HC Deb 21 July 1976 vol 915 cc1767-9
1. Mr. MacCormick

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the European Commission.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

I have at present no plans to meet members of the European Commission.

Mr. MacCormick

I find it amazing to hear that the Secretary of State has no plans to meet the Commissioners. Does he not realise that at the present time debates are taking place concerning Scottish fishermen? It is totally outrageous that we are being presented with a 12-mile limit off the coast of Scotland when we ought to have at least a 100-mile limit. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise, lastly, that he is a member of the last London Government to have any connection with Scotland—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I realise that the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question was prepared before I made my appeal, but I hope that hon. Members will co-operate.

Mr. Millan

I think that the hon. Gentleman is, in fact, talking about meetings of the Council of Ministers and not meetings of the Commission. The Minister of State met one of the Commissioners, Mr. George Thomson, only last week.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I welcome the report from Brussels regarding the agreement over the question of 200 miles—I think we will hear more about that this afternoon—but will the Secretary of State confirm that what matters to Scottish fishermen now, when the 200-mile limit seems to be settled, is the limit that we have off the west coast of Scotland? Because of the importance of our Scottish herring industry, nothing less than a 50-mile limit will do justice to the Scottish fishermen.

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a later Question on the Order Paper and also a Private Notice Question on the subject, but I take note of what he said.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Secretary of State aware that I was in Brussels last week, and that it was clear that the Commission accepted 200 miles for countries in the EEC but is still suggesting 12 miles for Britain? That is quite unacceptable in Scotland. We require 50 miles at least.

Mr. Millan

With respect, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. There is now widespread acceptance of the 200-mile limit, and progress has been made on that. The other argument, to which we attach considerable importance, concerns the exclusive zones, and on that subject the Government have already made it clear that the Commission's original proposal for 12 miles is quite unacceptable.

Mr. Sillars

Will the Secretary of State seek an early meeting with the Commission to raise the question of preferential access for Scottish coal in European Community markets? Unless we get preferential access we may have up to 1½ million tons surplus in Scotland from 1976 onwards. If we do not do something about this within the Community there may be an enormous employment problem in the Scottish coalfields.

Mr. Millan

There is a problem in the Scottish coalfields, but I do not think it is exclusively or even mainly to do with the Community.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Is there any reason why the Secretary of State should not go to Brussels to negotiate on behalf of the Scottish fishing industry? Does he not realise that such a public gesture by him would create confidence in the industry in Scotland?

Mr. Millan

If the hon. Gentleman will make a public gesture by offering me a pair I shall certainly consider that. On the general point, it is certainly my intention to participate in these discussions, as appropriate.

Sir John Gilmour

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that fish have no relation to limits—they swim for 100 or 200 miles—and that it is essential for him to produce a policy that protects the areas in which the fish spawn? It has nothing to do with where the fish are caught. They are certainly caught within 25 miles of the Scottish coast, but the spawning areas are further away, and that is what the right hon. Gentleman should bend his attention to.

Mr. Millan

The hon. Member is making a number of points. On the general question of conservation, he will know that the Government have as one of their major aims the achievement of effective conservation policies which can be monitored to see that they are not broken by other States.

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