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Fishing Industry

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects next to meet representatives of the fishing industry.

I meet representatives of the industry frequently and will continue to do so, as the need arises. I certainly expect to meet them before the next Council of Fisheries Ministers.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the fishing industry is going through the worst crisis that anyone engaged in the industry can remember? Does he further accept that one major factor in the crisis is that, while the British fleet is cripplingly restricted in the fish it can catch and where it can catch them, foreign fish are flooding the country both on the quayside and in the inland markets? What consideration is he giving to the bringing in of import controls on subsidised foreign fish?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is grave concern throughout the industry. I have promised the industry that I will do all I can to find out if there is any evidence of foreign supplies being dumped in our markets. I have the support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade in that matter. I assure my hon. Friend that we are keeping the matter under close watch and we shall do what we can to help the industry.

Let me give the Secretary of State some evidence. Does he know that 180 boxes of prime white fish were unsold at Lerwick yesterday? It is suggested that that was due to imports and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into that matter.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that information, and I shall certainly follow it up.

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that the time for looking for evidence and information has long since passed? If the Government do not take urgent action, the inshore industry will be decimated in much the same way as much of the distant fleet has been in recent years. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will, before the end of the month, be a statement on Government action?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows from his experience that the collection of information is essential if we are to take action against foreign subsidies or dumping. He will also know that the most important thing for the fishing industry is to have a common fisheries policy which is acceptable to the industry. We are putting all possible skill and energy into providing that as soon as possible. In the meantime, I have promised the industry that I will look at all the suggestions that it has made. I make that promise to the hon. Gentleman as well.

In view of the general crisis facing the Scottish industry and, in particular, the problems of the shellfish sector, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he has given any consideration to the possibility of imposing a quota on scampi fishing?

One difficult matter, as my hon. Friend knows well, is that as fishing opportunities become fewer the existing fleet crowds into the restricted space and it becomes more difficult for all species of fishing. We will have that aspect uppermost in our minds in negotiating a common fisheries policy agreement.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when consultations will begin with the fishing industry and all the interests in it on the new body which is to supersede the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industries Board? Although it has been announced that there is to be a merger of the two bodies, the fishermen allege that no consultations have taken place with them, either on the role of the new agency, its membership or how it should be funded.

The fishermen can be assured that no decisions will be taken on the matter until consultations have taken place with them. I hope to get those consultations under way within the next month or two.