Skip to main content

Council Of Fisheries Ministers

Volume 958: debated on Thursday 16 November 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will attend next a meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers of the EEC.

When the right hon. Gentleman addresses the Council, will he be good enough to impress upon it that, unless urgent steps are taken to enable larger British fishing vessels to vary their catch and to increase their quota of allowable catches, we shall face the total loss of livelihood of 1,200 Cornish families associated with the inshore mackerel industry?

I am very conscious of the difficulty of the Cornish inshore fishermen. I am also very conscious of the national need—a need which would perhaps have arisen whether we had remained in the Common Market or whether we had opted out—in the light of our removal from Icelandic waters and the change in the structure of our fishing industry. What I have to do is to make a judgment of Solomon. The difference between Solomon and me on this occasion is that Solomon's judgment was not carried out: I had to do it, and I did so, fully aware that neither side would be wholly satisfied.

However, we can protect the Cornish inshore mackerel fisherman—I think that we have done that—and at the same time we can ensure that a large mackerel catch, which ought to be available to the fishing industry as a whole, is preserved.

Is the Minister as fully aware as myself of the sad plight of the deep-sea fishing industry in Hull? Has he been told that an old firm—a first-class firm, with first-class boats and first-class skippers—has just lost £250,000 in fishing for blue whiting off the West coast of Scotland? Is he aware that this makes it even more imperative that our people are allowed to fish off the South-West peninsula—Cornwall and Devon? Will he please fight to his utmost for an exclusive six-mile limit—indeed, an exclusive 12-mile limit—off that coast for our men to fish?

There are many things for which we shall have to fight at that Fisheries Council. I am determined that the British fishing industry in all its various facets—inshore, deep-water and so on—shall be protected. But on one point I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We are not a succession of very small fishermen fishing off very small points. We are a fishing nation, and it is essential that our fishing boats shall be able to travel throughout the length and breadth of these islands to carry on their fishing.

Is the Minister aware that the failure to reach a common fisheries policy is having a disastrous effect upon the distant water section of the industry, particularly as the EEC cannot allocate quotas to our vessels because it cannot reach an agreement with the third parties?

It is having a bad effect, not only on our fishermen but, incidentally, on the fishermen of other nations. But it is much better to face up to the difficulties that we are having and to produce a sensible, realistic, honourable fishing policy for this country than merely to give way because of the difficulties that have arisen.

Order. I am sorry that I shall not be able to call everyone with a fishing constituency interest, but I shall try to call spokesmen from the two other parties before I call the Front Bench.

Does not the Minister agree that not even the excellent fishing grounds off south Cornwall can solve the problems of the entire United Kingdom fishing fleet, which is what it is being asked to do now? How can a situation be justified in which a county with 15 per cent. unemployment has suddenly had an industry grow off its coast with a turnover of £40 million a year and has seen hardly one brass farthing of it?

I said that this is a difficulty. But I want to put this to the hon. Gentleman. Is it not just as bad to have a fishing resource that is available to the whole nation under-fished as it is to have it over-fished? Of that I am certain. I agree that mackerel will not solve the whole fishing policy of our country. It was never intended to do so. But it can be, and has been, an enormous help. About £15 million of exports have come as a result of our expanding the mackerel fisheries.

As the talks between Norway and the EEC have now broken down, will the Minister at his meeting discuss with his fellow Ministers the urgent need to go ahead and have unilateral discussions with the Norwegians, and then tell the EEC what arrangements he has made? Does he not agree that that would be a far more sensible way of undertaking these negotiations, as it is obvious that the EEC does not have a decent fisheries policy and never will have?

None the less, I hope that the negotiations which have broken down between the EEC and Norway will be resumed. Many of our fishermen fish off Norway. But I am also bound to agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that I have always found my discussions with my Norwegian opposite numbers to be extremely helpful and constructive.

Has the Minister been made aware that in the past two weeks there has been a growing feeling in the fishing industry that he is about to settle the common fisheries policy on unfavourable terms? Is he aware that, since the reply that the Minister of State gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) last week, the Government's negotiating position has not changed? Will he explain why, within the past few weeks, he has backtracked on his previous intention to reduce the mesh size for nephrops to 70mm?

As to the bulk of the hon. Gentleman's question, our position remains absolutely clear and everyone is totally aware of it. I am sorry that his right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) is not here at present. He told me that he would be going early. In the light of what the hon. Gentleman said, I have to say that his right hon. Friend's printed basis for a settlement seems to give away most of the things for which we are fighting. I take a very much stronger view.

I have by no means backtracked on the question of nephrops. The higher mesh is vitally needed, but I thought that it would help the French if they had rather more time—but not a great deal—in which to make the necessary change. The change was made in full consultation with the British fishing industry.