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Fish Imports (Blockading Of Ports)

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement regarding the action of the Humberside trawlermen in blockading the ports of Immingham and Grimsby.

I have invited representatives of the fishermen to meet me tomorrow afternoon to discuss the position.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the trouble is now spreading rapidly, and that 35 minutes ago the port of Fleetwood decided to join the dispute? Whilst I in no way condone the blocking of waterways, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman realises the seriousness of the problem, not only in that the port of Immingham and other ports are closed but because of the grave problems which the fishermen face? When the Minister meets them tomorrow, will he make it clear that he will take action to help them, particularly over the importing of frozen fish from Norway, Poland, Iceland and other non-EEC countries?

I am aware of the seriousness of the situation. That is precisely why I decided to meet the fishermen's representatives quickly.

I do not condone the tactics used by the fishermen, basically inshore men at Immingham and Grimsby, but is my right hon. Friend aware that last Wednesday we debated the issue and all hon. Members, including me. were unanimous in asking my hon. Friend the Minister of State to take action by selective controls on imports, essentially from non-EEC States such as Norway, Iceland and Poland?

I am aware of that, but my hon. Friend must remember that we are dealing with friendly countries. I should like to reach an amicable solution. That is why I shall have talks with the fishermen.

Will the Minister recognise the immense cost to the port of Tyne which the present stoppage is causing? Is he aware that six ships are unable to enter the river, four more are due, and five cannot leave, and that if the stoppage continues it will quickly have an effect on employment in the port? It is certainly very costly. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the need for urgency in holding his discussions?

I do. The hon. Gentleman, who represents part of that area, states the position correctly. That is why I am anxious to meet the fishermen's representatives quickly.

Is the right hon. Gentleman surprised that the fishermen's anger has boiled up into this regrettable action? Does he recognise that many fishermen feel angry that he does not seem to have given the problems of inshore fishing the attention they require in the Dublin talks or in the review of fish prices which was eventually and belatedly agreed by the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection? Will he take urgent action on these problems?

I cannot accept that. I believe that the aid we give will give some help to certain sections involved in the dispute. I want to resolve the dispute. That is why I am meeting the representatives.

Is the Minister aware that many of the men taking part in the blockade have boats under 40-feet long? Does he agree that they have every right to be incensed when they have been excluded from the subsidy arrangements?

I cannot accept that, because the aid I gave will help some of these people. We are talking about certain direct action. I am prepared to see the men concerned, and I hope that I can discuss with them sensibly what the solution should be.

Is the Minister aware that the fishermen of Fleetwood are not only angry but desperate? Otherwise, they would not be taking this action. There is a clear case of dumping. We asked the Government last week to do something about it. That is the way out of the problem. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take that action as quickly as possible.

I am aware of the problem, and I know that the fishermen of Fleetwood and the hon. Gentleman feel strongly about it. That is why I am taking urgent action to meet the fishermen's representatives and discuss it with them.

is the Minister aware that I have had great difficulty in per suading the Sussex inshore fishermen not to take illegal action? I sincerely hope that they will not, but unless the right hon. Gentleman and the Ministry can do something about the problem of beam trawling in relation to these inshore men, he will have a great deal of trouble on his hands.

I am aware of the problem. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about taking action.

The House will be glad that the Minister is aware of the concern, which is very deep, particularly with regard to unfair competition and the way in which imports are coming into the country. There is also anxiety about the Government's determination to ensure that international arrangements are fulfilled and, if necessary, policed. We are glad that the right hon. Gentleman is to meet the industry. When did he last meet the industry? Will he make a full statement tomorrow, or on Wednesday, about the results of his talks, how he sees the position, and what he can do to help the fishermen?

I have met the major representatives of the larger section of the industry, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State has been in touch with the industry about which we are talking. I am anxious to meet representatives of the industry. They will come from Northumberland, North Yorkshire and, I hope, other areas. We feel that they have a problem, and I shall consider it.

If necessary—if we come to a solution, although I do not believe that it will be immediately, because the law of the sea is a matter for discussion elsewhere. I shall raise such matters affecting the industry when I next go to Brussels.

In view of the nature of the action being taken by the fishermen, is it not extremely important that the Minister should tell the House what the outcome of this meeting is so that we may take the matter a stage further?

I am always anxious to keep the House informed, and I shall do so in this case.

Will the longshore fishermen from Yarmouth be allowed to join the deputation visiting the Minister tomorrow?

If they make contact with my Ministry, I shall give every consideration to that.

Can the Minister say whether the action of the fishermen contravenes the law?

This is a matter for the harbour authorities to decide. I do not wish to become involved at this stage in arguments about whether they are taking illegal action. I am prepared to see them and to discuss their problems with them.

In spite of the Minister's denial of any responsibility for this sad occurrence, because of the limited nature of the help given to the fishing fleet—especially the point made earlier about the exclusion of small fishing craft —I hope that the Minister will include that point in his talks tomorrow.

May I prevail upon my right hon. Friend, whilst he is attempting to mediate in this important matter, not to use any influence he may have along the lines followed by the previous Tory administration when it allowed, or perhaps cajoled and persuaded, the powers that be to use the Conspiracy Act against people fighting for what they believed to be their justified rights?

I am anxious to meet the representatives of the industry concerned, and I hope that we shall hold constructive talks.