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Fishing Industry

Volume 887: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has had from the Scottish fishermen with regard to their financial problems.

The Scottish Trawlers' Federation and the Scottish inshore industry have pressed for aid to enable them to meet current operating difficulties. As the hon. Member will know, and be pleased about, we announced on 27th February our proposals to give the fishing industry assistance for a six-months' period. The order embodying these proposals will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he accept that by the time we have the 200-miles limit which is proposed by the Law of the Sea Conference there will be no fish left to fish? Should there not be a 50-miles limit round Scotland before the 200-miles limit is introduced? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such a limit is particularly necessary for the herring industry, which is in danger of being completely wiped out by foreign boats this summer?

I wish Opposition hon. Members would give us a wee bit of credit. The Question concerns the financial problems of the industry. We estimate that over £2 million will be coming to Scottish industry. Is the hon. Gentleman now indicating that the official policy of one of the Opposition parties is a 50-miles limit? I think that that would be disastrous. We shall do our best—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, herring have a habit of breeding outside even the 50-miles limit. The sooner some members of the Scottish National Party get to know something about herring, rather than just looking for votes, the better. I repeat that we are concerned about the future of the fishing industry as a whole, including the herring industry, and that it will be very much to the fore at the Law of the Sea Conference next month.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that he may be chased by irate housewives in Provan because they are unable to get fish to eat with their chips? He should perhaps take this matter a little more seriously. All fishing interests welcome the Government's recognition of the problems of the fishing industry by the granting of financial assistance, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is strong feeling that the assistance is heavily biased towards the large deep-water boats, and that boats of 40 ft and under have been excluded from the scheme, although their costs have also risen substantially? Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to review the matter to see whether assistance can be given to the small man as well as to big companies?

The hon. Lady should not say "Hear, hear" before she has heard the reply. I look forward to the day when a member of the Scottish National Party will congratulate the Government on doing something worth while. Surely I do not need to spell it out. It is obvious that the operating assistance is geared to giving the greatest amount to those who have the heaviest costs. The bigger the boat, the more expensive it is to run. Therefore, there is a graded system which we think is fair to all. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will continue to be fish for the housewives of Provan and every other constituency, provided that we get the 200-miles limit, because the key to the problem is the conservation of the supply of fish.

Does the Minister accept that the fishing industry is grateful for what was announced last Thursday. Does he also accept that severe problems remain? Is he aware that in Aberdeen the average price per hundredweight last month was down 18½ per cent. on last year? That is largely because of the distribution of foreign-caught frozen fish. What is needed is a temporary ban on the importation of fish from the non-EEC countries. Will the hon. Gentleman call an early meeting with the fishing industry to discuss its long-term stability?

That is a more constructive approach. We are aware of the difficulties which face the fishing industry because of the glut of fish in world markets. Scotland cannot be isolated from that, any more than any other country can be isolated from it. I am always willing to discuss constructive proposals from any section of the fishing industry.