HC Deb 09 June 1976 vol 912 cc1412-5
3. Mr. Sproat

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

Mr. Millan

While there are difficult issues relating to limits and conservation to be resolved, there is cause for rising confidence on account of the continuing improvement in the market situation. The high level of prices was maintained throughout the first half of May, and the prices are well above those for the comparable period in 1975.

Mr. Sproat

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in spite of the welcome increase in earnings, the average vessel of the STF is still losing, before depreciation, about £30 a day? In the light of this fact, and in the light of the catastrophic results for the industry of the Iceland agreement, what urgent measures is the right hon. Gentleman taking to see that British fishing interests are fully protected with regard to EEC fishing policy? What are the Government now doing about the further threat posed to the industry by the reported intentions of the Faroese to extend their limits?

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions, the answers to which have already been given by fisheries Ministers and the Foreign Secretary in the House. Concerning the STF, the figures on costs were produced on 27th May. I met the STF in Glasgow the following day and was provided with the figures. I said that I would see that they were considered as urgently as possible, and when I have done that I shall let the STF have a reply.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Is my right hon. Friend aware that British fishing interests—and by that I mean big trawler interests—are conning the British public and the British housewife into imagining that it is only cod that the housewife wants? If my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were to get together with other parties interested in the fishing industry they would soon find that there were many other fish in the sea which could be caught, to the benefit of the British public, from the point of view not only of taste but of the purse.

Mr. Millan

I certainly agree that with the new situation it will be necessary for us, as far as possible, to persuade consumers to change their buying preferences, but that is not an easy matter, as I think that the House will appreciate. Nevertheless, price will be a factor in this situation, and there are certain possibilities that we shall explore. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture makes a statement about the longer-term future of the fishing industry, which I hope he will be able to do soon, this is the type of matter with which he will be dealing.

Mr. Watt

Will the Minister say when he proposes to introduce a boat-scrapping subsidy, and when he proposes to introduce an early retirement scheme for fishermen?

Mr. Millan

I cannot give answers on those points at present. However, the hon. Gentleman will now that, in the context of the Iceland agreement and the effect of that on the distant water fishing industry, a number of possibilities have been put to the Government.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread appreciation in Scotland, particularly in Aberdeen, of the direct interest that he is taking in the fishing industry, as well as of that being taken by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary? Is he aware that there is still a feeling that we ought to have a more structured future for the industry, and that his commitment to look into this matter and produce a plan as quickly as possible will be of great benefit to all concerned?

Mr. Millan

When I had my meeting on 28th May, I said that I hoped soon to be in a position to meet the industry to talk about longer-term matters, rather than simply immediate problems, and that statement was welcomed by the industry.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Reverting to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), does the right hon. Gentleman accept that what we want to hear are his answers to the problems of the Scottish fishing industry, because he is the Scottish fisheries Minister? Without going into the merits of the Icelandic situation, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the repercussions from it will be very serious, in terms of increasing the pressure of fishing vessels within Scottish waters? The only circumstances in which the agreement could be tolerated in Scotland would be to renegotiate the common fisheries policy as soon as possible and to ensure that there is no yielding on the 50-mile exclusive fishing zone which has been put forward in Brussels by his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Millan

One of the troubles with the common fisheries policy is that Conservative Members did not make any serious attempt to deal with it when we entered the Common Market. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that this is one of the matters that we are now pursuing actively with our Common Market partners.

Mr. Speaker

I shall allow one more supplementary question on this Question, but I must tell the House that I shall have to allow fewer supplementary questions on the rest, otherwise we shall never get anywhere.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Secretary of State take a leaf out of the book of the Icelandic Government and see to it that there is now more effective policing of Scottish waters, to ensure that our resources are at least adequately protected, in view of the way in which the fisheries protection fleet has been run down in recent years?

Mr. Millan

I do not accept that. It is not even accurate. However, the question of policing—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman keeps interrupting. Apart from anything else, I cannot hear what he is trying to say. It is not accurate to say that fisheries protection has been run down. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman in so far as policing will be extremely important when the limits are extended. This is a matter to which we shall be paying particular attention in these negotiations.

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