HC Deb 22 October 1975 vol 898 cc465-7
10. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions he has had with representatives of the Scottish fishing industry.

Mr. William Ross

During my recent visit to Aberdeen Fish Market I had useful informal talks with representatives of trawler crews and owners and fish buyers. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I are meeting representatives of the United Kingdom fishing industry tomorrow.

Mr. Sproat

We were glad to see the right hon. Gentleman in Aberdeen and are pleased that he is to meet the industry tomorrow. However, at the conclusion of his visit to Aberdeen did he realise that the fishing industry was in the middle of the worst crisis for a generation? Is he aware that the United Kingdom trawling fleet is contracting faster than any other fleet in the EEC and that, although there was a welcome improvement in earnings in July and August, each vessel of the Scottish fleet that sailed from Scotland was still making a loss of around £5,000 per quarter after subsidies? Tomorrow will he give some assurance to the industry that we shall end the stop-go, hand-to-mouth procedure of the subsidy and introduce long-term security and viability in the industry?

Mr. Ross

It would have been better for long-term security and viability if this had been done by the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends when they were in office. We introduced the subsidy to meet conditions that had arisen. I am aware of the conditions of the distant water fleet. I am equally aware of the cause. I shall listen tomorrow to representations from the fishing industry. I hope that we shall be able to do something about some of these problems. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do just how complex they are. They are not simply limited to landings or the number of boats that are fishing, but are related to other matters.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the arrangements that have been made for regular meetings with the fishermen? Secondly, has he discussed the fouling of the fishing grounds with them and is any solution in sight? I take this opportunity of thanking the Scottish Office for kindly sending me a letter on this matter, because it is of great importance to Shetland.

Mr. Ross

We regard this as being of considerable importance in view of the international negotiations taking place. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has given special attention to this matter and will continue to do so. He will keep informed those hon. Members who have special interests in the fishing industry.

Mr. Sillars

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the most important factor in obtaining confidence, stability and viability in the long term is a fundamental change in the common fisheries policy of the Common Market?

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend will appreciate that we have started on a review of the common fisheries policy. During that review we shall bear strongly in mind the special interests of the United Kingdom as a coastal and important fishing community. We shall continue to give priority to what we consider our exceptional needs.

Mr. Watt

Will the Secretary of State inform the House of the investigations that are taking place into the optimum size of the fishing industry? Will he consider introducing a scrapping subsidy, using money from EEC funds that are available for such a purpose?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is too pessimistic about this matter. If he reads some of the answers that will be given, not to the Aberdeen section of the industry but to others, he will get some surprising figures. At present I do not consider that it is right to introduce a scrapping subsidy.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Has my right hon. Friend impressed upon the Foreign Secretary that the Scottish fishing industry is constrained already by the Icelandic fishing limits? Will my right hon. Friend also comment on the fact that possibly what is needed is not a scrapping policy but a scrap-and-build policy for the Scottish fleet?

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend knows that the unilateral decision by the Icelandic Government has created certain difficulties. We are in negotiation about it and it would be wrong for me to say any more at this point.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman please not dodge the issue as put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat)? The fishing industry was in a very much stronger state economically 18 months ago. I accept that much of the deterioration has been entirely outwith the control of Government, but the responsibility for meeting the present situation rests on the Government because they are the Government. Whilst this short-term help is welcome and helpful, what the industry needs is longer-term assurances, a better long-term plan. Even if it means restructuring, will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon his colleagues in the Government that the industry wants to know what is to be spent in the long term rather than exist, as it does at the moment, on a hand-to-mouth basis?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman has had responsibility at the Scottish Office and has had some concern for this situation. One of the great uncertainties of the industry is the whole question of limits and the effect of the common fisheries policy. Until one gets a settlement on the limits, it would be foolish to settle optimum size and other related matters. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we took action to deal with the circumstances which arose. He has a wonderful habit of forgetting his past and simplifying these complex problems.