HC Deb 06 May 1976 vol 910 cc1453-5
8. Mr. Trotter

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether it is his policy to safeguard the interests of the British fishing industry; and whether the reduction in the numbers of trawlers in service since 1st March 1974 is in accordance with Government policy.

Mr. Peart

The Government's commitment has never been in doubt. The industry's circumstances are changing, and its structure cannot be expected to remain static. So far as the current situation off Iceland is concerned, on which I have been having urgent discussions with the industry, we are increasing the scale of our protection effort in the international waters off Iceland. Two more Royal Navy frigates will be on station by Monday, bringing the total to six and my Department will be hiring another civilian defence vessel.

Mr. Trotter

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a large part of the fishing industry believe that the Government are thought to have a completely ineffective policy? Is it possible for him to take some of his trade union colleagues with him when he goes to Brussels to negotiate? Does he agree that that would lead to our starting on a more realistic level and ending with a better level?

Mr. Peart

I have just left a meeting with representatives of the industry, and I continually keep in touch with both employers and unions in the industry. I believe that they recognise our difficulties over Iceland. Protection has been increased. There will be another statement today about the common fisheries policy, which I accept to be an urgent matter. We shall be going into very difficult negotiations.

Mr. James Johnson

Does not the welcome statement by the Royal Navy that it is prepared to step up protection for fishing, if it is needed, make a load of codswallop of the Icelandic claim that they have won and that we have surrendered? Since our men are back fishing, and losing money, is there any possibility of financial aid to enable them to remain at sea?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks as Chairman of the all-party Fisheries Committee. I am glad to find that the industry, representatives of which I met before I came to the House, approves of our action. The question of aid is something that we shall have to consider.

Mr. Powell

How can the Minister undertake to guarantee and safeguard the interests of the industry when his colleague at the Foreign Office has put forward proposals that are inherently insufficient and in a context in which it is clear that even those proposals will not be maintained?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that. I am anxious to obtain the best deal for our fishermen.

Mr. Pym

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the statement that he has just made about Iceland? Is he completely satisfied that the extra protection that he has announced will be adequate in all circumstances? In view of the dumping on our markets of fish caught by foreign fleets, and of the financial losses incurred by our trawlermen, does he think that our fleet, at its present size, can continue to operate?

Mr. Peart

On the right hon. Gentleman's last question I can tell him that I have had talks with representatives of the industry. I met them the other day, and today and I made a statement about a 48-hour delay, to see whether I could achieve a solution. I have done that, and my announcement was a result of that. I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. One must be specific about dumping. Obviously we import fish, and it is important that we have a proper reference price. I was able to get the Norwegian Government to make an adequate voluntary arrangement and I also took up the matter with the EEC countries, who played a part in fixing reference prices. I shall examine any specific case of dumping and take it up with the country concerned.

Mr. Jay

Is it a fact that Norway is expecting to obtain a 200-mile fishing limit?

Mr. Peart

I think that we shall too, from what will emerge from the Law of the Sea Conference. No decision has been reached yet. Our aim is to achieve a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.