European Community (Budget)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 2nd July 1980.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:41 pm, 2nd July 1980

I do not propose to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) with which I agreed except to express the hope that the eventuality that he foresaw of the Labour Party being fundamentally committed against the Common Market in two years' time comes about. If that happens, I hope that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) becomes the spokesman for the Conservative Party, putting the case for the Common Market against us.

I propose to concentrate my remarks on document No. 7389/80 on a common fisheries policy. I see it in the context of a budget agreement that is fundamentally unsatisfactory. The agreement itself is a bad augury for the kind of fisheries settlement that will come about if it demonstrates how the Government defend the national interest on the budget question.

The budget agreement betrays the promises and belies the hopes that were held out to the people of this country, specifically that we would secure a broad balance between expenditure and receipts and that there would be no connection between the budget agreement, the agricultural agreement and the fisheries agreement. There clearly has been that connection. In the light of that tawdry agreement, the projection by our prostituted press of a national humiliation as a triumph is the worst example of managed news seen in this country for several years.

The press may now regret this song of praise. It has become clear that the Prime Minister is not altogther happy with the settlement that has been brought back. The press is not sure now to whom it should be sycophantic. This creates a division of loyalty. But the manner in which a settlement that was fundamentally unsatisfactory was projected was an appalling example of managed news.

It seems clear that the settlement is unsatisfactory because the pro-Europeans in the Cabinet—that means the overwhelming majority of the Cabinet—were dismayed at the repercussions of the strong stand the Prime Minister was taking and dismayed at the impact in the country where people were discovering what we are paying to be a member of this Common Market club. An anti-European feeling was developing rapidly and on a considerable scale. The right hon. Lady was taken by the arm by the Foreign Secretary and told quietly "Enough is enough ". The result is a settlement that is disastrous in many ways. It is disastrous not only for the concessions made on the common agricultural policy, with the increase in prices and the further impetus to build up mountains; it is also potentially disastrous for fishing—the area to which I wish to address my main remarks.

It is always an ominous sign for the fishing industry when the Foreign Office negotiates on its behalf and takes the issue out of the hands of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which has the industry's interests more at heart. I fear that concessions have been made in advance. Statements from France and Germany indicate a link between the budget agreement and a common fisheries agreement. The Minister vehemently denies that. I hope that he is right, because his career is at stake. If he is entering negotiations with his hands tied in any way it must be made clear to the fishing industry. The industry cannot be defended by a Minister who is in such a situation. The industry will judge the events accordingly.

The industry's demands are clear. They have been expressed clearly and strongly. The industry demands exclusive control over the waters to 12 miles. It demands a dominant share of the catch—or a dominant preference—in the waters up to 50 miles, and the ability to impose national conservation measures to protect threatened stocks in the waters up to 200 miles. Those demands are basic, clear and straightforward.

It is impossible to have a healthy and viable fishing industry without the satisfaction of those demands. Only the nation State has the interests of conservavation at heart, because that conservation represents the future for the industry and its fishermen. That is not true of the multinational arrangements proposed. Our future is in the fish stocks. Without national control, catches cannot be policed unless there is limitation and registration. That is not proposed. National Governments have ignored conservation measures. The proposal does not include measures to ensure that national Governments enforce the regulations. There is no equalisation support proposal.

On the basis of this inadequate prospectus there is no case for the industry abandoning its claim for control over its own waters. To do so would be to swim straight into a purse seine net. The negotiations must be handled independently of any other subject. If necessary, the negotiations must go on beyond the deadline. When our demands suit nobody but us and are opposed by eight other countries the battle will be uphill, particularly if we point a pistol at our own head and accept the deadline. The deadline is lamentable for the industry.

In the light of that I would like to put three questions to the Minister. Will there be any budget repayments before 1 January next year, the date at which the common fisheries policy is to come into effect? If there are no repayments before then the potential for holding us to ransom is enormous. What procedure will be used for the budget repayments? If the procedure involves the use of the qualified majority, it is possible that France and Germany, whose interests do not coincide with ours in this respect, will use the qualified majority to block the repayment to this country unless they get a satisfactory common fisheries policy.

Will the Minister give his interpretation of the text quoted by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on the guidelines for the fisheries settlement? It says: The Council agrees that the completion of a common fisheries policy is a concomitant part in the solution of the problems with which the Community is confronted at present. What does "concomitant part" mean? It goes on: To this end the Council undertakes to adopt, in parallel with"— another text says "to sustain"— the application of the decisions which will be taken in other areas, the decisions necessary to ensure that a common fisheries policy is put into effect at the latest on 1 January 1981. What is our Government's interpretation of that text? I am not an expert in Eurospeak or Euroglook, but on any reading that is possible within the Common Market the two things are interconnected and the common fisheries settlement will not be agreed. If it is not agreed the budget repayments will not be made. That, therefore, is the interpretation of the words "concomitant" and "in parallel with". It is therefore important to hear the Government's interpretation of those words.

I am worried and alarmed by the prospects facing the fishing industry, given the indications that the Government are preparing to compromise the just demands of that industry—demands without a constructive response to which there can be no viable fishing industry.

The Government have two ways in which to show that they are serious about the fishing industry. The Prime Minister made commitments which she revised and strengthened considerably in the course of the campaign when she reached Scotland. Those commitments should be maintained. The first way in which the Government can show that they are serious is to take account of the state of the industry. It is an industry in a crisis of galloping proportions. It is the second crisis to hit the industry in six years. It has been caused because costs, particularly fuel costs and interest charges are up and catches are down as a result of drastic over-fishing. Receipts for the catches are down because of the huge increase in fish imports in the first few months of this year. That increase is now slowing, because the cold stores are bursting at the seams with fish. It is impossible to import any more. We are now importing over half our fish.

Given the state of the industry created by the crisis it is imperative that the industry be kept going until the common fisheries agreement is reached. Equally, the Government must show themselves to be serious about providing adequate aid to the industry. They have provided £2 million. In some sense it is an achievement to get that much money out of a Government who are determined to spend nothing. The figure, however, is totally inadequate given the scale of the problem.

Yesterday we met the representatives of the industry and they described the problem to us. They need £35 million in operating aid for the next six months alone. In other words, the figure is running at £70 million a year—the size of the deficit that is accumulating because every trawler is coming back in debt, making no profit on the catch. If we are to have an industry to negotiate for, it is crucial that the Government should show themselves serious in terms of the amount of aid that should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

The second way in which the Government can show themselves to be serious is to increase the negotiating pressure on our Common Market partners. That approach has proved successful for the French on the question of lamb imports. It is the only technique that promises to be successful where it is Britain against the rest. The Government must increase the negotiating pressure by imposing further national conservation measures to protect our threatened stocks, must help our industry and must put pressure on the countries with which we are competing to increase the mesh size, to accept the one-net rule and to ban beam trawling.

The measures are desperately needed. If the aid is not forthcoming and if the Government do not increase pressure we shall lose not only another industry —industries are falling like ninepins at the moment—but a way of life that is crucial to this country.