§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)
I am pleased to have the opportunity of raising the vital topic of the future of the British fishing industry. Several of my hon. Friends have pointed out that my constituency, although beautiful, has no seaboard and no fishing fleet. However, I am not entirely a fish out of water as previously I represented a constituency with fishing interests. During the period that I represented that constituency, I occasionally spent long evenings at sea in small trawlers learning at first hand the problems that face all those who work in that industry.
The question of the British fishing industry goes far beyond the specialist interests which many of my hon. Friends will no doubt mention. There is public concern about the future of the fishing industry, and I share that concern. I do so, first, because the fishing industry is an integral and important part of the Scottish economy. Like other industries in Scotland, that industry is regarded as a symbol of the economic prosperity and success of Scotland. Secondly, the fish caught constitute a vital food source for the people of Britain.
I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—whom I am delighted to see will reply to this important debate—a number of questions that are in the minds of Scottish people.
First, will my right hon. Friend report on the progress that is being made by the Government in Europe in their attempts to safeguard the industry, especially on the safeguards that they are trying to achieve for Scotland? I have been pleased to read indications in the 996 newspapers and elsewhere that the Government are not prepared to accept piecemeal solutions to the problem from Europe and are seeking to achieve package that will effectively secure the future of the industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us certain reassurances in that respect.
Secondly, will my right hon. Friend explain to those members of the public and those lay Members of the House who do not have specialist fishing interests what measures he is considering to protect the fish stock around our coast? That is important to those who work in the industry, and generally important because fish is a vital food resource. I am sure that my right hon. Friend realises, as do many of my constituents, that fish is affected almost more than any other food commodity by supply and demand. When there are shortages of fish stocks, or when fewer fish are being caught, the price of fish can vary remarkably. As it is a basic food stock, conservation measures and measures taken to stabilise the number of fish caught are vital in the interests of housewives.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will say a few words about the measures that are being taken to prevent industrial fishing and the use of illegal net sizes, which have caused havoc to fishing stocks in the past.
Thirdly, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider safety. It is a matter of concern to the British people when they read in the newspapers, or hear on the news, that yet another fishing boat has sunk with fatalities. I hope that my right hon. Friend will indicate the measures that be is taking to improve the safety of the industry. Of course, it is a risky industry. Of course, there will be accidents. However, the British people will wish to know that the Government are not leaving safety totally at risk but are considering seriously ways of improving the safety record of the industry.
I know that other hon. Members will wish to speak on more technical matters. I do not wish to detain the House any longer. When my right hon. Friend responds to the debate I hope that he will appreciate that there is general and widespread concern, especially in Scotland, about the future of this important industry. I hope that tonight he will be able to give the reassurances that I seek.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
I intervene early and briefly in the debate on British fisheries policy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) on managing to get the first debate in a series of debates that will continue throughout the night.
I do not cavil, quibble or complain that the Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply. I appreciate that it was a Scottish cabal that managed to obtain the debate. It would have been pleasing to see the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the Government Front Bench, but I do not complain about the right hon. Gentleman's presence. I know from past experience that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be much involved with fisheries policy, especially when it goes before the Fisheries Council, which will probably be before the end of the recess.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that on 24 May his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food met the British Fishing Federation, the Scottish Fishing Federation, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Fisheries Organisation Society—indeed, all sections of the industry. They met to discuss conservation and fishing net mesh sizes. The right hon. Gentleman decided to proceed, with the general agreement of the industry, with those conservation measures. He did so this month. We think that is right.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) deferred this conservation measure for a few months to create a better atmosphere for the negotations on a common fisheries policy. No doubt that act of the right hon. Gentleman has incurred some displeasure within the EEC. However, I can tell him and his right hon. Friend that they have our backing on conservation, and always will.
The same firmness will be necessary for this major effort at the next Fisheries Council meeting to get a square deal for the United Kingdom fishing industry. It is essential, apart from the general agreement and backing from the industry, for the Government to have solid support from both sides of the House when they 998 go in for a better deal on a common fisheries policy. That is an important prerequisite. It will strengthen considerably their negotiating posture. I hope that what the Minister says tonight will strengthen the unity of all who are involved in the ports, docks, the fishing industry and processing so that the Government will have the strength of the House behind them.
We all know that, due to the extension of the 200-mile fisheries limit, the United Kingdom must get a better deal in the Common Market fishpond. The 200-mile limit greatly reduced the opportunities for our fisheremen. Indeed, the expulsion from third country waters has been a major factor in the reduction of employment in the fishing and fish processing industries. In Hull, for example, it is estimated that this past year there were about 1,070 people employed full-time in fishing compared with over 2,080 ten years ago, a cut of almost 50 per cent. That has been the deleterious effect on one port alone.
In 1976, about 65,000 people in Britain were employed in fishing and ancillary industries. About 17,000 were full-time fishermen. Therefore this is a great industry. However, it has suffered considerably as a result of the exclusions.
Britain's deep-sea fishing industry has also suffered severely from the loss of distant-water fishing, to the tune of about £80 million a year in value, affecting Humberside, Fleetwood and Aberdeen. The annual catch of demersal fish—cod, haddock and plaice—dropped from over 760,000 tons at the time of the Treaty of Accession to a level in 1976 of about 600,000 tons. Of this, the tonnage taken from third country waters dropped from about 360,000 tons in 1972 to 55,500 tons in 1978. That is an awful slump.
Since our accession, the demersal catches by other countries in the waters under our sovereignty and jurisdiction up to the 200-mile limit have increased from 360,000 tons to about 470,00 tons, although we must recognise that nearly half of that was by non-Common Market countries.
We have recently seen—it has been admitted—that the poaching still goes on in our waters and that the Germans have taken 10,000 tons more than their quota this past year. We do not know 999 to what extent the Dutch and the Danes have done the same.
The pelagic catches—herring, sprats and mackerel—of other countries around our shores have increased out of all recognition since the Treaty of Accession. In 1975—my latest figures—they amounted to 1,037,000 tons in the United Kingdom 200-mile zone. Those figures show just how important are the fish in our waters—and how important they are to us. Indeed, over 60 per cent. of fish caught in waters of the Common Market member States is taken in British waters.
That short, frightening, factual trend is the reason why we have been, and still are, demanding a new common fisheries policy. The Opposition are prepared to back the Government on what might be termed the five point plan to regenerate the British fishing industry. I hope that we have agreement on this and that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend will be prepared to fight and stand up in the Council on these points.
First, we should establish proper conservation measures. Secondly, we must build up and maintain adequate enforcement of conservation. Thirdly, we must obtain a fair share for the United Kingdom fishermen of the fish stocks in the Common Market pool. Fourthly, we must fight for preferential access in our coastal waters, going for an exclusive 12-mile belt. Fifthly, we must stress that the United Kingdom should have a dominant preference in the 12-mile to 50-mile zone.
This is a package which we all feel is necessary to safeguard the industry and all those whose livelihoods depend upon a thriving fishing industry. These, therefore, must be our objectives, and there must be strong determination on the Government's part to achieve them. I hope that the Government can make progress at the next Fisheries Council meeting. I know that the matter is slipping, and may slip further while the House is in recess.
I hope also that the Secretary of State for Scotland will let his right hon. Friend know that we should like the approval of the House to be given before the final deed is done.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who has 1000 spoken from the Opposition Front Bench, because he made clear that he intended to pursue the bipartisan policy that has been always a tradition in the House on fishing matters. Just as when we were in Opposition we fully supported the robust attitude then taken by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), so we are now glad to have an indication that the present Opposition intend to follow that tradition.
One other point that the right hon. Gentleman made which I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will agree with is that the House should be given the chance to approve or disapprove any deal which my right hon. Friends may bring back from the European Community. We pressed that on the previous Government and they agreed, and I think it essential that the present Government also should agree.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply to the debate, because he will be playing an important part in the negotiations. It is a measure of the importance that we in Scotland attach to these matters that all Scottish Conservative Back Benchers put in their names as wishing to have the matter debated, and that is reflected in the fact that the Secretary of State is here to respond.
I was glad that this subject was made one for debate on this occasion because it is almost certainly the last chance that the House will have to debate these matters before they are the subject of negotiation again, and possibly final negotiation, in Brussels. It is the last chance that we shall have to put before my right hon. Friend what we believe are the minimum conditions for the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy, and for him to tell us whether he accepts those conditions or where he would like some latitude. It is appropriate that on this, almost the final day of this part of the Session, we are having this extremely important debate.
I shall direct my remarks mainly to the question of renegotiation of the common fisheries policy, but at the outset I think it only right that as a background I should put on the record what a sad and unhappy state the fishing industry is in at the moment, which makes it all the more vital that we get a success- 1001 ful renegotiation of the common fisheries policy.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley quite properly gave us one or two of the facts of the sad decline of the fishing industry in recent years. I would add two general facts which, I think, make clear beyond doubt the sad state into which it has fallen.
The first fact, which there is no gainsaying, is that in the last five years or so some 45,000 jobs have been lost in the industry at sea and on land, directly or indirectly. That is a terrible decline in the employment in any industry.
Secondly, in the last five years the number of deep-sea vessels in the British fleet has been more than halved, having gone down from 429 to 202. This decline is continuing very sharply, because I understand that since January this year another 17 vessels have been withdrawn from their previous work.
The right hon. Gentleman gave some statistics relating to Hull and, of course, I accept them. I should like to reinforce his argument by giving some statistics relating to Aberdeen. Last year, in Aberdeen the catch from Faroes—one of the traditional grounds for our trawlers—was only 14 per cent. of what it was five years ago. That is a shocking decline in what was once a very considerable source of revenue and prosperity for Aberdeen vessels.
When I became a Member of Parliament nine years ago, there were about 10,000 people in Aberdeen engaged, directly or indirectly, in the fishing industry. Today that figure has fallen to 7,000. The deep-sea trawling fleet companies, which numbered 16 or 17 when I became a Member, now number only seven. The membership of the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners' Association was 140 in 1970. Today it is 70—exactly half. There is no question, therefore, but that the industry is in a period of very serious decline.
The Common Market is only one aspect of it. In Aberdeen, we have the advantage of North Sea oil. As I argued in a debate earlier in the week, it has been a great blessing to Aberdeen as a whole, but there is no question but that it has had a very damaging effect on many of the traditional industries in the 1002 area. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) and my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) will confirm that it has had a similar effect in their areas.
Wages used to be well below the national average in Aberdeen. I am not arguing that this was a good thing for the wage earner, but it made our industries more competitive. Whereas in the traditional industries in Aberdeen the wages used to be 10 per cent. below the national average, they are now 15 to 20 per cent. above the national average. It is extremely difficult for the fishing industry to attract men from the oil industry, because the oil industry is paying wages well above that level. North Sea oil, blessing though it has been for Aberdeen and for the country as a whole, has been very damaging in many cases to the traditional industries.
There are many other problems that the fishing industry has had to face, and perhaps my hon. Friends will want to dwell on these. There is the fact that we no longer have Iceland. We no longer have the Faroes to any great extent. We no longer have Norway to any great extent. Three or four years ago, about 30 per cent. of the total Scottish catch came from Iceland, the Faroes and North Norway. The figure has sunk almost overnight to less than 10 per cent. today.
There is the turmoil over the common fisheries policy, there are the problems on the West Coast with the mackerel, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) is dealing at this moment. There is also the fact that the price of fuel, which accounts for about 25 per cent. of the costs of the industry, is rocketing upwards.
From every angle, the fishing industry is being battered, whether from Europe, from fuel prices, or from the removal of our traditional fishing grounds. We are now looking to my right hon. Friend and his colleague in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to get a deal out of the EEC that will do something to reverse the decline into which the industry has fallen.
I do not think that I need emphasise to my right hon. Friend the need to be robust in these negotiations. I paid frequent and genuine tribute to the robustness of the right hon. Member for Deptford in his approach to this matter. I 1003 know that he had reasons for that approach with which we would not all agree, but, whatever the reason, the method was right. Whoever negotiates must prove that in order to be a good European it is not necessary to be a weak Briton. We must show that we can be good Scots and Britons as well as good Europeans, by fighting for the interests of Scotland and Britain in these negotiations.
I was extremely pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in almost the first speech that she made—if I remember rightly it was in Scotland—that the European Community must realise that, although the present Government were more pro-European in their attitude than the previous Labour Government, they would not be a soft touch. I think that my right hon. Friend should make it clear, right at the beginning of these negotiations, that we shall not be a soft touch for the Europeans on the common fisheries policy.
Before I turn, briefly, to the question of the minimum conditions which I hope that my right hon. Friend will get out of these renegotiations, I want to make one background point. Fish are not a Community resource. The fish do not belong to the European Community as a whole. In British waters the fish belong to this country. The EEC did not extend its limits to 200 miles. Individual member States of the EEC extended their own national limits. We extended our limits to 200 miles under British law. Therefore, the Community cannot claim that the fish in British waters are a Community resource which should be divided up as the Community wishes.
The Treaty of Rome states quite specifically that the Community will not own the natural assets of its member States. In other words, fish remain a British resource within our 200-mile limit, just as German coal, Dutch gas and French vineyards are the natural resources of those countries. Indeed, in a curious way, North Sea oil is a natural marine resource which it is within the power of the British Government, and not the European Community, to dispose of. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make it quite clear, as a background to any negotiations, that the fish in British waters are a British 1004 resource and not a European Community resource.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley gave us what he called a five-point plan. I would not disagree with what he said in any major way. I have written down five minimum conditions which are slightly different. The five minimum conditions that we must secure from the European Community if we are to secure justice for the fishing industry—indeed, not only the fishing industry but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) said, for the British consumer—are as follows.
The first condition is that we must have an exclusive zone for British fishermen. I suggest that that exclusive zone should be 12 miles as an absolute minimum. The whole argument about an exclusive zone for British fishermen is given more force when we consider that within the fairly near future Spain and Portugal are likely to become members of the European Community. If British fishermen were terrified at the thought of French, Danish and German fishermen fishing up to the edge of British beaches, they are more terrified at the thought of adding to that Spanish and Portuguese fishermen with their large and efficient fleets. So an exclusive zone is the first minimum condition.
The second minimum condition is that British fishermen must have a zone of preferential access if we are to be able properly to protect our own industry. I think that the preferential access zone should be a minimum of 50 miles.
The third minimum condition is that we must have not only proper quotas but proper quotas of proper fish. We do not want the quota percentage to be made up of horse mackerel, or other rubbish, which is the sort of thing that the EEC tried to spring on us before. It is totally unacceptable in any sense of natural justice that, if the British contribute about 65 per cent. of the fish within the waters of the EEC countries, they get out only 20, 25 or even 30 per cent. It is a grotesque imbalance to put in 65 per cent. and take out only 25 or 30 per cent. Members of the Community must be made to realise that we must take out a percentage that is commensurate with the percentage that we put in.
1005 The fourth minimum condition is that when the quotas are finally agreed—we all hope that my right hon. Friend will succeed in the autumn—they must be properly enforced. The sad fact is that one cannot trust fishermen, particularly fishermen of foreign countries, to obey the quotas. I see the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) smiling. I do not know whether he is smiling at the fact that I referred in as delicate and polite a way as I could to overfishing by foreign fishermen. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present when the right hon. Member for Barnsley spoke about this, but the Germans have admitted over-fishing cod by no less than 40 per cent. They have admitted that that is the increase.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
What about the Scottish practice of catching mackerel off the coast of my county? When the fishermen discover that they are not big enough, they throw them back into the sea and try to find some bigger ones.
§ Mr. Sproat
That seems a sensible precaution for the Scottish fishermen to take. None the less, there is an essential difference between disputes among British fishermen and disputes between British fishermen and foreign fishermen. The hon. Gentleman should realise that, although our fishermen are certainly no angels, there can be no doubt that the attitudes of our fishermen on conservation are infinitely and provably superior to those of the French, who have fished out their own grounds. It is precisely because we fear that those bad habits of overfishing will be extended to our own grounds that we are so insistent upon getting proper quotas.
§ Mr. James A Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one should practise what one preaches, especially if one is asking others to conform to the regulations and ideology that one is preaching? Is it not more difficult for those negotiating on our behalf to come to terms with their European partners, and does it not smack of hypocrisy, when the malpractice by Scottish fishermen goes on? By throwing fish back into the sea, they are destroying the resource. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not agree with that.
§ Mr. Sproat
I was half joking. Of course, one of the reasons why we approved of the change in mesh size was to ensure that not many young fish were caught. I was merely pointing out that there is a traditional row between the Cornish fishermen and the Scottish fishermen. I made the remark that I did in order not to get involved in another endless argument about the rights of this case, because it is irrelevant to the point that I was making.
I beseech my right hon. Friend to make certain that these quotas are enforced by a comprehensive control regime, with proper effort and licensing controls. That is the only way in which one can protect and conserve the species of fish.
My fifth minimum condition is that the coastal State should have the right to take unilateral further conservation measures, as long as they do not discriminate against any members of the Community. The measure that we all believe to be the most necessary is what is known as the one-net measure, so that the same vessel does not scoop up the young fish with one net and then pretend that it is using another net for other fish.
Those are the five minimum conditions—the exclusive zone, the preferential access zone, proper quotas of proper fish, the quotas adequately enforced and the right of the coastal State to take further measures of conservation where necessary.
I think that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is granted that the industry is in a most unhappy state, but, unfortunately, we cannot decide on the future size and structure of the British fleet until we have the common fisheries policy out of the way. Therefore, our first task is to get it right. The next task of the new Government must be urgently to bring about a proper size and structure for the British fleet in the coming years, so that it does not have to go through the periods of total lack of confidence and decline that we have so sadly witnessed in past years.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
I have been delighted to hear the general tone of the debate. There is no great disagreement in the House about what measures are required or about the background to the dispute. I suspect that compared with Scottish hon. Members I may 1007 present a slightly different argument with regard to the local fishermen, but there is no basic disagreement about how we have got where we are.
For various reasons, the British fishing fleet has been thrown out of Iceland and Norway, and it has wrecked its own herring stocks in Scotland. The great fishing capacity of the United Kingdom fleet that lived off those resources has nothing to do. The simple truth, and my complaint, is that a large percentage of it—at least, at one time in the year—seems to arrive in Cornwall.
Before the fleet came, six years ago, there had been a steady build-up of the Cornish fishing industry, based on mackerel. Hard-won markets for human consumption had been found in the European Community. Communities that had not thrived for a long time began to thrive. The method of fishing was conservation at its best. The Cornish method was what is called long-line fishing, which consists of nothing more than a small boat pulling a long line behind it. The line has on it at about one-metre intervals a hook so designed that it oscillates in the water, causing a sort of shimmer.
Being just about the most stupid fish the Lord has ever created, mackerel have yet to learn that the hook is poison, and they jump on it. No bait is required. The mackerel jump on the hooks in large quantities—at least, they did until fairly recently. The ports of Newlyn, Flushing, Mevagissey and Looe saw fishing such as they had never seen for decades, all based on the long-line technique.
The point that I want to make about conservation is that we must attack technique. Having seen the experiments of the previous Government, carried out with some dedication in the West Country, I think that limiting fish on a tonne a day basis is no good. Fishermen seem to have difficulty in counting beyond a certain number. Some have difficulty in weighing the fish that they have caught, except when they come to sell it, when inspiration suddenly returns to them. I do not believe the returns made by the fishing industry. Nor does anyone else who is very close to it. Therefore, it is technique that we must limit, as well as the number of boats.
1008 In my county the fish were being caught and no great harm was being done. Everyone seemed very happy. Just last week one of the fishermen of Padstow was sent to gaol for 12 months for evading income tax of £12,000 over a period of three years, which gives an indication of how happy people are fishing off Cornwall.
The trouble is that in the United Kingdom very few people eat unsmoked mackerel. It is a ludicrous habit not to eat fresh mackerel. I have eaten it ever since I was old enough to eat anything. In Cornwall we say that the English will not eat mackerel, and there is a great deal of truth in that. I congratulate the Scottish industry on doing great work in smoking mackerel and finding new markets for it. It deserves due credit for that work, and it has nothing to do with the people in my area. However, the sheer quantity that is caught cannot be dealt with by all the dedicated Scottish smokers and Cornish eaters of mackerel in a lifetime, let alone each year. The quantities are quite incredible, and the problem is what to do with all these fish.
A more amazing decision has been made, implemented and allowed to continue than any I have seen since I have been in Parliament. The Carrick Roads in Falmouth during the mackerel fishing season is full to bursting with Soviet factory boats. I have counted 17 vessels, so rumours of more than that I do not believe. There is a great number and people say that there is a greater number than 17.
The Scottish purse seiners descend on us. They catch the mackerel by the thousand tons, take it to Falmouth and sell it to Soviet bloc factory boats. I have been on a Bulgarian boat. The fish come on board, they are split, the innards thrown to one side, the mackerel filleted and the fillets frozen. The remainder is ground, boiled and dried. I invite the Minister to witness the process on a Soviet bloc factory fishing boat designed for the mid-Atlantic, half a mile outside St. Mawes, grinding, pressing and boiling fish. It has an aroma that he will not forget in a hurry, and it is one that my constituents never cease to remind me of. It is an incredible sight and the situation is incredible.
There are two reasons why it should not be allowed. It is a silly use of our 1009 mackerel stocks and it should not be allowed purely on the basis of planning. There is a never-ending process for permission to build a factory en shore, which often seems complicated to the point of despair. However, if the factory floats and a boat is anchored in a large harbour such as Falmouth, no regulations apply. How many years will the Government allow that to carry on in the Falmouth harbour? How do they justify that planning peculiarity that if the factory were on land all the planning regulations would apply but because it is at sea they do not? Perhaps the Government will give an indication of their enthusiasm for that aspect of fishing in my part of the country. I think it is obscene nonsense, as do the local people and others who have studied the matter.
The local people suspect that the reason why it is allowed is that there is no doubt that the United Kingdom fishing fleet is in trouble, and mackerel represents a large percentage of the fish available. It is convenient—let us leave it at that—to let Cornish mackerel stocks be plundered because it allows the Government to avoid facing the horrible harsh reality that even greater reductions in the United Kingdom fishing capacity must occur before equilibrium is reached.
I do not blame the Government for the historic situation. They cannot take the blame for something that has been happening for years when they have been in office for only 11 or 12 weeks. I warn them, however, that if they allow this to continue there will be no mackerel left in West Cornwall. The last natural fish in United Kingdom waters will be destroyed and the Cornish-based fishing industry will disappear along with it, if that has not already happened.
There are a number of obvious reforms that are required for the local industry. We need a six-mile exclusive zone, and there is nothing preposterous in that request. The boats are small and cannot go much further than that. Why should the community not enjoy its own resources? There are times when one can stand on the cliffs of Cornwall and see ocean-going boats fishing, they say, outside the three-mile limit that is already imposed locally. I find it difficult to judge distances over the sea but I could probably run that three miles in a time which would break 1010 the world record. However, no doubt the distance is three miles for all that. But one sees these ocean-going boats fishing just three miles off the coast. We want a six-mile exclusive zone.
The Scottish fishermen—and the Northern fishermen are not much better—say that if they were excluded up to six miles, which is the crucial point, the viability of catching mackerel would no longer be there. They should be forced to catch the enormous quantities of mackerel which all agree exist 60 or 80 miles off the Isles of Scilly, probably the very last fishing ground to be exploited.
These large boats can go to that ground. My fishermen cannot. There is no way that a 30 ft. long liner can go 60 or 80 miles to lie off the Scilly Isles, catch fish and come back again. The oceangoing boats were designed to go such distances.
I have yet to hear a logical reason why the Government do not apply the pressure of giving a six-mile exclusive zone to local fishermen and making the big boats catch mackerel off the Isles of Scilly. They are the ones which can catch the mackerel there; the local industry cannot. There would be little logic in the local industry modifying itself to do so. It can catch the fish that are local; let the ocean-going boats catch the fish in the ocean.
I would like to see a close season against netting. The practice of catching immature fish must be one of the most ludicrous wastes of natural resources which even the fishing industry has succeeded in dreaming up. We need a great reduction in the total catch. That will only be done by a very strict limit on the number of licences granted to the large boats and then consideration given to restrictions of technique. At least within 25 or 50 miles off the coast there is a very good case for the banning of purse seining altogether—not just limiting the catch per man per day but limiting the technique altogether.
Fish is the ultimate of finite resources. The stocks are being reduced. If we catch what is left, there will not be enough left to breed so as to feed and employ future generations of human beings. Limiting and banning certain techniques might just bring back an equilibrium between supply and demand in this great 1011 industry. I do not believe that trusting to the returns of tons caught or any other aspect is likely to achieve the aim which the whole House claims to have.
My last point is perhaps not within the responsibility of the Minister who is to reply. I hope that he does not regard himself as being just the Scottish Minister with responsibility for fishing. There is not a county in England which has higher unemployment or lower wages than Cornwall. That is a fact of numbers. The percentage unemployed in Cornwall over the year on average is worse even than the figure for Liverpool.
There are those who believe that Cornwall will solve its problems only by developing what is natural to it, and I am one of those. One of the industries that is natural to Cornwall is fishing. We have an enormous coastline. We are not demanding the exclusive rights to the fish there—that would be silly. We all live in the same great nation.
What we do claim is the right to a fair percentage share. We claim the exclusive right to the first five miles around our coast. We claim the right to an increasing employment factor based on this natural resource of our part of the country. There we have it. We have the fishing industry off Cornwall. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the Soviet factory boats in the Carrick Roads. We want an increasing percentage of the total market available for fishermen in Cornwall. I want to see a substantial reduction in the total fishing done, and I must warn the Minister that if that is not carried out there will be no fish available for anyone in the Western Approaches before long.
Most of all, I want to see a policy developed whereby equilibrium is reached, leaving the British fishermen in general to praise themselves as being more conservation minded than most of our European partners. That is probably true, but they will have to improve a great deal on their historic record if we want to get back into equilibrium. Let us not just blame the European Community for the herring shortage off Scotland. We might choose to blame them in the rhetoric of a general election campaign. But we do not have that fear again for a while, so let us get down to the reality of the 1012 position. In some ways British fishermen are not a great deal better than any others.
I ask the Minister to consider seriously the alternative which I suggested of conserving fish by the restriction of techniques. All he has to do is ban techniques and say "No, you may not fish with your purse seine. We are banning them. They are against the common interest." It would he perfectly possible to catch all the mackerel that my part of the country could manage with just six purse seiners and a total crew of 40, and that would be the Western Approaches fishing industry. I want to see a locally based fishing industry where the inshore man has a great deal more strength than before. This can be done by giving exclusive zones to the communities where they are and by a considerable banning of techniques.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate on the fishing industry so early in what promises to be a very long night discussing the Consolidated Fund Bill.
I shall resist the temptation to cross swords with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). Instead, I shall concentrate on those matters about which he and most other right hon. and hon. Members are in agreement, especially bearing in mind that we are likely to see a meeting between the fisheries Ministers of the European Economic Community during the parliamentary recess. That is why it is particularly valuable that we are debating this matter tonight.
The principal concerns of the fishing industry today stem very much from matters concerned with the EEC. These are of primary concern.
One reason why it is important that we tackle these problems rapidly is that there are other matters outstanding with which it would not be clever to get to grips until a major question such as the future of the common fisheries policy had been resolved.
Perhaps I might summarise some of the key factors which I hope that Ministers will bear in mind. The three key phrases that we want to see the Government bear in mind all start with the letter "c". The first is conservation. Without it, there is no long-term future 1013 for the British fishing industry or for the European fishing industry. The second is confidence, which the industry sadly lacks both in the future and in the ability of the country and the Community to police the agreements which have been and are being made. The third is the Conservative manifesto of the last election. This pointed out the key matters which we want to see the Government deal with in the next few weeks and months.
My right hon. Friend does not need lectures from me about the particular and detailed problems of the industry and the detailed points that will arise during the negotiations. I should, however, like to hear him reaffirm that the Government's intention is to follow what was so admirably expressed in the Conservative election manifesto. One of the matters that influenced Members on the Conservative Benches was the quality and effectiveness of representations made by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. The sincerity and the knowledge with which the federation presented its case appealed very much to hon. Members on this side of the House.
What makes the federation different from almost any major lobby visiting Ministers is that it does not want taxpayers' money. It wants a fair agreement to create an environment in which the fishermen can effectively follow their calling. I hope that close contact will be maintained between Ministers and fishermen throughout the recess and during the negotiations that we hope will take place soon in Brussels. There is an urgent need for rapid progress to be made in these negotiations in the European Economic Community. If agreement is not brought about soon, the problems will get worse rather than better.
There are also many internal United Kingdom problems that are awaiting resolution. But it is better that they should not be debated, or attempt made to deal with them, until we have sorted out the key European questions on which the United Kingdom fishing industry is remarkably united. We should be getting past the stage of arguing within the European Community. We should be working together in our dealings and negotiations with those outside the Community. There is plenty of work to 1014 be done. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland knows, there is concern in my constituency about the apparent dumping of Norwegian cooked crab meat. I am sure that he will soon inform me of the resolution that is proposed for that problem.
I conclude with the hope that Ministers will have the same kind of success in negotiating in Brussels for the interests of the British, and the Scottish fishing industry, as they have achieved in negotiating on behalf of the farming industry. I hope that they will achieve the same success as my right hon. Friend in recent days in defending the specific interests of Scotland in that context.
§ Mr. David Myles (Banff)
The fishing industry requires not funds so much as attention to two interrelated factors—conservation of stocks, and international agreement. The British Government have felt constrained to introduce unilateral conservation measures within British fishery limits, despite the threat of being arraigned before the European Court. I believe that that action was necessary and imperative.
Besides the various bans on direct fishing for herring, those limits have included the reduction of permitted by-catches. I have every sympathy with the prawn fishermen who say that the 50 per cent. by-catch regulation is an impossible imposition and I am pleased that the Minister has agreed to look at that anomaly.
But this Bill is about the allocation of funds. I urge Ministers to consider the small boat yards, where White Fish Authority grants are exhausted and fishermen are going to foreign yards in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Holland to get low fixed-interest loans and extended credit facilities. I recognise the need for a moratorium on an extension of our fishing fleet, but the door should be left a wee bit ajar so that worthy young men can get a start and our yards can maintain their repair capability.
Attention should be paid to the interests of our inshore fishermen and the small operators. I have great sympathy with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). The Government will require great wisdom, objective judgment and a fine understanding of the problems.
1015 I know that Ministers have had and will continue to have consultations with the fishing industry. It is only by hearing about the problems from the men on the spot that we can find solutions, but solutions equitable for all will be difficult to find. The very nature of the industry means that everyone is basically in competition.
However, I am sure that Ministers will find, as I have found in my brief association with fishermen in Banffshire, that they understand the problems and the need for positive action. How often have I heard them say "There is enough for need but not enough for greed"? The voluntary catch limit shows that the fishermen are responsible, but we cannot expect them to remain responsible if they see our neighbours being allowed to exploit these scarce resources. We must maintain a balance so that this oldest of industries may grow even older.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)
There is wide recognition that this Government, in talks with their EEC partners, have exhibited that they are prepared to take a tough and firm line over the proper development of a realistic common fisheries policy. The balance involved in the pursuit of that realistic policy, coupled with an underlying firmness of commitment to the essential interests of the fishing industry, is heartening.
The greater confidence that is being felt should not be allowed to conceal that there continues to be a real anxiety among fishermen, not just about their medium-term future but about their long-term future. The anxiety arises in two ways. The first has been mentioned by almost all the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate—diminishing fish stocks and the continuing problem of overfishing.
I make no apology for using the example of the West Germans, who are now admitting publicly that they fish for cod in the North Sea to the extent of 40 per cent. in excess of what is allowed. If that is the admitted excess, the mind boggles at the possible take of the other EEC countries. One wonders at the total extent of overfishing in EEC waters. It should be universally condemned.
That problem should and can be solved by proper regulations in the context of a 1016 common fisheries policy with properly enforced conservation measures. Of as much concern to those involved in fishing are structural changes within the industry which cause problems, particularly in the small ports in the United Kingdom.
Boats are becoming larger and equipment more sophisticated. If one considers the new and large purse seiners, it is extraordinary to contemplate that little more than 10 or 20 purse seiners would be needed to cover the ports of Scotland, beginning at Campbeltown, up to the North Coast, and down the East Coast. That worries those who fish from the small ports who have a long tradition and an involved and integrated industry in those towns.
To ban purse seiners may not be the complete answer. When the Government discuss this matter with their EEC partners and representatives of the fishing industry, they should remember what was said in the party manifesto. We said that we would protect the rights of the inshore fishermen. The Government must recognise that in protecting those rights it is necessary to ensure that large purse seiners do not take over the fishing areas round our coasts.
The small boats with small crews are having a difficult time. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) referred to the fuel costs. Inshore fishermen who come in and out of port each day face enormous fuel costs.
Arbroath is an old and established port. It is so essentially part of the town and the East Coast that if one goes back as far as 1624 when people first came out of serfdom and set themselves up as fishermen one finds the names of Swankey, Smith, Spink and Cargill. I know to my cost that when I am assailed by the fishermen of Arbroath I am being assailed by the Smiths, Swankeys, Spinks and Cargills. For four centuries the same families have pursued that interest, and it would be disastrous if this Government, with their great and continuing concern for smaller industries and smaller enterprises, were to allow these people to fail by not giving them the protection they so desperately require.
To destroy the fishing industry in Arbroath would be like lopping Big Ben off the Palace of Westminster. Arbroath 1017 without smokies would be quite as disastrous for the people who live up the East Coast. If I do nothing else before I leave this House, I shall make sure that the Refreshment Department's daily menu carries that most excellent of delicacies, the Arbroath smokie.
In considering the industry's future requirements, the Government must review the vexed issue for fishermen on the East Coast of drift net fishing for salmon at sea. There is a continuing sense of injustice and of ill feeling that the fishermen there are prohibited from this activity while fishermen just across the border are permitted to do it.
The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence may show that this form of fishing for salmon should not be allowed to continue. But, if that is so, we cannot understand why that scientific fact is not equally applicable across the border. If a ban is to be imposed in Scottish waters, however, it would seem only natural justice and common equity that the ban should apply south of the border, too. Alternatively, if drift netting for salmon at sea is acceptable. Scottish fishermen must be entitled to share in that aspect of the industry.
I acknowledge that this is an extremely difficult matter, but I hope that in an examination of regional plans for British fishing waters, or of licensing and secondary licensing systems, proper consideration will be given to it.
When Britain entered the EEC, and at the time of the referendum on membership, great play was made of the opportunities that would arise for small fishing associations to band together into producer organisations and take on responsibilities and powers for marketing and control. That opportunity was held up to those associations as a way in which they could become masters of their own destinies. There is, however, a sense of ill will that, although they were encouraged and pushed into working along those lines, their responsibilities and duties have not yet been clearly defined. The associations want them clearly spelt out so that they may know what they can and cannot do.
The quota system and its implementation may he far from perfect, but the self-regulation that operates under that system, which was regarded as being not 1018 worth while, has often turned out to be better than anything the Government can do. I can give an example to demonstrate what I mean. Quotas can be defeated or ignored by vessels taking immature fish and throwing them overboard. With Government regulation the fish are washed ashore and when they are discovered no one knows who did the dumping. However, when the producer organisations and the skippers are given responsibility and powers of regulation, they know who has been catching and dumping the immature fish. All these matters of technique and size will be known to the skippers and in turn to the producer organisations. A real opportunity exists to take advantage of their expertise by ensuring that the conservation and control of our fishing industry in future is left partially at least in their hands.
§ Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn) rose—
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe) rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) thinks that I have a Scottish bias, I must explain that I am working through the list of hon. Members who took part in the ballot. It is good news for the hon. Gentleman that there is only one more hon. Member who so took part.
§ Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn)
I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, because the debate is of especial interest to my constituency, which, I inform the Opposition Front Bench, is both firmly Scottish and British and sees nothing peculiar about that. Indeed, it sees that as the natural order of events, as natural as the sight of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland sitting on the Government Front Bench and waiting to reply to the debate.
The fishing community in Moray and Nairn has played a significant and distinguished part in the fishing industry. It is appropriate to remind the House that when we discuss these matters we talk not only of economic facts and statistics but of the future livelihood and well-being of fishermen, their families and the communities who depend upon them.
It is common today to hear talk of a harsh economic climate, cruel winds, adverse trading conditions and rough seas 1019 through which industry has to pass. Let us not forget that when we talk of fishing matters it is the fishermen who have to face real waters and real winds. The dangers that they face are part of the existence that they accept and about which they make little complaint. They accept those conditions with fortitude. Surely the least that we can do is support them in their endeavours.
One of the most pressing needs—it has been touched on by several hon. Members—is to insist on proper conservation measures. I am sure that my right hon. Friend accepts that need. I hope that I shall be allowed to congratulate him, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on his sterling efforts in Europe in June, when he and his right hon. Friend made it clear at the meeting of the Fisheries Council that if necessary they would take a firm stand on unilateral conservation. I trust that in the coming months they will maintain that insistence in attempting to secure a common fisheries policy.
I ask my right hon. Friend to insist that responsibility for control and enforcement of any common fisheries policy is left to each member State within its own waters. I associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). Meanwhile, until such a policy is agreed I urge the Government to accept that it is essential for us to match in financial terms the support and encouragement given to the fishing interests of other member States by their Governments.
Finally, I ask the Government for an assurance at the close of the debate that they will take all necessary steps to ensure, in the immediate future and during the energy crisis, adequate fuel supplies for the fishing industry. Without a regular and guaranteed supply of fuel, the industry's welfare will be thrown into immediate jeopardy. That would be a tragic loss, for not only the industry but the country generally. I suggest that these requests are not too much for us to make on behalf of those from whom we take so much.
§ 10 pm
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that 1020 I have been a Member of the House long enough to know that you never have any bias. I remember when you said that the best wine should be kept to the last. I expected to be called last. You have lived up to your reputation.
My speech will be shorter than usual. My main object tonight is to thank the Minister for so readily deciding to visit the South Coast, to come to my constituency and meet the fishermen in person. That will be greatly appreciated by them. They will be able to put their case to the Minister much better than I can. That will be a unique opportunity. My constituency and that of Dover are nearest to the Continent. The fishermen there have been operating for generations. They have seen all the tricks that the Continental fishermen get up to. If the Minister is able to find time to talk to the fishermen along the coast, he will realise that there is a great deal of difference in different parts of the coast.
Fishermen in my constituency never seem to understand why Ministers who visit them do not appreciate that there are deep sea fishermen, inshore fishermen and longshore fishermen. The people on the South and South-East Coasts consider themselves to be longshore fishermen, similar to those in Cornwall.
A complaint was made that not enough people ate smoked mackerel. It was on our menu tonight. I did not see the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) eating it himself.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
The problem is that no one will eat mackerel if it is not smoked. The best way to eat mackerel is straight out of the sea, as the Lord made it—not smoked.
§ Mr. Costain
was not criticising the hon. Gentleman. I remember when I asked Mrs. Braddock when she was Chairman of the Kitchen Committee whether she could have sprats put on the menu. I received more publicity over that remark than anything else that I ever said in the House.
We are looking forward very much to seeing the Minister. He will understand the point much better if it is made directly by the fishermen. His promise to come is very welcome. It has saved him a long boring speech from myself.
§ 10.4 pm
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
I am very glad that hon. Members were fortunate and adept enough to arrange this as the first debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. I am glad to take part in the debate, at least for a short time, especially as more than 50 per cent. of the total British fishing industry is now located in Scotland. If we manage our affairs aright, I believe that that proportion should go up within the next few years.
The general attitude that the Opposition will take to the Government on the negotiations on the common fisheries policy is this. We shall support the Government if they defend British—and Scottish—interests robustly in these negotiations in the Council of Ministers. But, of course, we shall be highly critical of the Government if in any way they lessen the efforts made by the previous Government to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations.
In the last few months before the election, it was the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and myself in the negotiations that a number of Ministers felt that they did not have to come to serious negotiations for a settlement as there would be a general election soon and that there might then be a changed Government who would be more accommodating to their point of view.
My right hon. Friend and I were at pains to point out that the views which we were expressing on behalf of Britain at that time had the unanimous support of the House of Commons. Indeed, in so far as there was a difference of view, there were elements in the House wanting us to take a line which was more extreme—to use the sort of language which the other Ministers tended to use about our attitude—than the one which we were putting in those negotiations.
The Secretary of State and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will take into the negotiations the support of the whole House provided, as I say, that they stick to the line which the House has expressed virtually unanimously on many occasions.
1022 In my view, the whole principle of the common fisheries policy contains an absurdity and something which is completely unsuitable to British interests, but the view which we took during the negotiations was that, whatever the ultimate settlement was, it had to recognise the substantial contribution which this country makes to the total fishery resources of the Community. About 60 per cent. of the Community's total resources come. from British waters, and this must be recognised in any settlement of the common fisheries policy. We expressed our demands in terms which have been mentioned already, but perhaps I may just go over them quickly now. They were, of course, supported by the Opposition at that time.
We wanted an exclusive national zone up to 12 miles, with phasing out of historic rights. We wanted a dominant preference for this country in the zone between 12 and 50 miles. We wished to see a strong conservation policy, and in the absence of Community measures, we wished to reserve to the individual nation States the right to take, on a nondiscriminatory basis, national conservation measures. We wanted sensible quotas, and especially quotas satisfactory to this country in the high-quality fish which we have traditionally fished.
We wanted also to ensure that any quotas and all the other elements of a common fisheries policy should be subject to proper monitoring and control so that abuses of quota or of other elements of the policy could be detected and right, with a view to our having a policy which was properly policed and which we could be confident was being adhered to by other countries as well as ourselves.
I have gone over those points briefly, but I think it important to put them on the record again, and I shall in a moment ask whether the Government accept them as proposals which they in their turn wish to press for in the coming negotiations.
We spelt out our proposals in some detail at one of the meetings of the Council of Ministers last November when we were asked to put certain aspects of them on paper. We did that. We laid a paper at the meeting of 23–24 November last year, and we put those proposals, particularly for the 12-mile zone and the 1023 12 to 50-mile zone, in the context of a fishing plan, because the Commission itself had put before the meeting proposals for the use of fishing plans to regulate a common fisheries policy.
There is, therefore, no question but that the views of the Labour Government were well known to the rest of the Council of Ministers, and we did a considerable amount of detailed work in spelling out exactly where we expected preference and what kind of preference we expected for the fishermen of this country.
I am sorry to say that at the meeting in November, as at previous meetings, the response of the other Ministers was completely unsatisfactory. On that I make the general point that the view taken by the Labour Government was that we were not willing to reach an unsatisfactory settlement simply for the sake of having a settlement and ending uncertainty in the industry. There is uncertainty in the industry, which is extremely worrying for those involved. Of course, they would like a settlement, and they would like one as quickly as possible. The industry and the Government had a common view on that.
We also had a common view that, even with the urgency of reaching a settlement and the urgency of ending the uncertainty, we should not be coerced or pushed into an unsatisfactory solution simply for the sake of being able to set aside this very difficult, almost intractable, problem with which we have been struggling for several years. I hope very much that in the negotiations the Government will maintain that view.
If the Government were to give any impression to the rest of the Ministers concerned that their main effort was to get an early settlement—not regardless of the terms, but the best settlement they could get as quickly as they could get it—it would be disastrous for their negotiating position. I hope that they will adhere to the strong position that this country has maintained for as long as that is necessary in order to get a satisfactory settlement.
It would help the House if the Secretary of State would tell us where the Government have got to on the general state of the negotiations. We should be glad to have his assurance that the stand taken by the previous Government is a con- 1024 tinning stand which has been adopted by the Government. It would also help the House if he would tell us where we stand on the various conservation measures, some of them taken by the previous Government and some of them adopted and implemented by the present Government. In Scotland in particular, we should like to know where we stand on the question of the Norway pout box, in regard to which we were and are in dispute, I understand, with the Commission. The Scottish industry would like to see a further extension of the box. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is particularly important for fishermen in Shetland.
The other conservation measure with which I am concerned relates to the carrying of only a single net size. This matter was pressed on the previous Government by the then Opposition. There are difficulties about it but I know that the Government are sympathetic, and it would help the House if the Secretary of State would let us know the Government's view on it.
It would also help us in Scotland if the right hon. Gentleman would say something about the fish processing industry, which has suffered very badly, particularly in Scotland, because of the ban on herring in the North Sea. We had discussions with the industry. It did not produce what we thought was an acceptable scheme for general help to the industry, but we said that we were willing to consider assistance under section 7 of the Industry Act 1975, and we had a number of applications before the election. Do the Government intend to continue that section 7 help?
Most of the industry is in areas which will lose their development area status. When that happens, section 7 help will not be available to them. It will be necessary, when development or intermediate area status is lost, for some other help to be given to these processors. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say something about that.
I should also like the right hon. Gentleman to say something about the restructuring of the industry, but I want first to make a general point about it. We took the view, in conjunction with the industry—it was a view which was shared by the industry—that during the 1025 period when we were negotiating hard to get a satisfactory common fisheries policy, and during the period in particular when it looked as if we might get a satisfactory settlement, it was undesirable for us to talk too much about restructuring of the industry, because in a sense it could have been interpreted as an admission that we felt that we would lose a large part of the industry in this country. That would not have been sensible during a period of negotiation, when our attitude was that we were not intending to lose a large part of the industry in this country.
In the few months before the general election, the industry accepted that whatever the outcome of the negotiations—I hope it will be a satisfactory outcome—the industry would not be the same again. There is no way of bringing back exactly the same balance as we had in the past. Therefore, the industry mutually agreed with the previous Government that it was no longer sensible not to talk about restructuring.
A working party, under the auspices of the White Fish Authority, produced certain proposals. Some of those proposals, together with others, were informally discussed with the fishing industry prior to the general election. I believe that it is important that those discussions continue in such a way as not to weaken our negotiating position within the Community. The right hon. Gentleman will have our support on that. I hope that the discussions are continuing, as we shall be faced with some very difficult problems.
I was rather amused—though I sympathised with what they said—at what some Members on the Government side said tonight about the problems posed by new technology. Those same hon. Members are advocates of the free market, in general terms, and would be extremely critical of workers in any other industry who resisted the advance of new technology. However, they understand that new technology poses very considerable problems for the fishing industry in certain areas.
§ Mr. Peter Fraser
The right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there might be an argument round the coasts that this new technology should not be introduced 1026 and that that is in some way inconsistent with our political view. Surely the new technology will be supplied by Government grants.
§ Mr. Millan
That is not an accurate statement. The new technology is not been closed for conservation reasons or Some of the new technology could mean the loss of a considerable number of jobs and the destruction of local communities. I do not want to see that happen. I merely point out to hon. Gentlemen that there are other areas which are extremely critical of those who oppose new technology. This is a real problem with which we must grapple.
Unless we get some kind of understanding about the problem quickly, there may be developments which will be irreversible and have certain consequences which none of us would want to see. That will happen unless there is general understanding about how we manage these affairs. Whatever we do, we certainly must try to protect local communities in Scotland and elsewhere. I believe that very strongly.
I know a little about mackerel fishing in Cornwall and I have sympathy with the Cornish fishermen. They have built a thriving local industry and see some of their efforts now being set aside following recent developments.
It is important that we should look after local communities in Scotland. That requires us to deal with a whole complex of problems with which I have not the time to deal now. In any event, it would be an abuse of the privileges of the House.
When we begin to tackle the problems of the long-term structure of the industry, we shall find that there are different interests in different parts of the country and in different sections of the industry. At the end of the day, we shall not be able to satisfy every part of the country or every section of the industry. In some cases their interests are incompatible, and the industry now recognises that. Within the last year it has been willing to discuss some of the problems, in particular the restructuring of the industry. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to let us know what stage these discussions have reached and whether they will continue.
1027 Finally, I repeat what has already been said this evening: that when any settlement is reached on the common fisheries policy we expect the Government to get the approval of the House before finally committing themselves. Unless we get that general approval, the agreement will be a bad one for the industry. I am sure that none of us wants that to happen.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)
I congratulate my hon. Friends on their good fortune in being successful in getting the first subject in the debate, and also on their energy and devotion in putting down the subject in such good time and giving us the opportunity of debating the fishing industry. It is extremely appropriate and timely that we should do so. As several hon. Members said, we are about to go into recess, during which time it may be that further progress will be made on some aspects of fisheries policy. However, at the present time I do not expect that there will be a Fisheries Council meeting before the House meets again. The present expected date for the next fisheries meeting of the Council of Ministers is towards the end of October.
I was particularly grateful to the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), and also to the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), for making it quite clear that the Opposition are of the view that provided the negotiations are carried on in the best interests of the industry as a whole, we can expect to maintain what has been the most valuable thing of all during the negotiations over the past few years—the unanimous backing of all sides of the House for the stance which the Government have been taking. This was the case in the last Parliament, and I am most grateful for the indication that it is still the case. As the right hon. Member for Craig-ton will know, it greatly assists us in the negotiations to know that that is behind us.
I should like to say a few general words about the industry, after which I hope that I shall be able to answer all the points which have been raised. As several hon. Members have said, this is a particularly difficult time for our fishing industry and the fishermen in it. Many of their traditional fisheries, such 1028 as the main herring stocks, have either been closed for conservation reasons or have deteriorated to such an extent that it has been necessary to apply restrictions on the level of catch. Coupled with this, there is inevitably a considerable amount of uncertainty as to the future. There is uncertainty as to the extent of fishing opportunities likely to be available in the years ahead and uncertainty about the desirable future size of the industry in the light of those circumstances. The right hon. Member for Craigton referred to that just a moment ago.
It is unhappily the case that the industry has had to live with these uncertainties for at least three or four years. It is also the case that these difficulties may not be removed until we have arrived at a common fisheries policy. In these circumstances, it is quite understandable that the House is convinced that we must urgently pursue a settlement with our Community partners. To the right hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members who raised this matter I can give an assurance that the Government share the view that the top priority is eventually to get an agreed common fisheries policy. We shal then be able to see where our industry fits into it.
However—the right hon. Gentleman specifically made this point—our desire for a settlement that is real and genuine must in no way decrease our determination that the settlement must be an honourable one. We are not prepared to make a settlement for the sake of a settlement if it is not the best that we can get for our fishing communities. The Government are fully determined to seek a settlement that recognises the special importance of the United Kingdom fishing industry, the extent of the contribution which the waters around our coast make to the Community's resources in fish and the scale of our lost opportunities in third country waters in recent years. Before we can achieve that, we must first and foremost be assured of a substantial and equitable share of the total fish resources that will be available to Community fisheries.
In our negotiations with the Community, it is also our objective to obtain both an adequate exclusive zone around our coast and a substantial area of preference beyond that. It would be intolerable for anyone to see a future in which 1029 all Community fisherman should be allowed to fish right up to our beaches. For this country, unlike some other countries in the Community, fishing is of major importance. In many parts, whole communities are heavily dependent on it for their livelihood. In these circumstances, it is particularly important that our fishermen should be able to enjoy their traditional fishing opportunities in the waters round our coasts. We are committed to seeking special measures to protect them whenever those are appropriate.
It is clearly in our long-term interest that maximum fishing opportunities should be available to our fishermen. That is why we attach such great importance to the proper management of fish stocks and why a conservation policy is one of the major objectives. It is unfortunate that in the absence of a common fisheries policy, and because of the deteriorating state of some of the stocks, we are obliged to adopt measures which may cause a certain amount of hardship among our own fishermen.
We have, however, been heartened by the industry's commitment to conservation, in the knowledge that overfishing in present circumstances can lead only to poorer fishing opportunities in the years ahead. As several hon. Members have said, we can be very proud of our industry's attitude to conservation. I only wish that other countries fishing in our waters, and, indeed, in their own waters in past years, had had the same regard to the needs of conservation as our industry has shown and is showing.
Of course, a conservation policy cannot succeed unless it is adequately policed. We remain convinced that the best method in the context of a common policy is for each member State to have the responsibility for fisheries protection in its own waters.
Those are the major objectives that we shall pursue in our discussions with our Community partners in preparation for the next major Fisheries Council in October. I have taken careful note of the points made in the debate. I shall make sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and 1030 I bear them fully in mind in the preparations for our discussions in the autumn.
I should like to make one general point. The House is well aware of it, but perhaps the wider audience beyond the House, and more particularly beyond our shores, would do well to learn and reflect upon it. It is the vital fact that everyone studying the British attitude must realise that Parliament, the industry and the country as a whole are absolutely united behind the Government's aim to secure a fair settlement in a common fisheries policy. The Government derive both strength and responsibility from that sort of unity. We intend to use that strength constructively and to accept the responsibility in the negotiations to come, confident that the British fishing industry will have a significant role to play once the common policy is decided.
I have already covered some of the points raised by individual hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Craigton asked me to give an account of the progress of the Council meeting that my right hon. Friend and I attended in June. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) also asked about that. As my hon. Friend recognised, we had a very hard task, in that we were determined that we should stand our ground at that meeting and not be persuaded into making individual agreements on portions of fisheries policy for one or other reason that might be perfectly understandable by itself. We were not prepared to make agreements on individual points in the absence of a settlement of the problem as a whole.
We made it quite clear to our partners that that was our view. We said that we were willing to get down to constructive negotiations in the autumn to see whether a settlement was negotiable but that we were not prepared to agree matters on a piecemeal basis. That is the way that we intend to approach the negotiations. It is the only practical way of ensuring that we have a chance of getting a proper agreement. Our Community colleagues must not make the mistake of thinking that we are prepared to settle for anything less.
The right hon. Member for Craigton and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) asked for 1031 an assurance that the House will be consulted on any deal that is eventually struck. I assure them that the House will be given an early opportunity to debate the terms of any settlement. It is desirable and important that that should be so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) asked a number of questions and made interesting comments about industrial fishing. It is our firm policy as far as possible to encourage the disposal of catches for human consumption, and our policies on mesh sizes are intended to be consistent with that aim. I assure the House that enforcement of those policies is a firm priority. Too much damage is still being done to human consumption species by industrial fishing. One does not usually criticise industrial fishing when the catch is a clean one, but we shall continue to press for proper controls when that is not the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South also asked about safety in fishing—an important matter which is not always covered in our debates. We are aware from recent tragedies around the coast of Scotland how dangerous an industry this is. Consultations with the industry on these matters are taking place all the time and the industry fully appreciates that this is a problem to which it must give much more attention. We shall certainly give our support in investigating every possible way of improving safety and taking all reasonable precautions.
The hon. Member for Truro gave us an interesting and well-informed description of the ways in which mackerel fisheries operate in his area, with particular reference to the factory ships which are such a feature of life in his part of the country at certain times of the year.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is well aware of the environmental concerns arising from the presence of those vessels in the South-West. Much official effort has been devoted to the question of siting and operating the factory vessels to minimise the problems, and it is hoped that the lessons of earlier years will prove of benefit and produce better results in the coming season. It is certainly a matter which we take seri- 1032 ously. We shall do all we can to help, though there is no easy solution.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
How can the Government justify the presence in British waters of a dozen or so Soviet bloc factory fishing boats?
§ Mr. Younger
It is not a question of justification. I appreciate that the vessels cause considerable problems and concern among local communities, but we should bear in mind that the vessels provide a valuable market and rewards to those who sell to that market. Fishermen sell to the ships and there is an economic benefit in that.
We have to make sure that we watch the level of stocks. If we think that they are in danger from overfishing, we shall have no hesitation in implementing conservation measures. We have shown our determination to do that on many other occasions, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall not be slow to do it again if the scientific evidence suggests that the operations of the factory vessels are resulting in overfishing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) mentioned, very rightly, the excellence of the case which is presented to us by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. That gives me an opportunity to say how much my right hon. Friend and I appreciate the advice and help that we have had from the federation, even in the short time that we have been in office, and its presence at the negotiations in order to help in any way that it can. This is most valuable in every possible way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) raised the question of the problems created by the 50 per cent. nephrops by-catch limit. This restriction is an essential part of the conservation measures which we introduced on 1 July. These were unilateral measures which, as the House knows, we introduced ourselves in advance of the intention of the Community to do the same in September. Although I appreciate the problems which this limit causes—my hon. Friend has spoken to me several times about this matter—it would be inconsistent to introduce a larger mesh size for white fish without at the same time restricting the amount of fish which may be taken in the 1033 small mesh nets of the nephrops fishermen.
I appreciate that this restriction causes difficulty in certain fishing grounds, but I think that it should be possible in some cases to redirect the fishing effort to areas where nephrops are more concentrated.
I must stress—I am sure that this is what my hon. Friend would want to be quite clear about—that the Government regard this provision as an integral and important part of the 1 July conservation measures, which are most important to us all.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) made a suggestion about the enforcement of quotas by fish producers' organisations. We are well aware of the industry's concern that quotas should be properly managed. The Government share this concern in every way. We are giving careful consideration to the best means of effectively managing quotas, both nationally and on a Community basis. The industry will be given plenty of opportunity to express its views. We have always been prepared to consider the possibility of the producer organisations managing the quotas, but, as the industry knows, there are difficulties in finding workable arrangements for doing so. However, we shall do our best to find them as soon as we can.
The right hon. Member for Craigton also asked me various questions on conservation measures. Firstly, on mesh sizes, as he is aware, these measures, which were originally notified by him and his right hon. Friend the previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, have now been introduced following the last Council. That is one thing that we are probably agreed about. These are now in force. We have not been made aware of any particular difficulties, although there are some fishermen who have had difficulty in getting the correct sizes of nets because of the difficulties of supply. In general, however, I think that this is working not too badly at present.
The Government's view on the need for the present pout box and the need for consideration of the Shetland position is no different from the view which the 1034 right hon. Gentleman took when he was in office. I certainly would not envisage any change in it.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the one-net rule. Here again, I share his concern about the practice of carrying two nets. We intend to press this matter within the Community in order to try to find a satisfactory solution, because I do not think that the position will be satisfactory until we have some reasonable way of agreement on cutting out the business of carrying more than one net. This is an essential part of the conservation measures, most of which I have been describing.
This has been a most helpful debate. I hope that I have answered most of the points that have been raised. We are most grateful to my hon. Friends for getting this debate at this time of the night and most grateful to the right hon. Member for Craigton and the Opposition for their promise of support in these most important negotiations, in which we shall certainly regard it as our duty to safeguard the interests of our fishermen both north and south of the border. We shall not relax in that task until we have got an agreement which is satisfactory to all of our people in this country.