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Fishing Industry

Volume 986: debated on Thursday 19 June 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to ensure the viability of the fishing industry while a common fisheries policy is being negotiated.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

With other Fisheries Ministers, my right hon. Friend has arranged to meet representatives of the industry on 3 July to examine the position in the industry.

Even though my hon. Friend is unable to impose a unilateral ban on the import of fish, does he recognise that there will have to be a substantial reduction in the concessions on import tariffs on white fish from third countries? Otherwise such places as Arbroath and elsewhere on the East Coast of Scotland will not have a viable fish industry once the common fisheries policy has been renegotiated.

That is precisely why we have pressed the Commission to review the reference prices, which it has done. We are now considering the restoration of certain reductions in tariffs. Full information will be available by the time that we meet the industry at the beginning of July.

Because more vessels have been laid up during the period since the Government's temporary aid scheme began, is it not time that the Minister stopped dangling before the fishing industry the prospect of "Eurocash" and gave immediate aid on the same scale as that received by our Continental competitors?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has recognised that we, too, give aid to our industry. Whatever he may say, the industry has expressed satisfaction, and is glad to be able to meet us at the beginning of July to discuss the matter further.

During the interim period before that meeting will my hon. Friend bear in mind the position of the British inshore fishing industry, over which the Government have control? Will he also bear in mind that the industry needs protection—not necessarily financial protection—from incursions from other parts of Britain into the South-West mackerel stock?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are very much aware of the problems, especially in relation to the South-West mackerel stock. I visited the area last year. We shall do all that we can help the industry on the licensing arrangement that has been under discussion.

As there will be discussions on 3 July to reflect the extra period for negotiations on the fishing agreement, will the Minister bear in mind the unique problems of Hull—not only its wish to retain its industry, but its need for landing facilities? Is the Minister aware that the British Transport Docks Board has agreed to close the port by the end of this month? Will he take steps to ensure that we at least keep a fish landing facility in the port of Hull during negotiations?

The purpose of the meeting on 3 July does not relate to the common fisheries policy, but is specifically about the financial state of the industry.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, in spite of some recent firming up of the market, cheap foreign imports are still contributing massively to the problems of the British fishing industry? Will he tell the House about the latest assurances that he has received from our EEC partners to the effect that they are at last doing something to crack down harder on illegal fishing by their fishermen?

The French are currently taking a number of cases through their courts, and at the same time they are increasing their fisheries protection effort. We shall continue to apply our measures, without any discrimination, against any country that sends boats to our waters.

Is not the Minister aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when he made his statement on financial aid on 13 March, said :

"the Government consider it important to retain a viable fishing industry until such time as we agree on a common fishing policy."—[Official Report, 13 March 1980; Vol 980, c. 1582.]
Since that time, the position in the industry has worsened considerably. Cheap fish imports continue to flood into Britain, and if a settlement on the CFP is not reached until January 1981 the parlous position in the fishing industry will become a total disaster. Why cannot the hon. Gentleman tell the House today—because every week is important—what he intends to do, and what financial aid he is prepared to give?

I am not unaware of the present anxiety in the fishing industry. The aid to be provided to the industry is precisely the figure which was suggested from the right hon. Gentleman's Front Bench during our debate on this matter earlier this year. The industry has agreed with us to prepare its case. We asked it several weeks ago for the figures regarding the current situation. It agreed to meet us at the beginning of July and it has agreed to provide us with figures before the end of this month. It that does not show action, I do not know what does.

Am I to take it from what the hon. Gentleman has said, and in co-operation with the industry, that further financial aid will be forthcoming to the industry on 3 July?

What I said, and what I make absolutely clear, is that, as the right hon. Gentleman must know in a case such as this, one has first to know the precise circumstances of the industry. One of the things which the industry is doing is providing us with that financial case. Until now, it has not done so. I do not blame the industry for that. The timetable that we have given to the industry has been accepted by the industry, and the industry has shown that it is willing to co-operate with us in it. Obviously, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, it will be to its great detriment if it tries to co-operate with the Opposition.