HC Deb 15 December 1976 vol 922 cc1501-3
5. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied that the fishery protection vessels at present in use will be entirely satisfactory to give adequate protection in the waters round Scotland when fishing limits are extended.

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

Yes, Sir.

Sir J. Gilmour

As some of the surveillance has to be done by very fast-flying aircraft, is it not necessary to have at least a number of fast boats to go to incidents which may be reported or given notice of by these aircraft?

Mr. Brown

Clearly, speed in getting to the scene of any particular problem can be important, but I think that in any society—and this applies to the sea as well—the best protection lies in abiding by the law, and the vast majority of the fishermen of all nations are law-abiding. But we have this matter under consideration. The fishery protection fleet is being extended, and the point made by the hon. Gentleman is one of those we shall keep in mind.

Mr. Grimond

Apart from the necessity for all sorts of new vessels for fishery protection, how many more helicopters are to be provided for this purpose?

Mr. Brown

Helicopters are part of a service which may be called into use from the Royal Navy, but there is no specific provision, other than the Nimrod aircraft, for air surveillance.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Did I understand my hon. Friend to say that he was satisfied with the number of vessels already in existence for this purpose? If so, can he explain how the big increase in area which will have to be patrolled by these vessels can be covered by the same number as at present?

Mr. Brown

The Question referred to existing vessels under my Department's control. As I have explained, there are additional vessels from the Ministry of Defence, and an increase is now being provided for. We believe that, in total, the number should be adequate.

Mr. Henderson

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm the facts stated to him in a letter from me about the recent incidents off Shetland between French and Scottish vessels, and accept the appreciation of my constituents and those involved for his prompt action in ordering the fishery protection cruiser "Westra" to the the scene? Will he make a statement on any further developments that have taken place in the last 24 hours and give our fishermen a categorical assurance that where protection is needed in such a situation it will be made available?

Mr. Brown

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's compliment, which I think is the first I have ever had from him. I am sure that it was given in good faith. I am happy to be able to confirm that the "Westra" was sent very quickly, and he has rightly given credit for that. Investigations have taken place, and I can say that there has been no incident involving loss of or damage to the gear of Scottish vessels. The "Westra" found one French vessel towing on a course which might have caused damage to Scottish gear, but headed it off and explained the local fishing practices. We are keeping a continuous watch. The incident reported, of which there has been no confirmation, apparently happened some weeks ago, but we are not thinking of making any diplomatic representations to the French Government. War certainly has not broken out.

Mr. Younger

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such a large increase in fishing limits as seems in prospect will transform the scale of the problem of policing those limits? Our fishermen will have to face tremendously difficult changes in their working pattern, and they expect the Government to stand up for their rights in the new limits and to be vocal in doing so.

Mr. Brown

I keep reassuring hon. Members on this matter. The pattern of fishing has not been finally determined. These matters are being considered with other member States of the EEC, who may well make some contribution to fishery protection in the Community "pond" as a whole. These detailed matters will be worked out following the review of the common fisheries policy.