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Lord Carter: My Lords, I hope that the Opposition Chief Whip, having agreed to the wish of the House for a debate lasting two days, is not now suggesting that not all noble Lords will be present on both days. I hope that he is not suggesting that. I do not think that we can telephone all noble Lords. If noble Lords can tell us that they are available on the Thursday as well as on the Wednesday because--I must make this clear--they were expected to speak on the Wednesday, that would be helpful. As to the

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dates of the Summer Recess and the spill-over, again, I give the noble Lord full marks for a good try, but it is very early in the season to be starting that debate.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, on the question of the Northern Ireland day, can the Chief Whip clarify to me whether he considers that the Cross Benchers in our House are not part of the usual channels?

Lord Carter: My Lords, discussion of the Business of the House in the usual channels takes place among the three Chief Whips and always has done.

The Earl of Perth: My Lords, as I understand what has been decided, we are to have two days, which was certainly the wish of the Cross Benches.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I intervene briefly. I thank the Chief Whip for his constructive attitude. We all know that he is an extremely reasonable man both as a Member of this House and in his former profession. He is very professional. I hope that the Chief Whip will be able to give the House an assurance that when the usual channels resume their discussions on this matter he will take very carefully into account the points that have been made on all sides of the House this afternoon and that when he has addressed these points in his usual helpful fashion he may be able to report back to the House as to the detailed conclusions that have been reached.

Lord Carter: My Lords, of course. The short debate that we have had illustrates what happens when the usual channels are invited to work across the Floor of the House and not outside the Chamber.

European Communities (Amendment) Bill

4 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reason be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons reason be now considered.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to HL Bill 62 as first printed for the Lords]


After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(". This Act shall come into force only when each House of Parliament has come to a resolution on a motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown considering the legal protection for British fishermen afforded by the Treaty of Amsterdam on the issue of quota-hopping.")

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--

Because it would not be appropriate to restrict commencement of the Act in the way proposed.

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 1A. I remind the House that the Bill received from another place, which would allow for ratification by the United Kingdom of the Treaty of Amsterdam, was approved without amendment to its central provisions by your Lordships' House. The amendment that this House passed and which another place, by a majority of 196, has not accepted was a delaying caveat that would not alter the substance of the Bill or the Treaty of Amsterdam. Indeed, it relates to an issue not covered by the changes made to the treaties at Amsterdam. However, the important issue before the House today is that if the amendment were to be reinstated by this House it could have disastrous repercussions by delaying ratification by all 15 member states. It could potentially destabilise relations with our partners and reverse all the painstaking progress made in our European policy since the advent of this Government.

I accept that the amendment was tabled by the Opposition on the supposed basis of seeking to help Britain's fishing communities. I must make clear to noble Lords that the amendment would not remove a single quota-hopper from the British register or help our British fishermen in any way whatever. Instead, it would delay or block ratification of a treaty that offers many benefits and advantages to this country. However, in no way does this mean that we do not share the very genuine concern of the Opposition and noble Lords generally about the plight of our fishing industry. We do. The exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the President of the Commission at Amsterdam was a real step forward. That exchange recorded the Commission's interpretation of how a member state might, within the rules of the single market, require an economic link between fishing activity and fishing communities. Since Amsterdam we have taken this forward. We issued a consultation document last July, following which the Government had extensive meetings with representatives of the UK fishing industry to discuss implementation of the "economic link" licensing conditions that we proposed.

Following that consultation, we submitted draft proposals to the European Commission which incorporated contributions from the UK fishing industry. A copy of those proposals was placed in the Library of the House on 12th May. This is a substantive package of measures which will be both effective and compatible with the treaty. We intend that all vessels shall be required to comply with one of the following criteria: having to land 50 per cent. of their catch of quota species in the UK; or requiring 50 per cent. of the crew to be resident in UK coastal areas; or requiring a certain level of operational expenditure in UK coastal areas; or other measures which will provide sufficient economic benefit to populations in the UK which are dependent on fishing and related industries.

The process of putting flesh on the bones of the exchange of letters between ourselves and the Commission at Amsterdam is an important one. We await the Commission's final opinion on the proposals.

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Only last week my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food discussed progress with Commissioner Bonino.

This subject affects a number of member states as well as ourselves and it will be discussed at official level in Brussels tomorrow. We have learnt that France and Belgium are already modelling an economic link for licence conditions in their countries based on our proposals. We understand that the Commission will soon present its opinion. We expect real progress from that opinion. We have made progress. These measures will ensure that in future real economic links exist between the UK's fishing fleet and our coastal communities. That is a significant improvement on the current situation in which many vessels bring little or no benefit to the UK. Vessels that fail to maintain an economic link with the UK will be unable to fish UK quota species until such time as they are able to demonstrate that satisfactory economic links have been established.

During debates on the Bill we ranged over a number of issues, but we passed only this amendment. It is only this amendment that the Commons has rejected. While no doubt on past form certain noble Lords will wish to range slightly wider than the amendment in the course of the debate, this is the issue before the House. The elected Members of another place have overwhelmingly made clear their collective view.

Perhaps I may provide some slight comfort to the Official Opposition in regard to their amendment. I can report that its passage through this House was noted to some extent in Europe. It impressed upon the Commission and our partners that fishing is an important issue for the UK. But it also alarmed them to see that it threatens ratification. Therefore, in one sense it has achieved an impact. Unfortunately, that impact is double edged. The other edge is that our partners fear that the UK, despite the achievements of this Government, is reverting to the negative table-thumping, Europhobic behaviour of earlier years. If they go on thinking that we shall again end up on the margins of Europe. Unfortunately, that second impact is already in danger of predominating. If we persist by restoring the amendment today it will predominate and the main losers will be the very fishing communities that the amendment purports to help.

While most of the debate on the treaty was conducted in good spirit, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and I exchanged a few harsh words. I am sure that the noble Lord does not wish to see a negative impact on the fishing communities any more than I and other noble Lords do. I appeal to the noble Lord and other noble Lords not to oppose the Commons rejection of our amendment. What limited positive impact our discussion of the importance of the fishing industry may have had could be jeopardised by persistence in the amendment. I hope that neither the Official Opposition nor the House in general will oppose the elected House on this issue. I call upon the noble Lord and the House to accept the position adopted by the House of Commons.

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Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 1A.--(Lord Whitty.)

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in his place today. He was right yesterday to point out that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is a popular figure in your Lordships' House. However, I hope that noble Lords will understand if, in my opening remarks, I put any personal feelings of your Lordships aside and focus on the political judgment of a Foreign Office team that once again has determined that our final consideration of this Bill--the only Foreign Office legislation in this Session--apparently does not warrant the presence of the Minister.

Noble Lords will recall the importance that was attached to this matter by your Lordships' House at Second Reading. At that time my noble friend Lord Beloff begged to move that the debate be adjourned because of the absence of the Minister. Today the Minister is not with us again. I remind noble Lords of the speech of my noble friend Lord Beloff:

    "It is the opinion of many noble Lords that this [Bill] is a matter of great constitutional importance and that there are precedents which show that, whenever a matter of constitutional importance is before your Lordships' House, the Bill is piloted on Second Reading and, even more importantly, in its later stages by a Minister from the department concerned".

He continued:

    "The fact that this Bill is of constitutional importance hardly needs demonstrating by reference to its own clauses. In another place, it was taken through all its stages by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Clearly, they thought that it was a matter of such constitutional importance that, in spite of their many other commitments, often airborne, they would have to devote the necessary time to dealing with it".--[Official Report, 16/2/98; cols. 25-26.]

The importance of the amendment is that it is constitutional, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, a moment ago. He said that it was of constitutional importance, and recognised as such in Europe.

On Tuesday night, when the amendment that we are considering was debated in another place, the subject was of sufficient importance to warrant the direct involvement of two Ministers in a discussion which lasted over three hours and saw no fewer than 468 Members of Parliament go through the Division Lobbies. But today, once again, we are presented with a Whip to mop up behind the absent Minister, albeit a very good Whip indeed.

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