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Fishing Industry

Volume 958: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1978

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the future size of the Scottish fishing industry; and if he will make a statement.

Until the level of future fishing opportunities is known it is too early to make an announcement.

Whilst wishing the right hon. Gentleman well in the negotiations that are taking place within the next two months over the common fisheries policy, may I ask whether he is aware that West Germany, for example, is encouraging diversification of its fleet towards species that are not fully exploited? Will he consider this as, perhaps, an interim measure, particularly in view of the recently announced closure of the Liston fleet of Grantown, which I think is symptomatic of the great uncertainty in certain sections of the Scottish fleet?

A good deal of diversion has already taken place from, for example, herring fishing to mackerel fishing. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general proposition that, whatever happens about the CFP, we shall have an industry of a kind that is different from that which we have had in the past, and that means that some unexploited species —blue whiting, for example—will have to play a more important part in our industry.

When the Secretary of State is considering the future of the industry, will he constantly bear in mind that there are certain islands, particularly in Shetland, which arc wholly dependent upon fishing, and that any reduction in the size of their fleets will mean that the population there will have to go down or be evacuated, because there is no alternative employment? Do the Government now have any idea of when they will be able to make a fuller statement on the whole future of the industry?

On the latter point, the next discussions in Brussels will be on 23rd and 24th of this month. I cannot say at present whether any agreement will be reached there or whether, as I rather expect, we shall go over to a further meeting. But we expect to make progress at that next meeting later this month. I think that there is a general willingness now, on the part of everyone in the Community, to try to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

As regards Shetland and Orkney, of course I have the needs of these communities very much in mind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable satisfaction with the recent statement by himself and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that it remains the prime purpose of the Government during the negotiations to maintain a viable fishing fleet for the whole of the United Kingdom and for Scotland in particular? However, will my right hon. Friend realise that time is passing very rapidly and that, although there are difficulties in the discussion document which might give away the hand that we might have to play in negotiations, the time is now long overdue when we should have a discussion document laying down the different options which are open to the fishing fleet so that this matter can be discussed and so that an early decision can be reached once the definitive plans are available?

I think that the problem with the restructuring of the industry is that it assumes a certain conclusion to the CFP negotiations. I think that once we know the outcome of the CFP discussions we shall be in a much better position to decide the future structure of the industry. But I do not think that one should make assumptions about that until we have reached agreement. We have had preliminary discussions, as it were, with the industry about this, but we cannot take matters very much further at present. I do not think that at present a discussion document would contribute a great deal, I am sorry to say.

Does not it show great weakness on the part of those who negotiated our entry into the Common Market that we now hear that Britain's contribution to the EEC is to be doubled in the next year, when Britain contributes no less than 68 per cent. of all the fish in EEC waters? May we please take it that if Britain has to pay more cash to the EEC we shall have some more of our own fish stocks back?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Government have a responsibility here, bearing in mind that they claimed to renegotiate the Common Market issues in Dublin and that this matter was not resolved? However, bearing in mind that the future of the industry will depend very largely on the discussions later this month, will the right hon. Gentleman give Parliament an assurance that we shall have the opportunity of taking a view on a potential agreement before we are irreversibly committed to it?

The business of the House is not strictly a matter for me. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that the matter of fishing has been debated on many occasions and that there are plenty of opportunities open to the Opposition on this matter, as well as to the Government.