HC Deb 23 February 1977 vol 926 cc1386-8
3. Mr. Penhaligon

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the development of the Scottish mackerel industry.

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

Last year there were substantial increases both in landings and in first-hand sales for human consumption. It is too early to make a firm statement about 1977.

Mr. Penhaligon

Is the Minister aware of the gross over-fishing by Scottish boats now taking place off the Cornish coast? Does he agree that the industrial techniques which are being used can lead only to the bankruptcy of the Cornish mackerel industry in exactly the same way as they have already led to the bankruptcy of the Scottish herring industry? Has he any powers to deal with this problem? If so, is he prepared to use them?

Mr. Brown

I am always being told that Scottish fishermen are paragons of virtue and do not engage in any illicit or illegal practices. Apart from the recent prosecutions, which, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, included other than Scottish boats, there is no reason why boats should not fish legally for mackerel in the permitted limits.

Mr. Penhaligon indicated dissent.

Mr. Brown

That is a matter of opinion. It is one of the things under consideration in relation to future quotas under the common fisheries policy. Obviously, we want to conserve even stocks of mackerel, which are now becoming increasingly popular.

Mr. Henderson

I agree about conservation, but has the Minister studied the case last week when some of my constituents appeared in court in Cornwall? Does he intend to make any representations against the appalling fines levied on them there, about the fact that one of the magistrates indicated a preference before the case, and about the fact that the local fisheries officer had told the court that he was out to "get the Scots"?

Mr. Brown

I am not surprised at that further expression of inflammatory anti-English sentiments by the hon. Member. I regret any fisherman being found illegally fishing, whether he is a Scottish fisherman or not. It does no service to the fishing industry of this country if hon. Members will not oppose the idea of anyone fishing illegally.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does not this episode prove conclusively that the well-being of the fishing industry in the United Kingdom is a matter for the United Kingdom and that the Scots, the English, the Irish and the Welsh have a common interest in getting a sensible fisheries policy?

Mr. Brown

Yes, there is no doubt that there will be increasing pressure on certain species, including stocks of mackerel, simply because of the reduction in the availability of stocks of other species. The Scottish fishermen are to be congratulated not only on the fact that last year they caught more mackerel in Scottish waters but, more important, on the fact that more of the fish are going for human consumption.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Would not the Minister agree that incidents like this could become more frequent unless we can solve the problem of exclusive limits? Has he anything new to report on that? Has he any hope to offer that we might reach a conclusion in the near future in the discussions in the EEC?

Mr. Brown

It is asking the impossible, I suppose, to expect the hon. Member to give any credit to this Government for anything, but we have made considerable progress with various conservation measures in the EEC. I should have thought that he would welcome that, because it is the basis of our policy. In discussions within the EEC we have even reserved our national interest.

Mr. Sillars

Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's view on moral grounds that one cannot argue from a Scottish fisherman's point of view for protection for the Scottish inshore fleet and at the same time deny the same protection to the Cornish fisherman?

Mr. Brown

That sounds so philosophical that I am not sure what my hon. Friend means.

Mr. Sillars

Just say "Yes."

Mr. Brown

If I knew what the question meant, I might be able to do so. There are peculiar, local, even unique circumstances about the method of fishing by people in Cornwall. I should like to see them preserved. I do not think that that is inconsistent with sound conservation measures outside the limits.

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