§ 10.0 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Anthony Crosland)
I beg to move,That the Import Duties (General) (No. 11) Order, 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1778), dated 6th November, 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th November, be approved.This Order reimposes an ad valorem import duty at the rate of 10 per cent. on imports from E.F.T.A. of chilled or frozen fish fillets. In effect, it restores the full most-favoured nation duty on all imports of frozen fillets landed from E.F.T.A. sources, and thus suspends the duty-free treatment granted on these imports since 1959.
The background to this decision will be familiar to those hon. Members who are concerned with the fishing industry. As part of the negotiations on the E.F.T.A. Convention in 1959, a special regime was agreed for frozen fish fillets, of which details were given to the House on 30th November, 1959, by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now Lord Amory. Under these arrangements, the United Kingdom agreed to grant duty-free treatment to imports of frozen fillets from E.F.T.A. countries. But this concession was made on the recorded understanding that exports of frozen fillets from Denmark, Norway and Sweden and their dependencies in E.F.T.A. would expand in a gradual and orderly way, and would not exceed an annual rate of 24,000 tons by 1st January, 1970.
Specific provision was made for what might be done if this assumption was not fulfilled. The remedy wasto modify the tariff reductions already made in so far as this may be necessary to avoid serious disturbance in the U.K. market",and this course of action was clearly stated to be open to us if alternative remedies could not be agreed upon. The only qualification was that, if we had to use this remedy, it would not be our objective to reduce E.F.T.A. imports below the level of 24,000 tons per annum.
Imports exceeded the agreed level in 1965, reaching over 28,000 tons. But at that time the market was comparatively firm, and the exporting countries said 1168 that the increase was not expected to continue. We therefore decided, after discussions with the three countries concerned, to take no immediate action but to keep the position under review. But, after declining in 1966, imports again rose during the latter part of 1967 and by mid-1968 were much above the agreed level. Moreover, the British market was by now much weaker than in 1965 and the British fishing industry substantially less profitable.
The Government therefore brought into play the agreed procedure. We convened four-power talks which were held in London and in Copenhagen this August. Officials tried hard to reach agreement on a formula which would discourage the Scandinavians from marketing frozen fillets in excessive quantities and at unreasonably low prices. But, in the event, the Norwegian Government found itself unable to accept any form of voluntary restraint, and the Danish and Swedish Governments took the same view. Again following the agreed procedure, the issue was referred to the E.F.T.A. Council in Geneva, where it was thoroughly debated, but by the end of October no solution had been reached. Imports from E.F.T.A. sources continued to mount, the September figure was 3,500 tons, and by the end of October the cumulative total for the previous 12 months was 33,200 tons, at a time when the difficulties in the British market showed no signs of diminishing.
We therefore decided, as we were fully entitled to under the agreed procedure, to restore the tariff at the full most-favoured nation rate of 10 per cent., and the decision was announced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 6th November. Subsequently, the matter was again raised at the recent E.F.T.A. Ministerial Council in Vienna, when my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food put the British case with great skill. The Scandinavian Ministers advanced various arguments against our decision—that the quantities concerned were marginal, that consumption of frozen fillets had risen rapidly, that there was no evidence of disruption in the British market. I replied for the British Government that marginal quantities often had a disproportionate effect in a falling 1169 market, that consumption of all kinds of fish—which alone is the relevant factor—was very static, and that from my own constituency experience, apart from anything else, conditions in the British market were, to say the least, extremely worrying. I therefore could not agree to go back on our decision, though, I willingly agreed to a joint review of the situation in February or March next year.
The Order before the House accordingly reimposes the duty at its pre-1959 level with effect from 9th November, and if the Order is approved that duty will apply until revoked or reduced.
There are two points that I should make clear. First, I of course fully accept the provision in the 1959 arrangements to which I have already referred, that it is not our object to reduce imports from E.F.T.A. sources below the level of 24,000 tons a year. That, however, is at the moment a hypothetical situation.
Secondly, we are operating under the arrangements which were agreed for the period up to 1st January, 1970. It was agreed in 1959 that before that date the four Governments concerned would consult about the regime to be applied from 1970 onwards. What that regime will be depends. of course, on the outcome of negotiations which have yet to be held. This Order does not prejudge in any way what the regime should be from 1970 onwards, nor does it prevent our taking, at any time, any further action consistent with our international obligations if, in our judgment, this should be necessary.
The House has more than once expressed its concern, which I strongly share, over the difficulties facing the British fishing industry. This Measure is intended to deal with one aspect of the problem, the current high level of imports of frozen fillets from E.F.T.A. sources. It has been taken after detailed talks with our Scandinavian and E.F.T.A. partners. These talks have shown that our Scandinavian partners cannot give us any assurance that imports will not continue to increase beyond the level agreed in 1959. We have, therefore, been forced to take this action. We have throughout, as I hope the House will agree, acted correctly, with moderation, and in full accordance with our international obligations. But, at the end of the day, we also have obligations 1170 to our own fishing industry. I, therefore, ask the House to approve an Order withdrawing a concession made by the United Kingdom on a condition which has manifestly not been fulfilled, and giving us a remedy specifically reserved to us when that concession was made.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would remind the House, especially as I see some very enthusiastic fishermen here, that we are debating simply whether or not a 10 per cent. duty should be imposed on chilled or frozen fish fillets.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
It is very pleasant to be able to welcome the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) back to our debates on fishing, and I am sure that we are all grateful to him as President of the Board of Trade for coming down to the House at this late hour to introduce this Order.
This Order, as he said, is introduced when the position of the fishing industry is far from happy. Landings are up, grossings are down, as we have said already in previous debates, so that I shall repeat only one figure. The distant water vessels today are losing some £ 18 6s. per vessel per day, with the result that ships are laid up or scrapped. The reason for this is not inefficiency in the British fishing fleet but the loss of traditional grounds and the fact that we are the largest open market for fish in Europe——
§ Mr. Wall
I note your warning, Mr. Speaker, but I thought it relevant to say that we are the largest open market for fish in Europe because that is relevant to the fact that the President of the Board of Trade wants to put a 10 per cent. tariff on imported frozen fillets from E.F.T.A. sources.
We believe this Order is justified because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the agreed amount of imports, 24,000 tons of frozen fish fillets, has been exceeded. He pointed out, and this is of great importance to the House and to our standing in the world, that the agreed procedure under the E.F.T.A. arrangement has been carried out most scrupulously by the 1171 British Government. As the President said, the import figure in 1965 rose above the agreed amount. This led to discussions, but if was rightly decided to take no action. I say rightly because in 1966 the imports fell well below the agreed figure, but they rose again in 1967. In 1968 the figure given by the President of the Board of Trade was 33,200 tons, roughly 10,000 tons more than the agreed maximum. Therefore, it is obviously right for the Government to undertake talks, as they did, both in London and in Copenhagen, and the matter was raised in the E.F.T.A. Council in Vienna.
As we were told today, and as we have read in the Press, our partners in E.F.T.A., particularly, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, failed to agree with us to reduce to the agreed minimum their exports to this country of frozen fillets. We are therefore, obviously within our rights to put forward this Order. But it is equally clear that our E.F.T.A. partners will be annoyed with us for so doing.
There are two basic questions which I will ask the Minister and which he will no doubt deal with in replying to the debate. First, will it work? There are two reasons why I am worried that the Order may not achieve its objective. First, there are the subsidies which Norway pays to her fishing industry. These subsidies have risen from £6.7 million in 1966–67 to £9.7 million in 1967–68, and to £11.5 million in 1968–69. These figures are quoted from Norwegian sources. Other higher figures have been quoted, but the figures I have quoted are related to the value of sterling before devaluation.
We on this side of the House know that Norway's fishing industry is more important to her as a national industry than is British fishing in relation to our industrial capacity. We know that Norway depends upon small, scattered fishing communities, and that something like 80 per cent. of her fish is processed and exported. What is to stop Norway increasing her subsidies once again in progression, as she has done for the last three years, so making it well worth while for her exporters to send frozen fillets to this country, while the Norwegian Government absorbs the extra 1172 10 per cent. which we are now to charge?
My second question concerns Iceland. Iceland is not yet a member of E.F.T.A. and, strictly speaking, the Order does not apply to Iceland. But I understand that the Parliament of Iceland has now decided to make application to join E.F.T.A. Is the Minister thinking of the long-term problems that this Order, or similar Orders, should deal with? Iceland devalued by 25 per cent. last year and by 35 per cent. this year. It is quite likely that Icelandic fillets may flood this market because of that 60 per cent. devaluation. In 1967 they sent us £1,800,000 worth of fish and fish products. Are the Norwegian fish fillets which have been flooding the country now to be substituted by Icelandic fish fillets?
I sum up by saying that we on this side believe that the Order is necessary, but that it is only a temporary palliative. In any case, as the Minister told the House, the whole question has to be discussed next year under the original 1959 Agreement. The Minister has told us that it will be at the beginning of next year, in February or March. Therefore, the Order can be only for a period of a year or so. It is clear that the Order is welcomed by the industry. It is equally clear that it is not welcomed by our E.F.T.A. partners. The important factor here is that the Government have gone through all the processes of negotiation, and are completely justified in bringing the Order to the House. We submit that there is a real need for an investigation into the whole question of fish imports in the long term——
§ Mr. Wall
We accept the need for the Order, which is welcomed by the industry. It is an Order which we have been told will be renegotiated within the next 18 months. We believe that it is only a temporary palliative, and that we should go very much further in our investigations, as other countries may also use the open market that this country presents for dumping their subsidised or excess fish.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on being able, on this occasion, to combine with such a degree of felicity both his interest as President of the Board of Trade and his interest as the hon. Member for Grimsby. It must have been very galling for him in the past to have attended such debates as this and not to have been able to take part in them. We all know of his interest in the industry, his interest in his constituency, and his interest, too, with the other side of the Humber on this one particular point.
What general effect does my right hon. Friend think that the Order will have on United Kingdom production of this commodity? The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) has already referred to Norway's trying to undercut us by increasing her subsidies to her own industry. There is one obvious answer to that, which is that the trawler owners, who are begging for subsidies from our own Government on the one hand, and importing foreign fish cheaply on the other hand, could stop importing the foreign fish if they so wished. Perhaps the subsidy should geared to some such provision.
We have a real problem to face here, and we have also a problem in the devaluation of the Icelandic currency. A few weeks ago I put down a Parliamentary Question to my right hon. Friend on the effect of the devaluation of Icelandic currency in relation to this Order, and he was not then able even to hazard a guess. Perhaps he might be able to do so this evening, and also hazard a guess on the possible effect of increased production and sales of the British commodity.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade on their having conducted the E.F.T.A. negotiations very skilfully and, as the hon. Member for Haltemprice said, most scrupulously. It might have been better if we had had rather more praise coming from other quarters for the attention which the Government have paid to this industry, and more congratulation on their great efforts for people who earn their living from the sea——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are not concerned about the efforts the Government have made, except by imposing a 10 per cent. import duty on chilled fish.
§ Mr. McNamara
That the Government should impose a 10 per cent. duty on chilled fish shows how dear to them are the interests of our constituents on Humberside.
What future does my right hon. Friend see for the industry when this duty ends? This is an important point in view of the negotiations which are to take place within E.F.T.A. The relative importance of the fishing industry to the nation's industry as a whole as compared with Norway, and to a greater extent in Iceland, does not make this issue one of such vital importance to the United Kingdom as a whole, but it is of great importance to those in fishing industry constituencies.
I might add that, after some of the discussions we have had recently, it is interesting to see the Opposition approving an import surcharge.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
It may seem curious that the hon. Member for Banbury should take part in a debate on fish fillets. Banbury is perhaps the constituency furthest away from the sea. I have no constituency interest and no financial interest in fish or in fish fillets. I speak as Chairman of the Anglo-Norwegian Parliamentary Group, and perhaps one of the purposes which the Inter-Parliamentary Union can serve is to see that, in such a debate as this, the view of the Norwegians, which the Minister has very fairly put, can also be put by a member of the group.
I am concerned with the effect of the Order upon Anglo-Norwegian trading relations and our relations and Britain's good name within E.F.T.A. The Minister said that in the 1959 negotiations fish fillets were accorded free trade status provided E.F.T.A. exports to the United Kingdom did not exceed 24,000 tons by 1st January, 1970. The Record of Understanding stated that any excess above 24,000 tons should be discussed having regard to two factors—first, the conditions prevailing in the fishing industry—about which I know very little—and, secondly, the curent trends of consumptions in the United Kingdom market.
1175 On the first, I wonder whether the 10 per cent. duty which has been imposed will have the desired effect. On the second point, concerning current trends of consumption in the United Kingdom market, consumption has increased by between 10 per cent. and 12 per cent. a year. Therefore, it is obvious that these imports, which have increased from 5,900 tons in 1959 to the figure that the Minister gave of 33,200 tons in the present year are the very essence of the spirit and purpose of E.F.T.A. According to my understanding, the E.F.T.A. agreement provided that we would discuss the current trends of consumption—and this increase is part of the changing pattern of consumption in this country.
A civilised trading nation such as we are should take note of the effect of these tariffs, import duties and preferences on the people affected, and their livelihoods. As my hon. Friend said, the Order will affect those fishermen in North Norway. Those who know North Norway will appreciate that alternative sources of income are few, as are alternative kinds of employment. The fishermen of North Norway will suffer. There is an analogy here with the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. In a similar way to that in which the 1959 negotiations were designed to protect the Norwegian fishermen, the Sugar Agreement protects Mauritius, Swaziland, Fiji and the West Indies. It is designed to protect the people and the stability of their countries, as is the case here with North Norway.
Returning to the figure of 24,000 tons, I doubt whether the excess above that figure will have very much effect upon the fishing industry. If it is acceptable up to 24,000 tons I should like to know whether the Minister will tell us why he did not place an even higher duty upon the excess over 24,000 tons.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member cannot amend the Order. He can argue against or for the 10 per cent. He cannot amend the Order.
§ Mr. Marten
My argument against the Order is that a duty should have been imposed on an excess over 24,000 tons but that the 24,000 tons should have been allowed in free of duty.
1176 It is important to realise that while the export of fish fillets from Norway has risen her export of other fish to us has fallen. That is a balancing factor which should be taken into account in our study of this question. I do not like the Order because it is another slight black mark against this country in the E.F.T.A. context of our trade with Norway. We had the import surcharge, investment grants, customs import deposits, aluminium smelters, devaluation——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot debate the whole policy of the Government and their relations with E.F.T.A. We are imposing a 10 per cent. duty on chilled frozen fish.
§ Mr. Marten
I end, following on your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, by expressing the hope that the Norwegians' trust of Britain will not be destroyed by this series of measures and, in particular, by this one. I hope that the Government will think again and at the next meeting will abolish the 10 per cent. duty.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I hope that I shall be in order, Mr. Speaker, speaking as a Northumbrian. Our Kingdom once extended from Fife to the north bank of the Humber, where I now have the honour to be the Member of the West division of Hull, where the finishing port is. I am also a member of the Anglo-Norwegian Parliamentary Group and am a loyal member of that group, like my Chairman, but I have divided loyalties.
I hope that I shall remain in order if I next make a quotation from The Times of 21st November:Frozen fish fillets are not a subject calculated to put fire into the bellies of most British politicians. But in Norway things are different.They are very different in Hammerfest, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) knows.
The Minister gave us a succinct account. I shall not attempt to gild it with facts or figures. The Minister told us—we accept this—that we have obligations to our own industry. I, as a Humberside M.P., think that the Minister has done a good job and is tonight standing up for his Grimsby constituency, 1177 where things have been most difficult; but some of us have attempted to help him in the past.
The question of the 10 per cent. is being argued and fought inside this Chamber and indeed elsewhere. The arguments for and against were put amongst the E.F.T.A. Parliamentarians at Strasbourg.
I want to say this in support of the 10 per cent. imposition. The pattern of our fish imports is constant. Those of wet fish are falling and frozen fillets are increasingly coming in. Under the agreement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—Mr. Amory, as he then was—negotiated in 1959, 24,000 tons not to be exceeded for 10 years was a sensible figure. The then Mr. Amory said that we could discuss this with our E.F.T.A. partners at the end of 10 years but that we could not go below the 24,000 tons at any time in the 10 years. Therefore, we have played the game in that connection.
We are now importing these enormous quantities of fillets, but we have some vessel owners who are importing frozen fish fillets, and who are with their own fleet catching fish. Therefore, this is a difficult question for us in our constituencies, where we have vessel owners, workers unloading the fish, other workers catching the fish and also fish merchants. We have these conflicting arguments put forward by various sections. There is no doubt but there is a need for a measure of this kind because, as the statistics show, the figures of imports of fillets have risen. About 26,000 tons were imported in the first nine months of this year.
When the matter was discussed in 1959 the basis of the Norwegian case against our imposing the 10 per cent. was that arty excess above the 24,000 ton ceiling was to be discussedhaving regard to the conditions prevailing in the fishing industry and the current trends of consumption on the U.K. market.Is it desired that it should be higher than 24,000 tons? At the moment there are some months to go and this can be discussed in amity with our E.F.T.A. partners. Then we can talk about 24,000 tons or 26,000 tons, as the case may be.
When one talks of frozen fish fillets coming to Britain, the case boils down—I have the figures, but I will not bore the House with them all—to what effects dif- 1178 ferent kinds of national subsidy have on the final price of frozen fish fillets. Are the Norwegian fillets which are coming in cheaper than ours? Are our vessel owners buying them and selling them again, instead of marketing fillets from fish which we catch in our own British fleet which leaves Humber and other ports?
The debate will continue. The Minister will face this debate over the 10 per cent. or no 10 per cent. in the coming months. It will be a fairly heated battle between us and our partners in E.F.T.A. I accept all the things which have been said about our E.F.T.A. partners. They are good partners whom we do not want to offend. We want to work together in all this. So my concluding word is that we should wait for a few months. Let us have some patience. Let us see what the import figures are in the coming months, under the 10 per cent. impost. Let us see where we go-27,000, 29,000 or 30,000 tons. Then, in the light of the figures, let us decide whether the 10-year agreement which Mr. Amory negotiated should be lifted over the 24,000 tons but only after the 10 years are up.
That is my view and I say sincerely that it is the view of the fishing industry in my constituency.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
I did not intend to take part today because I welcomed in another debate the projected Order which has now come before us. However, I have two points to make arising out of what has been said.
Following what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), I must say that no others in the House have as much sympathy for the Norwegian fishing industry as those of us who represent fishing ports in Britain. We know that their problems are our problems, and they arise out of a large world market. I see that you are getting a little restless, Mr. Speaker, so I say no more on that aspect save that I am sure that, when we can return to full accord with Norway, the fishing industry of this country will be as pleased as everyone else.
Both the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) 1179 spoke of trawler owners who import cheaper fish than they can land themselves. This practice is not quite so bad as it might seem without a full explanation. In this country, there is one very large and some other smaller frozen fish producers who market frozen fish in the form of fillets and fingers but who import direct and have no trawler interest. The trawler firms who have an interest in marketing fish fillets themselves are, therefore, in competition and, to maintain their position in the market, they have to buy in the way to which hon. Members have referred.
This has an importance also for those who are employed in the freezing and marketing of fish, as the Minister himself knows. Their employment might be affected if these firms were driven under by competition.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) reminded the House that the fishing industry is not confined to the East Coast, to Scotland or to Banbury, but we have an efficient fishing industry on the Lancashire coast, too. I do not claim that the city and port of Liverpool is engaged in the fishing industry, but we have links with it stretching from North Wales and up the Lancashire coast.
There have been references to the effect which the Order may have on the balance of payments. It is supported by the industry and will, doubtless, be opposed by E.F.T.A. But I take up one point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), and ask my right hon. Friend to tell us whether he has been able to make an estimate of the effect which the Order will have on the cost of fish to the consumer.
We in the North-West can claim to be the area which consumes the greatest amount of fish in all the United Kingdom. Is there not a danger that, when the effect of the Order works through, we shall have the old story that there has been a 10 per cent. tax on fish and the price of all fish will be up by 10 per cent.
§ Mr. McNamara rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Minister cannot answer the question which the hon. Gentleman has raised. It would be out of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman may argue that it could increase the cost of chilled or frozen imported fillets by 10 per cent.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)
I agree with what the President of the Board of Trade said about the substantial and growing imports of fillets of fish from Scandinavia causing worries for the British fishing industry. The figure he gave of 33,200 tons of fillets coming in in one period of 12 months showed what an increase there has been recently in these imports.
I well remember Lord Amory's statement at the end of 1959. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) pointed out tonight that since then there has been massive subsidising by Norway of her fishing industry. We are speaking tonight only about fillets and not imports of wet fish, but the two are related, and action is needed.
The President of the Board of Trade told us tonight of the procedures he and his colleagues have gone through with our E.F.T.A. partners in order to ensure that the 10 per cent. duty is imposed in the right way. But it is disquieting that the Scandinavian countries should feel they have been badly treated. In reply to a Question to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 10 days ago I was told, or so it seemed, that Norway was still pursuing her complaint about the proposal to impose the 10 per cent. duty. I hope that we shall be told tonight whether this is so, and whether there is an appeal procedure under which 1181 Norway, and perhaps the other Scandinavian countries, can continue to complain after the Order has gone through the House, as it appears that it will tonight.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) I feel a great friendship and admiration for Norway. My hon. Friend spoke about the fishermen of northern Norway and some of their problems. I remind him—I do not need to remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—of the problems of the fishermen of the North of Scotland, which are somewhat similar. I understand that Norway has excellent fishing grounds very close to her coasts, and that when she extended her fishing limits she pushed British fishermen out of those fishing grounds. The Norwegians have been able to benefit from that, and fish them successfully.
I should like to turn to the consumer, whose interests must be looked after. With fish, a perishable commodity, it is vital that we should not allow our own fishing industry to be seriously reduced or damaged, because that could later mean that supplies of fresh fish are not available to the housewife. That is why I agree that some action was necessary by the Government at this time. I hope that they have judged it correctly, and that a 10 per cent, import duty is the answer.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Crosland
With permission, perhaps I might answer one or two of the points raised, beginning with one or two specific fish points, if I may so describe them, raised by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), and the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). They all asked whether the duty would work and what would be the effects on the British industry. It is very difficult to predict the exact effect, because imports fluctuate markedly from month to month, and are to a large extent subject to forward contracts.
It will be some time before we are in a position to tell what the effects are. All I can say now is that I shall be keeping the situation under very close review. Perhaps I could say, in addition, to my 1182 hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, that I very much hope that in this situation our own industry will be encouraged to reverse the fall in its share of the frozen fillet market.
Secondly, I was asked what we should do if the Norwegians increased their subsidies. The best thing is to wait and see. We do not know whether they will or not. It is better not to answer hypothetical questions of this kind.
Thirdly, I was asked questions about Iceland, which I hasten over rapidly, Mr. Speaker, before I incur your disapprobation. As to devaluation, I would point out to those who are worried that we had a large devaluation on the part of Iceland at about this time last year which apparently had no effect on its exports of fillets to the British market. So it is too early to become unduly pessimistic about this.
As to the possible accession of Iceland to E.F.T.A., it is too early to decide what its effects would be. We must wait and see what negotiations take place between Iceland and E.F.T.A.
I was asked by one of my hon. Friends about the effect on the cost to the consumer. I can assure him that this tariff does not apply to salt fish, which, I understand, used to be a popular Sunday morning breakfast food in Liverpool. The effect on the price of frozen fillets must depend on how much of the duty is absorbed by processors and distributors, but this is a very competitive industry and I find it hard to believe that there will be any significant effect on prices.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), playing an unexpected part in our fishing debates—it is highly desirable that these debates should not be dominated by those who represent the fishing industry—raised a point of great importance. These wider trading considerations should be put in our minds. I have great sympathy with what he said. I hope I do not yield to him or anybody else in my belief in Anglo-Norwegian trade or generally in Anglo-Norwegian friendship. I will not go in detail into the merits of the argument between us and the Norwegians because he confesses to not being an expert on the industry. I make two points only. First, 1183 the whole tone of the discussion of the matter between ourselves and the Norwegians—I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will agree—was throughout friendly and very much in the spirit of E.F.T.A. co-operation. Secondly, as I think the hon. Member would concede, we have, as I said in my opening speech, consistently acted according to the letter and spirit of the arrangements made in 1959. So, although we must watch the future of Anglo-Norwegian relations very carefully, I do not think we stand in any way guilty of a breach of either the letter or the spirit of our arrangements.
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell) asked what the next step in E.F.T.A. would be. The answer is given in the E.F.T.A. communiqué, which reports that it was agreed to review the matter in February or March next year to see whether an agreed solution would be possible.
Lastly, a number of hon. Members raised wider questions on the future of the fishing industry as a whole. I should be out of order if I sought to answer them. I merely say that I have great faith in the future of the industry, and, like the rest of the Government, am determined to do all I can to secure a viable and prosperous future for it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Import Duties (General) (No. 11) Order 1968 (S.I., 1968. No. 1778), dated 6th November, 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th November, be approved.