HC Deb 30 July 1975 vol 896 cc1803-5
11. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on the state of the fishing industry in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

The industry continues to face difficulties arising mainly from reduced catches and reduced prices at the ports. In the light of these difficulties the Government have decided, as was announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to extend the present temporary aid to the industry for a further six months.

Mr. Sproat

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although anything is better than nothing, to cut financial aid to the industry at this time is scandalous? Is he aware that 30 per cent. of the Scottish fleet has had to be tied up over the past 18 months, and that this drop in financial aid will mean that this horrific figure will increase even further? Does he not also agree that there is a need for a scheme to be introduced after September to give the fishing industry the certainty of stable, long-term financial viability?

Mr. Brown

It is unusual for the hon. Gentleman to exaggerate in the way he has. There has not been a cut in financial aid; the scale has been reduced at the top end, as the hon. Gentleman knows, which has resulted in a modest reduction. The overall figure is reduced because fewer vessels are involved. To call it scandalous is certainly an exaggeration.

I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman made. What does the industry really need? It needs to be able to catch more fish, but it also needs more people who are willing to eat fish, otherwise there is no guaranteed certainty of profitability for the industry, at its present size.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Minister aware that as far as it goes this new offer is better than nothing? However, perhaps it does not go far enough. Can he bring us up to date on the limits? Is his advice still that a 50-miles limit will not achieve very much, although the industry very much wants it? If this is so, is it the Government's policy to go for a 200-miles limit? When shall we reach a measure of international agreement on this greater limit?

Mr. Brown

That is an improvement. At least the right hon. Gentleman has said that the announcement is good as far as it goes, and I welcome that. He knows that Government thinking and strategy on limits are continually evolving. It is far from being a simple issue. It is perhaps, made more complicated and delicate by the announcement by Iceland, with which I shall be dealing in the next Question.

Mr. Watt

Does the Minister recognise that we also welcome the extension of the subsidy? Does he further recognise the relatively greater importance of the fishing industry to Scotland than to the rest of the United Kingdom? Will he accept my plea for him to take the lead in pushing for an extension of the fishing limit to 200 miles?

Mr. Brown

We are making progress; we have now had the announcement welcomed, and I appreciate that. It is no secret that the Scottish Office takes the lead in many issues involving the United Kingdom fishing industry, because of our greater interest in fishing and its effect on our communities. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are well aware of the need to think ahead on the whole question of limits, including those related to the common fisheries policy of the EEC.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I, too, acknowledge what the Government are doing, and particularly the part played by the Scottish Office. In all seriousness, I ask the hon. Gentleman to pay attention to what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said. This is an industry on which the livelihood of many people depends. It is also an industry on which the livelihood of many communities depends. The industry is crying out at present for a longer-term strategy, rather than the hand-to-mouth existence which the Government are handing out at present.

Mr. Brown

I appreciate that. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that in the long term the industry inevitably looks as though it will be a contracted industry. That is the problem facing all of us. We have had constructive discussions with the industry, and I shall certainly continue to help the industry in any way I can.