And again, there are problems with the way it is discussed. The highly inadequate EU Bill has had its third day in Committee in the House of Lords. Various issues were raised during the debate and there was a reference to the Common Fisheries Policy even though it is not mentioned in the Bill.
Arguing against the need for a referendum, Lord Deben, who was once John Gummer a less than successful Secretary for the Environment, cited the CFP [scroll down] as one of the areas that needed reform but, curiously enough he thought it needed more integration, assuming for some reason that to be a panacea for a disastrous policy.
I want to say just two more things. The first is that if ever there were a policy that needs change, it is the common fisheries policy. It is hugely important, and it is based on a European competence, but there are some things on which the European Union does not have competence. For example, it does not have competence to enter member states' ports with European inspectors, but there is no way to have a sensible common fisheries policy without that. Who has been against that? We do not want people entering our ports. I cannot understand why, because we try to keep the law, but evidently we will not allow that. If we were to do that, we might do something about the very policy which is, for most of us, the least satisfactory of European policies. That is why, given the environment, it will be very important. Evidently, we are not going to do that unless we have a referendum asking people whether they are prepared for French inspectors to come into English ports. Of course, they will say no to that, because the question does not say what I want it to say: are we prepared for British inspectors to go into French ports? They would say yes to that. It depends what the question is. That again comes back to the danger of having referendums.
As muddled an argument as anyone has seen.
Later on in the debate, Lord Pearson of Rannoch challenged Lord Deben, particularly as the latter had referred to him in derogatory terms. [scroll down to bottom of Col. 444]
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, was good enough to mention me in his few remarks and to accuse me of what I think was the impossible and most undesirable dream of the United Kingdom being altogether free of the European Union in all these matters. He is of course correct. However, he then mentioned the common fisheries policy as though that has to be solved by the European Union and as though the EU will not solve the acknowledged disaster which the policy is, environmentally and in every other way, if it is prevented from doing so. Surely, from our point of view, as I have mentioned before, the answer is terribly simple. We simply leave the European common fisheries policy and take back our international waters. Seventy five per cent of the fish which swim in European waters all the year round swim in waters that used to belong entirely to the United Kingdom before we made the mistake of joining the European Union. We then manage our own waters, re-establish our fish stocks and let out any surplus to foreigners.
The following exchange can be read in Columns 445 and 446:
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I am afraid that the noble Lord is yet again misleading the House. The waters did not belong to Britain before we joined the European Union. We had 12-mile limits in those days and the areas beyond those limits were high seas. The decision to go out to 250 miles was taken by the European Union collectively when we were a member.There are two problems here. One is that, as anyone who has ever looked at the Common Fisheries Policy knows, the real policy is one of equal access to all the waters right up to the shores. All quotas and other agreements are merely derogations that are due to expire next year.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Yes, but we should not have gone along with that decision because we should not have been in the policy in the first place. I therefore insist that most of the fish which swim now in European waters and are fished by European boats used to belong to us and they could and should belong to us again. I do not wish to detain the House-
Lord Deben: The noble Lord really must not say that. It is not true. Most of our fishing grounds have always been shared with our neighbours-the French, the Belgians and the Germans-and we have always had to come to terms with them. All that the European common fisheries policy does is to have a sensible mechanism. It is not that the policy being common is wrong but that the policy is wrong. You have to have a common policy; otherwise you can only make these decisions with the marlinspike. It is just not true that we had 75 per cent of it before.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The noble Lord and those of his view have been saying this now for 30 years. It has not happened and it is not going to happen. The solution for this country is to leave the common fisheries policy and take back our waters to the median line and whatever we had before in territorial waters into our own control. Then, when our own fishing industry, which has been decimated by the common fisheries policy, has been rebuilt, we can share any surplus and lease it out to people who want to buy it.
Lord Davies of Stamford: I do not know in which amendment the common fisheries policy arises, but I have to tell the noble Lord that if he is interested in that policy, he will rapidly find that the only explanation consistent with the facts is that the common fisheries policy suffered from an excess of member state sovereignty and an insufficiency of federalism. At every stage the European Commission, being the regulatory agency, has proposed quotas that, if they had been accepted, would have preserved the stocks. It is the member states pursuing their own individual interests that have always resisted those proposals on the part of the European Commission. As a result, the quotas have never been sufficiently tight and all these waters have been overfished. Under all circumstances, whether we had our own fisheries policy or not, it would be necessary for us to have regulation, quotas and some effective enforcement mechanism. If we disbanded the European Union, the next day we would need to set up a new common fisheries policy by agreement with a set of quotas and a common enforcement policy.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, when we leave the European Union, we will not do as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, suggests. We will take back those waters that were our waters, take back those fish that were our fish and re-establish our national fishing industry. That is what we will do. As the noble Lord has mentioned, this was not actually in the amendments but as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, mentioned it in connection with me, I thought that I would just touch on it in closing.
Secondly, the idea that if we run our own fisheries we shall still need a common fisheries policy because we shall have to have agreements with other fishing countries shows muddled thinking. An agreement between two or three countries is not the same as a common policy decided on by 27 countries through Qualified Majority Voting at best and consensus at worst and imposed on the fishing countries; an agreement is negotiated directly in the interests of the two or three participants.