I beg to move,
That the draft Fisheries Amendment (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 10 December, be approved.
The purposes of the order are to vary the maximum punishments and, in some cases, the mode of trial, for certain offences against Northern Ireland Acts dealing with fisheries, to amend provisions of those Acts which relate to sea fishing and to make fresh provision for the culture of shellfish.
The changes in the penal provisions have three aims: first, they are a response to a continued high level of unlawful fishing—especially in the Londonderry area—which is aggravated by the continued fall in salmon stocks; secondly, they seek a standardisation of penalties as between the Foyle area and the rest of Northern Ireland and as between Northern Ireland and Great Britain; and, thirdly, they take account of the fall in the value of money caused by inflation. The other amendments made by the order cure deficiencies in the present legislation.
I am sure that the House would like me to go through the articles of the draft order. I shall do so briefly, and I shall try to explain their main purpose. The first two articles—the title and commencement, and the interpretation—are self-explanatory. Article 3 amends the Foyle Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1952, the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966, the Diseases of Fish Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 and the Fish Industry Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 by giving effect to the changes set out in schedule 1 to the order.
Unlawful dealings in salmon or trout and the taking of "unseasonable" fish will, in future, be punishable on indictment in the Crown courts instead of solely in magistrates' courts. The regulation of unlawful dealings is particularly important, because the unlicensed netting of salmon is encouraged by the availability of ready outlets in hotels and restaurants. The severity of the proposed punishments reflect the Government's concern about the extent of poaching. This constitutes a serious threat to salmon stocks. The problem is especially serious in the Foyle area.
Penalties for offences under the Foyle Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1952 have been revised in the order in conjunction with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. That Act applies only to the Londonderry area—that is to say, the part of the basin of the River Foyle that lies within Northern Ireland. The rest of the basin, of course, lies in the Republic of Ireland, and the whole of it is administered as a unit by the Foyle Fisheries Commission under the title of the "Foyle area". It is important that the fishery law throughout the Foyle area—including penalties for offences—should be uniform, and I understand that legislation will be promoted in the Republic of Ireland on the lines of part I of schedule 1 to the present order. The punishments proposed are, as far as possible, also uniform with those for similar offences throughout the rest of Northern Ireland. Uniformity has also been sought with Great Britain by bringing their levels in line with the maximum punishments for fishery offences fixed by schedule 1 to the Fishery Limits Act 1976 and schedule 6 to the Criminal Law Act 1977.
Article 4 amends the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 by extending the existing powers contained in the Act to enable the Department of Agriculture to make regulations requiring the keeping of records and the making of returns. At present, in terms of sea fish the regulations apply only to wholesalers and processors. In future, they will also apply to sea fishermen and those who auction or deal in sea fish at the point of landing.
The information provided by catch statistics is an important aid to the Government in formulating policies. The accuracy of the catch reporting system that operates at ports of landing is also of considerable importance if conservation measures are to be successful.
The provisions contained in article 5 give the Department of Agriculture powers of inquiry and of examination in relation to all licensed fish farms, and are mainly concerned with finding a more suitable position in the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 for provisions formerly in section 137(3) of that Act. However the powers in that section referred only to shellfish fisheries. The new provision will extend to fresh water fish farms and will enable authorised officers to enter and examine all things used in the running of a fish farm to determine whether the licensees are complying with the licence conditions.
The maintenance of strict hygienic conditions in these establishments is of the greatest importance if they are not to become breeding grounds for disease. This is recognised to be very much in the interests of fish farmers and of the continuing viability and prosperity of the industry. I am glad to say that the standard of hygiene in existing fish farms is very high.
Article 6 would replace, in a more simplified form, existing provisions that enable regulations to be made for the management and conservation of sea fisheries. Where, in the interests of conservation, restrictions are imposed on taking particular kinds of fish, the present law limits the period of those restrictions to one year at a time. That can give rise to uncertainty and is unsatisfactory from both the fishermen's and the Government's points of view. In future, the duration of regulations will be fixed by the regulations in the light of prevailing circumstances. The penalty for contravening a regulation under this article has been raised to a maximum of £1,000, which is in line with comparable Great Britain legislation.
Article 7 provides for a maximum fine of £1,000 for bringing to land, for landing and for selling or being in possession of fish caught in contravention of the regulations that I have described. Again, this corresponds to the penalty in Great Britain.
Article 8, which implements schedule 2, replaces existing sections of the 1966 Act relating to oyster bed licences and oyster fishery orders—they overlapped to some extent—with a single set of provisions for the granting of shellfish fishery licences. The new provisions re-enact to a large extent the substance of the existing ones, but they overcome a difficulty that has been encountered in regard to the grant of licences in respect of Crown foreshore.
Article 9 extends the powers of an authorised sea fishery officer to enable him to require the co-operation of the crew of a fishing boat that he boards in the course of his duties.
Although the amendments made by the order are comparatively minor, they will make useful improvements in the legislation affected. I commend the order to the House.
The Opposition welcome the order. It began life with the previous Administration. We are therefore bound to support it, with few reservations. We welcome in particular those alterations which improve the conservation procedures and inrease the punishments for contravening the regulations. These are in the best interests of the fishermen in Northern Ireland, who look to the operation of such regulations to assure them of stable stocks.
The fishing industry in Northern Ireland is small but is important to the Province. In 1979, 315 boats in Northern Ireland were responsible for landing fish to the value of £6½ million. A sizeable number of the people are involved in the fishing and fish processing industries. The health of the industry as a whole is vital to the people of Ardglass, Portavogie and Kilkeel, not to mention a medley of smaller fishing ports and marine fish farming interests within Northern Ireland.
It is precisely because of the significance of the fishing industry to these areas of Northern Ireland that I wish to make a number of comments on the order. I should like to question the Minister about its operation and relevance to the industry, which currently operates in a most adverse economic climate. I am pleased to note that the penalties for infringement of fishing regulations are to be increased significantly. Several maximum penalties are to be raised, some by as much as 400 per cent.
The severity of these penalties will no doubt act as a deterrent to those who might otherwise use incorrrect gear or fish during the close season. Yet of themselves they are insufficient to enforce the regulations which are essential to conserve the fish stock in the waters around Northern Ireland. I should like the Minister, as a consequence of the order, to make provision for fishery protection vessels. This would be an act in conjunction with the spirit of the order. I would also like to know whether the Minister intends to update the vessels in operation. Many of them are outmoded and unable to operate efficiently. Such action would be welcomed by the vast majority of fishermen in Northern Ireland. It would ensure that those who obey the law in the best interests of the fishing industry do not suffer any disadvantage for so doing.
For the law to gain adherence, the penalties must be enforceable. I seek an assurance from the Minister that every effort will be made to enforce the regulations as laid down by the order and other legislation pertaining to the Northern Ireland fishing industry.
Article 4 refers to records and returns—the Minister said little about these matters—to be made by sea fishermen and fish salesmen. Such documentation will undoubtedly work to the greater benefit of those involved in the industry. Of that I have no doubt, but I should like the Minister to spell out more clearly what he means by records and returns. I sincerely hope that the necessary forms are kept as simple as possible and that the system does not become too bureaucratic. Those in the fishing industry, as the House knows, work long and hard, so the paper work should be kept to a minimum.
I turn to the section of the order that deals with shellfish, and particularly to the details of the operation of the licences under schedule 2. The close attention which is being paid at the moment—not by the Treasury Bench—to this industry is clear evidence of the advance of shellfishing in Northern Ireland over the past three years or so.
The industry is one of the very few success stories of the Province in recent times. In particular, the value and production of Pacific oysters has progressed markedly. In three years that industry has grown from zero to about £100,000. I was fortunate for a period as a Minister to oversee part of this success story. I can mention one company in particular, Cuan Sea Fisheries, which is highly successful in oyster production.
In many respects the legislation before us is far advanced in Northern Ireland, more advanced than in the rest of the United Kingdom. From paragraph 136 of schedule 2, this will be apparent to all and certainly very welcome to the shell fishermen in Northern Ireland. It gives them considerable protection against poaching and offers a measure of security which their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom do not have. I believe this is the result of good consultation with the shell fishermen in Northern Ireland. The Minister would do well if he were to pass on this example of discussion and negotiation to his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food before the Committee stage of his Bill has been finalised in order that the United Kingdom shell fishermen can have the same protection as those in Northern Ireland.
The production of shellfish is clearly an area of growth in Northern Ireland, and as such is recognised by this order. Therefore, I should like to have a number of assurances that the industry will receive full protection in future. For instance, will the Minister ensure that potential areas for shellfish cultivation are not designated as conservation areas before the possibilities for that cultivation are fully considered? Again, if he could act in line with his predecessor on this to ensure that there is close contact with the shell fishermen in Northern Ireland I am sure that we could have a good, clear period of discussion before decisions of that kind are taken.
Secondly, there is the question of the importation of live shellfish for human consumption in Northern Ireland. Is it to be permitted without a licence? I ask this in view of the diseases which have beset oyster beds in Spain, but particularly in France and which if offloaded in Northern Ireland for whatever reason could introduce a serious handicap to the industry.
I ask these questions because I am concerned to see that the shell fishing industry in Northern Ireland obtains the maximum possible help from the Government. I know that the Minister's predecessor shares this view, for without his consistent pressure the welcome EEC grant to this industry would not have been forthcoming. I am sure that that is welcome to the industry and the House.
I move on to view the order in the context of the present state of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. As a measure designed to tighten controls, increase efficiency and promote more rationalisation in management, the order comes before the House at a most auspicious time for the industry.
In 1979, which was recognised as a good year, the upward trend in the value of sea fish landings hit a new record of more than £6½ million. We do not yet know the figures for 1980, but all the indications are that it was one of the worst seasons for many years. Prices are at rock bottom and I understand that the market for nethrops, which is, by value, the most profitable fish crop, is at an all-time low.
In the past few days I have been in touch with many fishermen in the Province and they all tell the same story of the poor state of the market. One told me of dumping between 150 and 200 boxes of fish a night in recent weeks and mentioned that the price of fish was too low to meet even the EEC withdrawal price to qualify for compensation. I hope that the Minister has more information than I on the industry, and perhaps he will comment on its prospects.
Can the Minister see any way of alleviating the added burden of the high price of fuel being paid by fishermen in Northern Ireland? Some say that it is up to 50 per cent. of their outlay. With those few questions and reservations, I, too, commend the order.
I shall detain the House for only a couple of minutes. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who spoke for the Opposition in a splendid isolation that has only just been diminished, mentioned the severity of the punishments provided for and said that they were required. I am sure that that is the opinion of the whole House.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to enforcement. Can my hon. Friend tell us the present provision for enforcement, what vessels are used, what police are employed, to what extent the Garda Siochana or the Irish Naval Service may be involved in the Foyle area, and what measures are proposed to improve protection?
Schedule 4 sets out amendments to the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 and mentions the definition of waters within British fishery limits. Why has it been necessary to amplify the definition? My hon. Friend will recall the opinion—I would say the perverse opinion—of a certain magistrate in Northern Ireland who stated that the territorial waters of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland are within the territorial waters of the Republic of Ireland.
I presume that the Crown did not appeal against that opinion because it was not worthy of much consideration. I hope that I am not in contempt of court in saying that, but is there any connection between the definition and that judgment?
Since the recent Government changes, fishery has taken leave of this House, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, and has moved to another place, so that the Minister of State in this House finds himself wearing yet another hat—in this case, a seaman's hat.
However, although the Minister is in a sense only deputising for his noble Friend, he will be very welcome in the fishing ports—large and small—in my constituency. I am sure that he will find it in every way advantageous to pay an early visit to the Mourne coast and to learn to know both the places and the people, their interests and their difficulties.
This measure is essentially a conservation measure. The fishermen of Northern Ireland are, with good reason, strong conservationists. Genuine conservation measures and the maintenance and the impartial application of those measures will always have their support. Having consulted them on the terms of this order, I find them to be in favour both of the enhancement of the penalties and of the improvement of the means of enforcement.
The Bill contains substantial provisions which reflect the growing importance of fish farming, as generally so in the Province of Northern Ireland. That was in a way led by shellfish farming, but fish farming has since become generalised. In the Fisheries Bill which is before the House, there are provisions in part IV—which do not apply to Northern Ireland—that correspond to a number of the provisions either in this order or in the principal Acts which are amended by the order.
My hon. Friends and I have given considerable thought to the fact that Northern Ireland has not been brought within the full scope of the Fisheries Bill. We accept that so far as fish fanning is concerned, the legislation on the subject in Northern Ireland has on the whole been in advance of that in the rest of the kingdom, and that there are certain special problems which form the basis of our licensing system which the order reinforces. Nevertheless, we believe that in due course, in this as in other areas, it will be advantageous for there to be a general regime for the whole of the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland. We take satisfaction from the fact that the new authority set up by the Fisheries Bill will be a United Kingdom authority, on which we hope that Northern Ireland will be directly and personally represented. Therefore, in a sense, the order is for Northern Ireland complementary to other provisions in the Fisheries Bill.
Both the Minister and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) placed emphasis on the importance of shellfish for the fisheries of Northern Ireland. Shellfish constitutes the most important single catch within the totals mentioned by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. There has recently been considerable anxiety as to the diminution of the stocks of the principal shellfish caught round the coasts. It is in accordance with this that the order brings forward considerable strengthening of the measures for the policing and surveillance of conservation. Some of them are very strict indeed, though those whom I have consulted would regard them as nevertheless being fair and reasonable.
One is in article 7 and has a counterpart in the schedule attached to article 8, namely, the addition of possession of fish contrary to the provisions of regulations as being a criminal offence, and possession in certain cases not qualified by the term 'for the purposes of sale' but possession pure and simple.
At this point I want to offer my thanks to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), who has gone to fish in other waters, for the helpfulness and open mind with which he considered the difficulties that I put to him. As the order was originally drawn, the provision referred to shellfish of any description that might be 'specified by regulations'. Apart from the lobster, there are three other types of shellfish that are important in Northern Ireland—the nephrops or Norwegian lobster, the scallop and a delectable mollusc that goes by the delectable name of queenie. To make possession of under-sized lobsters pure and simple a punishable offence is perfectly reasonable, since at all stages in the transactions those who are in possession of them have a full opportunity of knowing perfectly well whether the fish that they are handling are in contravention of the size regulations. However, that could not possibly be true of the other three types of shellfish. Consequently, there was considerable anxiety about the unfairness of such regulation if it was extended beyond the lobster. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having in terms—and this will be found on page 19 of the order—restricted the scope of that severe measure to the lobster.
Conservation and the rules drawn up for the purposes of conservation depend heavily on scientific evidence—that is to say, upon evidence that it is not within the power of the layman and those representing fishermen as Members of Parliament to test. They have to take very much on trust, as do the fishery Ministers, the results thrown up by the international scientists who are policing the stocks of the various fish.
Off the Mourne coast, considerable hardship has been caused in recent years and considerable irritation and anger has been aroused by the virtual or complete closure of the Mourne herring fishery in each of the past four years. My constituents who are engaged in fishing and processing were able to persuade the hon. Gentleman that the sample on which the scientific advice was based was taken in too narrow a timespan of the year. In order to judge the effect on herring stocks relevant to the Mourne fishery, it was necessary for the samples to be taken over a much longer period of the year than those carrying out the investigations were doing.
That point was taken by the hon. Gentleman, who promised to ensure that the investigations would in future extend over the period requested by my constituents. I believe that that has been done. I am anxious, and so are they, to learn the outcome, in the hope that it will be found that the Mourne herring fishery, at any rate on a limited scale, can be opened again in the early autumn of this year. I hope therefore that the present Minister will be good enough to cause to be brought before him the papers on the subject and to bring me and my constituents up to date on that point, which for the fishermen, particularly of Annalong in County Down, is of crucial importance.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) referred to the expression—and it occurs elsewhere in the order—"waters within British fishery limits". I should be grateful if the Minister, when he replies, will confirm exactly what that term means for the purposes of the order. Does it mean the three-mile limit, does it mean the 12-mile temporary limit under the accession treaty to the EEC, or does it mean the sovereign waters, which extend to 200 miles, or the median line? Whatever it may mean within the scope of the order, there will be no satisfactory conservation, and no sense of justice and fairness on the part of Ulster fishermen, unless, within British sovereign waters, control of fishing and control of the enforcement of conservation lie in the hands of Britain.
For too long, during these last years, British fishermen, including Ulster fishermen, have had to watch enforcement being, very properly, exerted upon themselves under United Kingdom law while other EEC nationalities fishing in the same waters were able to snap their fingers both at the law and at the enforcement. Only national enforcement, and only national enforcement within the full sovereign waters of the respective nations, will be satisfactory, whatever the outcome of the negotiations for a common fisheries policy.
It would be beyond the scope of this debate to mark out the minimum requirements—and there are all too many reasons to fear that they are not being met—of a common fisheries policy. We are dealing with enforcement and conservation which, from any view, is one of the objects of the common fisheries policy. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the conservation measures, that these regulations strengthen and help to enforce, which will remain within our national hands within our national sovereign waters. If that is the case, I am sure that the Government can rely upon the support of the fishermen of Northern Ireland in the enforcement of the law—a law that should be enforced not only upon them but upon all who fish, or who are allowed to fish, in the same waters. If that happens, the order will contribute its meed of benefit both to the future fishing stocks and to the future fishing industry of the Province.
The remarks that we have heard from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about the agitation and frustration of the fishermen of Ulster should be noted by the Minister and by all sections of the House. I agree with him that the law that is operated against the Ulster fishermen must also be operated against all fishermen in our territorial waters. There is a great building of resentment against what is happening at present. I am afraid that what we are doing tonight could be used against our fishermen if the Government surrender to the policies that have been advocated in the Common Market about giving up our territorial waters and only being granted 39 per cent. of our fishing grounds. When the order is passed, having received a fair wind from fishing interests in Northern Ireland, I should be greatly disturbed if the Government so used it after making an agreement with the EEC to surrender our rights and our fishing grounds. The Minister should take that on board.
The fishing industry of Northern Ireland is now in a serious plight. I attended a meeting of the Newry and Mourne council the other day at which representatives from that area, speaking for the people and the fishermen there, raised the points that were raised by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box, concerning the sad and sorry state in which the industry finds itself. I hope that the Minister will be forthcoming and will be able to tell us the facts. Let him give us an accurate assessment of what is happening in the fishing industry. It is alarming to hear of the dumping of large quantities of fish, especially in Kilkeel.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde underlined the importance of the price of fuel oil for fishing. I hope that the Minister will be able to help us and perhaps tell us what our fishermen can hope for in the future in that respect.
It is greatly to be regretted that the principal industries in Northern Ireland—agriculture and fisheries—have no Minister to represent them in the House now. I regard it as a serious mistake that that change was made when new Ministers were appointed to the Northern Ireland Office. The opportunity to question a Minister in this place on agriculture and fisheries has now been taken from the representatives of Northern Ireland, We have no Minister answerable in this House whom we can directly question on these important matters, yet this is the only forum in which the representatives of Northern Ireland can question the Government and require answers to the questions put to them by their constituents. It was a grave error when the Government decided that the main industry of Northern Ireland should be relegated to another place so that the Minister responsible for it would not be answerable in the House of Commons. This is strongly resented by the farmers and the fishermen of Northern Ireland, and they have brought it to my attention time and again
I cannot agree with the Minister that what we are doing tonight does not make major changes. I have carefully read the principal Act, and I see some big changes. I am not referring to the amounts of money or to the penalties. I am referring, for example, to artical 9 of the order, by which we are to add these words in the new paragraph (aa):
require the attendance of the master and of any other persons who are or have been on board the boat and require all such persons to do anything which appears to him to be necessary for facilitating the performance of his functions.
That is a very wide net. Will the Minister explain the meaning of
to do anything which appears to him to be necessary for facilitating the performance of his functions"?
Again, in paragraph (b) of article 9 we have the corresponding reference to "without reasonable excuse". Those words also are to be added. That is a substantisl change from the relevant subsection in the principal Act, as I am sure the Minister knows.
What alarms me is that we are told that we need these heavier penalties because we need to preserve the rights of fishermen. But what is happening at the moment? If the Northern Ireland Office cannot police the present regulations, how can it expect to police these new regulations?
We must know what steps the Minister will take. The media have told us about the Foyle fisheries, the invasion of people from the South of Ireland, the impossibility of the police doing anything about it, the confrontations, and so on. If the Government are unable to police the present regulations, how do they intend to police these regulations by saying "You must pay £1,000 or you will be brought before the court by indictment"? If they cannot catch the culprits now, they will not catch them in the future.
The Government must explain what they intend to do. They must say how policing is done at present, and what additions will be made. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde asked what would happen to the patrol vessels, what further steps are to be taken, and how many more people will be employed.
I remember sitting in the old Stormont Parliament at the beginning of the troubles, when draconian legislation was passed with which everybody agreed, but it could not be policed. What is the use of introducing deterrents if they cannot be policed? The Minister must tell us how much policing will cost, what he intends to do to ensure that the law is upheld, and what he thinks of the regulations, which I believe to be very wide indeed.
Does he intend to appoint more protection officers? Does he intend to use the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is already hard-pressed in terms of security? The Minister should be forthcoming on this important matter.
With the leave of the House, I shall try to answer the various points that have been raised.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will understand if I do not cover all of them, some because of their technicality and some because of the time available.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was right to say that I am not the Minister directly responsible for agriculture and fisheries in Northern Ireland, yet I answer for such questions in the House. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) expressed in the House a feeling that he has expressed in public—that it is unfortunate, to use more moderate language than his, that the important agriculture and fisheries industries are not represented directly in the House of Commons. My noble Friend is a first-class Minister. I shall endeavour to represent the industries' interests in this Chamber to the best of my ability. I do not claim firsthand experience of the fishing industry but I have some experience of agriculture, which I hope will stand me in good stead in trying to do what I can for the hard-pressed fanners of the Province.
I turn to the relationship between the Fisheries Bill that is going through Parliament and the order—a point drawn to our attention by the right hon. Member for Down, South. He is correct in saying that the first three parts and part V of the Bill deal with the United Kingdom as a whole and therefore have application in Northern Ireland, whereas part IV does not. He is right to say that much of what part IV will do for Britain is already subject to legislation and is operating in the Province. Where that is not so, this order will achieve the same result.
The Fisheries Bill and the order recognise the split between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the United Kingdom and the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, because the separate responsibilities of the two Departments are defined. The split also reflects the intention of the Government—with which the right hon. Member for Down, South does not agree—to see whether it is possible to move back to a system of devolved government, as opposed to the integrated system that the right hon. Gentleman would like.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) asked a number of questions, and some of them were echoed by other speakers. I am glad of the general welcome—which I expected—that the hon. Gentleman gave to what the order is trying to do. I am sure that he is right in what he said. The hon. Gentleman expressed some concern, as others have done, about the importance of policing these measures. It is self-evident that it is no good having regulations and penalties if those who break the regulations cannot be brought to book, but I think that the fact that the penalties have been increased in this substantial way will be some sort of deterrent. The sums about which we are talking as maxima are considerable—£1,000, or £2,000 in some cases—and will of themselves help to deter, but we need to police the provisions successfully. I am told that the co-operation that exists across the border in, for instance, the Foyle area is helping the commission to reduce the amount of poaching that has taken place over recent months, and this is to be welcomed.
Fishery protection vessels are not the direct responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, but that of the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the fishery authorities. I think that I can do no better than commend to those responsible what has been said tonight, because I endorse it.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) will forgive me, I shall not now give him details of the various vessels employed, but will endeavour to give him that information by letter.
I come now to the question of the common fisheries policy and the effect that an agreement will have on the Northern Ireland industry. It is a matter of great regret that it has still not been possible to come to an agreement, because uncertainty by itself is unhelpful. We believe that what we are trying to achieve will be of benefit to the industry as a whole, and therefore there is some urgency about trying to get agreement. As the House realises, the policy and the attempts to achieve agreement on it are not my responsibility.
The question of sovereign waters was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest and by the right hon. Member for Down, South. I shall steer very carefully in trying to give an answer on this matter. The fishing limits were laid down by the 1970 Act, which extended them to 200 miles. They operate, except in so far as they meet the median line, between the Province and the mainland. With regard to the question of implementation of protection, it is my understanding that we are striving entirely for national enforcement and national responsibility over our waters.
One or two detailed questions were raised about the importation of live shellfish for consumption. I cannot give an immediate answer, but it allows me to emphasise again the crucial importance of keeping fish farms free from disease. I said that it would do considerable damage to the reputation of the industry, which is growing well in the Province, if disease were to break out. Therefore, every reasonable measure should be taken to ensure that we continue with our present high standard of hygiene.
I was asked to comment on the prospects for the industry. I shall do so only in the context of this order. It is correct that the industry and the fishermen of the Province, along with most of the fishermen of Great Britain, have been suffering. Indeed, they should benefit from a resolution of the present discussions with regard to a common fisheries policy. The fishermen in the Province have also been suffering severely from poaching and over-fishing. It is in those two areas particularly that we hope the order will be most effective. Therefore, for this evening, I hope that the House will accept that in approving the order—which I hope will be the case in a few moments—we shall have contributed to the future health of the industry in these two vital areas on conservation and poaching.