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Fishing Industry (Fleet Restructuring)

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 15 May 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the delay in obtaining a new common fisheries policy within the member States of the European Economic Community, he will now start discussions with all sections of the fishing industry on the restructuring of the fleet.

This issue must be considered in the context of the common fisheries policy and we shall discuss it with the industry as soon as developments permit.

I am grateful for the support from the Opposition Benches on this question. It is certain that this question arises out of the common fisheries policy agreement, but only this week France has given—[Interruption.]

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Is my hon. Friend aware that France has given the equivalent of £20 million to restructure its fleet, even before the CFP has been agreed? In these circumstances, is it not time that our Government made a similar move?

Perhaps I might ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that in 1980–81 the United Kingdom Government are giving about £22 million to its fishing industry? I accept the problems facing the industry. It was precisely for that reason that from the beginning of April we introduced a temporary scheme to assist the industry during the months ahead.

Is not the fleet being restructured by the disappearance of the deep-water fleet? Does the Minister recognise that, nothwithstanding the aid that he has given, the time scale of renegotiation of the CFP simply will not allow us to have anything to replace that fleet in the future?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit that the United Kingdom fishing fleet has never been static in this respect. It has always been in a changing pattern. Anyone who has looked at its structure over the years will have seen how much it has changed and adapted to different situations. In this respect, the industry today is no different from what it was many years ago, and no doubt it will face changes in the future. We hope that at the next Fisheries Ministers Council, which I hope will be in June, we can make progress on these major issues, which will then give us a proper basis for restructuring policies.

Will the Minister and the Government accept that whatever they do to alter—for the better, I hope—the size and shape of our fleet, there are scores of magnificent modern vessels which are fit to catch fish in the Arctic lying doing nothing in Hull dock and will never catch fish again? Will he talk to his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy and see about converting some of these boats into either minesweepers or possibly—this is much more important—fishery protection vessels to guard our shores and enforce conservation measures?

I understand that that point was made in the House in the recent debate on the defence White Paper.

Am I to understand from the Minister's recent reply that the next Fisheries Council meeting is expected to be held in June? Is he not aware that a date for the next meeting was fixed for 27 May? If it is not to be held on that date, does that mean that the common fisheries policy will be raked over in the summit Council meeting on 12 June?

No date in May has been firmly fixed for a Fisheries Council meeting. A number of other Council meetings are taking place. A proper estimate for the Fisheries Council meeting could be the end of May. or possibly in June. I hope that it will be within the next four weeks.