|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he explain his own government's part in this? Will he explain why they signed up to the Treaty of Corfu in 1957, and the circumstances in which the government spokesman from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. David Davis, addressed himself to the chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation? He endeavoured to explain the circumstances in which the assent of the government to the Treaty of Corfu was obtained.
Will the noble Lord agree that, on reflection, the real treaty to be discussed in this connection is not the Treaty of Amsterdam, which was not about this subject, but the Treaty of Corfu which was? Can the noble Lord clarify that position? It may well be that his own government are not without blame in this for the ambiguities that have arisen in this matter.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am always willing to be as helpful as I can to the noble Lord in answering his questions. I recognise that the passage has been long and difficult, not just with regard to the implications of the Treaty of Corfu which the noble Lord rightly points out, but also the 1988 Merchant Shipping Act, the responses of the European Court of Justice, and the difficulties throughout the 1980s in resolving the question. All that led to the conclusion that the most effective way forward was to write a protocol which sought to deal with a quota-hopping problem once and for all by entrenching the condition that UK quotas must provide economic benefit to UK fishing communities and not to fishing interests in other member states.
Because of the history, the difficulties and the challenges, both parties recognise that the IGC and the Treaty of Amsterdam provided an opportunity to resolve that issue once and for all. It was because of my sincere disappointment that that opportunity was not taken to address the subject once and for all that I tabled the amendment that went to another place.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, this is hardly an appropriate subject for party polemics in however mild a form they may have been embarked upon. Rather, it is an occasion where, despite our being fairly hardened politicians, we should feel and express some collective shame for the state of our fishing industry and the way in which successive governments have failed to secure their minimum interests.
The issue does not arise just over Amsterdam, as we all well know. It arose in the beginning by the British government of the day abandoning the concept of British waters and accepting that the waters around our islands are a "Community" resource. Further to our great disadvantage was the imposition and acceptance of fishing quotas which enormously undervalued the previous British take from our waters, with the result that we have had a continuing contraction of the British fishing fleet. Indeed, when historians write about this period, one of the many subjects which they will find puzzling indeed is how a great maritime nation, with the debt it owed to its navy, its merchant navy and its fishermen, came to abandon what is a great national resource.
We now come to the present situation. What is there left for Parliament to do? It is not the best way to threaten to hold up the implementation of a treaty which has been broadly agreed and must clearly be brought into effect. But virtually every other sensible way of proceeding has been denied to us. There was the third great humiliation. Some years ago we passed the Merchant Shipping Act which would have excluded the Spaniards from quota-hopping as regards the British quota. That measure was struck down by the superior legislative and judicial powers of the European Court of Justice.
To add insult to injury, millions of pounds of compensation are now being paid to deprived Spaniards. If it comes off, the deal described by my noble friend would at least guarantee 50 per cent. of the British quota being landed in British ports and 50 per cent. of the ships which are not British, operating in our waters, would have to have some connection with the maritime interests of this country; and that is a bit of progress. But I have yet to be convinced that it will be achieved. What a miserable situation this is when we have to content ourselves with a mere 50 per cent. of what should lawfully be our own.
I cannot disagree with the course recommended by the noble Lord who speaks for the Opposition, but I do say to my noble friend that something has to be done. We are going to see a further dramatic contraction in the British fishing fleet unless we find a way of escaping from the trap into which successive European treaties have placed us.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, there are, I fear, very few issues of European policy on which the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and I would agree. Nevertheless, I would like to say, on behalf of us all, how delighted we are to see him back among us after his absence through illness.
The only reason for my intervening is the extraordinary speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, at the beginning of this debate. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire will apply himself to the situation as far as the fishing industry is concerned and the text of this amendment. But I do not think that it is right to let that extraordinary speech go by without some comment from these Benches.
I have rarely heard an exercise in synthetic indignation on quite such a scale. First of all, he was factually inaccurate, which perhaps is not altogether surprising. He seems to imagine that the Government Whips in this House are not Ministers. They are Ministers of the Crown, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, will no doubt learn over a period of time in this House. If, in fact, his argument is to be taken seriously--namely, that it is some form of constitutional outrage that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is not with us--let me say this to him. The last Minister of State responsible for Foreign and Commonwealth Office business in this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, was often absent from the House because she was carrying out her ministerial responsibilities abroad. I cannot remember one occasion when anyone made the sort of trivial complaint which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. It really was dreadful stuff. I hope he is going to improve.
In a moment I shall gladly give way, but we had 14 minutes of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on this narrow issue before he applied himself, in seven minutes, to the issue related to the fishing industry. That is a two-to-one ratio which, in itself, is remarkable.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I should like to point out to him that I am fully aware of the status of Government Whips. I was rather surprised by the tone of his intervention on that point.
Indeed, I went further than that, because as the noble Lord may know, there was a time when we understood that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, had been made Minister with special responsibility for the EU presidency. Specific questions were tabled in another place by Mr. Michael Howard--I would be happy to give the noble Lord copies--which disprove his point. Sadly, in my view, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was not made Minister with special responsibility for the EU presidency, but was a Whip with special responsibility for FCO business.
As for the other points which the noble Lord raised, they were not trivial. They were important because they emphasised, as I would do once again, the importance of ministerial accountability to this House on legislation which has a far-reaching constitutional impact. That is the point I was making. It is an extremely serious point. I am surprised that the noble Lord, from his Benches, trivialises that. It is critical that on any major legislation the Minister responsible should come before the House. That is the first priority of the Minister.
That was the point I was making. It will be a point that I shall always make and it was a point that I made regularly when I was in another place. I believe that noble Lords on all sides of this House recognise the power of that argument. It is wholly reasonable for your Lordships to expect the Minister responsible to be
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, but as I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was intervening in my speech and I gave way to him. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has sought to justify the point which he made earlier. In my view, the point that he made earlier was entirely unjustifiable. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, gave him his answer. If it had been so wrong for anyone other than the Minister of State to address the House on this issue, why was that point not taken when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was addressing the issue during the earlier stages of this Bill?
When the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, quoted the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, with warm approval, he omitted to point out that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was rejected by this House, and by a substantial margin. He almost indicated to us that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, were rather like a judgment of the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Criminal Appeal. I did not see that as a precise analogy, but having made the point which I have made, I propose to conclude my observations by repeating the point that I hope that we shall not have a repetition of such an ungracious statement from the Opposition Front Bench in future.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page