring quota problem, the Hastings harbour arm problem, the beam trawling problem and the fishery limits problem. In addition, there is now the shingle banks dredging.
When we applied to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for help to rebuild the harbour arm, we were told that we could not be given help as the Hastings fish landings were not big enough. Why are they not big enough? It is because the French and the Belgians have been fishing out all the fish. As the Americans describe it, we are in a Catch 22 situation. Our fishermen are not able to go out to get the fish, but the fish have gone because the French and Belgians have taken them away.
How are they taking them away? They are doing so in all the ways that are not approved either under the EEC agreement or under our own conservation laws. Mr. Howell reports that during late January at least nine beam trawlers of lengths between 80 feet and 100 feet—those are enormous vessels which are capable of fishing the high seas—were working the fishing ground between Beachy Head and Shoreham. The report states:
It was alleged that a number of these vessels were frequently infringing the limits. In addition two were reported as blatantly ignoring all regulations by using beams of over permitted length approximately 5¾ miles south of Seaford Head when such size beams are banned within 12 miles of our coastline.
Mr. Howell received telephone calls describing where the infringements were taking place. What happened? Mr. Howell reported the matter to the Fishery Protection Squadron. He says that his report was despatched with all haste. Nothing happened during that night. The Belgians went home, and the following day a fishery protection vessel arrived on the scene. And then, surprise, surprise, the Belgians returned. Another message was despatched. The squadron was told "They are here again". What happened that night? Nothing happened. However, on the following day the fishery protection vessel turned up again.
We cannot continue to watch our fishermen lose their livelihood along the South Coast. We cannot have a situation in which the fishermen know that the fishery protection vessels are around but are never on the scene when required.
Mr. Howell reports that many fishermen:
no longer bother to report sightings of possible offenders, having given up in despair. They consider it a useless operation and are absolutely convinced no matter how often or how blatant an offence is being committed, no foreign offender will ever be apprehended off Sussex.
I eagerly await a reply to a Question which I tabled some time ago asking how many people have been arrested for fishing off Sussex in breach of the regulations. I regret the time that has elapsed. To put it mildly, the delay is rather interesting.
I have been told by the Ministry that beam trawling does not matter. Ministry spokesmen say that it causes no problems and that there is no need to worry about it. They say that the fishermen are completely wrong. However, the fishermen say that the fish are not to be found where the beam trawlers have been operating.
The fishermen have had to move from the traditional fishing grounds to the shingle banks. We now find that a licence renewal has been claimed to enable some 2 million tons of shingle to be removed from the shingle banks off Hastings. The fishermen have found that there are no fish in the grounds where they are said to be by the Ministry or in the areas in which the beam trawlers have been operating. But according to the Ministry, however, the beam trawlers have no effect on fish stocks. They now find that the shingle banks are to be removed where fish are to be found.
It is an extraordinary situation. Applications have been submitted for a renewal of a licence to dredge from the shingle banks when 75 per cent, of the livelihood of the local fishermen comes from them. It is extraordinary that the Minister should connive in taking them away. It is not only a matter of the fish that are to be found in the area. The banks happen to be the breeding grounds of the fish at certain times of the year.
I hope you will now realise, Mr. Speaker, that I felt I had to mention some of the matters that I have spoken about previously and to make some additional remarks. We cannot continue with our present approach. Our fishing industry is being steadily erased. The Minister and his advisers go on talking and talking, but nothing very much seems to happen.
Off the Sussex coast, as is common with other sections of the inshore fishing industry, we operate boats which can be used only off the coast. They are small boats and they have to compete with vessels that can cross the high seas in almost any weather, vessels with an immense capacity to remove the fish on which our men rely for a living.
Our lifeboats stand ready to help the enormous fishing vessels from other countries should they get into trouble. The Hastings lifeboat nearly capsized within the arm of the harbour, the arm which the Minister could not afford to repair because to his mind not enough fish have been landed to make it reasonable to do so. I suppose that our fishermen can still struggle to make a living.
I conclude by asking some straightforward questions. I hope that by asking them I shall not be thought to be too naïve. In politics, I think that the most straightforward questions are the ones that are most difficult to answer. Why do not the Government do what the fishermen want? Why is it that the fishermen are always wrong? Why is it that the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are always right while our fishermen move towards the dole queues? Are the Government unable to do anything to help them? If they are not, I suggest that it would do the fishermen a service if they took their place in the dole queues as soon as possible.
A few Saturdays ago, on a cold and hostile morning, a small boat set out from Boulmer in my constituency with a distinguished complement on board. It contained a few local fishermen and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He was on board as a result of accepting my oft-repeated invitation to visit the constituency.
I think that it was sensible of the right hon. Gentleman to make a surprise visit. I think that he learned from the hostile weather conditions what an arduous life our fishing community leads. I hope he also learned from conversation before, during and after the voyage what a sombre outlook the fishing community now sees for itself. I hope that he had cause to think and that his reflections remain with him during the negotiations that are now taking place.
It is clear what the purposes of fishing policy must be, whether one looks at the matter from the point of view of the fisherman or of the consumer. On the one hand, we wish to see the continued availability of fish as a food, and as a food that we do not need to import. If we do not operate a sensible fishing policy carefully, we shall destroy renewable resources—in other words, we shall destroy what can provide us with present and future supplies of food. The objectives of successive Governments have been to ensure that we have both for the present and for the future a supply of food from fish. That supply can replace many of the imports which now take place.
A further important aspect of the matter is to give both deep-sea and inshore fishermen the chance to earn a living. If we do not do that, there will not be any fishermen in future to provide our food or to give life to communities in which there is no alternative way of life. Those communities will be badly hit if we do not give fishermen a chance to earn a decent living. That will mean that a way of life is lost to the nation in areas where there is great self-sufficiency, independence and an absence of labour disputes. Those qualities will be destroyed. No Government can look with complacency on that prospect.
What must be the key elements in a policy for which those are the objectives? They would appear to be, on the one hand, international conservation and, on the other hand, national protection and reservation. Many of us would have as an ideal that conservation should be handled internationally rather than nationally. Furthermore, most of us would have as our ideal that national reservation and limits should be concerned to ensure that particular countries and communities are given their fair share of fish and that conservation should be handled at an international level. The record of some national Governments in conservation is indeed depressing. Many of the arguments that are conducted at the present time would not be taking place if the French, Belgians, Dutch and even the Icelanders had conserved successfully stocks in their own coastal waters.
None of us can suppose, however good the intentions, that the process of national conservation is adequate. We must look to the day when there can be international conservation measures—in other words, measures internationally agreed and policed. It is our failure to reach that point that leads us to place more emphasis on national limits than would otherwise be the case. The main purpose of national agreements should be to ensure that our communities are given a fair share of fishing. For the time being, national limits must bear much of the burden of conservation policies. It must be said that in that respect other countries have failed. We have not failed. We know that national limits are important because we can use those limits to ensure the conservation of fish species. Our record demonstrates that to be true, but that is not the story in regard to other countries.
The international prospect in terms of agreement is not such as to allow us to leave aside national limits in terms of protective measures. Therefore, those measures must serve the purpose of protecting legitimate fishing interests in our own communities and also serve the purpose of conservation. In our negotiations, both international and within the EEC, it is no use simply securing fishing limits so narrow that when our own deep-sea fishing fleet is forced to return from distant waters to waters close to our own coasts: that would cause conflict between our deep-sea and inshore fishing fleets. Such conflicts would be severely damaging to our national interests and must be seen as a primary reason for negotiating an adequate band of fishing limits. These limits must be substantial in international terms and within an EEC context. When I say "substantial" I certainly do not refer to the grossly inadequate limit of six miles as negotiated by the Conservative Government in past years in respect of the waters of my constituency. The current suggestion from the Commission is a limit of 12 miles. In my part of the world, however, the limit at present is only six miles. Therefore, we have a long way to go out from the coastline to secure adequate conservation.
I was deeply disappointed that the Minister of State decided to throw in the towel over the 100-mile limit and take the view that that is not a realistic level. It is a realistic level to seek, and it should be a clear starting point.
I have a good deal of experience of the results of international negotiations in a number of matters in which Britain has gone naïvely to the negotiating table with the attitude "This is all we are asking for—nothing more". We have usually finished up with half of what we wanted to achieve. We did this recently in the negotiations on international broadcasting frequencies. We supposed that all countries were as charitable as we were. We came out of those negotiations having had a good hiding, and that was a conference at which our negotiating position was not strong enough.
The British fishing industry can put up a strong case for a limit of 100 miles. It is depressing that Her Majesty's Government are throwing away that case even before negotiations are completed.
Within whatever limits we secure—and I stress that they must be substantial—we must also ensure that there is a fair allocation to the local inshore industry and we must prevent any conflict between that industry and the deep-sea fishermen. This will involve a serious conservation policy involving perhaps catch limitations, mesh sizes and licensing provisions to an extent that the Government appear to find unacceptable.
I am sorry that this attitude should prevail. The Minister of State knows that I have pressed him on many occasions about lobster fishing. That seems to be a somewhat small issue in the context of this debate, but the experience in that respect is revealing. There seems to be lurking in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food a deep-dyed opposition to any form of licensing. It is obvious in lobster fishing, as in other forms of fishing, that difficulties arise if no distinction is made by licensing between one type of fisherman and another, and no (recognition given to those who have traditionally fished for lobsters for many years. Surely those fishing families have more of a right than others to fish in those areas.
There is no way we can pursue a policy of protecting the inshore fishing industry if we cannot distinguish between the full-timer and the part-timer, and between established local vessels and those that come in from other areas. Unless we make such a distinction, there will be no future for the inshore fishing industry. I hope that the Government will think again about the need for licensing in respect of lobster fishing. Licensing can play a part in the conservation policies in regard to whatever future limits may apply.
All this calls for success in the Law of the Sea Conference and for a much tougher attitude in negotiations than we have so far adopted. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be voting against the Government tonight, not because we doubt the sincerity of the Minister of State or, indeed, of the Minister of Agriculture, who is now involved in negotiations. We shall vote against the Government because we believe that it must be made clear—not only to the Government but to those with whom they negotiate—that the chances of their being able to carry the whole of the House with them, judging by the kind of suggestion they have made so far as to the outcome of events, are nil. Indeed, there is a risk that, if the Commission does not adopt a greatly improved approach, Labour Members may well find themselves not prepared to back their own Government.
I hope that hon. Members understand this situation. I hope they will appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter. I hope that this concern is also felt on the other side of the Channel. It is not only in Iceland that feelings run strongly on fishing matters. Those feelings certainly exist in many parts of the United Kingdom.
If there are to be problems in any new limits that we negotiate, it is incumbent on the Government to re-examine the topic of fisheries management, in which new problems will begin to emerge. I remind the Minister how many bodies are involved in fishery management in my constituency. Within the coastal waters of my constituency, fishing and management responsibilities are exercised by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Scottish Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Northumberland Sea Fisheries Committee, the Northumbrian Water Authority, the Tweed Commissioners and the industry's own organisation, the Anglo-Scottish Fish Producers' Organisation, not to mention various representative bodies of fishermen. Four of these bodies separately operate vessels to police fishing regulations in that area over a 40 or 50-mile limit. This is an absurd situation and does not make the best use of our resources. If we do not give due attention to pooling these resources, we shall not be able to achieve the policing that is needed.
There are other aspects apart from the fisheries protection vessel issue. There must be rationalisation of fisheries management. I wonder whether there is much of a rôle for the water authorities or the traditional county sea-fishery committees in the future structure. We must place more responsibility on the fishermen themselves. One hon. Member has asked why it was that the fishermen were always wrong and the Department of Agriculture was always right. But the fishermen are not always wrong. They sometimes have divided opinions, but I do not believe that we can solve the problems unless we allow the fishermen to exercise more responsibility. Much recent experience, not only in the Icelandic dispute but in our own home waters, has shown the willingness of the industry to accept responsibility.
The Anglo-Scottish fish producers' organisation has taken a leading rôle in this respect. It says:
It always has been the duty of POs to rationalise the fisheries. It is now vital that they put this into effect. The introduction of quotas on landings goes so far but it is not in itself enough. Limitations must be put on the fishing effort going into each and every fishery. There may have to be restrictions on the sizes of boats, restrictions on the gear used, restrictions on the times and seasons of fishing in specific areas, in other words, a carefully controlled licensing system. To be effective, this can only be done by the industry itself. We believe that the Community and the United Kingdom Government now subscribe to these views. The POs individually and jointly are now going ahead on these assumptions and building systems and structures to cope with them. Let us hope that we will be given the legislative backing to help us do these things and build our own police for the future. If we do not get this, the results can only be chaos.
There is already a fair measure of chaos. If the fishermen themselves were given a
greater degree of responsibility some of that chaos could be avoided, although not completely until the future limit situation is sorted out.
There are three specific points of local concern which I should like to put to the Government. First, when are we to get the full results of the inquiry on fishing marketing which was instituted by the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection after many requests for it? The industry is entitled to know what has been happening in fish-marketing.
Secondly, a recent court decision has resulted in a ludicrous situation in which fishermen in communities like Boulmer, Newbiggin and Redcar are faced with the cost of licensing a tractor increasing from £6·65 to £144 per year. The decision itself is not the Government's fault but it will be their fault if they do nothing about it. Vehicles previously licensed as agricultural tractors now have to be licensed as if they were regularly used on the road instead of mainly on the beaches. The Department of the Environment is considering the matter but it is taking a long time to reach a conclusion. It would be absurd if the Department appeared to say to the industry that a vehicle which was only ever taken a few yards down the road to be repaired should be treated as if it were travelling on the roads all the time. It would be, in effect, saying to the industry that it should go back to the old times when the wives of fishermen hauled the boats up the beaches. With the recent sex discrimination legislation, I am sure that that cannot be the Government's intention.
Thirdly, have the research and other studies by the Ministry of Agriculture and bodies associated with it yet revealed the effect of seals on fishing stocks? The Minister has said that studies have been inconclusive, but the facts are not inconclusive to fishermen. They watch seals eat fish, often straight out of the nets, and they cannot understand why the Ministries concerned cannot work out the effect of that. They want to know, if limits are to be put upon them, why some limit is not imposed on the number of seals in order to restrict the amount of fish they take.
An issue of confidence now faces the fishing industry. There is no confidence either that there will be areas in which fishermen can catch fish in the future or that there will be the vessels with which to catch them. There has been much discussion on the likely effect of the survey fees and regulations which the Government have introduced. Many fishermen have not been able to undertake any of the work which the surveys caused. In fact, the fishermen have had to lay up vessels or have had to wait for the axe to fall. The impact has been dulled because money has not been available for the industry. We pointed out what the difficulties might be, but perhaps we underestimated how bad the situation would prove to be.
The evidence is clear from the shipbuilding and ship-repair yards which were expecting more work to result from the regulations. But they have found that vessels are not coming in for repair because there is no money. The ancillary industries are among the sufferers. For example, a yard in my constituency of Berwick—a fine yard with a good reputation—has had no orders for building further fishing vessels and has virtually no vessels coming in for repair. That proves that it is not only the fishing industry which is affected but other industries as well.
Instead the money goes into concerns like Chrysler and British Leyland about whose productive effort and whose future economic value many of us have serious doubts. Fishermen find it difficult to understand the Government's sense of priorities. The previous Labour Government established a scheme of support for the industry, which was discarded by the Conservatives. The scheme had much to commend it, because no money was paid out if the industry was doing well. It was a fall-back for when catching capacity and viability were threatened. I wish—and many people in the industry wish—that we had that scheme now.
I hope that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument immediately, but I will return later to the subject of the inshore industry. I shall deal first with the speech by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), not with horse dealers in the Scottish navy sailing to put backbone into the Minister, discarding kid gloves the while, but with what he said about the dispute with Iceland. Those of us who have constituents in Grimsby, Fleetwood and Hull feel a personal involvement in the cod war. Those who sail from Grimsby, Fleetwood and Hull to fish in northern waters are fishing in international waters, as they are fully entitled to do.
During last week's defence debate the subject of the NATO Alliance was raised and some of my hon. Friends said that we should reach an agreement with Iceland as soon as possible, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the fishermen's case. I totally disagree with that view. One of the primary tasks of the Royal Navy is to protect British seamen going about their lawful occasions on the high seas. I am glad that the Minister of State and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) paid tribute not only to the fishermen but to the Royal Navy for the way in which it has handled the situation off Iceland.
There is one small light side to the cod war. The sailors say that the population of Grimsby—and doubtless of Hull and Fleetwood—appreciate enormously what they have done for the trawlermen. A number of sailors have told me "At present you can have Capetown and Singapore. Grimsby is one of the best runs ashore in the world".
The industry is absolutely in the doldrums, with many ships laid up. The trawler fleet has been reduced from 494 in 1973 to 350 in 1976, of which 40 are laid up. That means that we have reduced from about 500 ocean-going, deep-water trawlers in 1973 to about 300 in 1976. With those ships being laid up, there is no work for those who build trawlers.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that no repair work was going on in the yard in his constituency. That sort of thing contributes greatly to the already ghastly unemployment figures. In the fishing industry there is unemployment not only of those who go to sea but of those who work on land, processing the fish, in Aberdeen, Fraserburgh, Grimsby and Hull. All along the eastern seaboard thousands of people connected with the fishing industry are out of work because the Government are doing nothing to help the industry.
I was horrified by the Minister's complacent attitude when he opened the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) says that the Minister is a nice man. I agree. He write us nice letters when we correspond with him about the fishing industry. As my hon. Friend says, he will see deputations and have a word with us in the Lobby, and he visits the ports. He goes to Hull and Grimsby, and he flies over the fishing fleets to look at the cod war. But neither he nor his right hon. Friend has any comfort for the industry. All they give us is words, words, words; of action comes there none.
The fishing industry contributes enormously to the well-being of our people. It produces home-grown food. About a year ago the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food published a White Paper, "Food from Our Own Resources", dealing with agriculture. The fish that our fishermen bring into our ports is just as much food from our own resources as the potatoes we pick from our Lincolnshire soil. Most of the fish is for human consumption and not for processing. British fishermen bring in fish for British people to eat. I should have thought that anyone could see that the more fish we bring into our ports in our own vessels, the greater the help to our balance of payments.
What are the difficulties facing the industry? First, there is the tremendously subsidised competition. Regardless of what the Minister said this afternoon, the fact is that Norway, Denmark and Canada—to name only three nations—give enormous subsidies and other help to their fishing industries, far more than this Government give us.
There is the question of foreign landings. We have 40 trawlers laid up, but what has happened to the landing of fish by foreign vessels? In December 1974 about 10,000 tons of fresh and simply preserved fish were landed. In December 1975 the figure was 12,900 tons. In December 1974 landings of chilled and frozen fish were 9,000 tons. In December 1975 they were 11,800 tons. Those are figures taken from the Overseas Trade Statistics of the United Kingdom. How can the Minister tell us that all is well with the fishing industry provided we get the negotiations right when we see a vastly increased tonnage of foreign fish being brought into this country, fish that must be paid for with foreign exchange?
Since 1973 the industry has suffered from fuel costs that have risen fourfold. The NEAFC quotas are another problem. Britain is the only nation taking part in NEAFC to fulfil its obligations and not to land more than the quota allowed. Quota systems are an absolute nonsense. The people who will not observe quota regulations are those from nations not concerned with enforcing quotas.
We have the difficulty of the beam trawlers, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) referred, but we have no help from the Ministry about beam trawling. We are told that it is not a real problem. Will the Minister and his right hon. Friend talk to the fishermen about it? The trawlermen say that when they go to where beam trawling has been taking place not only have the fish gone but the food for future generations of fish in that water is destroyed. I ask the Minister to reconsider the question most seriously, because it vitally affects our fishing industry.
Despite all those problems, the Minister proudly says that last year, as a one-off measure, £32 million was the total given to the industry. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed mentioned British Leyland and Chrysler. The people in Grimsby, and those of my constituents who work from and in Grimsby, say that the Government are willing to give up to £2,800 million to British Leyland and are apparently willing to throw good money after bad looking after Chrysler. But for the fishing industry last year they produced only £32 million, and this year there will be nothing unless the industry can produce a strong case.
The industry has produced a strong case time and time again. What hon. Members from all parties have said today should have convinced the Minister that there is a strong case for immediate help for the fishing industry. Is it that the industry does not employ tens of thousands of people? Is it that it merely produces food and that to give money for food is alien to the philosophy of Socialism, unless it be in the form of food subsidies? How ludicrous to spend money to knock 1p or 2p off a loaf of Mother's Pride or a packet of fish fingers when a tenfold harvest would be reaped from the investment in agriculture and fishing of a minute proportion of the £800 million or £900 million we have been squandering on food subsidies!
I turn to the subject of the law of the sea. Both the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs play their cards before we even reach the negotiating table, saying "We cannot have a 100-mile limit. It is not practicable. "How insane to say before one even sits down at the table, "I know I cannot get this"! If one is negotiating for wage settlements or for anything else, one tries to work down to what one hopes to get instead of trying to work up from what one has. The Government have totally failed the industry, because they will have to inch out from 12 miles, and a 12-mile limit is of no use to the industry.
I should like to say a few words about the problems of the inshore fishing industry and the seiners working from ports such as Grimsby, where there is a registered dock labour scheme. We have been trying for a long time to obtain from the Department of Employment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the exact criterion for an inshore fishing vessel. For many years, by custom and usage, it was basically a boat of under 80 feet, but a boat employed in the inshore industry—even though its crew may consist of the owner and one or two others, and even though it is going from a port such as Grimsby—if it is not classified and recognised by the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Dock Labour Board as an inshore vessel, has to employ the lumpers to discharge the cargo when it ties up.
In many cases the employment of dock labour to discharge their cargo means, for people in the small boats, the difference between profit and loss on a trip. Again I would ask the Minister—I have had correspondence with his right hon. Friend the defeated candidate for the leadership of the Socialist Party about this on a number of occasions—whether we can have strict criteria for what is an inshore vessel and have the rules applied uniformly throughout all the ports in this country. Without those criteria we shall lose more and more of our inshore vessels, not because they cannot go to sea and make a profit but because, when they have gone to sea and come back to port, any profit they make will be dissipated because it will have to be paid into the hands of the lumpers who discharge the vessels.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) asked why the Opposition intended to divide the House tonight. I regret to say that the last time we had a debate on the fishing industry the Opposition did not divide the House. We are going to do so tonight, and I will vote against the Government tonight because I believe that they have done absolutely nothing at all to help the fishing industry. All we have had is words, words, words. The time has come for action. The time has come for the Conservative Party to show the fishermen of this country, by our vote, that we at least are on their side.
I am sure that the Government and my right hon. Friend who is newly ensconced in No. 10 are trembling. I have listened to what the Opposition have said on this issue, having followed fishing matters in this House with considerable interest for the past 10 years. I listened in particular to what they had to say about helping the industry. When they came to power in 1970 they did away with the best scheme ever devised for helping the fishing industry, the scheme of the then Minister of Agriculture, my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes). It was a scheme which, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) pointed out, was designed to help the fishing industry in times of trouble and in times of prosperity to exact nothing from it but to ensure that it would be able to build on its prosperity. When the Opposition came to power they made their announcement by means of a Written Answer in the House without any consultation; it ill-behoves the Opposition to come here with words of sanction.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) is not present. He talked about not getting anything out of the negotiations before the referendum. He was not particularly happy, he said, to accept what had been done in the original negotiations by the Conservative Party. He accepted it although he has huffed and puffed about perhaps not supporting the Government if they did not do something for the fishing industry. At the time of the referendum, when my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hul, East (Mr. Prescott) in particular and I tried to smoke out the British Trawlers' Federation about what its attitude was to the Common Market, the reply we got was a deafening silence. The Federation did not want to upset what was going on or say anything. It refused to accept the words of my hon. Friend and myself about the attendant perils for the British fishing industry in accepting the common fisheries policy. Now, with the sublime hypocrisy of which only the Conservative Party is capable, after putting the industry in this situation the Conservatives are to vote against us. It really is expecting too much of mortal man to accept their sincerity and the poses they are striking today.
As regards the problems facing the industry, it is undoubtedly true that the considerable sums given in aid last year, when the industry was facing difficulties, were of great help. It would be foolish to deny that. It would also be foolish to to deny the problems which my right hon. and hon. Friends faced. There is, in fact, no common fisheries policy, nor has there ever been one. Fishery officials at the Commission have been of junior status and rank. They have never looked at the problems involved in working out a common fisheries policy. It is only the sudden acceleration which took place in the Law of the Sea Conference and the rush to suggest a 200-mile EEZ limit that has led to the sudden flurry of interest and the sudden realisation by many of our Community partners that the rich pickings they had off our coast will perhaps be lost to them unless they take a firm line with our Government.
It is also a problem which has come to the front in the Community only because it has realised that its plan for an EEC lake in the North Sea and out into the Atlantic would have to be shared as Community partners built up their fishing fleets. The threat lies to the other areas where we have fished—Iceland, Greenland, the Newfoundland banks, the Bering Sea and the White Sea, which the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) referred to as food from our own resources. That may well be true, but there are a considerable number of people who would suggest that this is not really food from our own resources.
The fishing industry is an industry which, when times were good, did not really want to know this House. Now that it is facing difficulties, it is flooding us with information and propaganda, all of it eloquently argued. Sometimes the case is overstated and the industry underestimates the difficulties which the Government face in trying to save some sort of industry.
Basically we are faced with two main considerations. We have the inshore fishing, scattered around our coast, some of it in areas of high employment and relative prosperity but the greater part of it, particularly in Scotland, in areas where employment is hard to find and where fishing forms the backbone of the whole community. It is a whole way of life. There is a need to protect the industry, not only in terms of its food production for the community as a whole but for the more important reasons of social policy, thus preventing further depopulation of some of our more scattered areas. This is one side of the problem.
The other side of the problem concerns our middle-water and distant-water fleets based in Aberdeen—a boom area now—and, in England, in Humberside and Fleetwood. These are areas of considerable unemployment, remote from the great suburbia which provides employment. These fleets present a difficult problem on social and general policy grounds. Both the inland and the middle-and distant-water fleets therefore have important implications for the whole range of the Government's regional policies. It is for this reason that I can only regret that the Commission has not taken sufficient interest in our problems.
While my right hon. and hon. Friends have been persistent in knocking upon the doors in Brussels, I wish that on occasions they had put their shoulders to the doors and burst into the room somewhat earlier so as to get a more coherent and vigorous policy. In none of these areas is there any likelihood, even if we have the upturn in the economy which we hope will come at the end of this year—the beginning of next year, half-way through next year, some time or never—that they will cease to be vulnerable to the problems created by the decline in the fishing industry.
I come now to the social situation on Humberside. Whatever is decided about the inshore fleet, the fleet on the Humber and Fleetwood will never be the same again. We shall for ever be fishing under licence from other countries within areas which they regard as their own. We shall be able to fish only for limited periods before agreements are due for renewal and re-examination. Therefore, with Norway, Russia or anywhere else there could develop the "Icelandic syndrome." When things get tough, when the home-based industry feels that it is threatened, it will urge non-renewal of fishing licences for the United Kingdom fleet.
I do not see our returning to the building of great freezer ships to operate out of the Humber. There will always be a few which will go to areas where there are licences. But I do not think we shall see further building of such vessels and an increase in that method of fishing. This should not necessarily cause us to despair. Whatever we get out of the common fisheries policy, and whatever comes out of the Law of the Sea Conference, there are still opportunities for maintaining a strong and viable industry which could have a marked effect upon the areas in which it is based.
Given a realistic attitude on the part of the Government towards the fishing industry, we could see the development of a regional policy with tremendous spin-off. With a planned rundown of the industry, if that is necessary, rather than a haphazard operation such as we have at the moment—with the laying-up of ships as and when it becomes uneconomic to run them—we could see a great change. If we planned the size of our fleet together with the size of catch, vessel replacement, food processing and production, and the centres for the industry and if we put public and private money into the operation, we could build up a strong industry capable of satisfying the food demands of our nation as well as exporting some of our catch.
This can be done only if the Government take a more positive line and if they plan what is to happen to the industry. At the moment, the industry's future is decided not by planning on any social grounds but purely and simply by the effects of the market economy. I, and, I hope, my right hon. and hon. Friends, entered this House because we disagreed with the operations of the market economy and did not believe that that was the most socially just way of running society. We should seek to interfere with the market economy. We should not allow ships to be laid up because they are uneconomic. We should not allow restructuring to take place in a haphazard fashion. We must plan positively for a modern, efficient fleet and a sound industry.
This is the challenge facing my right hon. and hon. Friends. This will remain the challenge whatever agreement is reached on a common fisheries policy. We must have evidence that the Government are prepared to face that challenge. We can achieve the degree of structural renovation that is needed within the industry only if we can persuade those involved that we are embarked on a sensible and rational plan. We must do that on the basis of being fair. The way to persuade people that we are being fair is to treat them in a fair manner. That leads me to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), who said that we must decasualise the industry so that we may restructure it.
The present casual nature of the industry, its haphazard basis with ineffective registers of fishermen, with men walking the stones or moving from ship to ship, cannot create the atmosphere in which all concerned can sit down and talk rationally about what is happening. Unless we get this restructuring, men will be thrown on the scrap-heap at the age of 34, 45 or 50. There will be no future, no proper planning, no understanding of our problems. It is necessary, therefore, in planning the restructuring of the fleet to look to the social consequences and the organisation of the industry. We have to do this in a positive way.
I turn now to a point raised by a number of Conservative Members in a variety of ways, and brought out particularly clearly by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren), namely, the problem of policing. I have argued before that I do not see how we can efficaciously police a system based upon quotas when the errant person is the one who returns the figures upon which the quota is assessed. We lose a lot of fish and a lot of control, both of which are important, because of the method of policing we adopt. I urge that the manner of policing should not be based upon quotas in absolute terms alone or on mesh sizes. Instead, it should be based upon fishing effort.
In particular, when we come to deal with our own extended area it should be said that those who may fish in the area are those licensed to do so. The time they are allowed to do so should be fixed by international agreement or negotiation if it is based upon something that we as a nation have in our power to concede. If we limit the amount of fishing that can go on by the number of days spent on the ground by licensed vessels, we do away with many of the problems associated with policing, fishing quotas and limits. We know exactly where we stand.
We do not need this enormous armada of fishery protection vessels. The system can be operated by aerial observation, perhaps sending out a vessel to deal with any trouble. We do not need people rushing around. It would be a simple and effective system with which no one could disagree. We could control the ground and conserve our stock. We would limit the vessels to size and periods spent fishing. We would be able to estimate the average yield for a given vessel in a particular ground on a given day. I grant that I have skated over some of the problems of mesh sizes. The main effort should be directed not towards the quota or the mesh size but to the size of vessel and the number of days spent on the ground.
The problems facing the fishing industry will not be solved overnight, or be brought to a happy and vigorous conclusion if the Opposition carry the Division this evening. Nor, indeed, are they problems that will go away if the Government—as I am sure they will—successfully carry the Adjournment. The problems of the fishing industry are more lasting. They are the problems of an industry that is in transition, an industry faced with challenges which come from not only technology but also international relations. There are challenges and problems which can be faced and worked out only by being carefully talked through.
However, it is important, if the industry is to have its morale restored—no one can deny that its morale at present is at a very low ebb—to realise that we need to have more positive noises, such as those made by my right hon. Friend the new Prime Minister when he spoke in Brussels about 12-mile limits being of no positive use to us. We need to have more positive thinking coming from the lips of Government spokesmen. I am not saying that this is not going on. I am sure that in the Departments there are all sorts of people busily beavering away at the policies that are to be pursued.
It is now over six months since my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and I asked for a Green Paper or a White Paper, or some sort of paper, so as to know the Government's intentions. The Government would be doing themselves and the industry a service if they were to state what was the range of options open before them and if they were to tell us about what sort of objective and level their negotiations were concerned in regard to our fishing industry.
Above all, in depressed areas such as Humberside, a vigorous regeneration of the fishing industry would have a spin-off not only for the fishermen and the consumers but in shipbuilding, ship processing, vessel repair, food processing and the whole level of economic activity in the area. Fishing policy is important to us all, but as an organ of regional policy it has advantages that I do not think the Government have yet even taken time properly to consider.
I certainly follow with agreement what was said by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) about the need for a plan. It is true that many of us on both sides of the House, including the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Aberden, North (Mr. Hughes), have been calling for a White Paper or a Green Paper. There is no doubt that there is a great lack of confidence in the industry over many fields that have been covered today, and that this lack of confidence is increased by the fact that we do not know what the Government want to do. If the Government would spell out exactly what size of fleet and what sort of fleet they have in mind, we could disagree or agree. At least it would give us something to talk about, and a feeling that at least the Government were trying to get a grip on the very difficult situation in which the industry finds itself.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) is someone to whom we always listen with great respect, not only in the Chamber but now in Committee on the Dock Work Regulation Bill. I listen to him with respect there. He has evinced some sorrow and surprise that the Opposition should divide against the Government tonight. To some extent I share his sorrow, because in the time that I have been a Member there has always been an all-party fisheries policy—except for the cheap-jack vote that the SNP forced on the last occasion of such a debate. However, at least the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have always tried to maintain a bipartisan policy. Therefore, it is with some sorrow that tonight we go against the Government.
None the less, although I do it in sorrow, I do it in entire agreement with my own Front Bench. The reason I give to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West is that the vote that we shall muster tonight is an indication of how seriously we regard the catastrophic situation in which the industry finds itself, and an indication of how little we think the Government have done to do anything about it.
It may be, as the Minister of State said earlier, that the Government have done this and that. But the industry and the Opposition regard it as almost worthless; not totally worthless, but almost. That is not merely a Conservative viewpoint. Today I received a telegram reading as follows:
Re fisheries debate 5th April. Essential, repeat essential, you vote for
Further decline in industry inevitable if these objectives not secured.
That was from the Scottish Trawlers' Federation.
We had decided to vote against the Government before that telegram was received, but I bring that forward as evidence that this is not just the Conservative Party saying that the industry is in a dreadful state and that it is totally lacking in confidence. That is what caused the federation to send the telegram.
We all got the same telegram. However, is the hon. Gentleman happy about this? Does he not think that it is ill-timed and most unhappy that this debate should take place this evening, when two of our Ministers are at this moment working away on behalf of all of us to bring something forward and to be able to give some idea of what this policy is about?
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but he will recall a debate in Committee about six months ago when the Minister of State said absolutely nothing about the fishing subsidy which was to be announced the following day. In a curious way we find ourselves today in exactly the reverse position.
If I had been able to choose the day on which we should debate the fishing industry, clearly I should not have chosen today, but, granted that this is our only Supply Day before Easter and that we shall not have another until the negotiations are perhaps a month past—and in any case, who knows what they will bring forward——
We do not have a Supply Day next week. In any case, the hon. Gentleman would hardy expect us to give up a day's debate on the Budget. Although I agree that this is not the best time, it is the best time that we could have chosen.
1 thought that three-quarters of the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West was excellent, but when he talked about the nationalisation of part of the fishing industry, I thought that this was about the only evil that the industry does not have to put up with. It really would be the end if Labour Members started demanding the nationalisation of this industry.
I want to touch briefly on three points, although the brevity with which I touch on them will have little to do with the strength of feeling that exists, about which much has been said already. I mention first the need for subsidy. The question of subsidy has been touched on in different ways by several hon. Members. The Minister of State mentioned, as he often does, and perfectly fairly, the fact that the Government gave a total of £32 million in so called subsidy to the industry last year. But that is no cause for the sort of self-congratulatory look that sweeps over the right hon. Gentleman when he says it. He interrupted me the last time I spoke on this subject. The whole point is that the £32 million includes various amounts such as those given for research and development, for harbour works or for scientific support, which are not included in the amount of subsidy that is given by, for instance, the Norwegians.
The Norwegians did not include sums for those purposes when they talked about the £100 million last year and £60 million this year. We want an operating subsidy so that in the coming year the fleet may continue to re-invest. To talk of £32 million is misleading. That is not what we are talking about when we say we want a subsidy. We desperately need a subsidy. We are not crying wolf, or whatever is the fishing equivalent of a wolf.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North mentioned the occasion when we all met the Scottish Trawlers' Federation. To some extent I share the feelings which he expressed then. The views of the STF, although directed to the Scottish situation are largely those of the British Trawlers' Federation. When we met the STF, it faced a situation in which last year the average vessel loss was £25,000, including depreciation and subsidy. Inflation was still rising.
We are all glad that the rate of inflation is now being cut, but we are equally aware that it is still far too high and bears particularly heavily on the fishing industry because of its dependence on fuel oil and other factors. At that meeting the STF forecast the doom of the industry. Aberdeen had just lost 280 men. In Humberside men who are lost from the fishing industry come back to the industry when good times return. When men are lost to the fishing industry in Aberdeen, they are lost to oil and they will not come back again. If the industry is put back on its feet financially the crewmen needed will have been lost, and there is a danger that it will be impossible to achieve the capacity in the industry to provide the food that is needed.
I am not contradicting the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North but between our last debate on 19th February and that meeting the STF lost five vessels. Since the debate it has lost another four vessels. The STF has lost nine vessels since the date of the meeting, and since 1974 it has lost about 43 vessels out of 130. I do not like to do so but I must endorse the STF's extremely gloomy view of the present situation.
We have heard many times that the Government are prepared to look at well-documented proof of the fishing industry's case for a subsidy. We are glad to hear again that the Government are prepared to look at such proof. But the STF and others have provided proof. Properly audited accounts have been presented to the Government, but the Government have failed to take notice of that proof. What more proof do they want than the audited figures presented to the Secretary of State for Scotland?
Even if the Government accepted the case made by the STF, we do not know whether they would be able to do anything about it, because of EEC regulations. I was astonished to hear the Minister of State say, in effect, that he did not know what the position was. In the previous debate I asked him that question, but I received no reply. I wrote to his right hon. Friend and received a letter saying that the Government had not yet considered whether it would be proper to ask the EEC, because they did not think that a well-documented case had been presented. The Minister has had since 19th February to find the answer.
That the Government do not know whether the fishing industry this year can have a subsidy similar to that which was granted last year will be greeted with astonishment in fishing circles throughout the United Kingdom. It is incredible when the industry has been shouting out for months that it wants a subsidy. Even if the Government accept the proposition, they do not know whether they can carry it out. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will at least be able to set our minds at rest and tell us that if the Government accept the case for a subsidy, they will be able to put such a scheme into operation without contravening EEC regulations.
A considerable number of letters have been sent by the Scottish fishermen's organisations to the Scottish Office and, no doubt, the Ministry of Agriculture. It is difficult to go into detail about the replies because we do not have the letters in front of us. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to a letter from Mr. Gillett, but it would be inappropriate to go into the details of that letter. Whereas civil servants always refer to the increase in earnings and prices, they appear not to take into consideration increases in costs.
Mr. Gillett said in his letter that of the increased earnings 20 per cent, went to the crews, 30 per cent, was the increase in oil prices and 15 per cent, was the increase in other costs. The Government have taken that into account and said so. The hon. Gentleman may disagree with the contents of the letter, but he cannot say that it did not recognise increased costs.
I was not putting it belligerently. I said that as we did not have the letter in front of us, it would be inappropriate to go into detail, but that civil servants, in particular Mr. Gillett, did not give sufficient weight to earnings minus costs as opposed to earnings.
While it is true that earnings went up approximately 15 per cent, in January and February, which the Government and civil servants properly quote, that is an exceptional time for the industry, both as to the prices received on the quayside and as to the size of catch. Those two factors are unlikely to continue throughout the year. To extrapolate the January/ February figures, as Mr. Gillett did, and say that at the end of the year the industry will make a small profit totally ignores the realities.
The STF points out that the catch and the price are exceptional, but if the catch were to be the same as it was last year, prices would have to go up by 39 per cent., and there is no indication that that will be the case. The Government have not said how it will be possible to maintain the catch level throughout the year at the February level. Nor have they said why prices should remain the same throughout the year as they were in February. They have never done so before, so why should they do so this year? That is the central argument to which the Government have not directed their attention.
We are asking for about £5 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) said that in his area there was disgust at £162 million being so readily available for Chrysler when nothing was forthcoming for the fishing industry. This is certainly true in Aberdeen. Last week the Minister of State of the Foreign Office said we were giving £5 million to Mozambique. Yet we cannot give £5 million to the fishermen of Scotland. We are giving £37 million to the Arts Council, which is hardly a staple necessity of our British way of life.
I do not need lessons in dialetical materialism or 2,000 years of civilisation from hon. Members opposite. Let them go to their constituencies and justify that money being given to Mozambique and the Arts Council while we are cutting back on housing, schools, roads and welfare, let alone the fishing industry. It is a grotesque abuse of priorities by the Government.
We are talking about the jobs of 8,000 people in Aberdeen alone. If the fishing industry in the North-East of Scotland is put at risk, there is a grave danger of unbalancing an economy which will become overly dependent on oil which, as we all know, will last for only 20 or 30 years at the most.
We also risk losing the ability to feed ourselves, and the shortage of food will be one of the major problems of the world in the last quarter of this century. We also put at risk our balance of payments, and if we allow our fleet to decline we shall lose our weight at international conferences, because we shall not be able to speak with such authority as we have had in the past.
I wanted to say something about fish imports, but, having been drawn rather more than I intended on the question of subsidies, I will draw the attention of the Minister particularly to the imports of frozen cod fillets. According to the most recent Customs and Excise figures, imports of frozen cod fillets rose by 35·5 per cent.—from 24,300 tons to 32,540 tons—between 1974 and 1975. At the same time, the price fell from an average of £3·56 per stone in 1974 to £3·37 in 1975, a year in which our own rate of inflation rose by 25 per cent. I could give similar figures for coley and saithe. In the ports of Aberdeen and Granton, the amount of coley and saithe landed from Polish trawlers increased by an incredible 827 per cent, last year.
These are the sorts of statistics to which the Government must address themselves. We must have a realistic EEC marketing policy with realistic withdrawal prices and minimum import prices. It is time the Government, who have great strength as Britain is the most important EEC fishing country, began to throw their weight about and to get tough over marketing policy and limits.
A limit of 12 miles is totally unacceptable and many hon. Members believe it was extremely foolish for the Minister of State at the Foreign Office to give away our negotiating position in advance. The Minister who opened the debate today repeated that it was unrealistic and I regard it as a great error. The British fishermen have a just claim for a 100-mile limit and they should get that exclusive zone. I hope that the Government will at last get tough on this matter and ensure that our fishermen get what they need and deserve.
Three or four weeks ago we had an interesting meeting with representatives of all fishing interests, both inshore and deep sea, at which they laid claim to a 100-mile limit. About a year ago many Scottish inshore fishermen were asking for a 50-mile limit, but at a meeting with the then Minister of State and the Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and their advisers, we were told to bear in mind that fish swam about in the sea and that we needed a limit of more than 50 miles. That was the advice given to Ministers a year ago and I do not think that there is any reason for it to have been changed. The fish still swim about in the sea and 50 miles is not an acceptable limit in the interests of conservation.
I hope that we shall hear something in the Government's winding-up speech about what progress is being made at the Law of the Sea Conference. It is only by having a successful outcome to this conference that we can go back to renegotiate the common fisheries policy. Much has been said about the stupidity of the Labour and Conservative Parties in their attitudes to the CFP, but it is undeniable that the policy was fixed before we entered and we were faced with a fait accompli. Of the new entrants we can expect help from Ireland, but Denmark is one of the main predators of the North Sea and I do not think that the Danes will give us much help in renegotiating the CFP.
It is in the interests of world-wide fishing activities that we should have a proper conservation policy and it is therefore essential that we should have the right not only to catch fish but to determine quotas in our 100-mile limit. If after that we are able to make agreements with other people so that we can continue fishing, for instance, off Iceland, so much the better, but unless we get control over the first 100 miles, I foresee great difficulties ahead.
I recently urged the Secretary of State for Scotland—and had an encouraging response—that we should try to ensure that all fish caught in the North Sea was for human consumption. The North Sea is one of the most prolific fishing areas in the world and if we could ensure that the bulk of the fish caught there was reserved for human consumption, we should be making progress.
I have also advocated in the past that the operation of quotas should be related to fishing effort. It is apparent that no one is satisfied that quotas are being observed or that there is fair way of policing them.
There is also a need for a better tie-up between marketing and total catching effort. If that is not effected, we shall not get a well structured fishing industry.
Unless we have a well-structured fishing industry with a future, we cannot hope to get our boat-building industry operating on a proper basis. We cannot afford to have a stop-go in boat building which forces up the price of boats. When the fishing industry booms, everybody thinks that that is the time to buy new boats. Everyone dashes in to buy new boats, and then down go fish prices and there is a complete stop on orders.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will take account of a matter which I have raised with him before—namely, that on the north side of the Forth there is no slipway to get boats out of the water to carry out surveys and repairs, some of which have been made necessary by recent legislation.
Unless we resolve to take a strong line in bringing the Law of the Sea Conference to a successful conclusion this year and are ready, if it is not brought to a successful conclusion, to take action in the same way as has been suggested by Canada and the United States, there will be no good future for the fishing industry. There is a major crisis which can be resolved only by successful international negotiations which will give us a basis on which to renegotiate the common fisheries policy.
Apart from one hon. Gentleman on the Opposition side who spoke about inshore fishermen at the beginning of his contribution, the debate has been dominated by Members who represent the ports from which deep-sea fishermen sail. It is right that that should be so.
Before turning to the subject on which I particularly want to speak, I should like, on behalf of Members representing inland constituencies, to pay tribute to the deep-sea fishermen. We appreciate that the fish on our tables arrive as a result of the extremely hazardous occupation they pursue. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) referred to conditions aboard ship and made it abundantly clear that we on this side of the Chamber see fishing as an industry. We see no reason why conditions on board ship should be inferior in terms of safety to the conditions enjoyed by factory workers. We appreciate that the nature of the job means that fishermen pursue an exceedingly hazardous occupation. Indeed, it is one of the few occupations which compare with the hazardous conditions under which those of my constituents who are coal miners work.
I hope that the Government will arrive at a quick solution to the problems of the deep-sea fishing industry which will protect British national interests. I think that all Members who represent inland constituencies have followed the dispute with Iceland very carefully because of the implications for Britain as a maritime nation.
I have not intervened to talk about deep-sea fishing. It is regrettable that contributions by hon. Members have concentrated exclusively on deep-sea fishing. As I see it, the debate is on the fishing industry as a whole. Therefore, I should like to address my remarks to and ask questions about inland fisheries.
I am slightly disappointed that the Minister who is to reply is from the Scottish Office, because what I have to say relates mainly to England and to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I hope that my hon. Friend, who is a friend of long standing, will not treat my remarks lightly even though he is from the Scottish Office. I think that this is an occasion when we English have a good case for a degree of devolution
I want to talk about the threat to inland fisheries. I think that we should be indebted to Brian Clarke for drawing our attention to this serious threat in the Sunday Times. According to reports, which I accept as absolutely true, there is a virus called infectious pancreatic necrosis which has begun to kill trout fry by the million in East Anglia. Although the virus does not affect adult fish, it is spread by them. The hen fish pass on the virus in the membranes of the eggs that they spawn and consequently the fry are killed before they can mature.
According to Mr. Clarke, there are three points about which to be concerned. The first is the threat to trout fishing in the short term. I suggest that the threat is not only to trout fishing— that is what Mr. Clarke is particularly interested in—but to the supply of food.
The trout farms, the inland fisheries, are in a sense what the outcropping of coal is to the mining of coal. It is a safe and easy form of food provision. There is a threat not only to food but to trout fishing, particularly the rainbow trout. It appears that this virus—infectious pancreatic necrosis—is particularly damaging to rainbow trout. Some hon. Members may be aware that there have been tremendous developments in recent years in the rearing of rainbow trout, particularly in the Southern Region. It is hoped that jumbo rainbow trout will provide tremendous sport for anglers in future. Generally, of course, rainbow trout are not indigenous to our rivers. It is only on the Chess, the Wye, a most beautiful river in Derbyshire, and one or two other rivers that the rainbow trout will spawn and, in general, we are dependent upon fish farming for the provision of these fish.
It is regrettable that no Conservative Back Benchers are in the Chamber to take part in the debate on a subject as important to our country as is the fishing industry. I hope it will be noted that while there are hon. Members on the Government Back Benches taking an interest in the debate, apart from the two SNP Members present, who do not appear to be paying any attention to the debate, the only Conservatives here are those on the Front Bench who are doomed to sit there. I hope that the country will note the absence of Tory Members.
I suspect that it was because a number of my hon. Friends heard, in the midst of the great crisis facing the fishing industry, the hon. Gentleman talking about the problems of trout fishing in East Anglia that they thought it was a good moment to have a quick cup of tea.
I think that when the owners of trout fisheries in East Anglia, whose livelihood is threatened, read the hon. Gentleman's remarks they will know how to treat him in future, because there is no doubt that their livelihood depends upon the well-being of their fisheries and that those fisheries are threatened by infectious pancreatic necrosis.
This matter is important for the West Midlands, as for other parts of the country, because it is my understanding that if thus virus were to attack coarse fish it would be many decades before coarse fishing would be possible in many parts of the country. This disease is most certainly a threat to the West Midlands. There are at least 70,000 members of the Birmingham Anglers' Association alone, and one realises, therefore, the size of the problem for this important leisure activity. Even though the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), who is now adorning the Opposition Front Bench, regards this as a triviality, I would consider it a disaster if angling for coarse fish were to be made impossible in the West Midlands, Yorkshire or anywhere else because of the importance of angling as a source of recreation for working people in towns.
The third point made by Brian Clarke is:
that the way it has been allowed to spread provides a chilling comment on our ability to contain the even worse fish diseases which are queueing up on the other side of the Channel.
On looking round the Chamber I see some fervent anti-Marketeers. Had they known that fish diseases were to come from Europe, they might perhaps have persuaded some anglers to cast their votes differently in the referendum.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seems to have been very slow in dealing with this problem. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply to the debate, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop), the Minister of State, representing as he does an English constituency, will brief our hon. Friend from Scotland. I want to know what research is being undertaken into this disease and how much of a danger it is to coarse fishing. I also want to know why it has taken the Ministry so long to cope with the situation.
I want to be told also what these other diseases are that Mr. Brian Clarke says are queueing up on the other side of the Channel, because if we are threatened by further fish diseases some of us will expect the Government to act as quickly as possible to ensure that they are not allowed through our ports.
I am sure that the new Prime Minister will be appalled to learn that he has taken on another grave problem to which my hon. Friend has referred, namely, the incidence of infectious pancreatic necrosis. I can understand my hon. Friend's concern about the health of trout, and rainbow trout in particular, but I remind him that the Ministry has not been slow in dealing with the matter. We are aware of the problem of the health of rainbow trout, particularly in fish farming, and the disease element is a real problem that has been engaging our attention for some time. I mentioned in my opening speech that we were spending about £330,000 a year on marine fish farming, and undoubtedly this problem is engaging our attention. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may speak more fully on this matter when he winds up the debate.
I am glad to hear that. J must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark for having missed his contribution on fish farming, but I was taking an interest at the time in the result of a ballot elsewhere.
Mr. Clarke's observation is:
Now the Government has now imposed a clampdown … but the ban could well be a posthumous one…".
It is certainly his view that it has come too late. He points out that the virus has spread from one trout farm on the River Nar to a second one a couple of miles away, and since then through supplies of stock fish to three other fish farms, that a sixth has attracted the disease independently and that 60 other fisheries are at risk. This may not bother Conservative Members, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Westmorland but it is of concern to all those who have the interests of fisheries at heart.
On looking at the evidence—though perhaps I have not looked at it as closely as I should normally do—it appears that during the month before the ban was imposed the great East Anglian river system was exposed to danger. I wonder why East Anglian Tory Members have not raised this matter today. As Mr. Clarke says:
One of the most disturbing aspects of the outbreak is that no one as yet knows just how far down these waterways the disease actually has spread, because the physical resources to trap and examine fish from them do not exist.
That is a very serious charge indeed, and I hope that my hon. Friend will brief the Minister on it very carefully indeed for the purposes of the reply. It is a charge of complete neglect on the part of the Department.
I put the question in a very specific way. Is it true that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does not yet know how far down these waterways the disease has spread? I also ask the Minister whether it can be true that the physical resources to trap and examine fish from these waterways do not exist.
This very serious charge was made in an article in the Sunday Times yesterday. When I read it I was left with a feeling of great unease that our inland fishing interests were perhaps being neglected because of the preoccupations of Ministers with the Icelandic cod war and with deep-sea fishing.
Mr. Clarke also drew attention in the article to the fact that this crisis has proved the danger of "water transfer". When I noticed that we were to have this debate today, I tried to obtain a cutting of his previous article but was unsuccessful. Mr. Clarke has reiterated in the Sunday Times a point that he made in his column some time last year. He states:
Perhaps even more disturbing is the realisation of a danger I predicted in this column last year, before the current crisis had become known.
I can vouch for that. It is indeed true that Mr. Clarke predicted the present crisis.
The article continues:
One of the waters currently exposed to IPN in the Great Ouse system has water channelled from it into the headwaters of the Stour and Blackwater systems in Essex. This Ely Ouse ' water transfer ' is one of the prototypes for a series which will link many of the country's water systems to one another in an attempt to redistribute the national rainfall. As a result, enormous areas of waterway have been exposed to disease in the current outbreak which otherwise might never have been.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he felt some unease. The Chair is beginning to feel unease too. Provided that the hon. Gentleman relates his argument to fish farming, I think he is in order, but if he refers to water channels and to fishing as a sport rather than an industry he may be getting into difficulties.
Perhaps I may explain, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the fish farming to which I am referring is actually on rivers. I was perhaps assuming a degree of knowledge on the part of the House that it does not possess and, with respect, a degree of knowledge on your part, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of angling and fish farming and rivers that, not having misspent your youth——
The fisheries themselves are located on rivers, and the water from the fisheries is drawn from the rivers. The whole point of Mr. Clarke's argument—it is one that I accept—is that the Government have been working on a proposal to pool the waters from our rivers. If there is a virus in one river at the present time, the possibility of infection being transferred from it to other rivers is related to stock fish being taken from that river and put into other rivers. That is generally the way in which diseases have been spread traditionally. But if we have a system of water transfer, with rivers being linked, viruses will be transferred from one river to another as the water is transferred. If there is a fishery on one river in which the virus is present, and if the water is then taken from that river and put into another river, the virus will be transferred as well. We shall have it transferred from one fish farm to another.
We are talking about fish farming tonight and about angling. Inasmuch as the consumers served by the fish farms are anglers, I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is proper to talk of angling here in the sense that one would refer to the housewife as a consumer in talking about deep sea fishing.
Those who are interested in fish conservation and in the well-being of the inland fishery industries want to know whether the Government are to persist in their proposals for averaging out the national rainfall by river water sharing. If this is done, there will be great hazards for the whole ecological balance. Tonight, that is my point.
After this rather interesting dialogue of a specialist nature, I should like to point out to my hon. Friend—in case he does not have a chance to do justice to the argument, in view of the amount of detail required—that it is a matter on which I may write to him or, perhaps appropriately, drop him a line.
I hope that my hon. Friend does justice to this subject later and does not concentrate on the subject of deep-sea fishing to the exclusion of any other consideration.
I shall not rise to the fly that my hon. Friend placed so expertly on the water. As I know that hon. Members opposite want to speak once more on the subject of deepsea fishing, I conclude by expressing the hope that the Government will take the question of inland fisheries far more seriously than they seem to have done to date.
I will not follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) down his rivers. It may have been very amusing in the House, but it will not be amusing in the constituencies.
I start from the stark fact that one male in every 10 in the port of Fleetwood and in North Lancashire generally is unemployed. That makes this a very serious debate for me. This is a debate which has followed the pattern of previous debates. Before I came to the House, I saw this weekend various reports of the industry in Fleetwood which left me in no doubt of the serious position there. One new trawler had recently returned with a good catch but yet had lost £5,000 on that trip alone. Losses of that magnitude cannot be sustained. Serious consequences flow for the community in the fishing ports from trawlers being laid up or diverted from ordinary trawling use to use as supply vessels for oil rigs.
The British Trawlers' Federation says in a note which it submitted to all hon. Members today:
The decline in the number of berths has resulted in a decline of about 1,425 sea-going employment opportunities in the BTF deep sea fleet. Ultimately there is a decline in shore employment of about five times the
decline in sea-going employment—that is, a total of about 8,500 jobs ashore and afloat. And the decline appears to be accelerating.
Hon. Members who study these matters know that many factors are involved. One of the most important factors and that on which the House has concentrated today is the uncertainty with regard to limits. I was very disappointed, as I am sure the industry will be, that the Minister of State, to whom I pay tribute for always being accessible to me, repeated the statement by the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that the 100-mile limit is no longer a negotiating target for us within the context of the common fisheries policy.
The British Trawlers' Federation says in its note, merely echoing one of the things that my fishermen say to me—
We fear that the negotiation will proceed from the wrong point: from the 12 miles exclusive proposed by the Commission instead of from 100 miles asked for by the United Kingdom industry.
The Federation knows after today's debate that the 100-mile limit is no longer an objective. I repeat a criticism which has already been expressed—that to move away from the declared objective of 100 miles was a weakness in negotiation.
Much has been said today about the responsibility of political parties and of individual hon. Members for the common fisheries policy. It would be hypocritical of me not to accept responsibility for it, because I was a member of the party that negotiated our entry into the Common Market. Equally, it would be hypocritical of hon. Members opposite, whose party engaged in an elaborate process of renegotiation, to say that the common fisheries policy did not form part of that renegotiation. So there are hon. Members on both sides who are guilty of original sin on this matter.
What has changed since the original negotiations is the extent to which limits are now being considered. At the time of the original negotiations the industry would have been satisfied with a 12-mile limit, because those were the terms in which people were then talking. The pattern changed later when Iceland went out to 50 miles. It changed later still when we got the 200-mile concept.
We are now living in a very different world. It has been made clear in the House that the Conference on the Law of the Sea, with its projection of 200-mile exclusive economic zones and the unilateral action of certain other countries, will totally change the concept on which the common fisheries policy was based and, therefore, that negotiation is necessary to change the whole basis of the policy.
I believed that we could negotiate better from within the European Economic Communty than from outside it. I confess that on this matter I have been disappointed. One of the objects of the debate is to steel the the resolve of Ministers. I am often asked by my fishermen "Is the fishing industry as a whole something that will be fought for, or is it expendable?" Of course, it is not expendable. It is a major British interest—indeed, a major continuing British interest—which will be with us when coal and oil have gone. We wish to be reassured that the Government look upon this as a major British interest.
I am sure that the Minister of State, Scottish Office, and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food do. But I have some doubt, when one sees the way in which the negotiations are proceeding, whether the Foreign Office is aware that these interests are important to us, not only to the people whose livelihoods depend upon them, but to the country as a whole. Fish constitute a very good source of protein at no great expense. It is important from that and every other point of view that we should have a viable fishing industry.
As has been said by many hon. Members today, what is baffling the industry is the state of uncertainty. How is it possible to lay down a keel for a deep sea trawler without knowing what task it is to perform? I admit that this is not entirely the Government's fault, and I am not blaming them, but it is this state of bewilderment which makes the present ills of the industry worse than they otherwise would be.
I now turn to the Icelandic dispute. It has not been mentioned very much today, but it is a continuing factor in the difficulties which our deep sea fleets face. I am perturbed not only by statements in this House, such as that made by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), but by statements by people outside the House who seem to think that we can withdraw
our ships from Icelandic waters without any harm being done and that this British interest, too, is expendable. Views have been expressed by a wide variety of people in the country who say "poor little Iceland." It is "poor little Iceland" which started to attack unarmed British fishing vessels on the high seas, in spite of a clear direction by the International Court that it was in the wrong. It is not only people in this country who believe that we are right in our attitude to the Icelandic dispute. In the Fleetwood Chronicle of 2nd April there is a report by a top Norwegian fishing vessel owner who takes up this very point. He was addressing a meeting between fishing industry leaders and Western Norwegian Members of Parliament, and the report states:
while he did not wish to upset negotiations about 200-mile zones, he wanted to drum home that without bilateral agreements with other fishing nations, almost the whole of the Norwegian deep sea fishing fleets would have to be laid up.
The report continued:
He did not like the high-handed Icelandic behaviour and unilateral extension of the fishing limit, in spite of the clear ruling by the International Court. If everyone had acted like Iceland there would be complete anarchy and chaos on all fishing grounds. English fishermen have carried on their activities for generations and thus have traditions to look after … It will not be so easy for the crews of the trawlers that have been laid up to find work in a country with such high unemployment. Great Britain has a living standard well below that of Iceland.
It is nice to know that there are people outside this House who support the stand that we make for the preservation of international law.
There is a clear indication from the Scottish National Party today that it is winking at possible illegal action as it did during the blockade last time, which I condemned then and still do.
Considering the afflictions which face our fishing fleet today, and the accumulation of worries, I add this piece of information which came to me only last weekend. I was told that 50 or 60 French and Belgian vessels were fishing just outside the 12-mile limit in the Irish Sea and taking on board immature fish and fish in spawn. That adds weight to the argument deployed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), who said that the present methods used for quota control were not sufficient and did not work, and that a system of licensing ought to be introduced. This argument has special force, of course, if we are to have an extended limit.
The debate and the vote to follow it are important. We do not wish in any way to destroy the Government's position. We wish to steel them by showing the depth of feeling in the House. I am certain that hon. Members on the Government side, even if they do not go into the Lobby with us tonight, feel as strongly as we do that a firm negotiating position is essential, and that that is the approach which the Government must adopt. They must show some steel. They must get in there and fight for us.
I shall take only a few minutes, because I came somewhat late into the Chamber and I had not understood the arrangement made through the usual channels. I shall, therefore, be as brief as I can, and add the hope that, perhaps, Ministers will give the same consideration when their time comes.
I pick up straight away the point that has been made about Iceland, with particular reference to the discussions now going on, the projected 200-mile limit to be discussed at the Law of the Sea Conference, and so on. I remind the House, however, that there is a crucial difference here, and the difference is that, whether we succeed on the 200 miles or not, we have something else, the EEC common fisheries policy. Therefore, the position for which Iceland is fighting, that is, for an exclusive 20-mile limit for itself, will not apply to us, and this is closely relevant to the argument which we are having now. I say that not only with reference to any attribution of blame. I am willing to accept some blame, but, with respect, the Conservative Party ought equally to accept blame in this matter.
I do not accept the comment made by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson). It is not a simple situation when one nation unilaterally goes against existing international law in order to establish rights for itself. I think that ' jaw jaw" is better than "war war", and certainly "jaw jaw is better than cod-war, so I regard it as highly irresponsible to suggest that the Icelanders are right in taking illegal action, which is how we must regard it, no matter how sympathetic we may be towards the view which they express.
It bodes ill for Scotland that the party which hopes one day to lead an independent Scotland takes such an irresponsible attitude to international law. Scottish National Party Members will find themselves in a very difficult position in protecting their own interests, quite apart from the interests of Scotland itself, if they adopt that line, and I am shocked not so much to hear them express sympathy for Iceland as to hear them endorse illegality of action in the pursuit of Icelandic interests. However, this is in line with the comment of the Scottish National Party Member for Inverness—candidate for Inverness, I should say——
—who last week was calling for a blockade of Rotterdam because he was offended by the behaviour of certain Dutch vessels. The fishery protection vessels of any independent Scotland will have a lot more work to do if that is the kind of illegal action which the SNP contemplates taking to defend the essential interests of our fishermen.
This is a vital question for the Scots. About half all the landings in Britain come to Scotland, and 40 per cent, of the fishermen of Britain are Scots. Communities in the North in the Highland areas around the Aberdeenshire coast depend on fishing, and fishing will continue long after the oil has gone. But we in Scotland must be careful when we speak on these subjects that we do not teach others to adopt some of the attitudes of the nationalists. In Scotland's interests I wish that they would repress some of their atavistic instincts.
I agree with many of the observations that have been made about limits. We should not have thrown away so lightly our negotiating position. It is clear that a 12-mile limit with written-in historic rights will not be sufficient in a world that is moving towards 200-mile limits. We are in a difficult position from which to achieve success in negotiations. It is ironic to hear complaints coming from the Opposition when many of us spent night after night warning them when they were in Government of the position that would arise.
We have even surrendered the right to veto. We have not used that right on a number of occasions when I think we should have threatened to do so. Indeed, we are in the position of a reverse veto. If we were to use the veto, we should restore the complete common fisheries policy, there would not even be derogation.
I am bitterly resentful that that was not one of the main negotiating arguments when the Conservative Party took us into the Common Market. I am also bitterly resentful that the Labour Government failed to make inroads into that policy, although we always said that we should not have a strong hand to deal in the negotiations that would take place.
I believe that insufficient attention has been paid, except by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), to the conditions that prevail in the deep-sea fishing industry. Developments such as decasualisation are vital. We should put fishing on a normal footing alongside our other industries. We must do so in terms of conditions, health, safety and security of employment. If that is achieved, it will be a major step to inserting fishing as a normal aspect of our general industrial life.
The problem that Britain will face for the rest of the century is the procurement of food. The task has not been helped by our entry into the Common Market. It is clear that we must maximise the protein potential that is to be gained from our fishing grounds. Nye Bevan once said that it would need genius to bankrupt Britain, Britain built on coal and surrounded by the sea, a great source of food. But we have gone a long way towards surrendering those advantages. One example is the EEC's energy policy. Incidentally, that policy was supported by the SNP in Brussels.
Clearly, we shall require as cheap as possible a protein addition to our diet, and on a larger scale than ever before. It will be necessary for the fishing grounds to play their part, in that context we must consider subsidies.
It is ironic to hear the Opposition surrendering the principles of private enterprise and arguing for subsidies. I link subsidies with pricing policy. We have now accepted the common agricultural policy as part of our way of life, but it should be an end-price policy, a cash return policy. The CAP has already been harmful to British agriculture. I believe that the insertion of a subsidy policy into fishing would allow us to go in a reverse direction and allow proper support for fishing. That would lead to an expansion, and we should be able to bring in good protein at a cheaper price. I support subsidy not merely because of the condition of the industry, but because it plays its part in seeking to restore a proper food procurement" policy for Britain and a proper pricing control method.
We have spent a great deal of money on research and experimentation. We know of the vast stocks that exist off the west coast of Scotland, off the Hebrides, but we have not yet found a method of making those stocks commercially useful. I should like to see a much greater chartering of vessels to take part in commercially-oriented fish experiments and indeed consumer experiments in the dressing, handling and filleting of fish.
I should like to see a Minister with responsibilities for fisheries. These matters should not be seen narrowly, but in terms of all the food procurement problems that we shall face in the next 50 years. Those problems require us to devote a great deal of attention to this important food source, and will also involve the earmarking of a fair share of national resources for this major industry, not only for our own people, but for so many communities whose health depends on its success.
I make no apology for the fact that I shall concentrate my remarks on the difficulties that face the inshore fishing industry, with particular reference to Devon and Cornwall. The West Country inshore fishing industry has faced what can only be described as a traumatic experience in the past six months. This largely is a consequence of the over-fishing of our mackerel.
The situation has arisen principally, but not exclusively, as a result of the intrusion into West Country waters of a limited number of large vessels from Scotland and Humberside. The reasons are patently obvious. Our nation's deep-sea fishing fleet has been subjected to increased pressures, particularly in Icelandic waters. As a consequence, there has been a squeezing of fishing grounds all the way along the line. In consequence, inshore waters in the South-West have attracted mid-water vessels that do not normally fish off the Devon and Cornish coasts.
In the past there has been a good supply of mackerel, but the key question is how long these shoals can last. The answer to this question is a matter of grave concern to local line fishermen, and for the good reason that it is believed that the fishing of mackered on the scale seen in the past season, cannot continue indefinitely.
Older fishermen in my constituency recall similar previous experiences. They remember the days when the herring was considered to be of paramount importance. Subsequently, the pilchard became the most important catch. In turn, that market was lost. Therefore, we cannot condemn local fishermen for feeling very apprehensive that the same passage of events could equally apply to the mackerel stock.
The fundamental problem confronting the fishing industry is that as a nation our catching capacity exceeds the availability of existing stocks. Differences arise about the means of solving this problem. In the South-West we are particularly concerned about two problems which are inter-related. The first is essentially short term and local. This could be tackled by the United Kingdom acting unilaterally and legally without offending any of our international obligations. It relates to the conservation of existing mackerel stocks.
The second problem relates to our international position and obligations and is concerned with the Law of the Sea Conference and, within those constraints, there will be the renegotiation of the CAP. I shall speak of each of those in turn.
First, I shall deal with the need for conservation of our mackerel stocks. Until recently the catching and marketing of mackerel have been approximately in balance, but the situation changed last winter with the increase in the number of larger vessels which fish indiscriminately, both in terms of volume of catch and in the size and quality of mackerel they catch. That means that large numbers of mackerel which were caught were subsequently dumped, and they litter the seabed off the coasts of Devon and Cornwall.
This could adversely affect the future breeding fishing and feeding grounds. In addition, a significant quantity has been washed up on our coasts. An increasing proportion of the mackerel landed has been used for fishmeal, which is clearly undesirable and a disgraceful waste of this important national natural resource.
In February 1976 I asked the Minister of State whether he would initiate an immediate official inquiry into the problems of the catch and marketing of mackerel caught off the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. His response, to say the least, was disappointing. I also asked him whether, pending the outcome of any such inquiry, he would ban purse seining and all vessels fishing in the vicinity in excess of 50 feet. I accept that that would have affected all vessels irrespective of their home location.
I might appear to be a little severe in my demands but I have little confidence in the credibility of catch quotas and I think that the accurate policing of them is probably impossible. The Minister's refusal to accede to my request indicates that he has little appreciation of the intensity of the problem and does not understand the sense of frustration and anger felt by local fishermen of the apparent neglect by the Ministry. He does not appreciate their apprehension about their future.
I therefore repeat my request. I notice that it is a Minister from the Scottish Office who is to reply to the debate. I speak as a fellow Celt, but I seek some justice for West Country Celts. Although it is now becoming the quiet season for mackerel catching, we are likely to face the same set of problems in the autumn of this year.
It is wrong to condemn industrial methods outright, but they must be balanced against the local employment situation. Cornwall has about 200 boats, which provide direct employment for 1,000 people. Cornwall is a full development area, with unemployment exceeding 11 per cent. In my constituency we have more than 40 boats, providing employment for about 140 people. In addition, the estimated number working in subsidiary trades is four to five times that figure. It is important to remember that alternative employment opportunities are limited. Average incomes in my constituency are 12 per cent, below the national average. Therefore, it will be abundantly clear that fishing plays a significant part in the Cornish economy both directly and indirectly.
I turn next to the position of the United Kingdom at the Law of the Sea Conference and the future of the common fisheries policy. I assume that the conference will agree to territorial limits of 200 miles. It is within that constraint that the common fisheries policy will be revised. It is estimated that within the 200-mile limit 56 per cent, of the EEC waters will be attributable to the United Kingdom. Therefore, this country has the biggest single fishing interest and it is essential that the Government adopt a firm—indeed, aggressive—posture.
I was saddened that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary apparently dismissed as out of court, even as an initial negotiating position, the possibility of our obtaining a 100-mile exclusive coastal zone. The Commission in Brussels has proposed a 12-mile exclusive belt. That is not acceptable. The Government must be more determined to secure a larger coastal zone. We have a strong case, but we must start with a bigger objective. We have the problem of negotiating away historic rights. I hope that the Government will review again their opening negotiating position and that we shall not give in to pressure from our EEC partners. It will not be an easy task, but we must show more will.
I end by quoting from an article in the Cornish Times, the weekly newspaper which serves my constituency. Under the heading
Brittany mackerel men want share of Cornish shoal
there was a report of an interview by a BBC correspondent, in the presence of
the French Prime Minister, with local Deputies representing constituencies in Brittany. It was pointed out to the French Prime Minister that in Brittany there were about 53,000 people out of work, and that the French Government were apparently pledged to try to make Brussels open the fishing grounds of all member nations to all the others. That would be a matter of particular relevance to Cornwall, which is just across the water from Brittany.
The article stated that 50 per cent, of the fish consumed in France came from Brittany. The reporter was told that 70 per cent, to 90 per cent, of the catch now made by Breton fishermen was in waters that would be, or could soon be expected to be, under British sovereignty. I am certain that the French will not give up that easily. Our Government must show equal resolve in opposing them.
I first of all say how well the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) has spoken for the interests of his constituents. I am not sure from his comments whether he was a Celtic nationalist or whether he was making an indirect and oblique appeal to receive the Whip of the SNP. All I can say to him is that I regret very much if he feels that the fishing interests of his constituency have in any way been impaired by fishermen from Scotland, some of whom are perhaps from my own constituency.
The hon. Member will, of course, be aware that as fishermen are denied opportunities elsewhere they tend to concentrate on areas such as the Cornish mackerel fisheries which, he will agree, have not been properly developed in the past and from which fishermen with improved technology find that they can make a living. I have discussed this with skippers in my constituency, and they understand the seriousness of the Cornish fishermen's view. They are prepared to enter into discussions as to how they can fish in a way which will not impair the livelihood of Cornishmen. I make this offer to the hon. Member for Bodmin, that, if he feels at any time that it would be of help, I would be quite happy to go down to Cornwall and discuss with his skippers, provided I have a bodyguard of my own skippers with me, our various mutual problems.
This debate is a kind of action replay of the debate we had on Thursday 19th February, and before entering the debate today I took the opportunity of reading that earlier one. The names are very much the same, the sentiments are very much the same and so are the statistics. We have been spared intrusions such as that from the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), whose knowledge of fishing is perhaps confined to what he finds in a fish-and-chip shop and who lectured the House for a quarter of an hour on the previous occasion. However, we have had fill-ups from the Government side. The way time has been monopolised in this debate by people who know very little about the fishing industry is quite disgraceful.
There has been a thread running through this debate suggesting that somehow or other we can be confident that the Law of the Sea Conference will reach a final and definite conclusion about fisheries I would counsel that there is no certainty about that. The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who is responsible for those negotiations, held a seminar comprising all interested parties in the industry and Members of Parliament to discuss the Government's position. It am a little disappointed that he has not done so in relation to the current discussions which are taking place in New York. I wonder whether we are not being too ambitious and hopeful about the Law of the Sea Conference. We are almost saying that the 200-mile EEZ is in the bag. I do not believe we are anywhere near that. The significance of Iceland, despite what hon. Members may have said, is that it has forced the issue of the 200-mile EEZ. Just as we got our 12-mile limit through Iceland sticking its neck out some years ago and going for a 12-mile limit, we may well find that we are very grateful to Iceland for taking the risk and sticking its neck out and deciding that, come what may, the law of survival took precedence over every other law. In that sense, my hon. Friends and I think that Iceland has done a service to every other country.
We now hear that Norway is prepared, by agreement or otherwise, to go for a 200-mile limit. The United States has a Bill going through Congress to provide a similar limit, and Canada is prepared to take the same sort of action. What would the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) say about taking on Canada? Iceland is perhaps the only country that the United Kingdom is capable of taking on nowadays. What if it were Canada or the United States rather than Iceland'.' They, too, are fighting for their livelihood.
The United Kingdom has been dilatory in pressing its interests. In looking at the way they have prepared for the Law of the Sea Conference and the renegotiation of common fisheries policy, it is clear that the Government have not had a clear policy, a clear will or any clear objectives. At the weekend I was at Fraserburgh. I attended a dinner given by the fishing industry there on Friday evening. On the Saturday morning I met some of my skippers. Compared with real life on the pierhead at Fraserburgh, the atmosphere in this House is like that of a spaceship.
The fishermen are pressed by all sorts of problems. They are facing huge tax bills and increases in costs. Some are looking forward to selling their boats. My herring fishermen have their boats tied up because they cannot fish until 1st June. I asked myself what this debate would bring out. What we want from the Minister is a clear statement of where the Government are taking us. We certainly did not get that from the Minister of State, who made a typically useless speech such as we have come to expect from him.
The onus is on the Under-Secretary to redeem the Government's honour, if it can be redeemed, and to tell us that the Government have a clear policy, know where they are going and believe that there is a future for the industry.
We have had a useful and wide-ranging debate dealing with international, national and local matters. I refer at once to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), who has demonstrated the concern of the industry at local level. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) put his finger on the point when he spoke of the problems facing fishing interests in Scotland and other areas. These arise from a "shunting" effect following what is happening in fishing grounds hundreds of miles away. That is what makes the situation so serious for us.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin and with his fishermen who are at the receiving end. They are facing problems which other fishing interests have already had to face. It is in the interests of us all that we obtain the right kind of fishing policy, particularly the right kind of conservation policy. Only in that way will the livelihood of the fishermen be maintained. I say this with feeling, because I have in my constituency the only inshore line fishing port in Scotland—the village of Gourdon, from which is obtained the best and freshest fish.
While my hon. Friend may resent the invasion of Scottish fishermen, I hope he will welcome the invasion of the commercial interests which follow in the form of a processing plant which, I understand, is to be set up very close to his constituency by one of the leading firms in Aberdeen. I hope that that will ensure that the market for fish in that part of the country is improved. I mention this because it demonstrates the unity of the fishing industry in the United Kingdom. Here we have a firm from Aberdeen contemplating investing in Cornwall. All this is in complete contrast to the spirit of the speech by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), which embodied chauvinism at its worst. The hon. Member appeared to be in a dream world. He did not say one concrete thing about the fishing industry.
I should like to make one last comment to the hon. Gentleman. He may talk about bickering, but I suggest that he looks at his own party. If he would declare to the House whether he is a Socialist or a Social Democrat, we should pay slightly more attention, given the current state of his party.
No. The hon. Gentleman was asked to give way several times during his speech and he refused to give way several times. I shall do to him no more than he did to others in the matter of courtesy.
The timing of the debate has been criticised by a number of Labour Members, in particular the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). The speech that interested me most was that of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central. He started by criticising the Opposition about the timing of the debate, but immediately said that what the industry needed was regeneration. He looked for policies of regeneration from the Government and called upon the Government to bring forward a Green Paper.
He talked about hypocrisy: I talk about hypocrisy to him. On the one hand he is criticising the Opposition for having a debate that is critical of the Government and, on the other hand, he used about 90 per cent, of his speech asking for the same re-assessment of fishing policy that we have been asking for tonight. If he were to follow his convictions into the Lobby, he would be with the Opposition.
I say seriously to those who have criticised the timing that this is an important time to have the debate. We have gone through a long period of bipartisan approach to the fishing industry. I have been glad to take part and assist in that. Those in the industry to whom I spoke at the time of our last debate, when SNP Members divided the House, believed that we should continue such an approach, at least until the last possible minute.
The hon. Gentleman says "Not at all", but the fishermen to whom I have spoken believe in that sort of approach because they believe that it will get the best results. But what has concerned us since the debate on 19th February is that nothing has happened between then and today, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) said. As my hon. Friend) the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) said, all that we have had is "words, words, words". It is because we have had simply words and not the action that the industry needs that we are having this debate.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, who was particularly critical about this, ought to know about the business of the House and how it is organised, and that this is the last opportunity of debating the fishing industry on the Floor of the House before the very important meeting on which the whole future of the industry may depend. If we did not have the debate, we could be into May before such a debate, and after important decisions had been taken.
1 shall be critical but, I hope, constructive as well. I hope that this debate, though critical of the Government, will strengthen and nerve the arms of Ministers in Brussels or Luxembourg, or wherever they may be, so that in the negotiations they may speak with the knowledge that both sides of the House of Commons, despite some of the things that have been said, believe that the Government are not tackling this problem with the seriousness and importance that it deserves.
The Minister of State described himself as being in a forthcoming mood. If he is forthcoming today and he says nothing, I hate to think what he is like when he is not forthcoming. His whole speech reeked of complacency. It was nothing but complacency. He told us nothing new. He spoke about fish farming, which is not terribly relevant to the crisis now facing the industry. He spoke about research and development. That is very interesting, but research and development on conservation will be worth nothing if we have no waters or fish stocks to conserve. For him to talk of those matters instead of the realities that face the industry thoroughly justifies our voting against the Government tonight.
When the hon. Gentleman referred to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said in comparing the support given by foreign Governments to their fishing industries and that given by the British Government, he gave himself away. I think I paraphrase him correctly as saying that international comparisons were difficult because the relative importance was different in different countries. Is not that a measurement of the importance which, for example, the Norwegian and French Governments attach to their industry compared with the importance which the Labour Government in the United Kingdom attach to the industry? In commenting on what my right hon. Friend said about the lack of support for the industry in this country compared with the support given by other countries the hon. Gentleman demonstrates the lack of importance he and his Government attach to the fishing industry.
The first critical matter in the debate is the financial state of the trawling industry. For long enough the Minister has said that he is willing to consider a well-documented case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said, we have gone on presenting a well-documented case, but response comes there none.
I wish to refer to the case put forward by the Scottish Trawlers' Federation. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to a letter of 18th March from an official in the Scottish Office to the Scottish Trawlers' Federation. There is a considerable amount of juggling with figures in this letter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be persuaded that there has been a juggling with figures and that he will come into the Lobby on our side. The figures are concerned wholly with percentages. When my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South asked the Secretary of State for Scotland about the fishing industry, the answer was:
In the first five weeks of 1976 the Scottish industry's gross earnings are 22 per cent, up on those for the comparable period in 1975."—[Official Report, 3rd March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 1293.]
On the face of it, that looks very attractive, but two columns later, in response to a question from me about whether it might be better to take account of costs as well, the Secretary of State said that of course we had to take account of costs as well.
It is this letter of 18th March which does not fully take costs into account. My main criticism of the letter is that its approach is extremely narrow. It is based, first, on the catch rate and, secondly, on earnings. In so far as the first part of 1976 has shown better catch rates, do we believe that those catch rates will be sustained throughout the rest of the year? To believe that is to be living in cloud-cuckoo land.
Under the system of international quotas there is an upper limit to the catch. Therefore, if good results are achieved in the first two or three months, the catch for the rest of the year will not be so good. If we have a good period at the beginning of the year, we cannot hope to have anything like such a good period at the end of the year.
The hon. Gentleman said that there was some juggling with figures in the Scottish Office letter. To some extent there is juggling of figures on both sides of the argument. The Scottish Trawlers' Federation case is partly a forecast of what might happen compared with last year. My argument is that the STF vastly exaggerated the position in the last week in January and it does not know what will be the quota in the coming years. It is a question of how the industry will shape up over the next few months. There is juggling with figures here, and the sooner we get straightforward answers from one side or the other the better. I ask the Government at least to have contingency plans.
If conservation is to be effective it is a fair guess that quotas will be less and not more.
I shall not juggle with figures and forecasts. I shall work on real figures which. I hope, will make the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North reconsider his intervention.
The letter of 18th March is based on a simple comparison between the first two months of this year, when gross earnings totalled £836 per day, and the last quarter of 1975, when gross daily earnings were £584. These are audited figures, available in official form and, I believe, accepted by the Government.
It is important that I go into the mathematics of the matter so that Labour Members are under no uncertainty about what we are discussing. These figures show an apparent improvement of £252 per day, but the crew's share of 20 per cent.—£50—has to be deducted, as does £91 for the increased cost of fuel, etc. That leaves a gross improvement in the cash flow of £111 per day.
But now comes the rub. What is the starting point? The last quarter of 1975 was showing losses of £75 per day, excluding depreciation. Therefore, from our £111 we are now left with an improved cash flow of only £36 per day. When depreciation of £73 per day is taken into account, we find that the apparent improvement of gross earnings of £252 per day is, in fact, a daily deficit of £37.
I have already given way to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. I hope he can see now that, although there has been a massive improvement in gross earnings compared with the last quarter of 1975, the Scottish Trawlers' Federation and British Trawlers' Federation fleets are operating at a loss.
How much longer can a great industry like this go on operating in such a situation? The Government are hiding their head in the sand. They may be deceived and taken in by some figures, but we are not. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South pointed out that the number of vessels in the Scottish fleet had fallen from about 110 two years ago to 70 today.
The case has been made. The industry needs help. It does not want help of more than a temporary nature, and the way to tackle the problem is, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), through a proper pricing policy through the EEC. This is the best way of ensuring the long-term viability of the industry.
But make no mistake——
I am short of time. I have given away part of my time to allow others to speak in the debate.
The trawling industry throughout the United Kingdom is currently operating at a loss. If we believe in the future of the industry, of jobs and of the security of supplies of fish, the industry needs help now. We condemn the Government for refusing to give the help which is needed.
I turn now to the common fisheries policy. The Government have shown that they are operating under a number of basic misconceptions. I was disappointed at the Minister of State's weakness on the common fisheries policy. [Interruption.] I was disappointed at the hon. Gentleman's failure to commit himself to answer direct questions put to him by hon. Members on this side of the House. I was left with a sick feeling inside me that he was seeking to prepare the way for the Government's retreat on behalf of the British fishing industry.
There are two propositions before us on the CFP. Either we take the CFP as it is, look at it and see whether there is scope for manoeuvre within it, or we take the new situation with a 200-mile limit as opposed to a 12-mile international limit. In either case, there is scope for the Government to stand up for British interests.
Taking the common fisheries policy as it is, it is not good enough for the Govern-men to say that their negotiating hands are tied. They are not tied, as is shown in the paper from the Community prepared by Commissioner Lardinois. That shows that there is a movement within the Community from the position of the CFP as it was when it was first drawn up. In the Commission's statement of 12th December 1971 there are references to the protection of fishing grounds, the preservation of biological resources, a call for a report on economic and social development in coastal areas and a report on the state of stocks. All these matters are to be taken into account by 1982 according to the original agreement on the CFP. If there is not scope in that for the CFP to be renegotiated, the Government are not doing their job. If the Government do their job properly, they will be able to renegotiate in that way.
The Government are in a weak position, not because of the Treaty of Accession but because of their renegotiations of the terms of entry to the EEC. They used up whatever bargaining credit they originally had. Now their credit is dry. That is what puts them in a difficult position.
The Government are being less than frank with the House and less than open with the industry. We are now in a new situation. I believe that if the Government went to the Common Market with more resolution, they could put this over much better. The CFP was based on internationally-agreed limits of 12 miles under the 1964 Convention. In the new situation which everyone envisages will be carried through at the Law of the Sea Conference, we shall be talking about internationally-agreed limits of 200 miles. If that is not a new ball game, I should like to know what is. If the Government would approach Europe more strongly, I believe that they would have scope to renegotiate the whole basis of the common fisheries policy. The question is whether the Government have the will and, if they have the will, whether they have the skill to do it. If they have. I believe that the opportunity is there.
I should like to make a simple comparison. If there were some renegotiation because of a completely new international situation, such as has happened with fishing, the Continental Shelf Act and our resources under the sea, would not the Government protect our interests there? I bet they would protect our interests in the oil. We are asking them to do the same for the fishing industry.
The fishing industry has a strong case, on four grounds. First, there is the size of our contribution to EEC fishery policy, with 56 per cent, of EEC water. Secondly, there is the size of the sacrifice by our deep-water industry when limits go up to 200 miles in further waters. Thirdly, there is the size of our catch for human consumption. Fourthly, we realise the urgency for conservation, which demonstrates in international negotiations the importance of national States looking after the waters around their own coasts if conservation is to be effective.
We have a strong case, and I contrast the strength of our case with the weakness of the Government. Protestations of concern are not enough but must be accompanied by action. What the Minister said about the 100-mile negotiation objective was not realistic. The Government have betrayed our negotiating position, and that is why, above all else, I ask all hon. Members, on whichever side of the House they sit, who believe in the future of our fishing industry to come into the Lobby with us and vote against the Government.
I shall pick up some of the points made by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearas (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) as I go along. All I say to him now is that his Press comment a few days ago summed it up when he said:
Things are getting desperate. The Government will need to do something.
That was the extent of his constructive approach outside the House, and he has not added anything by his speech in the Chamber today.
I had thought that someone would have found it possible during the debate to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) on becoming Prime Minister, because that is part of the reason why I have so few supporters tonight on the Benches behind me. I have enough competition normally, but when my right hon. Friend is speaking to the nation obviously I have severe competition in getting an audience. [Interruption.] I see that a number of comedians have turned up on the Conservative Benches for the last half-hour of the debate.
I make no complaint about the timing of the debate. I recognise that this is an Opposition Supply Day. What I complain about is that the Opposition are to force a vote. It is not the timing of the debate but the tactic that has been used that is out of keeping with what one would expect during a period of negotiation.
I do not think that the changes since the last debate on the subject six weeks ago have been all that significant. I question whether the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) knows much about agriculture. I am certain that he knows nothing about fishing. I query what was said by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) about my having said on some occasion that I thought the Government's policy should be to achieve a 100-mile exclusive limit. I am not aware of anyone in the Government—certainly not myself—having said that.
The right hon. Gentleman said that that statement had been made at a meeting with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, but he did not quote the source of that comment and he will therefore appreciate that it will not be regarded as an authentic opinion or statement on behalf of the Government. I had better say that now, because I might not be in the Government tomorrow—who knows? [Interruption.] What I am sure about is that my right hon. Friend will not consult the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) on appointments to his Government.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire did less than justice to what I have always regarded as a fairly non-partisan approach to the subject of fishing. He used exaggerated phrases. He spoke of the stories every day of vessels fishing to their heart's content. I do not know where he hears them. Cambridgeshire is just as landlocked as Provan, and I do not hear them every day.
To suggest that there has been no Government activity is most unfair to this or to any Government. I really feel that the right hon. Gentleman was overdoing it in making some of these points. His suggestion that the Government have not understood the industry is yet another cliche. These cliches together add up to nothing, even if they help to fill out a speech.
This is a rather significant week, to some extent, because—[Interruption.] Some hon. Members will laugh at anything, obviously. Following what I said about the Government having knowledge of the industry, I was about to refer to the fact that it is precisely a year since there was a blockade. It was my lot or luck to have to discuss with the committee in Aberdeen some of the matters which had given rise to concern, and at that time the problem was well recognised by the Government.
The reason why I mention this is that in the last debate the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire acknowledged that an accumulation of factors had created problems for the industry. He was not talking about an emergency but recognising that there were serious problems, and that in some way they had all come together at a particular time. He recognised that many of the problems were outwith the control of any Government. This is why I say that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong to accuse us of complacency or of lack of knowledge or understanding of the problems of the industry.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) suggested that we should find a horse trader with a steel backbone to argue the case in Europe. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) added another quality that should be included. He said that we should have something like the attitude of de Gaulle. I rather imagine that people would see more of a resemblance to de Gaulle in the right hon. Gentleman than in me. Certainly I think it is true that we are in a difficult situation as a result of the legacy left to us in terms of the common fisheries policy. That is the key problem that we have to face tonight, and I shall deal with that shortly.
I do not want to bandy figures with the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns, but he was most unfair in suggesting that there has been some juggling with figures. Anyone reading the letter that was sent to the Federation must admit that all factors have been taken into consideration. It is the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns who is hiding his head in the sand. What we said was that, even given increased costs, vessels will make a profit if prices improve in the first quarter. This is indisputable. The hon. Gentleman argued that the catch rates might not continue, and that prices might do this and do that.
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and the point he was making about the slight exaggeration, I should like to quote from Commercial Fishing. This is not a paper that is very sympathetic to the Labour Party or the Labour Government. In a recent issue it said:
The call by the Scottish Trawlers Federation for the special subsidy fell at a rather embarrassing moment, however. For just as the campaign was gathering momentum the local fleet were experiencing one of their best
periods for years with first-class earnings from a good part of the fleet. Good fiishing on the local offshore banks, coupled with heavy catches from the Faroes at the start of the quota year, combined to make a welcome respite to the owners from the lean time experienced for many months.
These are not my words. This is not a Government-biased source.
In general, however, the year has begun on a bright note for most Scottish fishermen and there are forecasts by many leading figures that the year 1976 could well be a record year for the inshore fishermen.
A renewed note of optimism has been prevalent throughout the inshore section of the industry for the past couple of months and there have been enquiries for new construction at many shipyards—the first move in this field for over a year".
[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should ask Commercial Fishing.
That is a sound comment by an unbiased source. It is certainly not a source biased in favour of the Government. That is a sound comment—[Interruption.] This is not a street-corner meeting. I shall get round to the Scottish National Party in a minute. The hon. Gentleman should relax. He has hardly been here all day. He should keep quiet and show the House and myself some courtesy. This quotation confirms the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North that perhaps the case was slightly exaggerated. I shall not go into the details of the figures, but even a neutral commentator recognises that.
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the brighter part of the passage that he read out referred to the inshore industry and not to the trawling industry to which I particularly referred as being in difficulty at present? Does he deny that in the first two months of this year for which he has figures the trawling industry was operating at a loss and that that situation, far from having improved, in fact worsened during March?
The first quotation I made dealt with the trawling industry. That answers that point. As for whether it is profit or loss at present, I do not wish to dodge the question but I am not prepared to comment further until we have had detailed discussions—[Interruption.] We have already offered them. The hon. Gentleman should not be so carnaptious. He keeps muttering something about audited figures.
As far as I understand, these are audited figures only up to the end of September or October of last year. Therefore, perhaps we are talking at cross-purposes and making too much of it. Talks have been opened on the details. It would be wrong to assume that all is gloom and misery, even in Aberdeen. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North was valid.
My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and for Aberdeen, North will be interested to know that the Government have received an interesting paper from the Transport and General Workers' Union on the subject of decasualisation. As my hon. Friends know, this is mainly a matter for the Department of Employment. I am not making any commitment about what lies ahead of us, but we will take on board the fact that, in any future talks about the restructuring of the industry which will inevitably have to happen because of the CFP and other factors, it would be a shame if we could not find a way of giving the employees in this hazardous industry the same rights and protection as are given in other industries in such matters as redundancy payments and health and safety.
That is not a commitment to registration or decasualisation. It is a recognition by me on behalf of the Government that we understand that something needs to be done for the employees in this difficult industry. We are indebted to the Transport and General Workers' Union for its constructive paper.
One other matter which I wanted to mention was mackerel, a subject which was raised by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks). A working group has discussed this matter and it has submitted its report to the liaison committee. Obviously there is general recognition of the need for conservation measures for mackerel stocks in the North Sea and off the West Coast. The question is whether there should be a total allowable catch or a quota system. The Government are certainly aware of the importance and, indeed, the urgency of the mackerel problem. We do not want to get into a situation in which further divisions are created in the fishing fleet on a territorial or geographical basis.
No, I cannot. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that it will be, for example, two weeks next Tuesday. I have said that it may take some time, but certainly there is recognition that it requires a bit of attention.
One other matter that has been raised has been the extent to which aid is given by other Governments. The oft-quoted example is Norway. I am not questioning the figure given by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, but he gave a figure of 175 and I was not sure whether it was millions of pounds or Norwegian crowns.
I am indebted for the encouraging remarks from hon. Members who do not know what we are talking about. The right hon. Gentleman did not make it clear whether he was referring to pounds or crowns. [Interruption.] The hon. Member will have a sore throat if he keeps on talking. It is quite misleading to make comparisons in this context. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman was not trying to mislead the House. All I am saying is that the matter needs to be examined in greater detail, because aid can be given in a variety of forms. Some aid is given in Norway in the form of social welfare and pensions which do not figure in our calculations. It is a little misleading for hon. Members to make these broad assertions, as if Britain was the only country which was not concerned about the state of the fishing industry.
I now come to the main point. I want to take up the point made by the Scottish National Party because I recognise that Members of that party enjoy a share of the votes in Scotland and, therefore, they are entitled to some kind of reply. I wonder whether I could get an official comment from the SNP on whether it supports the blockading of Rotterdam——
Secondly, may I ask the SNP Members: do they also disown the candidate in Inverness-shire who says—[Interruption.] He said—[Interruption.] For the benefit of the hon. Member who kept interrupting earlier and who has not been here since until the last moment, I should point out that Scotland lands half the fish which comes into Britain, so he need not try to be funny. This is an important matter.
Does the SNP disown the statement made by its candidate in Inverness that the worst offenders at breaking the law are Scottish fishermen?
It is most indulgent of the Minister to give way, but it seems obvious that he must be very short of material if he is reduced to this level. With reference to his second question, I do not know what on earth he is talking about. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] The hon. Gentleman must be quoting from the Tory Press. I cannot understand what he is talking about when he refers to Scottish fishermen being offenders.
The hon. Gentleman is simply trying to take advantage, which is quite unfair, and he knows it.
We recognise the absolute importance of the renegotiation or the review of the common fisheries policy to which we are committed. There have been repeated references to my right hon. and hon. Friends who are in Luxembourg at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be there tomorrow morning to discuss fishing in particular. As I say, I take exception to the way the official Opposition have approached this matter. They left us with it. They signed the Treaty of Accession. They signed all our rights away in terms of anything. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] When a Government sign a Treaty of Accession, we cannot talk in terms of the renegotiation of only one aspect of that Treaty. We were left with this situation. We are not necessarily in a position of strength to bargain and argue for what we are now demanding as a right to protect our fishermen. I am satisfied, however, that we have the knowledge, the skill, the ability and the determination to protect our fishermen.
|Division No. 106.]||AYES||[10 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Awdry, Daniel||Bell, Ronald|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bain, Mrs Margaret||Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)|
|Alison, Michael||Baker, Kenneth||Benyon, W.|
|Arnold, Tom||Banks, Robert||Bitten, John|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Beith, A. J.||Biggs-Davison, John|
|Blaker, Peter||Henderson, Douglas||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Body, Richard||Heseltine, Michael||Pattle, Geoffrey|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hicks, Robert||Penhaligon, David|
|Bottomley, Peter||Higgins, Terence L.||Percival, lan|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Holland, Philip||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Hooson, Emlyn||Price, David (Eastlelgh)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hordern, Peter||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Brittan, Leon||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Howell, David (Guildford)||Raison, Timothy|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hunt, John||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hurd, Douglas||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Budgen, Nick||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||James, David||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Burden, F. A.||Jenkin, Rt Hn P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Jessel, Toby||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Carlisle, Mark||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Channon, Paul||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Jopling, Michael||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Clegg, Walter||Kershaw, Anthony||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Cockcroft, John||Kilfedder, James||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Kimball, Marcus||Scott, Nicholas|
|Cope, John||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Cordle, John H.||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Shepherd, Colin|
|Corrie, John||Knox, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Costain, A. P.||Lamont, Norman||Sllvester, Fred|
|Crouch, David||Lane, David||Sims, Roger|
|Crowder, F. P.||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Lawrence, Ivan||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Lawson, Nigel||Speed, Keith|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Spence, John|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Lloyd, Ian||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Loveridge, John||Sproat,Iain|
|Durant, Tony||Luce, Richard||Stainton, Keith|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||MacCormick, Iain||Stanley, John|
|Elliott, Sir William||McCrindle, Robert||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Macfarlane, Nell||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Eyre, Reginald||MacGregor, John||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Stokes, John|
|Farr, John||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Fell, Anthony||Madel, David||Tapsell, Peter|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Marten, Neil||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mates, Michael||Tebbit, Norman|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mather, Carol||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Forman, Nigel||Maude, Angus||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Fox, Marcus||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Thompson, George|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Mawby, Ray||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Freud, Clement||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Fry, Peter||Mayhew, Patrick||Trotter, Neville|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Mills, Peter||Viggers, Peter|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Miscampbell, Norman||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Wakeham, John|
|Goodhart, Philip||Moate, Roger||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Monro, Hector||Wall, Patrick|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Montgomery, Fergus||Walters, Dennis|
|Gorst, John||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Watt, Hamish|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Morgan, Geraint||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Gray, Hamish||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Wells, John|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Grist, Ian||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Grylls, Michael||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Hall, Sir John||Mudd, David||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Neave, Airey||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Nelson, Anthony||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Neubert, Michael||Younger, Hon George|
|Hannam, John||Newton, Tony|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Nott, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hastings, Stephen||Onslow, Cranley||Mr. Spencer Le Marchaant and|
|Havers, Sir Michael||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Mr. Cecil Parkinson.|
|Heath, Rt Hon Edward|
|Abse, Leo||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Allaun, Frank||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Anderson, Donald||Freeson, Reginald||Meacher, Michael|
|Archer, Peter||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Ashley, Jack||George, Bruce||Millan, Bruce|
|Ashton, Joe||Gilbert, Dr John||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Ginsburg, David||Miller, Mrs Millie (llford N)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Golding, John||Molloy, William|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Gould, Bryan||Moonman, Eric|
|Bates, Alf||Gourlay, Harry||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Bean, R. E.||Graham, Ted||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Benn, Rt Hn Anthony Wedgwood||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Grant, John (Islington C)||Moyle, Roland|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Grocott, Bruce||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Bishop, E. S.||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Newens, Stanley|
|Boardman, H.||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Noble, Mike|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Oakes, Gordon|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Heffer, Eric S.||Ogden, Eric|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Hooley, Frank||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Bradley, Tom||Horam, John||Orbach, Maurice|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Howell, Rt Hon Denis||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Ovenden, John|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Huckfield, Les||Owen, Dr David|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Padley, Walter|
|Buchan, Norman||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Park, George|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Parker, John|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Hunter, Adam||Parry, Robert|
|Campbell, Ian||Irvine, Rt Horn Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Canavan, Dennis||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Pendry, Tom|
|Cant, R. B.||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Perry, Ernest|
|Carmlchael, Neil||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Carter, Ray||Janner, Greville||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cartwright, John||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Radice, Giles|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||John, Brynmor||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Coleman, Donald||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Judd, Frank||Rodger3, George (Chorley)|
|Corbett, Robin||Kaufman, Gerald||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Kelley, Richard||Rooker, J. w.|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Kerr, Russell||Roper, John|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Kilroy-Sllk, Robert||Rose, Paul B.|
|Cronin, John||Kinnock Neil||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Croslard, Rt Hon Anthony||Lamble, David||Rowlands, Ted|
|Cryer, Bob||Lamborn, Harry||Sandelson, Neville|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lamond, James||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Selby, Harry|
|Davidson, Arthur||Leadbitter, Ted||Shaw, Arnold (llford South)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lee, John||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton A Slough)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Davies, If or (Gower)||Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lipton, Marcus||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds W)||Litterick, Tom||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lomas, Kenneth||Silverman, Julius|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Loyden, Eddie||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dempsey, James||Luard, Evan||Small, William|
|Dolg, Peter||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Snaps, Peter|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Spearing, Nigel|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||McCartney, Hugh||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunn, James A.||McCusker, H.||Stallard, A. W.|
|Dunnett, Jack||McElhone, Frank||Stoddart, David|
|Eadie, Alex||McGuire, Micrnel (Inee)||Stott, Roger|
|Edge, Geoff||Mackenzie, Gregor||Strang, Gavin|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Mackintosh, John P.||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Maclennan, Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|English, Michael||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Swain, Thomas|
|Ennals, David||McNamara, Kevin||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Madden, Max||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Magee, Bryan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Mahon, Simon||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Tierney, Sydney|
|Flannery, Martin||Marks, Kenneth||Tinn, James|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marquand, David||Torney, Tom|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Ford, Ben||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Varley, Rt Hon Erie G.|
|Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)||White, James (Pollok)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Waiden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)||Whitehead, Phillip||Woodall. Alec|
|Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Whitlock, William||Woof, Robert|
|Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Ward, Michael||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Watkins, David||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Weetch, Ken||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Weitzman, David||Williams, Sir Thomas||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Wellbeloved, James||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)||Mr. James Hamilton.|
|While, Frank R. (Bury)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|