HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc630-1
3. Mr. Clegg

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made to find alternative catches for cod fishermen.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)

Cod stocks on existing grounds are fully exploited and there are no alternative areas in which the British fleet might be deployed. However, work is being continued on other fish resources which we might utilise.

Mr. Clegg

Is the Minister aware that the search for alternative resources following the Law of the Sea Conference is vital and should be proceeding now?

Mr. Bishop

I recognise the hon. Member's concern. As he will be aware, we have had monitoring voyages and the results have been very encouraging, especially with the blue whiting taken in mid-water trawls off the British Isles in the spring. The matter is being researched by my Department. There is the question of processing and, eventually, marketing, but we are doing our best to find alternative species to help the industry.

Mr. James Johnson

As catches in Icelandic waters provide a large percentage of the total catch of fleets from places such as Fleetwood and Hull, can my hon. Friend tell us whether there is any likelihood of a resumption of talks and also what is happening towards getting a settlement of this vexing dispute?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate my hon. Friend's constructive question. He will be aware that the waters around Iceland provide one-third of our cod catch and are very important to us, especially in the light of what I said in reply to the previous supplementary question. I understand that there is a possibility of a meeting between my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Icelandic Foreign Minister today. We hope that we can get a resumption of talks at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. McNamara

In view of the importance my hon. Friend attaches to this matter, can he say what progress is being made in discussions on the EEC common fisheries policy? How many meetings have been held at ministerial or official level? What sort of catch for the British Isles does my hon. Friend consider suitable? How many men will be employed and what range of vessels will be used?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern about this matter, which is very important if we are to give confidence to the industry about its future shape and prospects. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture told the Community as early as last April that we could not wait until 1982 to renegotiate the Treaty of Accession in this respect. He said that it was urgent because we had the largest fishing industry in the Community. Proposals are being prepared by the Commission and I should not like to comment on them now except to say that they are being discussed at official level and that Ministers are involved.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Is the Minister aware that a promise has been given that these measures will be announced this week? Can he give the House some advance information about them, as they will be made public knowledge by the European Parliament in the next five days?

Mr. Bishop

My right hon. Friend will be in Brussels early next week. The question of how soon the Commission's proposals are published is a matter for the Commission. We shall want to study them very carefully before making any further pronouncements on the matter.