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Fishing Industry

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1975

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the present situation of the Scottish fishing industry.

The industry will benefit from the temporary subsidy arrangements and from the measures of protection against low-priced foreign imports which Norway has voluntarily adopted and which the EEC has now applied more widely. When I met representatives of the industry on 12th May I reaffirmed that the Government would pursue policies to safeguard them in relation to the overfishing of stocks, and would continue to strive for a modification of the common fisheries policy of the EEC to take account of the United Kingdom's special interest.

Although I am grateful to the Minister for all he has done and is doing, may I ask him to accept that there continues to be the gravest concern in the industry about the renegotiation of the EEC fisheries policies, falling prices, quotas and the break-up of the Law of the Sea Conference? Can he guarantee now that if other countries take unilateral action to extend limits we shall take immediate action? Will he accept that at next week's North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission meeting it will be the last straw for the industry if we fail to take a hard line and preserve fair quotas for the British fleet?

The hon. Gentleman has asked approximately six supplementary questions. I assure him that I appreciate the concern of the industry as expressed to me on Monday, and I can give him an assurance on his point about unilateral action by any other country. We have stated publicly that we shall be ready to take action if any other nation unilaterally extends its limits. That has been Third endorsed by the EEC. We shall be taking a hard line at the conference next week.

May I assure the Minister that we are grateful for the meetings on the fishing industry that have been held with him and with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? Can he give us any indication when we may hear something definite about quotas? Secondly, has he got any further with establishing regular meetings with an authoritative body which can speak for the fishing industry?

To some extent the timing depends on the outcome of the conference next week, which is probably the most important conference—even more important than the Law of the Sea Conference, which is a longer-term matter. It would be wrong to anticipate what might come out of the conference next week. On the right hon. Gentleman's point about regular meetings with the industry, as he knows—I do not say this by way of complaint—one of the difficulties is that the fishing industry is not as well organised as it might be, particularly among the inshore fishermen. We shall give fishermen every encouragement to improve their organisation, and we are always willing to set up a more regular formal type of working party or to have regular meetings, because we recognise that there are many problems facing the industry.

Will the Minister recognise that many of the troubles of the fishing industry are due to its own indecisiveness? Will he ensure that at the NEAFC conference next week he gives his officials a definite lead to give subsidies to boats under 40 ft. long and to those engaged in shell fishing? May I ask him not to wait for somebody else to take unilateral action? It is high time that he gave the industry a lead.

It is high time the Scottish National Party had a better spokesman on fishing matters. I am not sure whether it could produce anyone better, but the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) is totally misleading the House and, indeed, the fishermen. We have already reached agreement on the basis of a voluntary scheme for subsidies for boats under 40 ft. long. The fishermen were most appreciative on Monday of the fact that, because of the difference in arrangements, we are including over 100 additional vessels in this subsidy scheme. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his information from, but as usual it is wrong. We shall be taking a hard line at the conference next week. No one—certainly not the hon. Member for Banff—needs to impress on me the serious situation facing the fishing industry in Scotland, and in particular the herring industry. I am very mindful of all the responsibilities that I have for looking after the interests of the fishermen.