Herring Industry

– in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 28th July 1981.

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Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North 4:03 pm, 28th July 1981

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the serious situation facing the herring industry following the decision of the European Commission, announced in the House today. I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for not having given you earlier notice, but until I had heard the Minister's full statement and the exchanges that followed it, I was not aware of the serious nature of what has happened. The Commission has overruled the Council of Ministers in a decision that could be described as representing a monstrous new doctrine. More importantly, the decision appears to be unprecedented and Ministers agree that it is of doubtful legality.

I understand that when an issue of doubtful legality is proposed, action—under the normal circumstances of law—should not proceed until the issue's legality has been tested. On a matter of such importance that should be the case. As the Commission's decision affects not only the immediate question of opening the herring fishery but the whole prospect of an agreement on the common fisheries policy, this matter should be given urgent and grave consideration.

Even if the fishery re-opens, as the Commission suggests, the Minister was still unable—perhaps because of the shortage of time—to explain adequately how the monitoring arrangements will operate. It is clear that the monitoring arrangements and the reporting that will accompany them will be complicated and difficult to check. It could well be that the total allowable catch could be grossly exceeded before the Government had any indication that that was so.

Although scientific evidence suggests that fishing can restart, the stale of the herring stocks is so fragile that we could ruin the stocks and wipe herring from the sea for ever if these matters are not checked. I shall cite an example to show how difficult it is to check such things. The Dutch were given a special allocation of herring that was to be caught for the Maasteg festival. When their total catch eventually became public knowledge, it was found that they had caught about 10 times the amount that they were permitted to catch. If every country were to take 10 times the amount of herring permitted under the Commission's proposals, there would be no herring left.

At the first sign that reporting is not taking place—which is not a fanciful idea—the Minister should be given an opportunity to tell the House how he will immediately close the fishery. It is no use waiting, until it is too late. As soon as any country or vessel is late in reporting, the fishery should be closed until arrangements have been properly sorted out.

This is a very serious matter that affects not only the men who catch the herring and the processors but the very existence of a species of fish for which many have made great sacrifices in the past three years in order to preserve them not only for us but for future generations. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will be able to grant this application.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the serious situation facing the herring industry following the decision of the European Commission, announced in the House today. I listened carefully to the exchanges that took place in the House today and I realise that the hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to a very important matter. However, as the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reason for my decision.

I have given careful consideration to the serious arguments advanced by the hon. Gentleman, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.