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Fishing Industry

Volume 168: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on the current situation in the Scottish fishing industry.

My right hon. and learned Friend discussed the industry's: problems recently with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. The Government will be monitoring the situation closely and will, as always, keep in regular contact with the industry.

When will the Government act to prevent an increase in fishing activity off the west coast of Scotland as a direct result of limits imposed on east-coast fishing? Does the Minister agree that such an increase is harmful to conservation and to the fragile communities that live on the west coast, and will he undertake to act immediately to stop such encroachments?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but, as he will appreciate, there are certain historic rights of access on the west coast. He will know that we have already taken action: for example, we have proposed that fishermen should radio in when they cross the 4 degree line—a suggestion which came from the fishing industry. We are waiting for a report from our scientists on the position relating to nephrops. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep the matter under close review, and give consideration to whatever action is necessary.

Why are the Government so opposed to the introduction of a decommissiong scheme? Would not that be the best safeguard for the future of the industry, and the contribution that it makes to our economy and to the future of the many fishing communities around our coast?

I welcome my right hon. Friend back to Scottish questions. He will know that we have considered the matter carefully and that the last time such a scheme was tried, it was not successful. It would be a very costly exercise; it would probably take out the least efficient fishermen and would not be the best way to resolve the problem. However, we are aware of the difficulties and are continuing to keep in close touch with the European Commission on these matters and on how to reduce overfishing.

Does the Minister recognise that the Scottish fishing industry has been severely hit, not simply because the weather is worse than usual, but because of the new regulations for unemployment benefit? Many of those employed in the Scottish fishing industry do not earn an income as they are not working, and do not get benefit. Under the new circumstances, will the Minister give further consideration to aiding the Scottish fishing industry?

I shall certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman said. He will be aware that last year the total income of the Scottish industry was only 3 per cent. lower in cash terms than the previous record year, and in previous years the income of the industry rose substantially.

With reference to the thoughtful question put by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), why do not the Government show the same sympathy to fishermen as they express when farmers are in trouble? When will the Government introduce a maritime counterpart to the set-aside scheme? Is it not the case that vis-a-vis the multiannual guidance programme obligations, some 200 to 300 fishing vessels will have to be stripped from the Scottish fishing fleet within the next two years? When will the Government play the game by introducing a fair and reasonable decommissioning scheme for the industry?

I have already answered the question about a decommissioning scheme. The Government's concern for the fishing industry has become apparent from the close and detailed attention that it has received from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in recent months. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the success of my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend at the Council meeting last December in securing a good deal for this country.