HC Deb 19 June 1974 vol 875 cc469-72
15. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied that the long-term interests of the Scottish inshore fishing industry will be promoted and safeguarded by the policies of the United Kingdom Govern ment to be suggested at the Law of the Sea Conference; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. William Ross

Yes, Sir. The Government are conscious of the longer-term needs of the Scottish inshore fishing industry and account has been and will continue to be taken of these in the formulation of our policies.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that because of the changed attitude in the fishing industry in this country towards pushing limits out, possibly to 200 miles, there is a real danger to the inshore fishing industry, due to the extra pressure upon fishing grounds from other vessels in the areas in which the inshore fleet now fishes?

Mr. Ross

I am aware of this. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that even the inshore fishermen are concerned about getting certain extensions of controlled waters. It follows from that that this whole question of access will have to be dealt with very carefully as a result of anything that comes out of the Law of the Sea Conference.

Mr. Grimond

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Scottish Office is represented at the conference, so that matters concerning limits may be taken into account and so that, in particular, restrictions on industrial fishing are asked for, particularly in respect of foreign vessels off north Scotland and Shetland?

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman can accept from me that a representative of the Scottish Office will attend this conference. This is not a ministerial-level conference but an official-level conference. The representative from the Scottish Office is Mr. Aglen, who is probably the foremost expert in this subject, from an international as well as a Scottish point of view. He has been so recognised for a long time. We hope also to take a technical adviser from the industry.

We had hoped that Mr. Campbell, from Lossiemouth, a gentleman with great experience in the industry, would go, but that has not proved convenient. We still hope that there will be an expert from the industry.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Is it not a fact that while we and the fishing industry accept that Mr. Aglen is the foremost expert on this subject, he is getting on in years—

Mr. William Hamilton

So are you.

Mrs. Ewing

Will there not be a great deal of lobbying of foreign delegations to be carried out on the various questions that will be raised at this conference? Mr. Aglen is the best there is from an expertise point of view, but could he not be supported by a representative, or representatives—since this is so important for Scotland—to deal with these other functions? Does the Secretary of State intend to leave Mr. Aglen to do it all by himself.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Lady does not do justice to herself. [Interruption.] She did not have very much good sense to say when she was on her feet and I do not think she improves when she sits down.

Mrs. Ewing

Cheap jibes!

Mr. Ross

I am satisfied that the advice we shall be getting and the notice that will be taken of that advice will be used in pressing Scotland's needs and looking after our interests at this conference.

Mrs. Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I have been attacked by the Secretary of State, may I cast his mind back—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Lady cannot do that on a point of order. She must seek some other opportunity.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

May I say, on behalf of the Opposition, that we in no way associate ourselves with the denigration of a notable Scot with an international reputation? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we have complete confidence in Mr. Aglen's ability to represent Scotland at this important conference? May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the importance of this conference to Scotland, what steps are being taken to inform the House of the policy which the Government propose to follow at the conference?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is a certain measure of confidentiality about tactical negotiations. This conference lasts from 20th June until about 29th August—a period of 10 weeks. We have to appreciate that many people are dealing with this complex subject. We want to get international agreement. Negotiations will involve certain tactical moves, compromises, and the rest. It is not wise to declare precisely what one's position is at the beginning.