Agriculture and Fisheries (Ministerial Meetings)

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 30th June 1982.

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Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester 3:31 pm, 30th June 1982

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the meetings in Brussels of the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 28 June and the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 28 and 29 June.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture Council.

Agreement was reached on devaluations in the green rates of Denmark, Ireland and Greece to reflect the effects of the recent monetary realignment in the EMS. The French Government had requested a selective devaluation of their green rate for pigmeat and sheepmeat and the Belgian Government wanted equivalent adjustments to those granted to the French. These arrangements for France and Belgium were not agreed.

The Council had further discussions on the new framework regulation on wine, and these will be resumed at the next Council.

Together with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State in my Department, I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Fisheries Council.

After a general discussion on the Commission's proposals on total allowable catches and quotas, there were a series of bilateral discussions between the Commission and individual member States on establishing priorities. In the course of the meeting it became apparent that the Danish Minister was not prepared at this meeting to negotiate towards a settlement of the common fisheries policy. However, at the end of the meeting the Commission tabled new proposals on the total allowable catches and quotas, and these will be considered at the next meeting of the Council in the second half of July. I shall consult the industry on these proposals.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

This tiny mouse of a statement conceals a major surrender by the Government. The Government were preparing to surrender on quotas and limits, and their bacon was saved by the Danes. That was Danish bacon with a vengeance. Is it not the case that the quota agreement that the Minister was prepared to accept was half of that which would be determined by the amount of fish in our waters? Is it not a fact that in its manifesto for the last election campaign the Tory Party said that, unless the limits and the quotas were right, it was prepared to go it alone? Are the Government prepared to go it alone? If they do, they will have the support of the Opposition.

The Minister has been telling us that he has the support of the industry, but he should read the fishing industry newspapers more often. "No deal" say the fishermen's organisations in Britain. We have to stick by the decision, which was repeated in the House year after year, that there would be no surrender beyond the 12-mile exclusive limit and the 50-mile dominant preference.

All the indications are that the Minister is prepared to surrender on both those points. He is opening up the East Coast, for example, through the bilateral agreement with the French. If he is prepared to put forward proposals on 12-mile and 50-mile limits we shall support him.

Would it not have been more sensible, instead of entering into a squalid arrangement under derogation in 1972, if we had decided that we would do what other independent nations have been able to do and stand by a 200-mile limit?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will never have the pleasure of seeing me come to the Dispatch Box with an agreement that the industry does not support. Therefore, I am willing to be judged upon our ability to obtain an agreement that the industry wants and agrees with. I presume that the House will be only too eager to support an agreement that the industry requires.

I have complete and detailed agreement with the industry as to our objectives on quotas. I am glad to say that we have made some further progress towards achieving these. Therefore, the only agreement that I would recommend to the House is one that provides quotas satisfactory to the industry, a substantial improvement in the access arrangements that have operated in living memory, and a secure and expanding future for the industry.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

Would the Minister agree, for example on the six-mile limit and on the six-mile dominant preference only? Would he agree on only 34 per cent. on quotas, reduced from the two-thirds that the Tory Party manifesto argued for? If not, he should stand by the pledge that he gave in 1979, that in the absence of such an agreement the Government would not hesitate to take the necessary measures on their own.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

As far as I know, no political party, or the Labour Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in his wildest moments, ever suggested two-thirds quotas. The hon. Gentleman waves a document at me. If that is the manifesto, let him quote the promise about two-thirds of the quotas.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

The manifesto says something that is even stronger: United Kingdom waters contained more fish than those of the rest of the Community countries put together". Will the right hon. Gentleman stand by that?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The hon. Gentleman has been exposed once again in making a false allegation.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Does the Minister accept that, as he is in the process of negotiating a new common fisheries policy, any question of historic rights to breach the 12-mile limit ought to be disregarded? Does he accept that, if chaos exists because of his failure to secure a policy, it his duty to ensure that the United Kingdom fishing grounds are protected from ravishment by Common Market vessels?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

My only objective in negotiating is to provide British fishermen, including Scottish fishermen, with a better future than they have had for many years, since we lost the Icelandic waters. If I cannot attain that objective, and the industry does not agree that I can attain it, I shall come to the Dispatch Box and say that there is no agreement.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Devon West

All of us who think about these matters acknowledge what the Minister is doing—maintaining a firm stand in the interests of British fishermen. Will he bear in mind that the reaction of the Danes is a serious setback and that he may have to make unilateral plans to deal with this and to protect fishermen, particularly in the South-West of England?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

This illustrates the failure of the Labour Government to obtain any agreement, and the failure so far of the present Government to obtain agreement. This creates a much worse problem for our fishermen than there would be if a sane and sensible agreement had been obtained. As to the immediate problems of the fishing industry, as my hon. Friend knows, the Government have so far provided twice as much aid to the industry as did the Labour Government.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

Is it true that the Danish Government are asking for free fishing without quotas? How can that be a sensible policy? Since the Danish Presidency which begins next month will take us beyond the end of this year, will the Danes achieve their objective by refusing to come to an agreement in the next six months?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

As the hon. Gentleman says, the main prize of a common fisheries policy is a quota system which is strictly enforced. There would be no point in a common fisheries policy without that ingredient. Denmark is alone in the view that for other than two species no quotas should be applied. I am sure that that would suit the type of fishing in which Denmark has been involved for some time, but it cannot form the basis of a fishing policy.

Photo of Mr David Penhaligon Mr David Penhaligon , Truro

Why has the right hon. Gentleman done worse for England than the Secretary of State seems to have done for Scotland? What concessions between six miles and 12 miles has the right hon. Gentleman given to the French? How does he intend to prevent the concessions from escalating into a massive increase in take from those waters?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

No concessions have been agreed with anybody. There has been no agreement whatsoever on access proposals. So far in the negotiations we have obtained substantial improvements on the question of historic rights for many parts of the coastline that compare with anything in living memory. We have achieved a substantial improvement for our coastal fishermen as a whole. I hope that there will be further improvements. Many of our fishermen wish to continue to enjoy historic rights in other nations' coastal waters and we have negotiated for that.

Photo of Mr Robert Hicks Mr Robert Hicks , Bodmin

On the specific question of access to the six-mile to 12-mile band, and in particular in relation to the French, what safeguards has my right hon. Friend obtained and what additional safeguards does he hope to achieve in respect of controlling the catch that the French may take if they are allowed to continue to fish within that band?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The Commission has accepted that on 1 January, or when agreement is reached—whichever is the earlier—the first ever enforcement provisions will come into force. One fishing organisation—that mentioned by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan)—queried control and said that there would not be adequate penalties. I was pleased to inform it that the penalties already approved by the House of a fine of £50,000 maximum for any one offence with the confiscation of equipment would apply.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull Central

Has not the right hon. Gentleman blackmailed those in the industry to agree to whatever proposals he can get so that they receive some subsidy from him to help them in the chaos that they are experiencing? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do for the deep water ports? Is he aware that the port of Hull, for example, had 103 vessels 10 years ago and now has only 21, half of which are not fishing? About 135,000 tonnes of fish were landed there 10 years ago and only just over 25,000 tonnes are landed today. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has done nothing for them, that there is no third party agreement and no compensation and that thousands of fishermen are unemployed?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It is untrue that I have at any stage tried to bargain or, to use the hon. Gentleman's word, blackmail those in the industry to accept subsidies in exchange for an agreement. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his allegation because it is totally without foundation. He knows more than anybody that the decline in the long-distance fleet took place primarily during the Labour Government's period in office.

Photo of Mr David Myles Mr David Myles , Banffshire

Now that negotiations have again broken down, will my right hon. Friend soon announce an aid programme for the industry, especially for the hard-pressed pelagic sector?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

We are reviewing the figures on further aid submitted by the industry. The current position varies from one sector of the industry to another. Some sectors have had larger catches and better prices this year.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

Does the Minister recognise that other countries have been subsidising their fleets to keep them at a certain level, whereas in the United Kingdom there has been a total collapse of ports such as Hull, which is facing a crisis and is in the hands of the banks? Does he recognise that the difference between his approach and that of the Danes is that he is prepared to accept the voice of the industry whereas in Denmark the parliamentary committee has to be satisfied before an agreement is accepted?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

No one can accuse me of not coming to the House immediately following each meeting that I have had and submitting to the Scrutiny Committee every document involved. I shall not be accused of not doing that. The hon. Member must be pleased that the present Government have doubled the aid that the previous Government gave to the industry.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the industry needs an agreement in the near future? Will he repeat the pledge that he gave to the House earlier, that if the Danes continue to veto an agreement the Government will not allow fishing up to our beaches by the end of this year?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is not satisfactory to argue that it is in our interests not to have an exclusive 12-mile limit so that we can fish within another State's 12-mile limit? Will he abandon the Government's decision not to press ahead with the policy adopted by successive Governments, including the last Labour Government, that there should be an exclusive 12-mile limit with the phasing out of all historic rights?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

As the hon. Gentleman discovered when he was involved in these activities, the Labour Government got nowhere near to a negotiating position, or to an agreement satisfactory to our industry. Even now, with plenty of negotiations still to come, the access proposals for the British fishing industry are better now than at any time in living memory.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Have the new proposals from the Commission moved closer to or further from the Government's negotiating targets? If all that stands between the British fishing industry and a settlement is the Danish interest, will the Minister not hesitate to seek to persuade his colleagues to accept the precedent established at the agricultural price-fixing and proceed by majority voting?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I would not proceed on majority voting, believing as I do that it would be completely against Britain's interests. I would not argue for it when it suited me and argue against it when it did not.

I was asked whether the latest proposals were an improvement. The proposals were tabled last night and delivered after the Council meeting ended. I have not had time to discuss or study them in detail, but I understand from preliminary observations by officials that they show some further improvement in our quota arrangements.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members on the Government Benches and the five on the Opposition Benches who have tried to catch my eye—if they are brief.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

My right hon. Friend has said that the industry's agreement is required before he can present a case to the House. Does he mean all major sections of the industry and not just a so-called majority consensus? Would it not help the House in considering the various proposals if he were prepared to say what legal powers Britain has to exclude French and other EEC vessels from fishing up to our beaches after 31 December if there is no revised common fisheries policy?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

We have expressed our view and interpretation of the treaty and the statements in it. My hon. Friend has asked me what in my interpretation constitutes the fishing industry. So far, in every detail that I have negotiated, I have carried the whole fishing industry with me. In the detailed and prolonged talks that I had with those in the industry in the past two days they were still in agreement with every detail of my negotiating position.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the widely published reports that he was prepared to accept a settlement that fell far short of the requirements of the House and the commitments of the Conservative Party manifesto and which has already been denounced by a large sector of the industry, specifically by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, and that he was prevented from accepting that sell-out by the Danes doing what he should have been doing and asking for more?

Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman wants the industry to give its unpressured and considered consent to the sell-out, why does he not announce the vital aid that it needs to keep going? If withholding that announcement is not blackmail, what is?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It is unacceptable for the hon. Gentleman to talk about withholding aid when this Government's record on aid to the industry is so much better than that of any previous Government. The NFFO has had two lots of talks with me in the past 12 days and at neither was it critical of the negotiating position that I was taking.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Flint West

Will my right hon. Friend treat the Opposition's offer of support in this matter as the dangerous booby-trapped device that it is? Will he reflect on the implications of the remarks attributed to him in The Daily Telegraph today that the one country that did not respect quotas was popular with its fishermen? This country has a greater interest than any other in achieving an agreed policy.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Every fishing organisation and every fisherman I have spoken to recognises that to obtain a secure future we need proper quota and enforcement arrangements in Community waters.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Ayrshire South

Is there not a stark contrast between the way in which the Government moved swiftly to protect the interests of the Falkland Islanders by establishing a 200-mile exclusive zone there and the way in which they are refusing to protect the interests of my constituents and those of many other hon. Members?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am sure that we would be willing to accept all the historic fishing rights of the Falklands to operate in our 12-mile limit.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the situation? He has rightly asserted the importance of maintaining the agreement of the industry, and claims that he has that agreement, but the NFFO says that the proposals do not constitute the basis of an acceptable and honourable settlement. Which is correct?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The proposals that the federation was referring to were those of the Commission. I am in complete agreement with the industry about changes that we require on access, quotas and other details. The proposals that the NFFO was referring to were not proposals that I had made to the industry, but the current proposals of the Commission. My hon. Friend can check with the leaders of the NFFO. I have had discussion after discussion with them, and they do not disagree with my negotiating position.

Photo of Mr Thomas Torney Mr Thomas Torney , Bradford South

In view of the many occasions on which the right hon. Gentleman has had to come to the House and apologise for the continual procrastination of the Common Market on fishing matters, will he take unilateral action—we have waited long enough for the Common Market—and give aid to save what is left of our industry?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, may I say that I remember that he made similar comments from his anti-Community posture every time that we had disputes over lamb. I hope that I shall have the same success on fishing that I had on lamb.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

May I help my right hon. Friend? Is it not the case that the British fishing industry has declined recently compared with the industries of some of our European partners? Would not an objective test of my right hon. Friend's success be whether that trend is reversed, particularly as we apparently own more than half the fish.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

If my hon. Friend studies the matter, he will see that the decline of the British industry has been closely connected with the loss of Icelandic waters. Some improvements have occurred in the British fishing industry in coastal waters.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I recognise the merits of the right hon. Gentleman's claim about consultation with the industry and taking it with him, but is he not being a little arrogant and over-optimistic in giving almost a right of veto to an industry which is divided in its interests and, like farmers, is notoriously reluctant to accept that any Government can give it what it wants?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I had only two choices—to work closely with the industry, or not to do so. I chose to work closely with the industry.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

Will the right hon. Gentleman carry out a comparative study of the changes in conditions and quality of fish stock in Icelandic and British waters over the past 10 years? If he did so, would he expect to conclude that the protestations of my right hon. and hon. Friends from fishing ports are entirely justified?

On a wider note, will the right hon. Gentleman estimate whether the share of the Commission budget devoted to the structure and subsidy of agriculture will be greater next year than it was last year?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

That question is not related to my statement. One of the rewards of getting a CFP is that there would then be European investment in the structure of the fishing industry.

Photo of Mr Bruce Millan Mr Bruce Millan , Glasgow Craigton

Why is it that on today's statement and the statement of a week or two ago the Minister has been unwilling to give us information about exactly what the Commission proposes on exclusive limits and access? Will he tell us exactly what the Commission proposes and exactly what he was apparently willing to accept on exclusive limits and access? Is it not a fact that he has been frightened to tell the House those details because he knows that the House would recognise them for what they are—a sell-out?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that all the documents have been made available to the House. They were passed to the Scrutiny Committee, which called for a debate on them, and I am certain that we shall have a debate on them. I have not agreed to any proposals. The right hon. Gentleman has got it totally wrong. The House has the information, and I have not agreed to anything.