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Fish (Dumping At Sea)

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 12 November 1981

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7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether there has been an increase in the amount of fish dumped at sea during the last 12 months; and what is the size of the increase.

Fish is returned to the sea for a number of reasons. It is not possible to give the figures requested.

Is it not a scandal that, according to recent newspaper reports, as much as 1,300 tonnes of fish were dumped at sea in the past 12 months because of Common Market rules? Is that not in conflict with the generalities that the Prime Minister trotted out when she came back from the Mexico summit about looking after the starving millions in the Third world? What about that grandiose Common Market aid through which cheap food, including fish, would be used to help schools, hospitals and charities in Common Market countries?

I have previously welcomed the hon. Gentleman's interest in fishing matters, but I should be better pleased if he put his interests in the fishing industry into perspective. The known amount of fish that has had to be dumped at sea is less than 0·2 per cent. of total landings. If the hon. Gentleman knew a little about the organisation of the fishing industry, in which fishermen have to work under natural conditions and where there can be no certainty of what is to be caught or when, I should have more respect for his criticisms.

Will my right hon. Friend reread the section of the Select Committee report on the British fishing industry in which the practice of dumping is condemned, because it makes it impossible to have accurate records of the attrition rate of the fish breeding stock?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that unless fish are landed no records are kept? Does he further agree that dumping seriously pollutes the seabed and that therefore fish are not fit for human consumption when they are landed mixed up with rotten fish which have been dumped on the seabed?

I take the point, which my hon. Friend made forcefully in a Select Committee report, that where dumping takes place and causes pollution, measures must be taken—and, indeed, have been—it is difficult to obtain accurate figures, because there are many different reasons why fishermen have to discard fish. Some are not solely related to intervention. One would put an impossible bureaucratic burden on fishermen if a record had to be kept of every fish dumped.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has betrayed his ignorance of the fishing industry and that any proper conservation policy based upon—

Order. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will do me a favour and just shake his head when he disagrees. It would be just as effective and would be very helpful to us all.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) in the brief introduction to his question talked about betrayal. I wish to put it on record once again—

Order. That cannot be a point of order. I acted as kindly as I could to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has it not been the case for a long time that a question should refer either to the question on the Order Supplementary Paper or to the ministerial reply? The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who represents some organisation or other, began his question with a subject that had nothing to do with the question or the reply by the Minister. Therefore, it must have been out of order.

I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). As usual, he is absolutely right. His observations would apply to 99 per cent. of the questions.

Does the Minister recognise, even if the hon. Member for Bolsover does not, that the fishing industry is concerned about the by-catch regulations and that there is some need for the Minister to take a further look at that matter with a view to more flexible rules being made to allow by-catches to be landed and used for human consumption?

The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point, which has been debated at length both inside and outside the industry. The general view of the industry—and it has been the view of successive Governments both before and since we entered Europe—is that, in the interests of the enforcement of conservation measures—conservation measures are worthless unless they are enforced—the returning of excessive by-catches at sea is probably one of the best methods of ensuring enforcement.

How is the Minister unable to answer the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but is able to give a percentage of the fish that are actually dumped? Is not that gross duplicity? Is he not aware that, whatever the percentage, hon. Members and fishermen are concerned about dumping? From his information, will he tell us the nationality of the fishermen who dump that fish, dividing it between Scots and English?

If the hon. Gentleman had more interest in and knowledge of the fishing industry, perhaps he would have listened to my reply. While I said that it was not possible to know the totality of the fish dumped at sea, I was able to say, in reply to the supplementary question by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), what percentage of fish landed that had gone into intervention was dumped at sea. Those are two different questions. I cannot help if the hon. Gentleman fails to wash his ears.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned, as I am, at the reports of the dumping of fish on board East European vessels for cash outside the official quotas? Will he take steps to ensure that that is stopped?

My hon. Friend raises a real problem. As he knows, new measures have been taken to control mackerel fishing off the West Coast of Scotland. Policing and enforcement have been much more effective. If my hon. Friend knows of any instances of breaches, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be delighted to know about them.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on points of order being raised during Question Time. Is it not a well-established practice that points of order unnecessarily raised during Question Time have the effect of denying hon. Members the opportunity of asking a question and receiving an answer? Would you care, Mr. Speaker, to make your statement afresh on this point, referring particularly to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and your excellent suggestion that the hon. Gentleman might indicate dissent by shaking his head? Has not long experience taught all hon. Members that the hon. Member for Bolsover is unable to move his head in any direction—

Order. As the House knows, I have repeatedly said that if hon. Members feel agitated during Question Time and wish to raise a point of order, it helps if they leave it to the end of Question Time.