With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Council of Fisheries Ministers in Luxembourg on 21 July, at which I represented the United Kingdom, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
I should also like to report on the Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting on 22 July at which I and my hon. Friend the Minister of State represented the United Kingdom.
The Fisheries Council had a useful discussion of the principles for determining 1980 quota allocations between member States. The Commission had prepared a schedule of quota allocations which made it clear that these were not its proposals on quotas but were simply a schedule of quota allocations with a range of calculating methods which it had been considering.
I questioned these methods and stressed the need for a fair distribution of catches to take into account the size of the resources found within our fisheries limits and the full extent of United Kingdom losses of fishing opportunities in third country waters. I urged the Commission to put forward proposals fully reflecting these factors and it was agreed that the council would undertake detailed discussion of quota proposals to be presented by the Commission at the October meeting of the Council.
The Council also considered a Commission communications on access arrangements, where I made clear the Government's requirement for an adequate zone of exclusive access and for preferential arrangements beyond. These demands were supported by certain other member States.
New proposals on structural measures were tabled at the Council but not discussed in substance, and there was a general exchange of views on the revised Commission proposals for a conservation regime. The Council agreed to a detailed examination of all outstanding problems connected with the conservation proposal at its next meeting on 29 September. A further Council was planned for October, which will allow time for preparatory discussions to be completed on quotas, access and the structural proposals.
At the Agriculture Council there was a short discussion upon the various programmes for structural aid. It was agreed that decisions on these proposals, including those for Northern Ireland and Scotland, would be taken at the October meeting of the Council.
Mr. Gundelach reported to the Council on his successful negotiations with New Zealand on arrangements for the future import of New Zealand lamb into the Community. There has been total agreement between the Commission and the New Zealand Government other than on the issue of whether the existing tariff of 20 per cent. should be reduced to 10 or to 8 per cent.
The Commission emphasised that the agreement reached was a satisfactory and fair one. Only the French Government raised major reservations. They opposed any reduction in the tariff below 15 per cent. and questioned other elements in the agreement. The British Government expressed the view that a reduction of the tariff to 8 per cent. was a reasonable request on the part of the New Zealand Government and we made clear our position that we would only support an agreement that was satisfactory to the New Zealand Government.
We were supported vigorously both by the Commission and by many other nations in our demand that agreement should be swiftly reached and that it was essential that the sheepmeat regime came in at the earliest possible date. On the recommendation of the Commission and the Presidency, the Council agreed that all the internal and external aspects of the regime should be decided at its next meeting in September in order to permit its entry into force on 1 October 1980. The Commission expressed its confidence that it would reach the necessary agreement with third country suppliers in time for the Council to finalise arrangements at the next meeting.
On access for New Zealand butter, Mr. Gundelach reported that New Zealand was prepared, under a gentleman's agreement, to reduce sendings to the United Kingdom by 20,000 tonnes in 1980, in return for an increase in her net selling price to 75 per cent of the intervention price. Other members of the Council were prepared to accept this agreement, even though they thought the terms were generous to New Zealand. Since it was clear that the Council would not agree to better terms, and in the knowledge that they were acceptable to New Zealand, I agreed to them in advance of the debate tomorrow.
Following a request that I made at the last Council meeting on the difficulties of the glasshouse sector, the Commission reported that it was initiating discussions with the Dutch Government under article 93 (1) of the Treaty on the preferential rate charged for natural gas in the Netherlands. I was supported by other countries in demanding that these talks should take place speedily and the Commission assured the Council of its recognition of the urgency of the problem.
As a result of pressure from the United Kingdom for action against cheap offers from Poland, the Council agreed to a Commission proposal to introduce surveillance arrangements for strawberry pulp and frozen strawberries, thus equipping the Council with the ability to take quick action to deal with cheap imports which threatened the interests of our soft fruit producers.
A discussion took place on problems connected with battery hens. The Council endorsed the Commission's intention to produce a report and proposals on this subject and agreed that the report should be discussed speedily after it had been received. The Council agreed to a suggestion made by the United Kingdom that research made on alternative methods of commercial egg production should be co-ordinated throughout the Community.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not outrageous to have a statement on fisheries and an extremely long statement on agriculture lumped together? Would it not have been better, more courteous to the House and more considerate to all hon. Members if the Minister had presented two separate statements? You are placed in an intolerable position. One hon. Member will be called to raise matters about the Antipodes and the next minute another hon. Member will be talking about the North Sea. It appears to me that there is far too much variety for us at this time.
The House is obliged to the right hon. Member for his report. What does the blocking by the French of the new sheepmeat regime mean, first to the calculations on the farm price package, and, secondly, to the farmers who expected some financial assistance, which now appears to be delayed? It appears that the French have blocked this at least until October.
Is the Minister intent on standing by the New Zealand Government's request for a 12 per cent. cut in the tariff on their lamb exports to the United Kingdom? That is what they want. He said that they had a veto over the sheepmeat regime, so will he continue to back them?
On the question of butter, New Zealand's exports to the Common Market, which really means exports to the United Kingdom, will be cut by 20,000 tonnes. Although they are subject to less duty or a better price, does the Minister—as distinct from the EEC Commission-feel that the New Zealanders have got a fair deal, bearing in mind that this agreement is for one year only and that the Government have agreed to it prior to the debate tomorrow on New Zealand butter quotas?
On the question of fish, we hope that the Minister will stand by unanimous agreement of the House on access and total allowable catch demands, and especially the fishing industry's demand for at least a 45 per cent. take of white fish species.
Finally, is the Minister not aware that the fishing industry has been having a disastrous year? The deep sea fleet is rusting at the quayside, the inshore fleets are going on strike as a protest against subsidising cheap fish imports and the industry as a whole is in dire straits. It desperately needs help until a better deal on the common fisheries policy is forthcoming. What will the Minister do about that?
The regulation on sheep-meat always included a clause that stated that it should come into effect at the same time as the agreement with third countries. The New Zealand negotiations have only just taken place, the Australian negotiations are taking place this week, and there are one or two other minor negotiations to come. The date of 1 October was not objected to by the French Government, therefore I believe that it is likely that the sheepmeat regime will come into being on that date.
Prior to that, and in the interim, I have previously announced a lift in the guarantee price for the United Kingdom of 11 per cent. over last year's prices, which means that the guarantee over the last season, for which the Labour Government were responsible, is 22 per cent higher.
On the question of support for the New Zealand Government of 8 per cent., we were alone in supporting that figure. I gather from a telegram that I received this morning that the New Zealand Prime Minister said at a press conference yesterday that 10 per cent. would be acceptable to the New Zealand Government. He was grateful to the British Government for arguing for the 8 per cent. position.
On the question of butter, once again we were in close contact with the New Zealand Government, and the figure for the quota for the remaining part of the year is based on their sales to date this year, which have been lower than originally anticipated. Therefore, the improvement that the New Zealanders will now obtain by the lowering of the levy against them will enable them to have better sales than expected in the latter part of the year. As I made clear in my statement, New Zealand Government officials were present in Luxembourg and we were in close consultation with them throughout. It was their wish that we should agree to this arrangement.
I come now to the question of fishing. One of the pleasing features of this meeting was that for the first time our views about access were not in a minority of eight to one. We had substantial support from a number of other countries. Of course, we adhere to the view that we have always held on that question. In terms of quotas we are in close touch with the industry and we made clear the degree to which we wanted different proposals on quotas put forward at the next meeting. I hope that substantial improvement will take place.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the condition of the fishing industry. The industry came to us for aid earlier in the year, and we gave the aid that was then requested. The Opposition supported that. At the end of June and the beginning of this month the industry came to us again, saying that the position had deteriorated still further. It agreed to present new figures to us, the last of which I received at the end of last week. The fishing industry knows that we are now urgently discussing those figures and I hope that it will judge our desire to help it in a difficult period on what we have already done this year.
Is the Minister aware that the postponing of further discussions on fisheries until 29 September makes his previous commitment to an agreement on 1 January all the more dangerous? Will he give us an assurance that if by that time no satisfactory agreement has been made his commitment will go by the board, not the interests of our fishermen?
I shall not allow the interests of our fishermen to go by the board. Like the right hon. Member, I consider fishing to be one of the most basic and vital industries in this country. The tone and the atmosphere of the meeting that we have just held was constructive. We discussed for the first time the major elements of access and quotas. The agreement that we should have a major meeting in October to deal with proposals from the Commission is an encouraging trend, not a discouraging one.
If my right hon. Friend is wrong in his belief that the sheepmeat regime will come into operation on 1 October, will he take immediate steps to adjust the United Kingdom guarantee price to the level promised under the common regime? Many sheep prices are so low that despite the good lamb drop it has been very difficult for sheep farmers to make an adequate living this year.
I cannot guarantee that. I hope and believe that the regime will come into being on 1 October, the Council having unanimously agreed to that date and France being alone in its opposition to the New Zealand agreement. I repeat that I did not know whether there would be a sheepmeat regime earlier in the year, so I announced a substantial lift in the guarantee prices. These are 11 per cent. above last year, which in turn were 10 per cent. above the year before. There has been much better lambing this year than the previous year, and by giving an 11 per cent. increase in the guarantee price we have shown our determination to support the British sheepmeat industry.
Mr. J. Enoch Powell:
Did the Minister notice the persistent reference in reports from Brussels on proceedings of the Fisheries Council to "a package deal "on the budget arrangements? In view of the Prime Minister's firm repudiation of any such linkage, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that those budget arrangements will come into force punctually, irrespective of whatever arrangement is made on fisheries, or whether an arrangement is made at all?
Yes. As one who was present at the Brussels meeting, I can confirm that there was no mention of any linkage with the budget deal by any country. The Government treat it as a separate subject.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on once again standing up for the rights of British fishermen. Is he aware that because of the further delay in the settlement of the common fisheries policy the industry cannot survive without further and immediate Government help? Will he make a statement as soon as possible before the recess?
I can only repeat that when the industry came to us for help for the period March to September we agreed to provide help along the lines of the terms that it suggested. I appreciate that events since then have been different from those which the industry anticipated. We asked the industry for more details. It collaborated with us and gave us more facts and details. We are giving the matter urgent consideration, and I shall make a statement at the earliest opportunity.
Because the fishing talks are to continue, I echo the requests put forward by hon. Members that immediate financial aid should be given to the industry. I congratulate the Minister on standing firm over New Zealand exports of lamb to Europe.
I deal next with horticulture. I think that the Minister will agree that his statement will disappoint the glasshouse growers in my constituency, who cannot continue operating much longer. It is monstrous to suggest that we must return to the Dutch for further discussions. What is the time scale? Is the Minister aware that speed is of the essence? Redundancies are already taking place because, having looked at future plantings, growers are giving up the ghost.
I recognise the anxiety in the industry, which I share. As to the advantage held by the Dutch in the cost of energy supplies, the Commission has, in fairness, taken the only action that it can, which is to use an article in the Treaty to demand detailed information and the right of access to information so that it can ascertain the details of the problem. The Commission has guaranteed that it will do that urgently. My Danish, German and Belgian colleagues join me in saying that their glasshouse industries were suffering heavily because of unfair competition. I hope that the Commission will act quickly.
Further to my right hon. Friend's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), may I ask whether he is aware that his confidence that the French will not renege on their agreement will not be shared by British sheepmeat producers? What contingency plans has he in mind should the French so renege?
I am not prepared to say that we are considering contingency planning for a regime to which the whole Community agreed in May. Every member country and the Commission, with the exception of a query from France, agreed at the last meeting. The Council agreed that the regime would come into effect on 1 October. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that if I said that we were considering a contingency programme it would indicate that we thought it reasonable for a Government to take an action that would affect sheep producers throughout the Community—certainly Holland, Germany and elsewhere—while that Government continued to pursue illegal actions.
Will the Minister confirm that during the negotiations Britain was offered about 31 per cent. in demersal stocks and 38 per cent. in pelagic stocks? Even if the French behave like gentlemen, which is dubious, does the right hon. Gentleman think that he will receive better offers in his October negotiations? The British fishing industry is almost on its last legs. It asked him for £35 million for the next six months to continue operating. Will he light like a tiger shark inside the Cabinet to obtain that money? He has all-party support for that aim, as well as all-party support against people on the Continent.
I expect, and will argue for, better quotas. The hon. Gentleman has considerable knowledge of fishing. He knows that broad figures covering the totality of the stock give a false impression, because certain stocks are more vulnerable than others. Certain stocks of fish have greater priority for the British fishing industry. We are close to the industry on the question of priorities for improvement of our quotas, and we shall work on that basis. I repeat that the Government responded generously to the first request this year for aid. The second request for aid has only recently been put forward in its completed form, and we are examining it urgently.
Will my right hon. Friend take note that there will be real anger and loss of confidence in the sheep world because of the latest trick by the French Government to delay the exports of our produce to France? Will he bear in mind that the autumn sales will be affected? With great respect to him and to the other Council Ministers, something must be done before 1 October. Why cannot they return to the conference table and take action before that date to save the industry?
The date has always depended upon the dates on which negotiations with third countries are completed, which is in the hands of the Commission. Although we can cope with the administrative problems of an earlier date, other countries cannot. If the regime is introduced on 1 October, it will affect prices advantageously both before and after that date. Because of the uncertainty whether the regime would be completed, would be introduced at all, or would even be negotiated at all, I have announced substantial increases in the guarantee prices which are 22 per cent. above their level two years ago.
Will the Minister admit that there was no progress towards reaching an agreement at the last Fisheries Council meeting? Is he aware that the fishing industry—especially the small ports, which have borne the long-drawn-out negotiations with Considerable dignity and considerable trust in both Governments—is at its wit's end? The action taking place in the North-East of Scotland and elsewhere this week is a measure of the despair and hysteria in the industry. The only way in which the right hon. Gentleman can give some confidence to the industry is to announce next week—not later, because the industry cannot wait—that there will be immediate short-term aid for the industry.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. Important progress was made at the meeting. I do not wish to make a party point, but until a year ago the position was that eight countries had agreed to a fishing policy that was unsatisfactory for Britain. It was important to shift them away from that agreement and to look more objectively at our position. The Council meeting showed that that had been achieved. I hope that the October meeting, which will be crucial, will make important progress for the fishing industry.
The Scottish fishermen recently sailed back into port, and I understand their disappointment over the prices of fish this week. I am pleased that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation has advised the fleet to return to sea. Because of the way in which we considered the industry's first application for aid, it knows that we will genuinely consider its current problems.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Fleetwood two more medium trawlers have tied up, which makes the best part of our medium trawler fleet tied up and out of action? Unless help is forthcoming quickly there will be no fleet by the time my right hon. Friend reaches the negotiations.
I understand the problem and also the effect that price of fish in Britain, combined with increased costs, have had on the fishing industry during the year. My hon. Friend knows that we met the fishermen from Fleetwood, as we met fishermen from other ports. The package that we announced in March was designed to meet their application for aid from March to September. I know that the position has deteriorated since then, and I assure my hon. Friend that we are giving urgent attention to the facts and figures that have been given to us.
Was the question of cheap foreign imports of fish discussed at the meeting? Will my right hon. Friend continue to make it clear to our EEC partners that however much the fish quota percentages may be juggled, whether globally or by species, there is no way in which we can accept less than 40 per cent., when we put in more than 60 per cent.?
My hon. Friend used the word "juggle" with regard to the percentage of quotas. In fact, to have a 40 per cent. quota which consisted of a whole range of fish which were used primarily for making fertilisers and so on would not be particularly attractive. The important thing—which is what we are doing with the industry—is to discuss not an overall percentage aim but, rather, stock by stock, what is required for the industry. We shall obviously endeavour to obtain the best quotas possible. As to imports, I think that my hon. Friend knows that as a result of the representations of the United Kingdom Government the tariff against third country imports into the Community have been increased to the maximum allowed by the GATT.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept the industry's case for £70 million worth of aid a year and for a limitation on imports, which it requires if it is to survive in order to inherit the settlement? Secondly, as part of that settlement, will he bear in mind the need for an increase in mesh sizes, harmonisation of aids and subsidies throughout the Common Market and a limitation on, and registration of, foreign effort in British preferential waters if we are to have any control at all, because the quotas are a particularly useless form of policing effort in those waters?
Whatever regime is introduced, it is important that a proper system of control should be in force throughout the Community. As to the application for £35 million worth of aid for a half year, I can only state what I have constantly repeated to the House—that we are examining the detail of that application. Until we have done so, and until we have decided how we shall help, I cannot make an announcement. As to the harmonisation of aid, we are at present giving a total of £24 million to the fishing industry which is a higher volume of aid than in some other Community countries. If we added a further £70 million on top of that, which the hon. Gentleman is advocating, harmonisation would do considerable damage to the British fishing position.
Will my right hon. Friend take on board my warm welcome for his references to the welfare of battery hens? Can he give any details of the research that will be undertaken into alternative and more humane methods of egg production?
We have decided to increase the research programme that we are carrying out at one of the Ministry's husbandry farms. The German Government are just completing a research programme. One of the results of the Council meeting was the agreement that the Commission should co-ordinate research throughout the Community to see what progress could be made.
I recognise that progress has been made on sheep, but, as a market man himself, if the right hon.
Gentleman were buying lambs in the first sales in Scotland in two weeks' time, would he be prepared to offer reasonably high prices?
Does my right hon. Friend accept that during the current crisis in the industry, and pending settlement of a common fisheries policy, it is vital for the industry, Parliament and the Government to present a united front in order to be an effective negotiating force in Europe? To indicate the Government's good faith to the industry, will my right hon. Friend heed the urgings from both sides of the House for an early response to the request for aid?
This is more than just a question of ethyl alcohol. It concerns the dire plight of the Scottish glasshouse industry, where growers, such as Peter Easton, have made complaints for the first time in their lives. Are not the Dutch Government at the Hague the most efficient Government in the world? Is it not preposterous that they cannot let their colleagues know exactly what is going on in relation to preferential natural gas prices? Of course they know. Are they not openly flouting Common Market rules—the very people who lecture us all on how to keep the rules?
They argue that they are not selling subsidised fuel, but that they are merely providing fuel at a commercial rate to their glasshouse industry. They are using the advantage of having cheap energy for that purpose. So far as I know, there is no form of subsidy on that gas. They are just not charging the equivalent oil price. I think that it is true to say that there is no direct subsidy, but, unlike all the other countries in the Community, they are not charging the oil equivalent price for their energy. It is the demand that they bring it up to the oil equivalent price that is the important factor. The Commission has used its powers under the Treaty to obtain the information. I recognise that unlss urgent action is taken, real harm will be done to our glasshouse industry in Scotland and elsewhere.
Order. I appeal to the House. I shall not be able to call other hon. Members if questions and answers are too long. I was hoping to call all those hon. Members who have risen, because I know that most of them have a constituency interest, and I always try to call them in those circumstances.
I recognise the success that my right hon. Friend has announced in his stattement relating to the import of strawberry pulp from non-EEC countries, but does he recognise that a similar crisis is looming in relation to raspberries and the import of pulp from the same countries? Will he initiate the same sort of action within the EEC as he did with regard to strawberries?
I think that the hon. Gentleman will share my view that what we did earlier this week was in the interests of the New Zealand Government. As quite a lot of hostility was expressed to the generosity of the terms, and as I had available to me terms which the New Zealand Government representative considered that I should accept, I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would have been wrong had I left the position uncertain until a later time when other countries could come back and object. I did what I did in the interests of the New Zealand Government. This year's settlement is one which the New Zealand Government consider favourable to their position. However, the point raised in my written reply is of much greater importance with regard to the allocation of New Zealand butter in 1981 and onwards.
In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) said about Ministers and the industry working together, will my right hon. Friend advise the industry that it should pay attention to its elected leaders and pay no attention to din-raisers, such as Jim Sillars, who are trying to stir up trouble in the industry?
I know that the leaders of the Scottish fishing industry have been extremely diligent in advocating what they consider to be necessary for the Scottish fishermen. In their many talks with the Government, both in Brussels and in London, no group of men could have done more to put the case for the industry. Having heard their fierce and tough representations, I believe that they are generally trying to represent the industry. I very much hope that the industry will take their advice to go back to sea this weekend, because the action that will otherwise be taken will be of no help to them or their case, which is not a case against the Government but one in respect of which the Government share their feelings.
Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to monitor prices at store sheep sales during September? If evidence emerges that hill farmers are not getting their fair share of the returns from the coming European sheepmeat regime, will he be prepared to make national funds available to assist them during the winter?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we review the hill farm subsidies on the basis of what has happened during the past year. As to the comparison with last year, I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that during the main period of sales the guarantee operated throughout last year. If that is the case this year, the guarantee will be 11 per cent. higher.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that if he comes to Oban as a buyer, I and my hill farmers reckon that he will be the only confident buyer there? We do not place very much store on the French promise of a settlement on 1 October. Will my right hon. Friend seriously consider the request by some of my hon. Friends for an interim United Kingdom arrangement to tide us over until that agreement? If that agreement occurs on 1 October, the interim agreement will operate for a very short time, but it will at least give confidence.
Prior to this situation we decided to lift the guarantee by 11 per cent. against last year, which in turn had been raised by 10 per cent. above the year before. The guaranteed price is 22 per cent. above what it was two years ago. That was prior to any possible addition of benefit that the sheepmeat regime would give. In this period we have had one of the record lambing seasons of all time. There are plenty of lambs about. The increased guarantee will, I hope, help the industry considerably.
Does the Minister realise that the action taken this week by the Scottish fishermen was a distress signal and a warning that he cannot rely on the patience of the industry indefinitely? When will he make an announcement about the aid for which the Government have been asked? Will it be before the House rises for the Summer Recess?
In terms of the patience of the industry, I can only say that when it came to us originally the industry duly recorded that we acted speedily and effectively. We are acting speedily on its application, the figures of which we received only at the end of last week.
To the inshore fishermen, the most important point is the exclusive zone. I was much encouraged by the much more generous attitude towards that than there had ever been before. Certainly we shall do that.
Is it not clear that the determined and increasing national support for various agricultural and horticultural activities means that over the next three or four years we shall produce a smaller share of the food that we need from our own resources? Can we expect a more vigorous response from the British Government? When will the Council of Ministers seriously consider the developing cereal surplus, which has important implications?
As to food production, we have had two record cereal crops. Our sugar beet quota is at a high level. Our sheep production is likely to be stimulated. I hope that in the coming years we shall produce more food from our own resources. The cereal surplus is variable in relation to world demand. I should prefer to have a surplus of cereals, which could be used and disposed of, to a surplus of many other products, such as dairy products, which we have at present.
Was there any discussion on structural aids for Scotland and Northern Ireland? Can the Minister indicate what structure he is aiming at for the pig and poultry industries in Northern Ireland? Will he indicate the size that he wishes those industries to be in future? Did he seek clearance for any national aids on the ground that this is a depressed area?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that to answer those questions will result in a long statement of detail. If I may, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman giving him the detail of what has happened so far and the various alternatives that are available to us.
Yes, I recognise the problem. It is one that is shared by a number of European countries at present. The problem is being examined by the Commision in relation to third-country imports.
Does the Minister under-sand that the fishing industry is on the verge of collapse? Is he aware that the desperate decision by the fishermen of North-East Scotland collectively to cease fishing is escalating to other ports, and that the hardship of such action will extend wel beyond the men who go to sea? Does he recognise that unless the Government announce further temporary aid of at least £35 million before the recess, the industry will not survive on a sufficient scale to take advantage of any deal that he negotiates in Brussels?
It is extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should talk about the extension of the action of the fishermen of North-East Scotland when only yesterday their leaders urged them to go back to sea. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the leaders of that industry in the advice that they gave to it. The last time that there was an application for aid we considered it objectively and acted quickly. Certainly we are considering this application just as objectively.