§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Peter Walker)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community documents R/107/78, R/232/78, S/365/78, R/3012/78, R/3044/78, R/3045/7S, 5877/79, 6276/79, 7348/79, 8392/79, 8608/79, 9912/79, 10285/79, 10966/79, and Add.1, 11035/79, 11104/79, 11292/79, 4096/80, and 4481/80, and supports the Government in its aim of securing an early and comprehensive settlement of the revised Common Fisheries Policy which adequately meets the needs of the United Kingdom Fishing Industry as a whole.At the beginning of the debate, I should like to say how much I regret the fact that when I made a statement about the last meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers the Chairman and members of the Scrutiny Committee felt that the Government had failed in an undertaking that they made not to reach agreements on some of the papers that we are discussing this afternoon until the matter had been examined by the House and the Scrutiny Committee. I greatly regret that that should have been their view. Perhaps the position would not have arisen if in my statement I had specifically spelt out that I took the action I did on the matter knowing the obligations to the Scrutiny Committee, because of the events that were involved. If the omission from my statement of that type of wording created the feeling that we had run roughshod over the important function of the Scrutiny Committee, I deeply regret it. I assure the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee and those involved with the matter that I consider their function, powers and task in the House to be of immense importance in the whole European position. I and my Department always wish to comply with undertakings that have been given.
I can claim that since I have had the responsibility in this office, which perhaps exposes one to the Community more than any other, following every meeting I have immediately returned and reported to the House, no matter how trivial some of those meetings have been and despite the lack of decisions. I shall certainly continue with that practice.
The events that resulted in a decision being taken upon total allowable catches 1779 and the reporting procedure were on the basis of a document from the Commission which was tabled two days before the Council meeting, with important changes upon the previous recommendations. At that meeting we were able to stop the views of a number of member States that wanted the TACs to be based upon less scientific evidence than we should have required. As we had the opportunity of reaching agreement on these matters, I decided that it was in the national interest to do so.
I also knew from what was said in the House, and what was then currently being said to me by the industry, that the progress we made on both measures was in the interests of the industry. Certainly it has not been disputed since by any section of the industry. I totally respect the undertakings given and on all future occasions shall endeavour to do so unless a matter of national interest is involved. If that happens, one must specifically make clear in the statement that follows that that is the reason.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
The Scrutiny Committee will be glad to accept the Minister's assurance. It might be helpful in future for the Minister to communicate with the Committee or myself as Chairman of the Committee.
§ Mr. Walker
I accept that advice and will certainly follow it if such an occasion arises in future.
This is the first full debate on fisheries that the House has had since December 1977. I very much welcome the debate because fishing is a matter on which there is no party difference of doctrine. Neither has there been any difference in the policy objectives pursued by my predecessor and myself. We have before us a vast range of documents. A memorandum has been circulated with them to explain them and show how they relate one to another, and I hope it will be of assistance to the House. The documents cover a whole range of matters that have been discussed by the Council of Ministers since December 1977, but the basic documents with which most of the others are either directly or indirectly connected are R/107/78 and the amendments to it. I shall address myself to the major parts of document R/107/78, which will automatically bring 1780 into play the other documents before the House.
The first part of the proposals deals with access. The Government's view—and the view of the previous Government—is that we need an adequate exclusive zone. The proposals made in the document are inadequate and we need an area of preferential access beyond that. The proposals are not acceptable to the Government. We shall be moving towards discussing the question of access and areas of preferential access in the coming weeks and months. The Government's view remains as I and my predecessor have always expressed it. Tough negotiations lie ahead on the first part of the document.
The second part of the document deals with total allowable catches, and that part has been amended by document 4481/80. I am pleased to say that at the last Council meeting agreement was reached upon the TACs, and that agreement marked an important stage of the negotiations. With all the difficulties and uncertainties in the British fishing industry, I am strongly of the view that the most important task of the Government is to achieve a common fisheries policy that meets the industry's requirements. Until that objective is reached, there will be considerable uncertainty in the industry about investment policies and the activities that it should pursue.
My predecessor, in the tough negotiations he undertook, had the support of the whole House. I am not criticising my predecessor, but, as a result of the proposals on which he negotiated and which the British Government rejected, I inherited a position of stalemate with the Eight. I have had to try to negotiate in a situation in which no basic proposals were in existence and on the basis of discovering on the latest information whether a fisheries agreement could be obtained with the Eight.
The first two meetings which I attended were not concerned with major points of principle, and on many issues Britain was in a minority of eight to one. I was anxious to get discussions going on the TAC position for 1980 so that we could start negotiating quotas on the basis of updated TACs. We thought, and the industry agreed, that it was in the interests of the industry to have TACs based on the best possible scien- 1781 tific evidence. Several member States wanted TACs to be dramatically changed, in conflict with the scientific evidence but in the immediate interests of their fishermen. Although I understand those pressures—they are pressures which are upon any Minister in my position—I have no doubt that it is in the best interests of British fishing, and European fishing, to secure a proper scientific basis for TACs. I was therefore pleased that at the last Council meeting we were able to reach an agreement based on sound scientific evidence. At the same time we dealt with catch returns, which I will mention later.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up a question on the scientific basis of the total allowable catch? I understand that the scientific reports and investigations on which the conclusion was based are out of date in the sense that subsequent evidence should become available in the next few weeks which could well throw a different light on the question.
§ Mr. Walker
The right hon. Gentleman is correct. We are expecting, probably in March, further information which may change the basis of some of the TACs that we have agreed. The Council is perfectly willing to change the TACs if there is sound scientific evidence for doing so. The principle I am anxious to secure is that, whatever happens to the TACs, they should be based on scientific evidence and not upon a specific immediate political or economic problem of one member State. Having achieved TACs on that basis, we agreed with other members of the Council and the Commission that if further scientific evidence became available the TACs should be reviewed in that light; and that will be the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the scientific evidence will be tempered by the experience of those who actually catch fish?
§ Mr. Walker
If the evidence is tempered by the experience of those who catch fish, there will be a considerable measure of disagreement between the fishermen. Once we start on the road of allowing any group of fishermen to fish as much herring as possible—as all fisher- 1782 men would like to do—we quickly get away from sensible conservation policies. We have already suffered in both British and European waters from the lack of sensibly based scientific conservation policies, and I cannot give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. The leaders of the British fishermen genuinely recognise the importance of pursuing sensible conservation policies. In our negotiations with the industry, we have had no difficulty in pursuing the line of argument I have outlined upon TACs and catch reporting.
I move on to the coming Council meeting and the question of quotas dealt with in document R/107/78. Here the Commission will be tabling quotas which are different from those agreed to by the Eight at their meeting in Berlin. Those quotas were unacceptable to the previous British Government and are unacceptable to my Government. Those quotas will be framed by the Commission after discussions between the Commissioner and each individual country.
In our discussions with the Commissioner we shall be arguing strongly that in framing the quotas he must take into account Britain's geographical position, our historical position and the loss of fishing that we have already sustained in third country waters. Only on that basis will fair and reasonable quotas acceptable to the Government be agreed.
That will be the next stage of the negotiations, a tough and difficult stage, because conflicting interests are involved. I shall be objectively trying to judge the scene and looking at it from the point of view of my colleagues in the Council of Ministers and their national interests. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have had bilateral talks with all the Ministers to discuss their problems and aspirations in terms of quotas. From those discussions I see no reason why a sensible quota arrangement should not be reached which would be acceptable to the British fishing industry and other European fishing industries. That will be the next stage of our negotiations.
The third part of the document deals with conservation. There are a number of proposals with which we disagree, but mainly on timing. I do not believe that there is a great deal of difference in principle on conservation measures between the member States. The arguments 1783 have been primarily on timing, and there are a number of improvements that we wish to make in the Commission's proposals.
We have made it clear that until such time as there is a satisfactory Community conservation policy we have the legal right to take whatever conservation measures we consider necessary in our waters. On the future of conservation, there are issues of fundamental importance to fishing, such as the continuance of a sensible pout box and the operation of that box so that many species of fish are not adversely affected by industrial fishing carried out in a manner that does considerable damage to other stocks.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
Is the Minister sticking to the provision that there would be an emergency power for a member State to take action on conservation, with the Commission simply being informed?
§ Mr. Walker
It is fundamental to the conservation policy that there must be an emergency power with the member State. We shall be negotiating that.
The fourth part of the document deals with the control of the quotas. We have agreed a system of catch reporting. The current position is that catch reporting will be made by all member States to the Commission but based upon their existing national reporting system. By 1 July we shall agree upon a Community method of catch reporting the detail of which has not yet been negotiated. We shall inform the House of the details when they are available and of the Government's view on the matter.
British fishermen are concerned about fish imports. No common fisheries agreement is of any importance or substance unless it has a proper system of control. One of the fears of our fishermen is that, while the British fishing industry is respecting our conservation measures and the quotas that we consider are in compliance with our proper share of the quotas, there are fishermen from other countries who ignore the theoretical quotas, resulting in considerable imports into Britain that depress the price of fish.
There is no way in which we can achieve a firm control of the position, and make the appropriate representations unless we have some form of Community 1784 catch reporting. That is why we welcome the creation of a system, in spite of the objection of one or two member States, and we welcome the move towards what we hope will be a properly controlled and inspected system of catch reporting from 1 July.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes(Aberdeen, North) rose—
§ Mr. Walker
It is a short debate and I am trying not to take too much time as I wish to hear many hon. Members.
§ Mr. Hughes
Will the Minister say a little more about catch reporting? All our past evidence shows that quotas based on catch reporting do not work. Has he set his face totally against licensed fishing effort as a method of conservation and controlling the amount of fish caught?
§ Mr. Walker
No, I have not set my face against that. We shall examine for both national and European purposes the whole possibility of licensing control of effort. There is no way in the near future whereby we could have a system of licensing. A system of properly inspected catch reporting—we have never had that—might make a considerable improvement. We are anxious to move towards a system of effective control of whatever quotas and TACs are eventually agreed.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the report of the Select Committee on trade and industry which drew attention to the difference between a record of catches and a record of the killing of fish? When purse seine nets take a shoal and dump it dead on the sea floor, that does not appear in the catch total, although it is part of the slaughter of breeding stock.
§ Mr. Walker
We shall certainly take that into account.
The fifth part of the document concerns marketing and the restructuring of the industry. It will become an important part of the Community fisheries policy once we reach the basic agreement on the policy itself. At this juncture we cannot make rational decisions in terms of Community policy about restructuring until we know the total arrangements.
1785 I turn to the external position, namely, the relationship with third countries. The one document that is before the House affects the framework agreement with Norway. We considered that it was in the interests of the British fishing industry that that should have been granted. The industry agreed because of the fishing rights that we obtained from Norway and Norway's insistence that there was a signature to the framework agreement. The relationship with Norway is of great importance to the United Kingdom. It was right to go ahead with the framework agreement.
On third country agreements in general, we are anxious to ensure that, as Community policy develops, we try to find every possible opportunity for the British long-distance fleet to obtain advantage from third party agreements now made by the Community.
I turn next to the current position of the fishing industry, which is related to all the documents and papers and is causing real concern to both sides of the House and all those closely connected with the fishing industry. There is no doubt that in recent years the industry has suffered from a considerable range of problems. The loss of the fishing in the Icelandic waters was a real blow to our long-distance fleet. Following that, there has been a considerable deterioration in the landings of British fishermen and an increase in imports.
The position on demersal fish is that from 1976 to 1977 there was a drop in British landings of 77,000 tonnes; from 1977 to 1978, 65,000 tonnes; and the best estimate for last year is a probable drop of 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes. Although the drop has declined in totality, it is a frightening trend and an indication of the real difficulties in which it has placed our industry since 1976.
There was an increase in imports from 1976 to 1977 of 9,000 tonnes; from 1977 to 1978 of 92,000 tonnes; and our best estimate for 1979 is a further increase of 38,000 tonnes. That is creating problems which have been heightened suddenly over the past few weeks.
The price position in January was of considerable concern and had considerable impact on the whole industry. It is interesting to note the dramatic change 1786 that took place in the two months of December and January. In December, compared with 12 months previously, the price of all demersal fish landed in Britain was 6 per cent. higher. Although that was an increase, it was not sufficient to meet increasing costs. By January, the difference from the previous year had altered from an increase of 6 per cent. to a decline of 7 per cent. In December, cod prices were 8 per cent. above what they were the previous year. In January they were 16 per cent. below those in the previous year. It is difficult to calculate the reasons for that.
There is an immediate explanation with regard to cod prices. To some extent that was due to the better fishing weather that existed this January compared with the year previously, which resulted in cod landings being double what they were the previous year. However, that does not explain some of the differences elsewhere. There is no doubt that there are considerable problems in relation to the range of imports coming into Britain. We are discussing this matter in detail with the industry, and from those discussions I shall have discussions with my colleagues within the Community. I hope that something will be achieved in order to get more orderly marketing in respect of some of those imports. The banning of imports would be nonsense. Britain has always had substantial imports of fish, and we have a major processing industry which depends upon those imports. However, some of the disruption that has been caused through pricing has caused great difficulties for the industry.
In addition, there is the problem of increased costs, such as fuel costs, wages costs and so on, which affect the fishing industry as much as other industries. The fishing industry also feels at a disadvantage because of the difference in aids which other European countries give to their industries.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
Perhaps part of the reason for the distortion in price, particularly in regard to cod, could be massive over fishing by some of our Community partners, such as the Netherlands. I think that the Netherlands fished out the whole of its quota for last year in the first six months of that year. Some of its catches must have been exported on 1787 the so-called black market, thus undercutting our own producers. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that he ought to be doing something to protect our own people?
§ Mr. Walker
I referred to that previously. I pointed out that without any Community system of catch reporting that is what has happened. People have fished way beyond the theoretical quotas to which they have agreed, doubtless to the disadvantage of our market. One of the advantages of now having monthly fish reporting available is that, if people such as the Germans and Dutch do what they have done in the past, we can raise the matter and try to get the appropriate action taken.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes
The difficulty is that we are not having theoretical twelfths per month. It has always been the practice of the Dutch to catch 12 months worth of cod in four months of the year. It would not be practical to allocate that quota over 12 months, yet that is what the right hon. Gentleman came near to saying.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not think that the hon. Gentlenman heard what his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said. His hon. Friend pointed out that at present the Dutch catch well above their quota. The Dutch figures for cod caught last year are now known, and they show that they were well in excess of the quota. But if there is a system of catch reporting we shall know when they have reached the theoretical quota that they should adopt.
At Question Time, one of my hon. Friends, the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), asked whether we had completed the review of national aids that are carried out by other Community countries. I cannot say that we have completed the review, because it is a continuing process. We cannot be certain that we have identified all the aids that are available. For example, some local government and regional aids are difficult to identify. However, my hon. Friend may be interested to learn of the figures that we have so far obtained. We have obtained them from all the countries of the Community with the exception of Italy. But Italy's fishing performance is not one that creates any great conflict 1788 with us and it is not of great importance to us.
For the remaining countries, we added up both the capital and operating aids that are made by the various member countries, and I shall send my hon. Friend the details of some of the figures that we have obtained so far. But they do not confirm the view that is sometimes generally expressed that other European countries are massively subsidising their fishing industries whereas we are not, as a result of which we are at a great disvantage.
It is true that the French have a substantial advantage in national aids. Their total capital and operating aids that we have been able to identify come to 37 per cent. of the totality of aids of eight countries. On the other hand, France has 27 per cent. of the total community fleet and 14 per cent. of the national landings. Therefore, the French get considerable benefit from national aids.
Denmark has 15 per cent. of the national aids, 17 per cent. of the fleet and 47 per cent. of the national landings. Holland has 4 per cent. of the national aids, 10 per cent. of the fleet and 5 per cent. of the national landings. The United Kingdom has 17 per cent. of the aids, 26 per cent. of the fleet and 24 per cent. of the landings.
However, I should add a few words of caution about those figures. First, the most up-to-date fleet figures that I have are for 1978, whereas the figures for national aids are those budgeted for 1980 or actually paid in 1979. Therefore, the investment figures are more up to date than those for the sizes of the national fleets.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
I do not want to question what the right hon. Gentleman has said. However, how does he reconcile what he has said with what is said by the British Fishing Federation, which in its most recent letter gives an indication of the kind of aid that is given "overtly or covertly" by other European countries? Are we really aware of all the aid that is given in terms of fuel subsidies, laying-up premiums, scrapping premiums, and so on? There seems to be a great divergence between what the right hon. Gentleman has said and what the fishing associations have said.
§ Mr. Walker
I undertook to endeavour to ascertain as much information as I could. I said earlier that it is impossible to guarantee that some forms of aid are not concealed in various ways. Nor can I guarantee that some local authorities do not give aid which is not shown in the figures. Through our embassies in each country, I have tried to identify all the aids about which we could obtain information. Some of them are published in the national budgets.
For example, the point of greatest jealousy for our fishermen is the French fuel subsidy, which is an obvious and blatant one. We have all the figures about that. We have looked at this matter carefully, and I know that there is grievance among our fishermen. But, for example, Holland and Denmark are both countries which are affected by the current import position. If anything, the figures that are available in terms of national landings and aids put them at a disadvantage compared with national aids in this country.
It is important not to get a disruption of the opportunities in various waters in Europe as a result of substantial differences in national aids. We shall be working towards that goal. We recognise the real difficulties in some sections of our fishing industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has had a series of meetings with the fishing industry in Scotland and has undertaken to consider the representations, views and ideas that were put to him about what immediate measures could be taken to help.
Likewise, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has had detailed discussions with the British fishing industry, as I have. Only this week we have received a range of suggestions and proposals which will be considered by the Government.
But, in my judgment, by far the most important thing that we could do for the fishing industry in 1980 is to finalise a rational, sensible and advantageous Community fisheries agreement. If we could do that, it would safeguard the future of the British fishing industry, it would bring into being for the first time in history a conservation policy over an area of sea which would be meaningful and effective 1790 and it would be possible for the Government to make decisions on restructuring in other areas in order to provide a better future for the British fishing industry compared with the considerable difficulties which it has faced over the last four or five years. That will be the Government's objective in the months of undoubtedly difficult negotiations which lie ahead.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
We have 19 EEC documents before us, 18 of which, dating back to 1978, are "take note" documents. The nineteenth document, No. 4481/80, is the reason for our debate today. This paper, which deals with total catches and catch reporting, was considered by the Minister and the Council. It has prompted this debate because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister incurred the displeasure of the House when he made the agreement before consulting the House. We are grateful that he has expressed his regrets and that he now accepts the principle established by the previous Administration, and confirmed by the present Leader of the House, that when the Select Committee on European legislation recommends a debate in the House before European agreements are made—whether on fisheries or on any other topic—he will abide by that principle. In addition, I hope that he does not think that he can make deals with sections of the industry in Brussels and bypass the House. That will lead only to division between us, and support will no longer be forthcoming from Labour Members.
It is important that we establish clearly that the House and the Government still back the jointly agreed main proposals for the United Kingdom in a common fisheries policy. These are: an exclusive 12-mile belt for our fishermen, a dominant preference in a 12-to-50-mile zone, the establishment of proper conservation measures and protection, and proper quotas for our fishermen based on our historic rights—that is, a fair share of the total catch available within EEC waters. That has become known and recognised as the total package, and in his opening speech the Minister gave us some assurances on that.
1791 There is no doubt that the industry is still smarting and suffering from the deal carried out with the original six members of the Community on the eve of our accession. The three new members of the Common Market were presented with a fait accompli and a deal in which they had played no part. That was instrumental in Norway opting out. Since the date of entry in 1972, open access to our rich fishing grounds, the 200-mile fisheries zone and the Icelandic waters have been denied to us, and our deep sea fleets, our fishing ports and our processing industries have suffered disastrously.
The industry has been patient and the fishermen have been long-suffering. When I visited Hull I was appalled at the sight of so many hulks and deep sea trawlers rusting on the quaysides. What an awful daily reminder of how one industry has suffered so much because of the unfairness of the 1972 fisheries policy. The picture in that part of Yorkshire and Humberside, including Grimsby, represents a wide area of disaffection in the Community. In Hull in 1973, 11,000 people were employed in the fishing industry. In 1976 the number dropped to 8,600. Today the estimate is 4,000, and the number is still falling. There is concern in this major traditional port that the industry and its freezer trawer fleet will be completely wiped out. In the last four years alone, the number of freezer and fresher vessels has slumped from 75 to 25. Sea-going personnel have dropped from 2,131 to 932, with repercussive effects on the shore-based industries. This port is rapidly bleeding to death. It desperately needs help, and it needs it now.
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. However, does he agree that the Government in which he was a Minister had the opportunity to deal with the problem at the time of renegotiation?
§ Mr. Mason
I shall not apportion blame during the course of the debate. If I did that, the hon. Gentleman and his Government of 1972 might have to face the fact that they took us into the Common Market. It was their fisheries policy then. A fait accompli was placed before them the day before we entered the Community. The hon. Gentleman 1792 must accept his share of the responsibility. Since that date all parties in the industry and all parties in Parliament have stood firmly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) in his efforts to get a proper common fisheries deal for the United Kingdom. So far, we are giving the Minister that support. Let us not start to apportion blame.
It is not only Hull that is affected. Aberdeen, which is also a deep sea fishing port, is suffering likewise. In 1976 there were 120 trawlers in Aberdeen. In January 1979 the figure dropped to 80, and it is now 53. Crewing jobs have fallen from 1,200 in 1975 to 520 now. The British Trawler Federation says that the trawler fleet has slumped from 489 in 1974 to fewer than 150 now. In Lowestoft, such is the squeeze on the industry that the crewmen and the fishermen, whose wages come from the catch share money, are being asked, because of mounting fuel costs and other operating costs, to provide cash from their pay to keep vessels operative. They are being asked to take a reduction in pay of £70 per man per trip.
I mention those examples simply to indicate that the industry is riddled with trauma and agonising decisions on how to stay afloat. How can the deep sea fleet be held? In Hull, even the present diminished fleet has little to do and hardly anywhere to fish. After six freezer vessels have taken their North-East Arctic quota this year, which each can do in one trip, there is nowhere for the vessels to fish. The quota is so small that most freezer vessels will not be able to make a trip.
If the EEC-Canadian agreement is finally ratified, what are the prospects of United Kingdom fishermen obtaining increased rights to fish in their waters, especially for a cod quota? If the Canadians, seeking outlets for their cod production, have relatively free access to the Common Market, which in effect will mean the United Kingdom, and there is no quid pro quo for our fishermen or high tariff levels against those fishing ports, it could be the final blow to the deep sea fleet.
There should be an interim restructuring programme. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have been a little more optimistic today 1793 and would have given some optimism to the fleet as a whole, although the deep sea trawler fleet is most in danger of extinction. According to the last report of the White Fish Authority, by the end of October 1978 all available grant funds for 1979–80 were committed, causing a stoppage in new orders at home, frustration to the fishermen and a serious threat to our boatyards and forcing some owners to buy foreign vessels. Tragically, that does not fit into a plan of what types of fleets are required.
The White Fish Authority has put forward ideas on how restructuring might begin. I think that they are worth considering. First, there should be an examination of where surplus vessels or surplus tonnage are likely to be, with financial inducements to remove the surplus tonnage, if necessary. We should start to modernise the fleets with an enlarged grants and loans scheme. We should establish a system of control over the shape and size of the fishing fleets. We should introduce a licensing scheme for all vessels, because if public money is to be afforded for the resuscitation of the fishing industry there must be public accountability. Licensing, therefore, is essential. Indeed, strict licensing control would ensure that vessels that caused imbalance and did not fit into the national plan for a balanced, modern fishing fleet were not ordered and introduced into the fleets.
The Government should tell the industry that that is the sort of programme that they have in mind. The industry badly needs a fillip and a boost to get itself out of the doldrums. In the meantime, bearing in mind the problems in the deep sea fishing ports, why cannot a premium be considered now? I appreciate the Government's scheme to finance exploratory voyages—a £443,000 programme—but cannot more be done in this respect? That, too, would help a few more vessels to continue working.
I turn now to the question of aids to our fishermen. The Secretary of State is aware of this subject because it was covered at Question Time and he has referred to it today. There is a strong suspicion among our fishermen that a number of their fishing competitors get hidden subsidies. I know that it is difficult to find 1794 proof of that, having spent some time in the Board of Trade, but the latest review by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reveals many forms of aid that member States give to their fishing industries quite openly. These are not hidden subsidies. There are construction aids. They do more than we do in regard to exploratory voyages. There are grants to the fish processing industries, scrapping premiums, a temporary laying-up stystem and even aids to sales promotion—to mention just a few items.
There is thus a great deal of aid going to our rivals, and it is incumbent upon the Government, having made an examination of the various schemes of assistance, to explain to us now at what cost we could all benefit from adopting similar aid schemes. We have to recognise that the French, the German and the Dutch fleets are modernising with such aids while our fleets are ageing and diminishing.
I now turn to the issue that has caused the recent and most extreme anxiety in the industry and is affecting all fleets—deep sea, middle distance and inshore. Although the scramble for mackerel has helped to some degree, it is really a small stop-gap in relation to the whole of the fishing industry. The main question that is now causing concern is that of cheap fish imports. This is where the real damage has been done in recent times—altering the picture of the fishing industry from one of waiting to one of urgency.
To take Grimsby as an example, the scale of cheap Continental imports, mainly from Holland, flooding into that port is quite worrying. Over one weekend, 41 Continental container trucks came in. One can understand the friction that this is causing between the fishermen and the merchants. The danger is that it will hasten the death of the home fleet. With merchants and processors becoming dependent on cheaper Continental fish, the home fleet—or the port fleet—dies as a result through loss of markets and trade, and is therefore at the mercy of foreigners. Grimsby fishermen cannot compete with these cheap imports. It is far too costly for them to steam out to Danish or German coastal waters and back and hope to compete against cheap imports.
Scottish fishermen tell the same story. In Aberdeen one weekend there were 38 1795 wagon loads of fish from the Continent—Dutch and Danish cod. In Scotland it has now become known as black cod. The anger of our fishermen is such that there is talk of pickets and of blockading the ports to stop the imports from coming in.
The picture is serious, and the right hon. Gentleman referred to some of the figures. Let me bring him up to date as far as I can. In the last two years, British landings of cod have slumped from 147,000 tonnes to 105,000 tonnes, while in the same period imports have risen from 109,000 tonnes to 184,000 tonnes. In October of last year alone, the United Kingdom's deficit in the trade balance of fish products rose to £21 million and the trade gap was £145 million for the first 10 months of 1979—a record deficit. This is a major problem and it will have to be tackled.
Although the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to it, related to this problem are the EEC's official withdrawal prices, which are kept down to unrealistic levels. Allied with the operations of Continental fleets—especially that of the Germans, who cheated on the Berlin agreement quotas—these measures are threatening the immediate future of our fishing fleets.
But the story does not end there. The Tokyo round of trade talks agreed that an additional 10,000 tonnes of cod must come into the Common Market from third countries, of which the United Kingdom must take 81 per cent. The tariff was also reduced by 50 per cent., from 18 per cent. to 9 per cent. If this goes on, it will have disastrous consequences in many ports.
I am led to believe that the industry and the fish buyers, who are both seriously concerned about the problem, could agree on a system of autonomous withdrawal prices, higher than the Common Market official withdrawal prices but closer to viability requirements. This would, of course, necessitate the provision of some Government cash, some financial support for the operation, but I believe that some of our Common Market partners are already doing this. I hope, therefore, that it will be looked at.
I do not think that there is any doubt but that, because of recent events, the industry feels that it is at a crucial stage. It feels that cash injections are necessary. 1796 It is beginning to despair. The inshore men are in a desperate plight. They represent the bulk of the industry, and they need cash now.
I turn next to the main problem of the common fisheries policy and that of total allowable catches. In 1977 the total EEC fish tonnage to be allocated to the EEC countries was estimated at 2,254,000 tonnes. We asked for 962,000 tonnes and were offered 540,000 tonnes. That was the first insult. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford had disagreed. Negotiations were suspended. I believe that the phrase "stopping the clock" was used. In January 1978 the Commission came up with a better offer—a slight increase in our TAC, but including horse mackerel. We are not interested only in the percentage. The species matter as well. Again there was no agreement. Our share was too small and there was no movement on the basic issue of coastal and zonal preferences. During all this time, the Government were getting the backing of industry and Parliament.
The Minister, on taking office, created an impression that he, too, would stand firm for the total package. He clearly stated that he wanted a fair and lasting settlement for British fishermen. Credit is due to him. He stood firm on conservation. He has taken measures for which he was criticised in Common Market councils. We believed that he was right and we backed him. He has also been prepared to support the arrest of foreign trawlers when they have breached our conservation measures. He was right on that as well.
So far so good, but in the latter half of 1979 the Minister became engaged in a series of bilateral talks with EEC Fisheries Ministers. We have never yet had a full report on his objectives in that respect. This is where suspicions of his motives have begun to creep in, because a number of deals have been made between the EEC and third countries.
The deal with Senegal benefits the French but is no good to us. It also benefits the Germans. The Guinea-Bissau deal with the EEC again brought no benefit to Britain. Then there is the framework agreement with Spain. The Spanish are likely to start fishing in our waters. Even the Faroes agreement and the Canadian agreement are being severely criticised. All these agreements 1797 are benefiting our competitors but are of little benefit to us. It would appear that the right hon. Gentleman's firm stand has given way to a conciliatory approach. The industry suspects that there is a piecemeal policy of giving way and is concerned that he has begun to slip from the total package.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Several of the deals mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman were agreed by my predecessor and came into operation under him. It is remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman should accuse me of giving way by signing something to which my predecessor agreed. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the fishing industry's concern about a piecemeal approach. I meet representatives of the industry constantly. I meet them before every negotiation and during negotiations, but that point has never been put to me by them.
§ Mr. Mason
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that the Senegal agreement was made after we left office and that that applies also to the Guinea-Bissau deal. What is more, the Canadian deal has been further ratified. Our voyages to Canadian waters are rare. I believe that we only allowed one trip, and we should like a better quid pro quo on that.
There is a belief that the right hon. Gentleman has concurred in Common Market fisheries deals with third countries, a number of which have benefited the French and the Germans but not Britain. Those cards have been played, but as yet the Common Market has not moved an inch in our direction. Because of that, I asked the Minister to listen to presentation of the case as seen by many in the industry. They fear that there has been a sell-out. There are strong suspicions of that in the industry and they must be dispelled.
I give credit to the right hon. Gentleman for the other aspect of the major paper. We have started, in a small way, a catch reporting system. From 1 January of this year, EEC States are obliged to inform the Commission of catches and landings. In July the system will be developed, necessitating more detailed reports to be filed by skippers. It is a start, but it is insufficient. There will have to be more detailed control of catch re- 1798 porting, such as maintaining a log book of catches and indicating where the fish were caught, the gear used, the quantities landed and whether on ship or on shore. It will be mandatory for member States to collate reports, which must be sent to the Commission monthly so that all other member States can be informed. Licensing must be part of this framework, so that licences are dependent upon accurate reporting. The sanction would be withdrawal of a licence for any breach of the catch reporting agreement.
The main battle has still to be fought, and that is to obtain our key demand for exclusive and preferential zones with a much increased British share of the right species for British fishermen. That is the main task for the right hon. Gentleman. If that remains his objective, he will receive the united support of the industry and the House. We want no sell-out, no piecemeal give-away and no moves on agreements without the House first being consulted.We are worried that in a long, drawn-out struggle, the British position might be watered down in some way. If it is, Parliament will not stand for it. Our European partners must accept this as a reality. If they do not, not only will they cause problems for Britain, but they will cause problems for the continuity and stability of the Common Market itself."—[Official Report, 15 June 1978; Vol. 951, c. 1239.]Those were the words of the Minister of State and we stand by that view. I hope that the Minister will reaffirm that posture and repeat that pledge tonight, because I must warn him that just as most hon. Members will not stand for the present common agricultural policy's ruination of our Budget and its serious consequences for the consumer, so they will not stand for a raw deal on fisheries policy.
The results of these two tests will determine, in the early 1980s, whether Britain stays in the EEC or whether withdrawal is again seriously contemplated. These issues are mainly the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he understands the force of that message from the House and from the British people today.
§ Sir Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
I listened with great care to the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). Whilst I agree with a great deal of what 1799 he said, I do not agree that the Minister has began to slip in his approach to these matters. I have found no criticism of my right hon. Friend. I was with the fishermen after they returned from one of these meetings and they said that he had been just as tough as the previous Minister.
There can be no doubt that our fishing industry is in a parlous state. Instead of arguing from a general point of view, I should like to argue from the particular and speak about my own port of Fleetwood, which the Minister had the opportunity to visit last October. For the last two years Fleetwood has been fighting like hell to maintain its position and it is a great credit to the port that it has managed to stay alive in spite of all the difficulties that it has faced.
That has not been done without a great deal of co-operation between many different sides of the industry. I have never known co-operation as great as it is at the moment. For example, had we not been able to reduce the number of dockers and introduce new methods of landing, Fleetwood would have been out of action by now. The owners have had to send their ships to fish for mackerel at various times of the year and try to find other fishing grounds for the rest of the year.
I think that I speak not only for Fleetwood but for the whole of the industry when I say that it has not sat on its backside in the face of problems but has tried hard to overcome them. The difference between the fishing industry and some other industries is that the circumstances in which it has had to work have not been of its choosing. Outside decisions have affected the industry.
The decision that has affected fishermen most—especially deep-sea fishermen—has been the loss of deep-sea waters. Being realistic, it is hard to see how, in future, we shall be able to replace those waters, whether we are in the EEC or out of it. The loss of Icelandic waters was crucial for Fleetwood, more crucial than our entry into the EEC. Had we not entered the Community it might have been possible to obtain a better deal with Iceland, but such was the feeling between Iceland and ourselves at the time that I doubt it. The Minister and everyone in the House must face the fact that the future for the deep-sea fleet is bleak. It 1800 is difficult to see where the laid-up trawlers and the new big deep-sea trawlers will be able to fish.
That brings me to the present. I have never known such a gloomy report from the British Fishing Federation as that which we have received to-day.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
When the Select Committee made its investigation into the fishing industry, it never received a satisfactory answer from the owners of the deep-sea fleet to the question why they ignored the waters of the Falkland Islands, which contain some of the richest supplies of hake in the world. It was believed that the reason for that was that the deep-sea fishermen did not want to jeopardise any compensation that might be forthcoming from the loss of Icelandic fishing grounds. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on that?
§ Sir W. Clegg
Yes, I would. That has often been mentioned. The trouble about the Argentine is that the fishermen could easily become involved in similar problems there because those waters are in dispute with the Argentine Government. Owners would not want to equip ships and send them out there if there were the possibility of an Argentinian cod war. We did not do so well in the last cod war, which was much nearer our own shores. Therefore, I cannot seeowners taking the risk of sending a fleet of vessels out there. There are other problems regarding the hake that is caught out there. I am told by those who have been out there that the hake is of a fluffy quality which is not always acceptable to the British housewife.
The Minister now has a great problem on his hands. I do not think that we can afford to wait much longer before help is given to the industry. As my right hon. Friend said, we look forward to a possible settlement of the common fisheries policy this year. I personally believe that it will be hard to obtain a settlement, and it would be more realistic to look upon it in that light.
Our partners in the EEC are being particularly bloody-minded—especially the French, who have a great deal to lose if the Spaniards are involved in the fisheries policies as it now stands. I hope that the Minister will consider what help can be given, as requested by the 1801 British Fisheries Federation and other sectors of the industry. Restructuring is necessary.
Paragraph 3(d) of the explanatory memorandum says:The Commission points out that the Council should decide, in the near future, whether Community measures and Community financial assistance should be used to help the industry adapt to the situation and whether common action should be taken to restructure inshore fisheries and promote agriculture.Restructuring is needed now. We cannot see the final pattern of a common fisheries policy, but we can see far enough ahead for the deep-sea industry to understand and recognise the parameters in which it is capable of working.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the suggestions that have been made today. I must put in a word for the fishermen, who have lost out when we consider the compensation that has been paid in other industries such as steel and shipbuilding. Handsome compensation payments have been offered to those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own because the industry in which they worked has been forced to run down. There is no such compensation for fishermen. That stems largely from the way in which fishermen have been paid in the past. In the normal arrangements there are no redundancy payments for share fishermen.
The time has come to restructure the industry. We must take into account all the factors of which we are aware. We should press the Community for financial help to restructure it. Time is no longer on our side.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
This is the first fisheries debate that we have had for a long time. It is an exceedingly short debate. We are faced with a weight of documents, which may be compared with that of a decent sized cod. Many fishermen would say that the documents are not nearly so valuable as the cod, chiefly because they are not enforced.
The Government have been unable to reveal their concrete proposals for helping the industry in its serious plight. I hope that they will give an undertaking that we shall be allowed a longer debate when their proposals are finally brought 1802 before the House. Secondly, I hope that an undertaking will be forthcoming that they will bring forward their proposals for helping the industry at the earliest possible moment.
In the short time that is available, I shall mention one or two specific and urgent matters. I do so in the knowledge that there are many other important issues, including longer-term matters such as limits and regional schemes.
First, the fund that the Scottish fishermen set up—a levy that they themselves laid upon the boats—is exhausted. What proposals do the Government have for replacing that fund? It may be said that there is an EEC fund. However, prices within that fund are at such a low level that no fisherman, without receiving a subsidy and not sticking to the quotas, could make a living. The extent of subsidies in other countries and the extent of the breaking of quota agreements is illustrated by the fact that the EEC is able to work within its fund.
Secondly, under present pricing arrangements and quotas there is no means by which the pursers that have been recently built under grant and loan schemes can possibly repay their capital obligations. I could give the House the figures, but that would take up time which is not available.
Broadly speaking, a purser needs to be making a minimum of £7,000 a week to pay its bare obligations. Of course, it cannot fish every week because of weather conditions. At present, there is no means for these vessels to meet their obligations. In addition, operators are facing enormously increased costs. Fuel for the pursers is now costing over £800 a week. What are the Government's proposals? There are heavy basic obligations and at present they cannot be met.
Thirdly, I have been having considerable correspondence with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy that he has shown and the length of his letters. The correspondence has dealt chiefly with quotas.
The quota arrangement allows a catch of 26 cwt., of which 17 cwt. may be of one species. A vessel may decide to take 17 cwt. of whiting. It may do that because whiting are thick on the ground. That vessel will be able to catch, for 1803 example, 9 cwt. of haddock. However, when it puts to sea to catch haddock it may find that there is a great deal of whiting. The Minister of State knows that. He represents a fishing constituency. He knows that fish swim about together. In the example that I have given, there may come up in the nets a mixed bag of whiting and haddock. The fishermen have to dump all the whiting into the sea. That is not conservation; it is lunacy.
I am told by the Secretary of State that a degree of flexibility has been introduced into the scheme. However, there is not nearly enough flexibility. I urge the Government to go further and to experiment with a totally flexible scheme. I am told that the issue has been discussed with the fishermen. They confirm that that is so. However, I am told that they did not agree with the proposals that were put forward. They may have discussed the issue, but it is not true that they came to an agreement.
Fourthly, Shetland is asking for a small quota of herring to be allowed to be caught in its waters within the 12-mile limit by Shetland boats and to be landed at Shetland ports. There is considerable evidence that there are enough herring to allow such an arrangement. Monitoring could take place so long as the arrangement was confined to Shetland boats and ports. The Dutch are offering herring and it would be interesting to know where they are catching them.
There are many other important issues—for example, limits and anomalies. It may strike the outsider that it is anomalous that the fishing industry is asking for higher quotas when it is sometimes unable to sell its present catches. There is that difficulty because of imports. These are imports that must be subsidised.
There is a lack of confidence within the industry about the scientific knowledge on which the Government's policies are based. It is rightly said that conservation policies must be based upon scientific appraisal. However, all the fishermen to whom I have spoken have become doubtful about the realism of the advice offered to the Government. There is a complete lack of confidence in the statistics and in the measures available to 1804 enforce even the regulations that are agreed with the Common Market.
We are watching a steady rundown of the industry. That includes the trawlers and extends to inshore fishing. At the same time, other countries that have no real interest in the long-term viability of fishing are increasing their activities. They often regard the North Sea as a bonanza and take the view that they need not trouble about it once the bonanza is over. For Britain it is an essential and long-term interest. However, every year our fleets are running down. That means that in some respects our bargaining powers are being eroded. People are leaving fishing. If fishing should cease, there are many communities that will cease altogether.
I beg the Government to do all that they can to put these matters right within their own powers. Secondly, I beg them to go to the Common Market to impress upon it that the present situation is damaging to the EEC's reputation in the eyes of the House of Commons and, I think, of the British public.
I hope that the Government will soon be able to tell us of their concrete proposals to help the industry. When they do so, we shall be able to have a proper debate on the industry's future.
§ Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn)
There is a cruel and bizarre irony in the fact that we are debating Community fishery documents at a time of crisis within the fishing industry, especially in Scotland. There is real fear about whether there is to be any future for our fishermen to enjoy.
I welcome the debate—the first fisheries debate for some time—as it gives the House and the Government an opportunity to reaffirm their faith in and support for our fleet. Such a demonstration of support is desperately awaited by men who now find that their livelihood is being more and more determined by forces over which they have no control. My right hon. Friend the Minister has referred to soaring fuel and maintenance costs, high interest rates, further restrictions and the deep suspicions in the minds of our fishermen about import abuse. All that results in an atmosphere of deep alarm. The fishermen are worried about whether they can survive the next 1805 few months, let alone further into the 1980s.
That is why I believe that the Government, in commenting upon their position in relation to the common fisheries policy, must not only make a declaration of intent about the future but give concrete evidence of interim support for the whole industry. In effect, I urge the Government to recognise that the dialogue within Europe must continue in the longer term with a view to securing a sensible CFP which recognises our major role. In the shorter term, urgent action must be taken at national level so that we can retain the capacity to fulfil that role. While I welcome the declared intentions of the Government in relation to the document, I fear that our bargaining position could be permanently jeopardised if there was such a rundown of our home fleet that the Europeans could look at us across the bargaining table and say "You may have a large percentage of the European pond but you have a tiny percentage of the European fleet."
We must not allow ourselves to be manoeuvred into such a position. Having witnessed the impressive demonstration at Peterhead recently, I feel able to assure the Government that the mood of the fishing industry is one of anger—anger born out of deep fear. It is my privilege to represent a proud part of our fishing inheritance on the Moray coast. Over many generations, those men have created a work effort based on hard, dedicated work and an acceptance of hardship and risk. They cannot even comprehend the work-shy mentality, and they have no real desire for a hand-out approach to the industry. Instead, they have a fierce pride in their abilities—a pride that has been badly hurt by the fear that they are not being allowed to compete on open, fair and level terms with their competitors. The need for interim aid is based on getting back to equal terms.
In the longer term, I believe that there will be an acceptance within the industry of restructuring. The industry will play a responsible part in the achievement of such future plans. Meanwhile, the meeting in Peterhead was a cry from the heart of the Scottish fishing industry. It was a cry for those in real, immediate and urgent peril on the sea. It is a cry that the Government dare not ignore.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
If the Government believe that the mere holding of this debate will assuage the anger of the fishermen, they are in for a rude awakening. They will have to come forward with offers to help the industry out of its critical position. Only 12 months ago the Prime Minister was touring in the North-East of Scotland. She promised that on the return of a Tory Government she would personally see that the fishing industry had high priority. If the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) and others representing that area were returned in the election because that promise was taken at face value, their seats will be in grave danger at the next election.
The extension of the fishing limit to 200 miles off Iceland, the Farce Isles, Norway and Canada has meant that they have been successful in preserving stocks. They have surplus fish beyond their requirements, which they can land here as a dumping ground. The position in the United Kingdom's 200-mile limit can only be described as farcical. Among the victims of that farce are the fishermen of Scotland. While fish stocks of other nations of the North Atlantic have been preserved because their catches are strictly controlled, we have a free-for-all around our shores. In fact, it is worse than a free-for-all. Our men have to abide by strict quotas; they are allowed so many boxes of cod, haddock, and so on. As the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) pointed out, this could lead to chronic wastage at sea.
What is happening to the vessels of our EEC partners, which we were obliged to allow into our waters? They do not have their catches monitored. Seldom, if ever, are they boarded by our fishery protection vessels, and nobody checks what they land in their home ports. It is no wonder that 600 fishermen in Peterhead this month wanted to know why other countries inside and outside the EEC had so much fish to spare when the United Kingdom fleet had greatly reduced its efforts to comply with international quotas drawn up for conservation reasons.
It is entirely reasonable for the British Fishing Federation to say that in the last few years there has been little sign that Britain's European partners have a real 1807 will to conserve and that quotas are treated by other member States with blatant—sometimes admitted—disdain. What will the Minister say about the purser "St. Loman" vessel from Norway, which was arrested last November? She had a catch of mackerel off the Northern Isles a week after the catching season was supposed to have stopped. The vessel had 400 tonnes of mackerel on board, although the quota for a vessel of that size is 220 tonnes. What will the Minister say about the 400 boxes of herring on sale at Boulogne fish market? The Government, on the pretext that they would incur EEC reprisals, refuse to grant exemption to the one vessel in the Western Isles fleet that has always caught herring by drift net—a conservation method in itself.
If we cannot annoy the EEC to the extent of giving exemption to one vessel, we are pawns in the Common Market. The Government have ignored the warnings of the danger to the herring shoals in the North Sea and the Minch. Now, mackerel are in danger of going the same way. Earlier in the debate, aspersion was cast on the scientific evidence. For years we had been warned by such scientific evidence, but no action was taken until it was too late.
No doubt, when such fine edible fish are gone, the Government will accept the quotas of the Common Market. They have been conned—that is the only word for it. As the British Fishing Federation says,The Commission were only able to make the most recent (1978) proposals appear comparable by allocating to the UK a substantial pecentage of a species never before the subject of total allowable catch or quota allocations…100,000 tonnes of horse mackerel—a bony fish totally unacceptable for human consumption in Europe".I was brought up in a fishing port and I spent my days going around the quays. Horse mackerel were even rejected by the seagulls; they were pretty hungry. That is the fish of which the EEC graciously permits our fishermen to catch 100,000 tonnes. Iii is a fish that nobody else wants. How ridiculous!
The Government should also tell the fishermen what they have in mind when Spain eventually joins the EEC. What allocation of our fish will go to Spain? Spain has one of the largest fishing fleets 1808 in the world, and our fishermen have a right to know. About £7.5 million worth of prawns are in cold storage and cannot be moved. Because the Spaniards cannot get into our waters for prawns, they have put a ban on prawns entering Spain. The Government should take cognisance of that fact and discuss the matter with the Spanish Government.
What will the Government do to ease the dangerous situation in the fishing industry? They should adopt the policy of my party, for a 200-mile limit with an inner exclusive 50-mile limit. It should be open to negotiation, subject to strict licensing. The Government should use some of Scotland's money from oil to help the fishing industry and to see it through the present difficult period. If the Government made a cash injection into the minimum price scheme now, it would be peanuts compared with the money that has been poured into British Leyland and into the BSC for many years.
I see from an article in the current edition of Fishing News that the Minister has said that any aid would be linked to a settlement of the common fisheries policy. He has said that that settlement might take place in June. That is totally unacceptable. The industry is desperate. It needs assistance now, and it should get it. It is impossible to reach a satisfactory fisheries policy within the EEC. The fisheries policy can be likened to the agricultural policy. If a policy is agreed, it will be to the detriment of our fishing industry.
§ Mr. Henderson
Is it not a fact that the activities of the EEC have helped to keep Poles and other Eastern European countries out of industrial fishing in the North Sea?
§ Mr. Stewart
The countries that stayed outside the EEC have limits of 200 miles. They are in full control of their fishing limits. They have more control over their waters. Our fishermen will not fade away quietly. The threat of independent action should not be ignored. Their determination to survive exceeds that of the steel workers, although they have no redundancy payments waiting for them.
Without fishing, there is no future for them, for their children or for the community. A well-disciplined demonstration in 1975 showed what fishermen could do. The Government should take note. 1809 They must give these men the help that they desperately need and to which they are entitled.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the present state of the fishing industry. There is almost universal agreement that the industry is passing through the worst crisis that anyone in it can remember. There has been a loss of waters and of vessels. The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) made that point, but the situation in Aberdeen is worse than he imagines. The fishing industry also faces the rising cost of fuel.
We all hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will tell us that the Government have a package that will allow the industry to remain intact until the common fisheries policy is renegotiated. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) rightly pointed out that the industry may collapse before a settlement has been reached or while the policy is being renegotiated. Our EEC partners may ask why we are complaining if our fleet is diminishing all the time. That is why we want a package that will include financial support and will keep the industry intact. When the common fisheries policy has been renegotiated, our fishing industry will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise.
There are five areas that demand urgent action. The first may be small in some ways. I refer to the fact that the White Fish Authority wants to increase its levy. The Government should not accept that proposal. The sum of £1.2 million is an enormous burden on the industry at any time. When the fishing industry is facing such a crisis, the authority should not put such a burden on it. It is absolutely insane to levy £1.2 million and to come forward with Government help at the same time. That makes no sense. The right hon. Member for Barnsley spoke of giving a fillip to the industry. That is quite right. It would be a small but appreciated fillip if the Government abandoned this proposal. We all have to tighten our belts. If the fishing industry has to tighten its belt, why should the White Fish Authority not do the same? If a burden is to be placed on another body, it should be placed on a 1810 non-wealth-producing quango rather than on a wealth-producing industry.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The hon. Gentleman should not allow his enthusiasm to go too far. He should not condemn the White Fish Authority in that way. The WFA is well respected by the industry, although relations are not good at present. He should not spoil a good case.
§ Mr. Sproat
I was unaware that I had uttered one word of criticism about the WFA. I simply said that if there were a choice between placing a burden on a wealth-producing industry or on a non-wealth-producing quango, I would put it on the quango. I agree that the WFA does excellent work. However, I cannot recommend that it should benefit at the expense of the industry.
Secondly, I urge my right hon. Friend to continue with his vigorous and determined drive to reach an early settlement of the common fisheries policy. So far, his approach could be described as "toughness without truculence". I am sure that he is right to continue with that toughness. However, there are not many people in the fishing industry who are optimistic that the common fisheries policy will be renegotiated by June, or even later this summer. I hope that it is negotiated by then. There will shortly be elections in France and Germany. It is in their interests to spin the negotiations out until our fleet has been diminished. Therefore, I am not optimistic about an early settlement.
We must continue with all the vigour and drive at our command. I agree with the remarks of my right hon. Friend, and I am sure that the fishing industry will be behind him as long as he sticks to exclusive zones, proper enforcement and a fair quota that bears some relation to the proportion that we put in.
Thirdly, I am concerned about the importation of foreign subsidised fish. My right hon. Friend was extremely helpful and he gave us some new statistics. If the French—yet again—break the regulations by subsidising fishing fuel, we should consider banning such foreign fish. Fair competition is one thing, but it is wrong that our industry should suffer the threat of decimation simply because the French Government subsidise their industry in contravention of EEC rules.
1811 That is not particularly extraordinary. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is now trying to ban the import of American carpet yarns, because the American Government are subsidising that industry. If unfair competition is a good reason for imposing a ban in one area, surely similar action should be taken towards the fishing industry. We understand the tightrope upon which my right hon. Friend and the Minister are walking. They do not want to be offensive and non-communautaire towards our partners while they fight for our industry.
We recognise that my right hon. Friend's attitude towards the European Community has enabled us to achieve what has been achieved. We do not want to jeopardise that. At the same time, we must insist on competition being on equal terms.
The fourth area for urgent action is the restructuring of the fleet. My right hon. Friend said that it should wait until the CFP was renegotiated. We understand that much of the shape and size of the fleet depends on those renegotiations. However, if only to give confidence to the fleet for the future, we should take the earliest opportunity for talks between the industry and the Government on the surplus requirement and the possible shape and size of the fleet. We know the direction in which we are going in regard to the CFP.
It is essential to consider restructuring as soon as possible. Our British fleet is already being restructured, but by default. Many vessels are being tied up. Restructuring is taking place without planning. Let us at least try to impose a plan.
My fifth point concerns cash injection to the industry. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State can tell us that in principle the Government have not ruled that out. I do not expect him to be specific and say that it will be in the form of a scrapping subsidy, a lay-up subsidy or a price support scheme. The industry is still putting its ideas forward to the Government. I hope that my hon. Friend will say that he accepts in principle that the industry is entitled to cash support to see it through these terrible times, before the CFP is renegotiated.
Above all, the industry needs cash and confidence. I hope that my hon. Friend will reassure us that he can offer both.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I am sorry that the Minister is not here. I wish to tell him to his face that I always find him urbane, courteous and able, and, on behalf of the Hull delegation that he met a short while ago, I wish to thank him. However, despite all his charm and ability, I do not believe that it is possible for him to take the action that the industry needs—and especially the distant water fleet of my own city of Hull. He is bound hand and foot by two shackles—EEC policy and the fact that the Government will not use public money to aid the industry. His leader talks emotively about taxpayers' money. We are seeing cuts left, right and centre—particularly in education and local government. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) was optimistic about what he euphemistically called a cash injection. I do not share that optimism.
§ Mr. David Myles (Banff)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government demonstrated that they will give aid to an industry by their considerable cash injection into hill farming not long ago?
§ Mr. Johnson
I shall not be led astray by such comments. I am speaking for my distant water port of Hull. I want aid on behalf of everyone in that industry to get our vessels back to sea. If they cannot go back to sea and catch fish, I wish to see those trawlers put in moth-balls for the duration and receive payments to indemnify and compensate them.
I have a feeling of deja vu when I am told that the previous debate on this matter was two years ago. It fills a Member from Hull with almost inspissated gloom. I hope that we shall have some cheerful news from the Minister.
I shall be brief, as many hon. Members wish to speak, and I know how infuriating it is to wait while someone talks on and on.
I wish to ask some questions to find out what the Government intend to do. The Minister is well aware of the industry's problems. He has a deep knowledge of them. What proposals does he have to solve them quickly in order to salvage this industry? He may be able to help the inshore and middle water 1813 people, but I do not see what he can do to help my people in Hull.
The severity of our plight has been mentioned. We have 25 freezers and distant water vessels, which are now in dock. Not so many years ago, when I first went to Hull, we had 150 of those big vessels. The 25 vessels remaining have no work. We heard statistics earlier about fishermen who have lost their jobs in Hull.
The Minister seemed optimistic about his bilateral talks with countries such as West Germany and France. Perhaps we shall hear soon about the results. The right hon. Gentleman appears to suggest that in the not-too-distant future there is the possibility of a change in the CFP. How long must we wait? If a CFP settlement were reached tomorrow, it would be of little benefit to our people in the Hull docks. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the long-term financial benefits that may accrue will be in time to save our 25 boats in Hull?
I do not need to tell the House about the black mood of bitterness that is blowing up in the industry among deck-hands and owners. Imports are soaring, and we have tighter controls and higher costs. I wish to quote from my local paper, the Hull Daily Mail. On 11 February, under the headlineFish bosses seek cash lifeline",Tom Boyd junior, president of Hull Vessel Owners Association, who is well known to most fishing Members, said:We are selling our assets in an endeavour to stay in existence".That emphasises the desperate plight of the Hull-based freezer industry. The Tory Government are allowing it to be destroyed, while our Common Market partners are taking substantial steps to keep their fleets in existence. They will benefit if and when the CFP is changed.
Our so-called partners, particularly the French, enjoy subsidies. They ignore conservation measures. It is no wonder that not only Humberside complains bitterly but also a number of well-known leaders north of the Tweed. It cannot be denied that such men know what they are talking about. I refer to such skippers as Willy Hay, Gilbert 1814 Buchan and Jim Lovie. I need not go too far north of the Tweed to find people, even those fishing in better inshore conditions, who are just as bitter as we are.
Why are Humberside men not allowed to do what the German fleets are doing? They openly admit that they have caught 100,000 tonnes of cod off the coast of Greenland and that there is a tacit agreement between the Germans and the Danes. Why cannot we go there too? Why cannot the Minister, with all his charm and ability, negotiate with the Danes and the Canadians?
Why will the Government not pay compensation in the form of lay-up payments while our boats in Hull are unable to fish? Why cannot they mothball our 25 big vessels and pay our people until the new common fisheries policy allows us to go out once again and catch fish?
If we go out of existence—as we shall, unless things alter—the other eight nations of the EEC, including Luxembourg, will simply wait until 1982, when our fishery resources will fill their nets as a matter of course. We shall not then have the boats to catch fish.
Finally, if our fleet of 25 distant water boats goes, the port of Hull will close. This means more than jobs. I have heard tonight two moving speeches by hon. Members from north of the Tweed, and they have described what will happen to their communities. What about Hull? Fishing is a way of life in Hull and plays a most important role in our community. The sons and daughters of fisherman have made their mark on local politics in the Hull city council and in Humberside affairs generally. The loss of Hull as a port would not be just a physical and financial matter. It is a social matter, and it would bring about a psychological change from which we would all suffer.
I believe that fishermen and miners are the salt of the earth. This is because both face danger in their daily lives. The fishermen go to the Arctic and the miners go down into the bowels of the earth. These men and their wives are a special breed, and their loss is our loss.
I feel tonight as my hon. Friends from Welsh constituencies must have felt a few days ago during the steel debate. If the Government cannot see that, they are men who are eyeless in Gaza.
§ Mr. David Myles (Banff)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) on his bipartisan approach to this debate. I hope that this will enable us to arrive at a constructive and useful solution.
A summary glance through these complicated documents reveals that the management of fisheries is a complicated international exercise involving many States with widely differing objectives and interests. When one is part of a grouping of States, such as the EEC, which is attempting to negotiate for the "common good", there are further complications.
I can fully understand the fishermen's thinking that we have made things far more complicated by joining the EEC. However, I am quite convinced that the EEC complication, while it may make negotiations more difficult, must in the end make our position stronger. We are in a strong negotiating position as the State within the EEC with by far the major fish stocks within our internationally defined waters. We have the most efficient, modern and expert capability to catch fish. We lead the way—although the record is not all that good—in conservation of fish stocks and we have markets for fish for human consumption which are larger than those of any of our competitors. Therefore, we negotiate from strength. We must negotiate vigorously in the interest of our whole fishing industry. We must not be sidetracked by other trade considerations.
Our fishing industry is of sufficient importance to the economy—and, dare I say, the political stability—of this country, to gainful employment and to the maintenance of coastal communities to be treated as a priority and in uncomplicated isolation.
What do we require? We must ensure urgently that while all the political considerations and negotiations are continuing the industry is maintained in a healthy and viable condition. We must ensure that we do not finally arrive at a solution to our problems and then find ourselves with no catching capacity and no fish to catch.
There is no doubt that parts of the industry are going through very difficult times. The more established skipper owners, whose boats are older and fully 1816 paid up, may be able to survive. They have seen the ups and downs of the industry before, and perhaps they are more experienced. My main worry is for the young men who have recently acquired boats with higher power and increased catching capacity but with the same crew strength. With decreasing quotas per man per week and increasing costs of fuel, ropes, nets and interest charges, they could be put in a position in which it will not pay them to go to sea. On the other hand, the cost of interest and the capital commitment will mean that they cannot afford to tie up, either.
Added to these difficulties is the effect of imports on our markets. We have heard a lot about this already. If the fishermen cannot sell their quotas, their position will be quite intolerable. What can the Government do? I believe that the industry will be pressing for a market floor—in other words, the jacking up of withdrawal prices to a level that is more realistic in relation to costs. My worry is that if we jack up our home market and withdraw fish for fish meal, we are liable to leave a gap in the market to be filled by more dumped imports. Those imports would then capture a share of our market that we would have great difficulty recovering.
We must take action on subsidised imports. The issue of Fishing News International for February asks "Are big profits made in the black fishery?" It is this black fishery to which I refer. It is possible that action of this kind can be taken temporarily without imports flooding the market. But we must move fast to act on unfair imports.
In referring to unfair imports, I speak of those from States that subsidise the fishing industry in one way or another. We have heard from fishermen and read in fishing newspapers about vessels that have blatantly ignored conservation restrictions. I cite as an example Norway, whose Government have announced at least £77 million in aid for 1980, probably rising to over £100 million, as price support measures have been announced only for the first four months.
The French, already mentioned in the debate, have fuel subsidies and, I believe, also operate on a pound-for-pound basis—or, I suppose, a franc-for-franc basis—a system to assist in funding support for withdrawn fish. The Danes have their 1817 laying-up payments and the Germans their generous package of laying-up and scrapping premiums, underwriting of voyages to unfamiliar grounds for unfamiliar species, and promotional support.
I realise that we, in the past, have funded voyages to unfamiliar grounds for unfamiliar species. I hope that that kind of support can continue. The Dutch have various subsidies and are currently building, irresponsibly, in my view, more new and destructive beam trawlers to add to an already over-expanded fleet. It is most unlikely that there will be sufficient fish for that fleet to catch.
All those countries are giving tangible support to what they see as the future for their fishing fleets. Britain, with so much to lose and so much to recover, threatens to be the least well-equipped to cope with the success that it seeks and that I am confident my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend will achieve from the EEC negotiations.
I must underline the need for urgent action. The meeting that I and my hon. Friends the Members for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) and for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) had in Peterhead recently with about 700 fishermen was a dramatic demonstration of the strength of feeling within the industry. I must give credit to the leaders in the industry at that meeting. By their calm and reasonable attitude, they defused what could have been a very awkward situation.
The reason why I urge Ministers to take action is that if those reasonable leaders cannot control the more militant elements in the fishing industry a situation could develop in which Ministers, despite their good will, could find that they were fighting on two fronts. That could only weaken our negotiating position. I direct those comments not only to this House but to the fishermen themselves.
I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends urgently to back the leaders who have shown their credibility. The time is past for political palliatives. We must stand by our fishermen. I only hope that my right hon. Friend's absence from the Front Bench means that he is speaking on the telephone, possibly to the Prime Minister, to find out how he is to live up to her commitment, which I accept, 1818 made during the election campaign. The only way to safeguard the livelihood of the fishing communities and those magnificent people is by getting agreement to an acceptable common fisheries policy very quickly. In the meantime, we must keep the industry going.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I begin with a quotation supplied by the British Fishing Federation which puts in a nutshell our fears about the industry. It says:At the beginning of 1975, there were 450 trawlers fishing from United Kingdom ports, the finest and most efficient fleet in Europe. Now there are less than 150 left and less than half of them are actually fishing. The rest are laid up and rusting in port. The effect on local communities, particularly Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood and Aberdeen, has been disastrous, with a loss of employment at sea and on shore of at least 25,000 jobs.That quotation refers only to the difficulties of the trawling fleet. We know that the inshore fleets are also suffering considerable difficulties.
Our last debate on fishing escaped the notice of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I do not blame him for that. He was in his bed. We were up until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. discussing fishing. In that debate, the Minister of State, who is present on the Government Front Bench today, complained that we were unnecessarily pessimistic and were taking far too gloomy a view. The hon. Gentleman said there were signs on the horizon that showed that the fishng industry was likely to improve over a period of time.
Having taken part in many fishing debates, I accept that we concentrate too much perhaps on the difficulties the industry faces. But we have no alternative. Having conceded that, however, I would say that very little has happened since that last debate just before Christmas to give us any cause for optimism. What has happened has caused us to become more pessimistic.
I wish to make a passing reference to the attempt of the White Fish Authority to have its levy doubled. Later tonight, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs will be reviewing the evidence it took in Aberdeen last week. Next Wednesday, we shall be debating the order that allows the maximum to go up to 5p. It would be wrong to go into details tonight. The 1819 case put by the fishing industry indicates its view of the future. The industry is very concerned and does not know where it is going.
To some extent, though I do not expect many of the fishermen to agree with me, the attack on the White Fish Authority comes because the authority is a target that they can see whereas the rest of the targets are elsewhere. I do not wish to prejudice my judgment by any comments I may make on the size of the levy until that time.
I hope that we do not fall into the trap which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) fell into when he sneeringly described the White Fish Authority as a non-wealth-producing quango. Such sneering language does no service to a body of people who have put a great deal into the fishing industry. The hon. Member may shake his head, but those were his precise words.
§ Mr. Hughes
It sounded like it. However, I was making only a passing reference to that and I have said enough about it. If we look at what is happening in the industry and read the local and the fishing press, time and again we learn of difficulties. The Press and Journal in Aberdeen recently carried a story concerning the suspension of payments by the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation. The fund concerned is called the minimum price indemnity fund. It allows the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation to make up the difference between the minimum price at which fish should be sold and the actual price at which it is sold in order to ensure that fishermen do not suffer.
In 10 months £330,000 has been paid out, but the fund cannot continue to do that. The organisation established by fishermen for fishermen has been forced to suspend payments. We can understand how difficult it was for the organisation to arrive at that decision, which means that the fishermen have lost much of their income. If £330,000 has been paid out in 10 months, we can see the size of the problem clearly.
The industry is in need of short-term help. I do not mean to disparage Conservative Members when I say that I welcome their help in obtaining short- 1820 term support for the industry because I know that it must go against the grain for them to seek a public subsidy for industry. I welcome their support very sincerely. I am sure, however, that there will be considerable disappointment in the industry at the way in which the Minister opened the debate by saying that the Government would look at the problems and that all issues would be taken into account.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said that he hoped for an answer in principle, if not in detail, tonight. Judging by the way in which the debate was opened, I doubt whether he will even get a commitment on principle tonight. Fishing News has said that aid to the industry is possibly to be linked to a new CFP, but Government must make up their minds. Each time the issue of an oil subsidy or a scrap-and-build subsidy is raised, it is no use the Government saying that they will look at it and that they understand the problems. The Government must stop dangling the fishing industry on the end of a string. The industry feels as if a noose is tied round its neck and that as each month passes the noose gets tighter and tighter. Unless we do something, it will be too late to help the fishing industry.
I am concerned for those who catch the fish. I have known many of them since my boyhood and some of them are relatives of mine on both sides of my family. To them fishing is more a way of life than a job. I am also concerned for the consumer and I would like more fish to be sold. From the consumer's point of view, it would be helpful if the Government could say why, with low prices being paid on the quayside and with cheap imports flooding in, the price of fish is so high in the shops. Who is making a massive profit out of the industry? That profit is not going to the primary producers.
There is no doubt that in the last year or 18 months of the term of office of the previous Labour Government our partners in the EEC were determined to spin out negotiations as long as possible. Their expectation—unfortunately proved to be right—was that there would be a Government of a different political complexion after the general election. I am convinced that our EEC partners went 1821 on delaying matters in the hope that the new Government would be more pliable than the Labour Government were. The hope was that the new Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would not be quite so tough as his predecessor.
The Government have now been in power for nine months and in the spirit of our bipartisan approach to fishing matters where we do not quarrel politically I am not yet prepared to pass judgment on the performance of the Government. However, there is a lesson to be learnt. In nine months, all we have achieved is an agreement on total allowable catches. Once more I see our partners in the Community beginning the process they have so successfully carried out since we joined the Common Market of grinding and wearing the Government down. The Minister at the end of the day has had to come back and say that he had reached an agreement on TAC which was in the national interest but that if he had carried on negotiating he might have come away with worse terms. Our EEC partners are attempting to wear us down and weaken us so that eventually the Minister must come back with an agreement which he acknowledges will not be liked by everybody but which might have contained less favourable terms had he pressed the issue further. The result is that we have had to accept something which is less than best.
I hope that the Government will firmly announce that they will not weaken but that they will stand firm. The Government must impose a deadline for a resolution of the matter. Perhaps they should call in Lord Carrington, who seems to have been successful at imposing deadlines in another context. If our Community partners think that if they go on long enough they will wear us down, they will try to do that. But if we say that the matter must be settled by June or July and that unless it is settled we will take unilateral action, I believe that it will bring our partners to heel and bring them to their senses.
I am concerned about catch reporting, which is allied to the matter of the TAC. The Government, Back Benchers and the industry have ample evidence that the quota system has not worked out on the basis of catch reporting. The Minister 1822 says that we have made one big improvement in securing monthly reporting. He believes that that should show how the trend is developing and that we will not be caught out when at the end of the year the reports arrive, months out of date, and we find that there has been over fishing. That is all very well if the facts are reported properly month by month. The evidence is that, in addition to the reported catch over and above quotas, illegal catches over and above the quotas are not properly reported. How can we make sure that reporting is accurate? The only way in which we can make sure of that is by having inspectors from this country based in the major fishing ports of the EEC countries.
That may not be a practical proposition, but I am convinced that unless we try to examine the situation in this light we shall get nowhere. There must be a proper system of inspection. It is not fair that quotas should be over fished and that the concept of conservation should be destroyed.
The industry is in crisis—not one crisis, but two. There is a crisis of finance and there is, more importantly, a crisis of confidence. There is a feeling in the industry that we are isolated and that nobody really cares enough about the problems to take urgent action. I can understand why a number of people in the fishing industry complain of money being found for British Steel and British Leyland.
I defend the right of the Government to put money into those industries, but I also understand the feelings of the fishermen who are upset about nothing being done about their industry. The crisis will deepen as long as we are unable to resolve the common fisheries policy. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, who has come round to accepting a view that I expressed three years ago. The time for discussing the future of the fleet is not after the conclusion of the CFP, but now. The review is long overdue and should be commenced immediately. The Government should stick to their resolve and give an immediate short-term answer.
The meeting at Peterhead was orderly. A warning was given to the Tories to deliver in four weeks. Let us have action before then, and we shall support it.
1823 It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 7. (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.