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Scottish Fishing Industry

Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet representatives of the Scottish fishing industry to discuss catches.

I met Scottish fishermen's representatives at the recent Glasgow fishing exhibition and my noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office, regularly meets them.

Is the Minister aware that in the past month in my constituency two fishing boats have been sold and another five boats are nearly on the market as the effects of the Government's failure ripple through the industry? Is he aware that I am not talking about big corporations but about small businesses and individuals who are now caught up in the worst of all possible economic worlds? They cannot catch enough fish to run their boats, but they are left with assets which cannot easily be converted. The Government have betrayed the fishing industry. The hon. Gentleman is in charge—what is he going to do about it?

That is a load of—[HON. MEMBERS: "Say it."] I was seeking a suitable expression. That is rubbish. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect any Government to guarantee the continued existence in its present shape of any industry in this country. He can, however, expect the Government to ensure that the industry's management is effective and ask the industry to be serious about conservation measures. We have improved management and we are seriously pursuing conservation measures, but we do not intend or claim that we can maintain the industry in its present state. The rationalisation of the industry is necessary, as it recognises.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great problems is the structure of the industry and that the bulk of the catch in Scotland is brought in by large vessels? Small vessels catch only a small proportion of the total catch. It would be extremely difficult for any scheme to benefit those who make such a small contribution to the total catch.

As I am sure that my hon. Friend knows, very small vessels are not subject to the licensing and quota arrangements. They remain outside the management system. We are concerned about the future of small fishermen. That is why we are introducing measures that will enable the fleet to rationalise sensibly through a combination of market forces and Government assistance which still represents one of the greatest financial commitments in any industry in this country in comparison with the industry's turnover.

Will the Minister confirm that he has had representations from fishermen on the west coast of Scotland about fishermen from the east coast who are forced to come round to the west because of restrictions imposed by the haddock quotas? Will he consider the proposal that west coast fishermen have put forward to introduce local fishing plans to protect their interests and to make prawns a pressure stock?

The hon. Gentleman knows that a consultation paper has been published on the west coast problem. We have received representations from the industry. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are considering those representations. If we think that further management measures on the west coast are necessary and that they will not penalise efficient fishing methods and add a new layer of bureaucracy for fishermen to cope with, we shall consider them seriously. We recognise that there is a problem.

When my hon. Friend meets Scottish fishermen, will he draw to their attention the view expressed to the three Members of Parliament for south Humberside last Friday when we met English fishing industry representatives from Hull and Grimsby? They felt that Scottish fishermen were getting a far better deal at the expense of English fishermen, which underlines exactly the point that my hon. Friend made earlier.

I regularly meet representatives of the English fishing industry and, indeed, the whole United Kingdom fishing industry. I have never felt that they are short of words and I am sure that they are capable of expressing those sentiments to Scottish fishermen.

As the Minister has acknowledged that the fishing industry is going through perilous times and that drastic and painful restructuring is needed, with which the industry is prepared to co-operate, why does he continue to set his face against the decommissioning scheme and the temporary lay-off scheme so that restructuring could be carried out sensibly and the people concerned receive proper compensation? Do we have to invent mad fish disease before he is prepared to give the matter his attention?

If the hon. Gentleman wants a sensible restructuring of the industry, a decommissioning scheme is just about the last way to go about it. Capacity would not necessarily be reduced and people would not necessarily leave the fishing fleet as we should like. It would be a very expensive option. It would be much more sensible to pursue a twin course. First, we must give fishermen the right to make their own decisions. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman the licensing aggregation proposals. Secondly, we must pursue the adoption of conservation measures at the European level. We shall pursue those courses and they will result in an efficient, well-structured British fleet which is competitive on a European scale.