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Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps I may descend from the great heights of ministerial responsibility and the interests of our fishing industry, to make a minor grammatical point about the Motion before us. I know it is a long time since I was at school, but I was taught to agree or disagree "with" things, not "to" them. We find on the Order Paper that we are asked to disagree to this amendment.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Chairman frequently says "The Question is that this Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say 'Content' or 'Not-Content'". Clearly, parliamentary usage is different from that which the noble Lord was taught at school.
Having made that minor point, I say that we were right to ask Members of another place to think again about ways in which the interests of our great fishing industry, which has declined, could be protected. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, referred to matters long ago which were against the interests, as he maintains, of our fishing industry. On this occasion we gave the Government and Members of another place an opportunity to improve things, and regrettably they have rejected that opportunity.
Alas, the other place has the last word, but we have asked them to think again. As my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, we must leave the matter there; it is not one on which we can reject the whole Bill and have forced upon us the Parliament Act. I believe that my noble friend and the noble Lords, Lord Shore and Lord Bruce, were right to draw attention to a missed opportunity, which is regrettable.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for interrupting. I had not realised that he had not finished his speech. I was merely commenting that some of us who specialise in foreign affairs from time to time find it useful to go abroad. That unavoidably interferes with the business of this House.
I yield to no one in admiring the largely solo performance of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. On one or two occasions I wondered whether some members of the previous government who were experts on foreign affairs had gone abroad permanently and left him to handle so much.
I wish to make two further comments. We all agree that as regards fisheries, the issue is not only the British case but the conservation of fisheries in the North Sea and elsewhere. That is an extremely important issue on which the European Union as a whole needs to take further measures. We were not helped in particular by the Spanish, but the previous government cannot escape some of the blame. It was one of two cases when the Conservatives, driven by Treasury considerations, failed to provide full compensation for those who were asked to take vessels out of service. That encouraged British fishery owners to sell their boats to Spanish owners rather than accept full government compensation. The other case on which the previous government, on Treasury advice, thought it cheaper not to provide full compensation was in the early stages of BSE. That also had deleterious effects. I hope that the current Government, driven by a remarkably parsimonious Chancellor of the Exchequer, will not repeat that mistake in other matters.
My second point is the importance of the completion of the Bill. I and many others were ashamed that the previous government delayed ratification of the Maastricht Treaty for so long and waited until everyone else had done so. Today, we have a chance to complete ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty a good deal earlier
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I was most surprised that there was no Motion on the Marshalled List that this House insists upon its amendment. That is what I really would like to have seen. If we want to put pressure on the European Commission and the other countries of Europe, we must show them that we are tough.
There was another way in which we could have shown that we are tough. We could have proposed another amendment and sent it back to the House of Commons for consideration. That really would have been putting pressure not only on our own Government but also on the other governments of the European Community. I believe that an opportunity has been missed.
Noble Lords might ask why on earth I did not table such a Motion. The fact is that if I had done so I would not have received support. However, if the Opposition were doing its job, if it were really on the ball, it would have played this for as long as it possibly could. I understood from yesterday's Daily Telegraph that the Conservative Opposition was to have a new lease of life and that it would oppose the Government whenever it could. Yet when the first opportunity arises it falls at the first fence.
I very much regret that, but the Conservatives have a bad history on that, as my noble friends pointed out. I wish to remind the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, whom we all respect particularly for his operations on the Bill, which have been considerable and very effective, that it was under a Conservative Government that we had the spectacle--and I say that advisedly--of the unfortunate Mr. Jack being pelted with flour by British fishermen while they were feting the High Commissioner for Canada and flying not the Union Jack but the Canadian flag all over the south-west. If there ever were a failure over fishing policy it was a failure of the Conservative Government. I hope that my noble friends in the new Labour Government will be able to do far better.
I regret that today we are not to give more power to the Government's elbow because of the failure of this House yet again to do what it can, which is to put additional pressure on the House of Commons and on the Government. That failure is noted outside and it will do us no good. I must tell those hereditary Peers who believe that being gutless will save them that it will do nothing of the kind.
Lord Renton: My Lords, what the noble Lord has proposed would mean that the Bill might not come into operation for another year if we had successfully pressed the amendment. It could conceivably have come back to us from the House of Commons yet again, but that would be a most unusual procedure. I remember it being
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I take that as an intervention. The noble Lord will know that I often put innovative ideas to the House but it does not appear to accept them, which is a great pity. He also knows that if we were prepared to insist on our amendment and that prevented the treaty from coming into operation for a year, I should be over the moon and delighted. Indeed, the country as a whole would benefit.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney pointed out in most forthright terms, there can be little doubt that Parliament as a whole, comprising both parties, has let down the British fishing industry. No party can escape the blame for that. As my noble friend pointed out, the origin of the existing unsatisfactory position of our fishing industry arose from the deliberate deception--the deliberate deception--of the British public on the passing of the European Communities Act 1972. Then it was not revealed to the British public as anything worthy of their consideration that we were giving up our rights within the 200 mile limit. That was never explained and the approval of the British people and the British Parliament was obtained by deception. Of that there can be no doubt whatever.
The question is: what can we now do to redress the position? I suggest to your Lordships with the utmost respect, and as one who has spent the last portion of his life studying these matters, that the argument, "we must not be kept on the fringes of Europe" is a generality that is no longer acceptable at all. Every time any Member of your Lordships' House or of another place raises a question--even a question--about the validity of our existing arrangements within the European Community there is a jeer and a sneer that we must relegate ourselves to the outer regions of Europe. We must somehow conform in order to be admitted to the inner circle of Europe, which still remains, and will remain, France and Germany, whatever their temporary dislocations may be.
Every time an argument has been raised about the validity of our arrangements with Europe, of the economic benefits and otherwise to Europe, they are covered in these blanket terms, this miserable cowardice that we must agree with our European partners or we shall be relegated to the margins. I am sick of that argument as, I think, is the country as a whole.
What we need to address ourselves to, from the existing position, is how we can make amends to our own British fishing industry within the constraints under which we now labour. First, we must use our muscle. Sometimes one would think that the Government did not have any muscle despite their insistence on how important they are in Europe. We must determine what steps should be taken in order to redress the position of the British fishing industry. That requires thinking. It does not require slogans. It also requires reading through a host of regulations, decisions and directives inflicted
It has become one of the defects of our democratic system that those responsible for the legislation know so damn little about what they are passing into enactment, let alone authoritatively argue about it. This must stop. The steps we need to take are firstly to apprise ourselves of the position. I was in general sympathy with the whole purpose of the amendment until I began to dig into the documents. Believe me, even working full-time it will take at least another three weeks or a month for me--and I am very familiar with European affairs--to ascertain precisely in European law and regulations, let alone in British regulations, exactly what the position of the industry is and what legal rights it has or does not have. That will take time. All of us who support the British fishing industry should undertake that task.
Clearly, it is insufficient and would be futile, other than as a gesture, to use the amendment to the Treaty of Amsterdam, or the British enactment of that treaty, as a vehicle in the argument for British fisheries. That is not a suitable vehicle. The matter requires far greater time. Therefore I shall not be insisting on our own amendment here. I shall support the Government if it comes to a vote. But I warn the Government that they should give these matters serious attention, and not just on a sloganised basis. They should endeavour to tackle the problems at base. That, after all, is why we are here. We are not here to mouth generalisations and make debating points.
We are here as part of Parliament. This is our job. Not all of us can do it; not all of us have the time to do it. But we should at least play our part. So in agreeing that the Government Motion should go forward I issue a warning. The Government should give the matter real and detailed attention and cease to heed ridiculous cries of, "We must not stay on the margin; we have to keep in with the boys in order to be recognised." Until they can ignore those arguments and deal with the facts, they will be faced with the shame of having ruined the British fishing industry.
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