§ 4.2 pm
§ The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jopling)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting in Brussels on 11 and 12 July. Together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Minister of State in my Department, I represented the United Kingdom.
After further lengthy discussions the Council could not reach agreement on the package of proposals for total allowable catches, quotas, associated conservation provisions and structural implementing measures which were under consideration. Nor was it possible, because one member state invoked its vital national interest, to reach agreement on interim measures that would have permitted fishermen from member states and from Norway to continue fishing for North sea herring.
However, the principal problem was on North sea herring and it was agreed that a Commission group of experts should be asked to carry out an urgent study of the allocation of quotas for that stock. This is a technical study and it is clearly established that the group will be concerned only with the application of the criteria laid down in the Council declaration of 30 May 1980. The work will he completed in time to report to the Council at its next meeting, now scheduled for 25 and 26 July. In the meantime, fishing for herring in the North sea by those member states that have exhausted their interim quotas and by Norway will cease.
I took the opportunity to press the Commission on the need for more rapid implementation of the arrangements for enforcement. I am glad to say that the Commission undertook to have at least some of its inspectors in post by the end of September and to have log books in operation before 1 November. Those will be significant steps towards more effective control, to which I attach considerable importance.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
Does not the Minister agree that during the past few weeks the common fisheries policy has become a complete shambles, that it has collapsed at the very first hurdle and come apart at the seams? Everyone recognises that. How can it be denied that the policy could not work when the allocation of quotas was left until the very last minute and when the inspection system is not yet in force?
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about his hopes for effective control and policing and said that some of the inspectors would be in post by the end of September. Yet there will be a total of only 13 inspectors for the entire EC waters. Is not that nonsense? What reason is there to believe that the same story will not be repeated year after year and species after species? Is that not the whole point of the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Minister's statement? He said:the Council could not reach agreement on the package of proposals for total allowable catches, quotas, associated conservation provisions".The matter is serious.
The policing problem has affected not only us but the Norwegians, with whom we have an agreement. It was not their fault that overfishing took place—it was the fault of our EC partners. Is it not true that the policing is wholly 1024 inadequate? The Minister said that some of the 13 inspectors would be in post by September, yet were not the original proposals for 39 inspectors?
Is it not ironic that the fishermen themselves had to go to Brussels to plead for policing? Is that not something that the Government should initiate on behalf of the fishermen? Is it not time that we took over full control of the 200-mile zone—that we could have were we not in the EC—and at least exercised policing duties in our own waters?
The Minister did not mention the effect of his statement on the fishing industry of the west coast of Scotland, where the fishermen are terrified of pressure from fishermen from other areas both outwith and within the United Kingdom. Will the right hon. Gentleman take action to deal with one large gap? What is there to prevent Norwegian, Faroese and other fishermen with quotas of up to 7,000 or 8,000 tonnes fishing above the quotas and discharging their fish into foreign klondikers for trans-shipping? Were we not promised legislation to close that loophole? If the Minister will introduce such legislation next week, we shall give him every support. I wish that he had the resolution to do so.
If there were a sudden increase in heavy fishing during the next week or two, would there be anything to prevent such a glut affecting our ability to deal with the marketing of the fish and, therefore, it being slanted off to the foreign klondikers, which would mean that the entire additional value would be lost to Britain?
When the common fisheries policy was introduced by the Minister's predecessor he described it as a deal that would last for 20 years. Will it? He described it as a superb deal. Is it?
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. Gentleman asked many questions. He spoke first of the common fisheries policy collapsing, coming apart at the seams and being a shambles. That is not true. The agreement at which we arrived on 25 January on quota percentages, access and technical conservation measures was of crucial importance to the future of the Community's fisheries. In general, that agreement is being observed. I stand entirely by what my predecessor said about the agreement providing a framework for the next 20 years.
The hon. Gentleman said that policing was inadequate and that the United Kingdom should carry out its own policing. Each member state does its own policing to 200 miles or to the median line. If the hon. Gentleman is making allegations about the inadequacy of the British policing force and our fisheries protection service, I would be glad to hear full details of his complaints. The fishing community is a great deal more pleased than the hon. Gentleman about the undertaking from the Commissioner on dates of application of the inspectorate of existing national inspectors. He said that originally there were to be 40 inspectors. That number included secretaries and others. Therefore, the figure he gave was artificial. We shall have to wait and see what happens when the 13 inspectors are in post.
There are, of course, various quotas for individual states in the west of Scotland herring fishery. We shall police that area carefully to ensure that the fishery is not overfished. If we find abuses, we shall not hesitate to bring those who broke the law to our courts.
§ Sir Walter Clegg (Wyre)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the increase in the inspectorate will be 1025 welcomed by the fishing industry? Is he further aware that the industry is angry about enforcement because the quota system cannot stand on its own without proper enforcement facilities? He can expect every back-up from the House to increase the efficiency of the inspectorate.
§ Mr. Jopling
I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that our fishermen are not concerned about the policing in British waters; they are concerned about the standard of policing by other states of their waters. If anyone has any complaint about our fisheries protection service I shall be glad to hear them. The chief purpose in setting up the super-inspectorate is to ensure that other states are carrying out their policing properly.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
Is the Minister aware that the two statements that he has made since taking office show that the common fisheries policy will run on the same lines as the common agricultural policy? The Minister comes to the House deploring the effects of that policy and yet he is unable to do anything about it.
With regard to the fallback position on the west coast, about which he spoke in his last statement, is he aware that fishermen are afraid that the stocks that have been safeguarded for six years, and which are only beginning to recover, will be decimated again? Will he guarantee that at least the protection by the United Kingdom will be ample to prevent the stocks being wiped out?
§ Mr. Jopling
We shall do our utmost to ensure that the stocks in our own waters are properly conserved by our own fisheries protection force. I cannot accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the common fisheries policy being in tatters. In general, the agreements that were made on quotas and total allowable catches for the huge majority of stocks in Community waters are being observed by individual countries. Access to our waters is being controlled, which has been a huge step forward. I do not hear complaints about that. I think that everyone has understood that it was impossible to make a deal over herring in the North sea last January because, as the right hon. Gentleman said a moment ago, the fishery had been closed for six years. We always knew that this would be difficult and so it has been.
§ Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)
Will my right hon. Friend not take too much notice of the entirely negative but, alas, customary reaction from the Opposition? The difficulties of the fishing agreement are apparent to all, but progress has been made. Will he take note that fishermen — certainly those in my constituency — are chiefly concerned about policing? They are not satisfied that other nations will carry out policing as efficiently as ourslves. I hope that we can make progress on this matter.
§ Mr. Jopling
I take careful note of what my hon. Friend has said. The industry was pleased to hear that we have at last got the Commissioner to put firm dates on the placing of inspectors in post and on the use of log books.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
Does the Minister agree that it is a sad reflection on the common fisheries policy that we have reached the stage where a ban on fishing is welcomed by fishermen? Is he aware that, six to seven months after the agreement on the common fisheries policy was reached, there is still no effective policing? Is he further aware that many Scottish skippers 1026 believe that there has been considerable overfishing by Dutch and Norwegian skippers? If agreements are reached on quotas when the Ministers next meet on 25 and 26 July, will it be their intention to open up the North sea fishing grounds again some two months before even a small number of the enforcement provisions, which have been promised by the end of September, come into operation? Can United Kingdom fisheries protection officers board the eastern European klondikers to check the level of catches trans-shipped to them by Norwegian vessels?
§ Mr. Jopling
On the hon. Gentleman's final point, if foreign ships are fishing in British waters, which come under the jurisdiction of our fisheries protection force, it can carry out the necessary investigations. If the law is being broken it can bring them to the courts. I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks because I, too, noticed a report in The Guardian this morning that the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation had welcomed the reimposition of a complete ban on the taking of herring in these circumstances. The hon. Gentleman made the allegation that others have made, but which none has substantiated, when he suggested that policing in our waters is ineffective. If the hon. Gentleman has specific cases to bring to my notice I would be anxious to hear about them. Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked whether, if we reach agreement on North sea herring on 25 and 26 July, we shall be opening that fishery again. I hope that that will be possible. I hope that we can get agreement on the broad package and open that fishery once more.
§ Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)
I applaud my right hon. Friend's recognition that policing is the essence of the success of the common fisheries policy. Will he, however, at the next Council meeting call the bluff of the other member states to make them table exactly what they propose to do, to allocate specific dates when they will carry out their proposals, and to see whether they will co-ordinate with us a system of policing that will bring to bear all the available air and naval resources to make the common fisheries policy work?
§ Mr. Jopling
I get the feeling that it is the general desire of the member states and their Ministers to make the policy work, and to have adequate conservation measures so that stocks can be built up over the years. There is disquiet, as my hon. Friend said, at the standard of policing. I hope that when log books are fully in use by skippers and we have a super-inspectorate we shall see a reduction in the number of complaints about the standard of policing by other states.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
The problems relating to North sea herring arose after a long ban was lifted at four days' notice and then heavy overfishing of quotas was allowed. Now we have this mess. Does this not show the complete inability of EC institutions to handle fishing matters? Grimsby fishermen believe that Norwegian fishing for herring should be allowed to continue so that there is no danger of retaliation against Grimsby vessels in Norwegian waters that are currently fishing at their seasonal high. As the herring pickle is holding up all other total allowable catches and quotas, why does not the Minister take the obvious step? Why does he not take this matter from the incompetent, dithering hands of the EC and impose his own allocations on vessels in our waters instead of supinely sitting there?
§ Mr. Jopling
I do not do so because I believe that we should concentrate on maintaining the rule of law within the common fisheries policy. If we were to start breaking the law it would be difficult for us to lecture others. There was a proposal before the Council that we should allow Norway to continue to fish North sea herring, although all the other member states would have had to stop. I do not think that our fishermen would have accepted that proposal. They would have been extremely annoyed. We were successful in blocking that. I hope very much that the Norwegians, who, like the rest of us, are having to stop fishing for herring in the North sea, will be patient until the next meeting of the Council, when, I hope, we shall reach agreement on the whole package.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that anyone who has considered these matters agrees that the implementation of the common fisheries policy was bound to take time? I welcome my right hon. Friend's move in at least starting the enforcement of the measures, but will he please take note of pleas from Conservative Members to put more effort into the inspectorate? Thirteen inspectors are not enough. It is a matter not only of numbers but of the powers that those inspectors will have. Will my right hon. Friend consider the matter urgently?
§ Mr. Jopling
We shall continue to press the Commission to establish and strengthen its inspectorate. Let us see how we get on with the 13 inspectors when they are in place and how the arrangement works. I agree with my hon. Friend when he says that the full establishment of the common fisheries policy was sound to take time. At the moment we are being held up because it was impossible in January of this year to add an arrangement on North sea herring to all the other arrangements that we made at that time, for the simple reason that the fishery had been closed for six years and there was no basis on which to make an arrangement for the future.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
When the right hon. Gentleman was with his European counterparts did he discuss the possible extension of Isle of Man fishing limits? Does he accept that the Isle of Man Government have the power to make a unilateral decision to extend their fishing limits? Does he agree that nobody in the British Government will act, or has the power to act, to protect the interests of my constituents in West Hull?
§ Mr. Jopling
No, there was no discussion about the position of the Isle of Man. That matter has not come before the Council. We are, however, concerned about the reports we have seen and if they become more solid, no doubt we shall be debating the matter in the future. As for the hon. Gentleman's constituents in West Hull, I can only tell him that when we met the representatives of the fishing industry at the conclusion of the Council meeting, they had no criticism of the way in which we had conducted the negotiations.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having displayed in these difficult negotiations the same patience and firmness that he used to display as Chief Whip Will he convey to the Danes that they are in danger of losing the support in this House of some of their oldest and proudest friends? Is he aware that he will have full backing if he continues 1028 to give robust support to the British interest, while at the same time seeking an agreement within the Community, which in the long run is in the interests of us all?
§ Mr. Jopling
I agree with my hon. Friend's closing remark, because if we can get the common fisheries policy to work, which I have every confidence we can, that will be a huge bonus for us. I am grateful for his first remarks; he will agree that Chief Whips in general are extraordinary people. As for the Danes, if he or any other hon. Members can explain to them how important it is to reach agreement on this package of issues — which has already taken three meetings of the Fisheries Council and will take another one on 25–26 July — that would be very welcome indeed.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is somewhat nauseating that Labour Members, supposedly members of the party of the brotherhood of man, should gloat over the breakdown of every kind of international co-operation, and that those who have done everything they can to make it impossible for the European community to reach any decision should adduce that as a reason for not having Community policies?
§ Mr. Jopling
I agree with my hon. Friend. I have noticed over many years how Labour Members when in opposition gloat over all the gloom and doom that they can find.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
While congratulating my right hon. Friend on making representations on policing, may I urge him, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) to use his skill at threatening others, in particular to threaten those in the EC who are not prepared to ensure that the policy is implemented? I recognise the need to try to ensure that that policy, which his predecessor agreed in January this year, is implemented if at all possible. Will he not hesitate to threaten to use the veto on behalf of Britain, should that be necessary?
§ Mr. Jopling
I do not recall ever threatening anybody in my life, at any rate not for many years. If I ever thought it was necessary to threaten, I should hate to telegraph that fact; I would prefer to make the decision when it came to it. My hon. Friend is right when he speaks about implementation. As I explained, we made a big effort in the Council to press the Commission to have proper implementation of the policy through the inspectorate and by the use of log books. I now have a great deal more confidence that the policy will be properly implemented in future.
§ Mr. Speaker
I shall call the two hon. Gentlemen who wish to ask supplementaries, but it is not within my recollection that either was present for the statement.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I apologise for my failure to be here when the Minister made the statement; I had very important business elsewhere.
I must be one of the few hon. Members who comes from a fishing family. In addition, I must be unique among hon. Members in having taken part in illegal fishing activities—
§ Dr. Godman
—off the Norwegian and Icelandic coast, albeit in an unwilling fashion. That was on a Hull trawler. In Aberdeen the behaviour is rather better than that.
The Minister emphasised the importance of the rule of law on this as on many other issues. In the last analysis, for a law to operate effectively it must have the consent and co-operation of those whose behaviour the law-makers seek to shape. As others have said, we must emphasise the importance of policing, and I speak as a fisherman who is now—
§ Dr. Godman
Does the Minister see the log book as a substitute for policing or as part of the total policing procedure?
§ Mr. Jopling
I regret that you called the hon. Gentleman to order at the point when you did, Mr. Speaker, because I thought that we were about to hear of various other exploits concerning illegal fishing, salmon poaching and so on.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see policing from several points of view. The key authority for policing is the state authority itself; each country polices its own waters. Effective policing will be made much easier if skippers are made to use the log books, which will begin to come into force by 1 November. In addition, we shall have the Commission's inspectorate overlooking national inspectorates to make sure that they are effective. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be the last to be able to admit to taking part in illegal fishing because we shall largely have stamped it out.
§ Mr. Speaker
I apologise to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) if he was in his place for the statement. I thought that I saw him come in recently.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is great concern in west Cumbria among fishermen about the unilateral suggestion by the Isle of Man Tynwald that they have the right to extend their fishing limits? Are they able to do that without the approval either of our Secretary of State or this House?
§ Mr. Jopling
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman's constituency looks over the Isle of Man. This is a matter on which there is not an absolutely clear legal agreement; the Isle of Man is neither a member of the Community nor part of the United Kingdom. It is an issue into which we are currently looking.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
I revert to the question raised by, among others, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) about the klondikers. Surely the Minister is wrong in that while we have the right to supervise landings on to klondikers, we do not have the legal right to prevent them. I believe that there is in his 1030 Ministry at present a proposal to bring in legislation on that. We are seeking that legislation quickly because it is necessary. It could probably be enacted by way of statutory instrument, and if it were, we would give it our full support. May we have some prime ministerial resolution on that to get it done now?
How can the right hon. Gentleman defend this as being a superb agreement—he said that he was agreeing with his predecessor about that—because, he said, the CFP had settled in January the quotas, catches and so on, when in his statement today he said that the Council could not agree on the package of proposals for allowable catches, quotas and so on? In other words, a framework was created and it collapsed when the first attempt was made to fill it in and flesh it out. There is little satisfaction to be gained from such a policy. Will the right hon. Gentleman please drop his unctuous comments about the rule of law? Surely the crisis has been caused by the unauthorised fishing of about 70,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes by our Common Market partners, especially the Dutch and the Danes.
There will be a great deal of anxiety about the Minister's comment that an inspectorate of 39 was never envisaged. He explained that that number included, for example, secretaries and typists. He says, presumably, that on that ground an inspectorate of 13 is defensible. The statement referred to "some of the 13". How many of "some of the 13" will be secretaries? To what level has the inspectorate been reduced? How many inspectors will there really be? Will there be one, two, two and a half or three? Will the Minister accept that this is a lot of nonsense? Surely we need a full inspectorate if our waters and fishing stocks are to be protected, and that is what the Minister is supposed to be doing.
§ Mr. Jopling
As I have said, we shall not hesitate to use the powers available to us under the law to deal with illegal fishing wherever it happens and whoever engages in it.
As I also said in my statement, we have not been able to reach an agreement covering the whole package. As an agreement on North sea herring has been blocked by one state, it has not been possible to deal with all the other issues that are before the Council. If we can reach an agreement on North sea herring, which is much the most difficult issue, on 25–26 July, there will be cause for reasonable optimism that it will be possible to secure an agreement covering all the other issues to which I have referred, including quotas, total allowable catches, conservation measures and structural arrangements. I have every hope that we shall be able to do that.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman referred to the size of the inspectorate. The figure 13 refers to inspectors and not to secretaries.