HC Deb 16 March 1978 vol 946 cc611-4
1. Mr. Mudd

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next attend a meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers of the EEC.

6. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next attend a meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers of the European Economic Community.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Silkin)

There are at present no meetings scheduled.

Mr. Mudd

When the right hon. Gentleman meets his European colleagues and they discuss matters of conservation, I hope that he will impress upon them the early warning fears expressed by Cornish fishermen of the classic signs of over-fishing of the Cornish mackerel stock? Will he discuss with his European colleagues the possibility of establishing a six-mile zone wherein no vessel in excess of 80 feet shall fish?

Mr. Silkin

In my view, the whole of the mackerel fishery needs careful watching. Our industry went into something of a self-denying ordinance. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, in this instance we are in the fortunate circumstance of hav- ing no historic rights within the 12-mile zone. I agree that a great deal of thought and care is needed. It is one of the great potential fishery stocks of our country.

Mr. Hicks

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that when he lays the additional conservation measures in respect of the South-West mackerel stock he will take into account the needs and requirements of the smaller inshore fisherman based in South-West counties?

Mr. Silkin

That is an extremely important factor. For that reason, there have been consultations between my officials and the various fishing interests concerned with mackerel, especially the small inshore fishermen but including the larger ones. We hoped to get an all-industry view on the whole matter. That has presented some difficulties, because there are differences of view. However, I think that we may be able to arrive at some sort of modus vivendi. I hope that that will be achieved relatively soon.

Mr. Robert Hughes

What are my right hon. Friend's minimum requirements for the conclusion of a satisfactory fishing regime? Is there any indication how far, if at all, our European partners are prepared to move towards meeting those requirements?

Mr. Silkin

In the absence of scheduled fisheries councils, it may be apposite to restate the minimum demands. The demands are an exclusive zone between 0 to 12 miles and a dominant preference between 12 miles to 50 miles. That is a dominant preference in two respects. First, there must be effort limitation, as quotas by themselves are not sufficient. Secondly, it must be dominant in the sense that it would be the United Kingdom that would get the dominant share of the growth. Finally, there must be a proper and more than adequate scientific basis of conservation, which at the moment, in my view, has not yet been put forward by the Commission or any body else apart from ourselves. How far are the other countries prepared to move? I get the signs that there are movements on the part of the other eight. There is no movement on my side on these minimum requirements.

Mr. Powell

While I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman has much at heart the interests of the Mourne Fishery in the coming season, especially with reference to the skiff fishermen, may I ask whether he will give an indication when he expects that an announcement can be made about what they may look forward to this year?

Mr. Silkin

I am much aware of that difficulty and the difficulty of other small herring fishermen around the shores of the United Kingdom. I believe that the season starts in June. I hope that before then we shall be in a position to give an answer, which, personally, I should like to be a satisfactory one. However, I think that that must not be—I think that the right hon. Gentleman will follow me in this respect—at the price of overall lack of conservation of the herring stock.

Mr. Watt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a proposal now being bandied about in the EEC Commission that there should be a dominant preference given to those boats that fish within 4½ hours' steaming time of their ports? If he is aware of that, what is the Government's reaction? If he is not aware of it, what would his reaction be to such a proposal?

Mr. Silkin

I could give my reaction to a whole lot of matters of which I was totally unaware, but I do not think that the House would be patient enough to listen to me on them.

I am not aware of such a proposal. If, as would seem to me at first sight, it does not meet the clear definition of "dominant preference" that I have given, I think that the hon. Gentleman knows what my view would be.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend tell the other Ministers that, apart from the horrifying disaster that the fishing industry has suffered as a result of our entry into the Common Market, the Cambridge Group report, which came out today, also states that 150,000 jobs have been lost, some in fishing, as a result of our entry, that food prices are up at least by half-a-crown in the pound and that £1,000 million a year is the total cost of our entry, some of that arising in respect of fishing matters as well?

Mr. Silkin

As always, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity in introducing an all-embracing question into this rather narrow one. I certainly promise to study carefully the conclusions of Mr. Wynne Godley and his team. I have no doubt that in due course I may even tell the House what my conclusions are on those conclusions.

Mr. Penhaligon

Getting back to the question of Cornish mackerel, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House by what percentage the annual catch in the West County has been reduced by the conservation measures taken so far? Is he aware that I cannot name a single West Country fisherman who believes that the measures that have been taken are sufficient to preserve the Cornish mackerel stock on a long-term basis?

Mr. Silkin

It is difficult to give the actual percentage off the cuff, and I should probably be wrong if I did. However, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with what information I have. He must appreciate that the cut in mackerel fishing is the result of the self-denying ordinance by the industry of which I spoke. I hope and believe that the industry will have kept to it and that there will be some tangible result.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called representatives of five of the different parties on that Question. I shall not be able to do the same on every Question. We shall now move more quickly.