HC Deb 26 March 1975 vol 889 cc459-61
7. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the future of the Scottish fishing industry.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

In Scotland, as in the United Kingdom as a whole, the fishing industry is currently facing some economic difficulty, and it was for this reason that the Government announced their intention of giving temporary financial aid. The aim of this aid is to give the industry time to adjust to changed circumstances.

There is also natural concern about more long-term problems, including fishery limits and conservation of stocks. The Government will play their part, in co-operation with the industry, in seeking a speedy resolution of these problems through international negotiation.

Mr. Sproat

1 thank the Minister for that reply. Is he in a position at this stage to say anything about yesterday's meeting about the banning of foreign fish? I appreciate that there will be a statement later today. Further, will he now change his mind and agree to meet representatives of the STF when he is in Aberdeen on 3rd April to discuss the continuation of financial support after the end of June, the need for a settlement of the EEC fisheries policy before the referendum, and the need for a 200-mile limit to be imposed unilaterally if the Geneva Conference breaks up without agreement?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is obviously well-informed in that he knows about my activities. I say straight away that I would be delighted to meet the STF in Aberdeen next week, together with any of the other representative organisations in the fishing industry. There is lack of communication even within those organisations about what is going on. The hon. Gentleman obviously will not expect me to anticipate my right hon. Friend's statement, but I can assure him that we are well aware of the short-term problems, the long-term problems linked with the Law of the Sea Conference, and the need to give urgent attention to the EEC common fisheries, policy.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Welcome though the recently announced subsidies are, does the Minister accept that there is a great deal of resentment that vessels fishing for shellfish should be excluded? As a great deal of their catch goes to earn foreign currency, surely there is a case for seeing that vessels fishing for shellfish are included.

Mr. Brown

There is another Question on the Order Paper dealing with that point. Although the hon. Gentleman has skilfully avoided the 40 foot argument, he will recognise that this is a temporary financial aid to the industry and that it is based on operating costs. With great respect to the shellfish industry, its operating costs have not increased so much as costs in other sections of the industry.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that in his consideration of the problems facing the fishing industry he will seek to preserve the principal of priority for coastal States, as was negotiated originally when we entered Europe? As for the very much changed situation in respect of the 200-mile limit now under negotiation at the Law of the Sea Conference, will the Minister say when the Government will be in a position to give their answer to the herring section of the industry regarding interim measures to serve the herring industry until the Law of the Sea Conference is concluded?

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Gentleman concluded satisfactory agreements I must tell him that they are not appreciated by many sections of the fishing industry. I do not think that he should overdo the compliments to himself when he leaves me with the problems. We are well aware of the urgency of this matter, but the first thing to do is to see how the Law of the Sea Conference proceeds. If there is an acceptance of the 200-mile limit it will still be open to us, within that kind of framework, to pursue the right policies within the EEC.