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Fishing Industry (Aid)

Volume 19: debated on Sunday 4 April 1982

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7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received from the fishing industry in England and Wales about financial aid.

My right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland met representatives of the fishing industry on 17 February. My right hon. Friend has also received written submissions from several bodies, including the main organisations representing fishermen.

Has the Minister and his right hon. Friends had time, since those meetings and the other meetings that many other hon. Members attended on 17 February, to prepare a response to the arguments of the industry? Does he recognise that all the difficulties faced by the industry are not of its making but are the results of such problems as failing to get a satisfactory common fisheries policy? Will he recognise in his response that many of the problems apply just as strongly to vessels of less than 80 ft. as they do to the larger vessels?

Submissions have been received that bring in a variety of information, and it will take a little time to study that information and put it all together. The study has not yet been completed, but I assure the hon. Member and the House that as soon as it has been we shall come to a decision.

The general problems facing the fishing industry are something that must be recognised in our negotiations with Europe, which, in previous years has given us generous support.

Is the Minister aware that in Hull we are in such a desperate plight that we are forced to scour the world to sell our ships? We have been to West Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Has the Minister any plans to alleviate the misery of our fishermen?

We are considering the cases presented to us. The hon. Gentleman knows that in previous aid schemes the particular area fleet that he mentioned was generously treated. For example, during the last two years it received almost £7½ million, which is a substantial amount of public money.

Although Government aid to the fishing industry has been about £58 million a year, does the Minister recognise that there is still a case for further aid, pending restructuring? Does he also recognise that there is a special case for distant-water vessels and vessels under 60 ft. long?

A great variety of cases have been put to us and that is what we are studying. I am not prepared to come to a conclusion until I have analysed all the evidence that was put to me. I assure my hon. Friend that we are analysing this very carefully.

What consultation has the Minister had with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on this issue? Since a cash emergency is facing the industry, can the Minister confirm that he has contingency funds to distribute to the industry at short notice?

My consultations with my right hon. Friend are daily. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall carefully consider the case that he has presented.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Bridlington fishing fleet the need for financial aid will be much greater if in the fourth quarter of this year we have a repeat of what happened last year, when the fleet was restricted from fishing for cod? If it cannot fish for cod at that time of the year there are no other fish available and the fleet has to tie up.

I understand the problems about certain restrictions that we had to put on, but, equally, I ask my hon. Friend to recognise, as I am sure the fishing industry recognises, that unless we have effective conservation policies there will be no fish for future generations to fish. We must think of our responsibilities in the long-term as well as in the short-term.

Does the Minister accept that the Opposition understand the complexity and we do not ask him to give a blanket assistance to every part of the industry? Will the Minister also accept that this is a matter of urgency and that differential aids for different parts and types of fishing, both in financial and conservation terms, together with opening up of stocks, is the way forward to assist in this difficult position?

Yes, and with the previous aid schemes there was differentiation between the different size of vessels. We certainly take on board the right hon. Gentleman's point.