HC Deb 20 June 1961 vol 642 cc1158-61
20. Mr. Hoy

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland in view of the numbers of foreign trawlers fishing in the Moray Firth and Firth of Clyde, which are at present denied to United Kingdom trawlers, what action he proposes taking in the matter in order to assist United Kingdom fishermen.

28. Mr. John MacLeod

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will now consider taking steps to close the Moray Firth and the Minch to foreign trawlers.

Mr. Leburn

I have nothing to add to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave on 18th May to the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes).

Mr. Hoy

This is extremely disappointing. Is the Under-Secretary not aware of what is happening in regard to the fishing grounds throughout the world? Does he not appreciate that these foreign trawlers fish in these grounds that the Government deny to British fishermen? In view of all that is happening, has not the hon. Gentleman anything more to say? Is not the Government even considering what their policy is to be in regard to these grounds? Does he appreciate that if he does not do something soon, the fishermen will do it for him?

Mr. Leburn

Of course, I realise the difficulties here, but I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend said: that the Government are keeping fishery limits under review in the light of all relevant factors.

Mr. MacLeod

It is quite ridiculous that foreign vessels should be allowed to fish these grounds and that our own fishermen should be denied them. Cannot my hon. Friend treat this matter with far more urgency?

Mr. Leburn

I am afraid that I cannot add anything to what I have said.

Mr. T. Fraser

Is not the Under-Secretary aware that a week ago I got from his hon. Friend a Parliamentary Answer which showed that on 147 occasions last year foreign trawlers, French and Belgian, were observed fishing in these prohibited areas? What is the point of making the observation unless action is to be taken? Have the Government even made representations to the French and Belgian Governments about poaching in these areas?

Mr. Leburn

These trawlers cannot land their catches in this country for two months after.

Mr. Stodart

Is it not the fact that the judgment of the Scottish Court of Session in 1905 made it illegal for foreign trawlers to fish within the Moray Firth, and should not a decision of the 12 judges of the Court of Session be upheld?

Mr. Leburn

While that is perfectly true, Her Majesty's Government have not the power to arrest foreign vessels on the high seas.

22. Mr. Hoy

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to protect the fish stocks in the Moray Firth and Firth of Clyde.

Mr. Leburn

The measures taken by Her Majesty's Government, in concert with the other signatories of the Over-fishing Convention of 1946 to prevent overfishing, apply generally to the areas referred to in the Question, and consist of regulations governing the mesh of fishing nets and the minimum sizes of white fish that may be landed. Her Majesty's Government take every opportunity of seeking the agreement of other countries to the introduction of more effective conservation measures, and took a lead in the negotiations for the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention of 1959. This provides machinery for more comprehensive measures, but has not yet entered into force.

Mr. Hoy

Arising out of that Answer, did not the hon. Gentleman state in reply to Question No. 20 that these fish could not be landed in this country? As a consequence of that, neither he nor the Government can check what fish are being landed in the countries to which they are taken, and our own fishermen assert that this trawling is destroying the fishing grounds and fishing beds in these areas. What we want from the Government is action to protect these grounds from the catching of small and immature fish, which will eventually destroy the fishing grounds altogether.

Mr. Leburn

I have already said that this is a difficult matter, but the number of foreign trawlers fishing in these areas is not large, and they usually come in only at certain seasons—

Mr. Hoy

I know.

Mr. Leburn

There has undoubtedly been a decline in haddock stocks and whiting stocks recently, but I am advised that this is mainly due to natural causes.

Mr. Hector Hughes

As the Minister has just said, this is a difficult matter, but is it not obvious from his Answer to Questions Nos. 20 and 22 that it is far too difficult for the Scottish Office, which is unable to solve the relevant problems? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ask the Prime Minister to appoint a Minister of Cabinet rank devoted entirely to the distribution—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This string of requests from Minister to Minister is out of order.

Mr. Hoy

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory reply given to this Question, and in view of the importance of this industry to Scotland, I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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