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Fishing Industry

Volume 974: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent meetings he has had with representatives of the fishing industry.

I met representatives of the fishing industry in Luxembourg at the time of the Council of Fisheries Miniters on 29 October 1979. My noble Friend the Minister of State attended on my behalf a meeting with representatives of the industry on 25 October in advance of that Council.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he realise that the economic crisis now hitting the fishing industry in general has brought Aberdeen in particular almost to its knees? Can he say when he now intends to give Aberdeen port the same kind of aid that has already been given to Hull, Fleetwood and Grimsby? When can the fishing industry expect a fuel subsidy in the light of the forthcoming fuel rises, in the same way as the French Government give a subsidy to the French fishing industry?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about what is happening in the port of Aberdeen at the moment. I am considering the case which was put to the previous Administration, and which is still before me, about assistance for the port. As to fuel subsidies, as my hon. Friend will know, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is looking into the question whether other countries are taking an unfair advantage by granting a fuel subsidy. I look forward to seeing the results of his investigations.

Has the Secretary of State had any further discussions with the industry over the quota system which, as he knows, has aroused considerable misgivings?

This is one of the aspects that we are continually discussing with our partners in relation to a common fisheries policy. Though we have not reached substantive discussions on that point yet, it is one of the subjects that should form part of our discussion.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we welcome the sudden support of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) of subsidy for private industry? It is very welcome indeed. Will the Minister go further and make it clear that it is the Government's intention to protect the British fishing industry against all challenges from outside? Will he once again repeat an assurance he gave previously, that it would be quite impossible for his Government to trade off the fishing industry against other aspects of EEC policy?

I am glad to repeat that assurance. We have no intention of considering a common fisheries policy in any context other than that of fisheries policy generally. It is the Government's intention to make sure that our negotiations are based on the essential interests of our own fishing industry. My right hon. Friend and I shall work on that basis.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether he has had any recent discussions on the proposed increase in the White Fish Authority general levy? Is he aware that the processors face difficult times? Has he been able to offer them any comfort?

I am well aware of the difficulties that the processors are experiencing. We are in continual touch with them and other fisheries interests about this. However—and this applies to processors as well as to the rest of the industry—the essential and crying need is to move as fast as we can towards an acceptable common fisheries policy. That is what the Government are concentrating upon.

In view of the continuing uncertainty over the future of the fishing industry, is the Secretary of State ready to inform the House of any progress in the talks that were conducted by the previous Administration on the restructuring of the industry? What financial provision will the Government make for aid for that restructuring if and when it arrives?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I think that he will probably agree that all matters regarding the future of the fishing industry are dominated by the need for a common fisheries policy. That is what prevents us from having detailed discussions on individual aspects at present. A common fisheries policy is the real key to the secure future of the industry which we all seek.