HC Deb 23 April 1975 vol 890 cc1471-3
15. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of the fishing industry.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I had a very full meeting with the industry's representatives on Wednesday 2nd April and I am inviting them to meet me again on 12th May in Aberdeen, when I shall certainly inform them of developments.

Mr. Sproat

I very much appreciate the willingness of the Minister to meet the industry. Will he undertake when he is in Aberdeen on the 12th, to give an assurance to the industry that if the Law of the Sea Conference breaks up without any agreement on limits, and if other countries move unilaterally as a result, the Government will protect absolutely the rights of the British fishing industry?

Turning now to another financial burden on the industry, will the hon. Gentleman pass on to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade the high feelings of members of the fishing industry about the unjustifiably high fees which they will have to pay for the Department of Trade surveyors for the purpose of the new safety regulations, of which they approve in principle?

Mr. Brown

I shall pass on that view It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

One of my outstanding impressions of the Law of the Sea Conference is that many countries—EEC, non-EEC and others—are in a similar position to that of this country. If there is not some kind of tangible agreement, or the possibility of a contention coming out of the conference, many countries will need to consider urgently what changes are required in limits.

Mr. Henderson

We hope that the report in the Financial Times yesterday about the difficulties of the conference is in no way connected with the hon. Gentleman's attendance at it, and that a satisfactory conclusion will emerge from it. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Norwegian Government have already asked to open talks with the Governments of the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and others on an immediate increase in limits to 50 miles? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the appalling cut in the herring quota which his scientists have announced and which will drive many Scottish boats from the sea brings it home that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends should urgently seek an immediate increase to 50 miles in the fishing limits?

Mr. Brown

There are about four questions involved in what the hon. Gentleman has said. I assure him that the Law of the Sea Conference is moving towards a conclusion, but I am not unduly optimistic about its outcome. It would be wrong to mislead or, perhaps, convey to people outside—I do not think that I have done it, and the hon. Gentleman should not do it—[Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is holding up, but I did not write it. He should not be too optimistic for the fishermen of Scotland about what might come out of the conference.

On the question of what the hon. Gentleman has described as the appalling cut in the herring quota, I know of no Government—whether it be the Norwegian Government, the British Government or any other—which could increase tomorrow the number of herring in the sea. The matter is a bit longer-term than that. It is a matter of genuine concern to all the fishing nations in this part of the world that if we do not do something about conservation there may not be any fish left to catch.