§ Postponed proceeding resumed on Question,
§ 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/3045/78, 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.
§ Question again proposed.9.45 pm
§ Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)
I represent what must be one of the largest European fishing communities, not only of inshore fishermen but for fish processing. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) is not with us, but I assure him that although the majority of trade carried on in my constituency is more of the inshore type, we are behind him. I am pleased to see that the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has returned. I subscribe to his views on trawler fleets. I sympathise with the points that he made.
As has been mentioned, Fishing News for 15 February states in very black print "No aid yet!" If that fact is confirmed when the Minister replies, the paper should have withheld publication until tomorrow morning and been printed with a black edge to show the fishing industry's mourning.
That publication also states:Proposals for an injection of government cash into the crisis-tern fishing industry have tumbled on to the Whitehall desks this week".That is the Whitehall desk of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The article goes on:there is a very slim chance that the government will be reacting immediately to these pleas for help.I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has joined us. It is to his credit that he had the meeting with the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation. He told it that the climate was right to make an approach to the Government. I sincerely hope that that is not a false premise.
1880 My hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) referred to a meeting at Peterhead in my constituency two weeks ago. It was attended by 700 fishermen. Had it not been for the good offices of members of the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation executive, there would have been virtually a war on the floor. Those men calmed the storm. They will not be able to do that again if there is no aid for the fishing industry.
The article continues:There will be a lot of pressure falling on the shoulders of Scottish fishing leaders now they are faced with a situation where government aid looks like being delayed.Fishermen north of the border gave their representatives a deadline of one month to extract some cash from the government. That deadline will be up in two weeks and, if fishermen get no satisfaction, they will be in a very militant mood.I need not remind my right hon. Friend and his colleagues that when in Opposition they experienced a fishing blockade. Such blockades will be threatened if there is no aid, and that will have serious consequences for Britain and Scotland.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said that the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation finds it necessary to suspend indemnity on a myriad of prices because it has already spent £340,000 in the past 10 months and cannot withstand another such year without going into bankruptcy. That is a very sad fact which we must recognise. As the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation, Mr. Jim Lovie, said, it was with much regret that that action was taken.
The fishing industry has proposed to the Secretary of State that minimum prices should be increased and that the finances required should be supported by the Government. Mr. Gilbert Buchan, the chairman of that organisation, suggested that to the Minister today, and I sincerely hope that the Minister has found time to study the document and will give us a satisfactory reply when he replies tonight.
We are debating a motion to take note of the documents on EEC fisheries policy. But, sadly enough, we do not have a common fisheries policy. That 1881 is why the British fishing industry is in dire straits.
I support the tributes paid by other hon. Members to the British federation for its forbearance and tolerance towards the many restrictions that have been placed upon it in the past few years. Ever since we entered the EEC, we have been saddled with the fact that there is no common fisheries policy. The fault lies at the door of past Conservative and Labour Governments.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
In fact, the problem is that we have a common fisheries policy which is due to come into force in 1982. That is why it is so difficult to come to an agreement with our partners, who want to stand firm on the existing common fisheries policy which was established in 1972 just before we joined.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
But we do not have a proper common fisheries policy today, and that is one reason why Ministers cannot get any restructuring of the fleet.
We have 390 sheets of typed paper associated with the motion. But it is abundantly clear that these documents—and I have read every single page of them—can do nothing for the present crisis in the British fishing industry. Many of the documents have been superseded by other regulations, and the bulk of the proposals seem to be geared to the advantage of other member States and Third World countries rather than that of the United Kingdom.
It is well known that the British fishing industry has entered a period of recession which will be far worse than anything in the post-war era. There are no simple explanations for this, but it is of paramount importance that the failure to secure a proper common fisheries policy has been the major factor. Even the total allowable catch for 1980 is quite unacceptable to the fishing industry, and the Scottish fleet will be the worst sufferers.
Even if the United Kingdom were to receive 50 per cent. of the total allowable catch, there would be a shortfall in the domestic landings compared with national demand, which would worry the processing industry. Many people in my constituency are employed in this industry. 1882 The industry employs 18,000 people on shore and it has invested £17 million in the fishing industry which should not be put at risk because we lack both a policy and the necessary finance.
We should ensure that the total allowable catch is increased. Although there is no proper common fisheries policy, the United Kingdom fleet is rendered subject to many restrictions which are contained in these documents and we would be failing in our duty if we did not come to the rescue of the industry now. But time is not on our side.
I welcome the efforts that my right hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues are making in Brussels, but I stress that we just cannot wait for the new CEP to be brought into effect if we are to save our industry. One of our greatest problems is that of cheap imports of foreign fish. In the 12 months to December 1979, imports of fresh and chilled fish rose from 71,830 tonnes to 100,182 tonnes. Imports of frozen fish also rose, from 86,665 tonnes to 104,571 tonnes. These figures clearly illustrate the disastrous effect of these imports on the Brish fishing industry. They have deflated the prices that our fishermen get at the ports. While some imports of fish are vital to fish processors and consumers in general—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. I think that the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) will be aware, even if his pipe is not alight, that tobacco has not been approved of in the House for hundreds of years.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's pipe will not catch fire so that we lose his presence from the House.
I accept that some imports of fish are vital to fish processors and consumers in general, but cheap imported fish is being sold at such low prices that it is now uneconomic for our own vessels to go to sea. Our industry can take no more.
The documents detail all the tariffs and rights that member States enjoy in British waters. But nowhere do the documents restrict unlimited cheap imports from member States. Many Third World States can also import cheap fish at very low tariffs or no tariffs at all.
1883 Another factor not considered in the documents is the dramatic effect of increased fuel prices on the fishing fleet. In the course of 1979, the price of marine gas oil increased by about 46 per cent. In the month of January alone it increased by a further 6 per cent., with no financial return to the fishermen and ever-decreasing prices at the ports for the landed fish catches.
I do not consider that a fuel subsidy is a feasible solution to the problem. There would be many difficulties in its operation. It would be unfair to some vessels that need to go out for only a day or two to catch their quota. In addition, any fuel subsidy would be a contravention of the competition rules of the European Community, although it is rumoured, as hon. Members have mentioned, that certain member States are giving a subsidy but not disclosing it within the Community.
We must look to other methods to save the industry from the disaster that will continue to threaten it until the problem of the common fisheries policy is resolved. I should like to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister of State whether the Government have any positive plans to save the industry from extinction. If the plans cannot be met by reference to the documents, the Government must consider unilateral action, bearing in mind that 68 per cent. of the fish caught by Community vessels is caught in British waters.
Can my hon. Friend say whether he has considered an operating subsidy or a tonnage payment based on fish landed by a vessel? Is he prepared to consider a minimum price scheme that has been presented to him and to which I have referred? Such a scheme is permissible under article 6 of regulation 100/76, which permits member States to make aid available to producer organisations in several forms to cover part of the intervention within the meaning of article 2. This system is being operated in France. Why should it not be operated in the United Kingdom? We have had experience of France breaking the rules in respect of lamb and other items.
Unfortunately, any scheme of financial aid for the fishing industry is not adequately covered in the documents. But there is no reason why her Majesty's 1884 Government should not introduce schemes that are contrary to those set out in the documents, as other member States are doing at present. I would not suggest that we jeopardise the negotiations taking place in Brussels with a view to securing a new common fisheries policy, but during this critical period the industry is entitled to expect unorthodox methods to be adopted by the Government. I am sure that our Ministers are perfectly capable of persuading the other member States that the circumstances are exceptional and call for urgent action.
I should like to hear the view of my hon. Friend the Minister on the laying-up process described in the documents which permits member States to grant a premium of 8 per cent. of construction cost or the purchase value of the vessel. The Community document stipulates that if the laying-up period was less than 250 days, the premium would be granted only to vessels registered before 1 January 1969 and the laying-up period would be for not less than 90 consecutive days.
Such a scheme would, I am sure, receive the approval of the pelagic fleet and could cover the period March to June, when there is little opportunity for the pelagic fleet to fish. If even 50 vessels could he laid up for that period, the scheme would cost only £1.4 million, which, as right hon. and hon. Members know, is a small sum compared with the vast amounts of money being handed to British Leyland and British Steel.
It is quite clear that the documents do not offer salvation to the British fleet in its present desperate plight. I want my hon. Friend to tell us tonight that he will not offer words of comfort but will offer hard cash in some form or other. Nothing less will do. Present conservation policies will guarantee a buoyant fishing industry in the future long after the oil and the gas have gone, but only if my hon. Friend delivers the goods now. Failure to do so will mean the ruin of an industry that has contributed to the economy of the country for centuries.
We cannot and we must not fail the industry in its hour of need. These documents are not the answer to the problem. We should have the answer in this House, and we look to my hon. Friend the Minister to provide it when he replies to the debate.
§ 10.3 pm
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
It is a pleasure to speak about the conservation of salmon, and I do so as an angler who perhaps plays his part in conservation by actually not catching any salmon. The protection of salmon will help all those who fish. I speak particularly of those of modest means—those thousands of anglers who belong to associations. They fish in Wales, on the Dovey, the Teifi and the Towy. In England there are the big associations, particularly the Birmingham Anglers, who own so much water on the Wye and the Severn. In Scotland I have the River Spey in mind.
I speak for those who fish on day tickets and from their chalets, and on weekly tickets when they are on holiday. Fishing of all kinds is a popular sport. The aristocracy and the powerful have the best water, as they have the best seats at the Cup Final, but salmon fishing is no longer an exclusive pastime. It is an irony that as the number of anglers increases so the number of salmon to be caught in our rivers has shrunk. The salmon of which I talk originate and grow in our rivers, migrate to the coast of Greenland, the Faroes, the Norwegian Sea and elsewhere, and feed there before returning to the river of origin to breed.
Salmon often have a hard time of it before leaving our rivers. Water extraction, crazy land drainage schemes that alter our rivers, acid rainfall and the use of chemicals in agriculture are all harmful and should be investigated.
When young salmon get into the sea, life is harder than it used to be for them. Their food is being taken from the sea on a massive scale, as, for example, off the North American coast. Not only is the salmon's food netted in the feeding grounds, but the salmon are also netted. There is at present a quota off Greenland. It is imperative that the British Government resist any demand to increase that quota.
Netting is a menance, especially the use of monofilament hang nets or drift nets, which many now argue should be totally prohibited. To save the salmon on their way home, we need also to phase out drift net fisheries, restrict estuary netting and control tidal water fishing. But who will do that? Only the Government can 1886 achieve those objectives.
The Government must take a tougher line with the EEC, which obviously takes too little interest at present in the subject of salmon conservation. For example, no mention was made of salmon at the conference on fisheries in European waters—perhaps because the only countries with salmon rivers are Great Britain, Ireland, and France. The others are only too willing to plunder our seas.
The point the Government must grasp—the point that they must drive home in Europe—is that these are not European salmon; they are Atlantic salmon. That is why we should respond to the United States Government's initiative, which followed the Edinburgh symposium organised by the British Atlantic Salmon Research Trust and the American International Atlantic Salmon Foundation.
The United States draft treaty starts with article 66 of the United Nations law of the sea conference. Roughly stated—it is an important principle—it says that the country of origin has the primary interest in and responsibility for the salmon.
The draft treaty provides forA prohibition of salmon fishing outside an area 12 miles from the shore of any country belonging to the proposed convention.It provides forA quota for salmon catches in the Convention area which would not exceed the average for the period 1976–78.It also provides forThe establishment of a Commission to:It provides further for
- (a) provide a forum for Atlantic salmon study and co-operation.
- (b) provide scientific research.
- (c) compile statistics of salmon.
- (d) make proposals for the purpose of conserving and developing Atlantic salmon stocks. Such proposals to come into force after a 60 day period, but allowance made for objections to such proposals by a member of the Convention."The enforcement of the agreed proposals to be carried out by each Convention country within its own 200 mile limit—outside that area any Convention country to enforce the proposals.I hope that the Government will take that draft treaty seriously. I ask the Minister whether it is possible for us to become a party to such a treaty. If not, if our membership of the EEC prevents our becoming a party to that draft treaty, 1887 what action do Her Majesty's Government intend to take to achieve the objective of saving the Atlantic salmon—an objective that I believe to be very worth while?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that the Front Bench speeches will start at 11 o'clock. My eye has already been caught by seven hon. Members. The arithmetic I leave to hon. Members.
§ 10.8 pm
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
My right hon. Friend, in opening, was correct to emphasise the importance of his objective to obtain as quickly as possible a common fisheries policy that was not only effective and enforceable but advantageous to this country. Until we attain the agreement, the essential decisions that must be made by the United Kingdom fishing industry will remain unmade, with all the accompanying uncertainties and anxieties to which various hon. Members have referred.
This period of indecision has been allowed to drag on for far too long. It has accentuated the problems facing the industry which have arisen independently of the EEC dimension. The withdrawal from the traditional long distance waters of Iceland and Norway has imposed tremendous burdens and strains on our deep-sea fishing fleet, and the need to make the necessary structural changes in the industry to meet the new circumstances has been inhibited by the uncertainty of the precise form the common fisheries policy will take and the opportunities and scope that will exist for United Kingdom fishermen.
It is essential to retain the agreement of the House as a whole in the EEC fishing negotiations. Mistakes have been made by Labour and Conservative Governments, but for the past few years those of us who have regularly contributed to the annual fishing debate have presented a united front. It is important that we continue to do so. I represent a Cornish constituency that has a significant and exclusively inshore fishing interest. We were very grateful, in Looe, to have my hon. Friend the Minister of State to meet the local fishermen on their patch at the end of last year. As a result of his discussions with them, I hope that his understanding of the West 1888 Country inshore fishing industry and its problems will be the greater.
I recognise that our first objective in the negotiations must be to secure an adequate and exclusive coastal zone. I hope that that will be a minimum of 12 miles. In the 12 to 50-mile zone, the United Kingdom must have dominant access based on our nation's contribution in terms of fish stocks and established fishing patterns. Likewise, outside the 50 miles in the Community pool the United Kingdom quota of the total allowable catch must also reflect the same criteria.
It is encouraging that agreement has been reached within the Community on the establishment of total allowable catches based on scientific evidence. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister's confidence is justified. A few years ago the scientists of his Department stated that 400,000 tonnes of mackerel could be fished in our waters without prejudicing future stocks. Within 18 months those same scientists said that only 260,000 tonnes of mackerel could be caught. That suggests to me that reliance on the professional scientist must not be exclusive.
I always remind myself of the wisdom and local nous of some of the senior fishermen in my constituency. They recall the days of the early 1920s when herring was the predominant catch in our coastal waters. The herrings disappeared. Subsequently, the pilchards were the predominant catch. They also disappeared. Now we have the benefit of the mackerel stocks. But there is concern. Unless we take note of the fears expressed by local fishermen based on generations of practical experience, I believe that the mackerel could disappear before the measures announced by Ministers come into effect.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
The point that my hon. Friend has made could not be more true. When the Ministry's expert witnesses gave evidence for the first time to a Select Committee investigation, they denied the assertion of the West Country fishermen that mackerel enclosed in a purse seine net would die within 24 hours of being released.
When the Select Committee took evidence verifying that assertion from the Icelandic and Norwegian fishery laboratories, and then recalled the Ministry's witnesses and confronted them with that evidence, they agreed that they had been 1889 wrong in their first evidence and confirmed the evidence given and the West Country fishermen's statements.
§ Mr. Hicks
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That was the point that I was about to make. It is important to have an effective catch-reporting mechanism within the Community.
My hon. Friend was right to refer to the sad experience in respect of mackerel that have been dumped at sea after they have been caught, simply because the existing method of catch allocation has been based on man-days. Once the larger vessels caught an excess of their allowed catch, they dumped the mackerel. The mackerel that had been either dumped or transferred to other vessels at sea evaded the Ministry records.
It is important to emphasise to my right hon. Friend and his hon. Friend the Minister of State the experiences that have taken place in the South-West in mackerel fishing. When my right hon. Friend places his reliance upon Community catch supervision, he must take account of our experiences and ensure that the method that evolves to monitor and supervise the catches is the most effective that could be achieved.
My right hon. Friend must be conscious of the practical difficulties that could arise as he moves towards what we hope will be the United Kingdom signing of an effective and meaningful common fisheries policy. In doing so, it is right to point out some of the practical problems that could occur, especially those facing our inshore fishing industry in Devon and Cornwall.
The problems have been heightened, regrettably, because our long distance water trawlers and other large vessels have been obliged to come to the mackerel fishing grounds of South-West England. I gather that the South-West mackerel fishing area is now our largest single fishing sector. The presence of these large vessels from Scotland, Ulster, Humberside and Fleetwood has made conditions in many ways quite intolerable in our coastal waters. It has put enormous pressure on the mackerel industry.
There is a danger that our inshore fishing industry—which plays such a vital part in our local economy—is being placed in jeopardy.
1890 I hope that my right hon. Friend is successful in finding an advantageous common fisheries policy agreement for Britain. I remind him that even when he has achieved that he has still to resolve the problem of the distribution of the mackerel catch within our exclusive coastal zones. He must do nothing at that stage that would be detrimental to the interests of the South-West inshore fishing industry.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
On the last occasion when we had a debate on fisheries, which took place in the early hours of the morning, I did not join the prevailing chorus of gloom and despondency about the industry. I feel that I must join that chorus tonight and thus make it pretty well universal. I hope that the Minister is quite clear about how universal are the cries of protest coming from the industry.
I did not join the chorus on that earlier occasion because, as the Member of Parliament for Britain's foremost fishing port, I drew attention to Grimsby's success in fighting back from the problems besetting the distant water fleet by building up the small boat effort and to some extent, although not totally, compensating for the decline in distant water catches by the catches from our seine netters. We pulled ourselves up by our own boot straps, and it was a successful operation.
That success is now threatened by the problems besetting the whole industry. It is a crisis which could well be fatal for some ports. It will certainly set back the recovery in Grimsby, which has always had a precarious economy. That crisis is universal in the industry, because it is now caught in the squeeze of pincers produced, on the one hand, by falling receipts. Catches are down because of the over fishing that is now taking place as well as the present quotas. Receipts have also suffered because of the flood of imports that are now coming into the country. On the other hand, constantly escalating costs represent the other side of the pincers, particularly fuel costs. Indeed, the price of oil is due to rise again shortly. A combination of those factors has produced a series of problems and difficulties, not on quite the scale of the Icelandic setback but verging that way.
1891 Last week, it was announced that H. L. Taylor, one of Grimsby's oldest trawling firms, which has been trawling since the turn of the century, was to lay up its eight trawlers. That represents 100 jobs. Each time a trawler is laid up, it is like the closing down of a factory. The ratio is five jobs on shore to every job at sea. Therefore, one can imagine the ripple-back effects into the community.
I have the accounts of Lindsay Trawlers, another Grimsby firm, which show that up to the end of December 1979 the operating loss was £120,000 on six trawlers. Not one of those trawlers made a profit. I heard yesterday that one of them will not go back to sea. The same problem affects British United Trawlers, with 12 trawlers. That firm is in the same situation.
In other words, there is a danger that within a matter of weeks the entire distant water effort in. Grimsby will cease fishing. That is the urgency of the case for aid. It is that desperate. It is so desperate that the kind of bromides that we have had from the Secretary of State today are not satisfactory in terms of the situation which the industry, particularly in Grimby, faces.
Closures on that scale mean more than a threat to jobs. They are a threat to the landings in the port. The vessels that are about to be laid up or are in danger of being laid up bring in 41 per cent. of local landings in Grimsby. That is the basis of the Grimsby fish market. It means that there is a knock-on effect in charges, because Grimsby is not a small, land-your-own fish port. It is an expensive operation. It is faced with heavy costs through the British Transport Docks Board, modernisation charges and lumper charges, which, while making it an efficient port, also make it an expensive one. If the distant water trawlers close up entirely, all those costs will fall on the seine netter fleet. In other words, the distant water vessels which carried 40 per cent. of the cost to the port of Grimsby will now be out, and those costs will fall in total on the seine netters.
The tragedy is that our seine netter fleet, which is about 183 strong, is much more footloose than the distant water fleet. It can move on and leave the port. The danger that Grimsby faces is a 1892 straightforward one of snowballing decline produced by these closures. That would be a disaster for Grimsby, because the port is central to our country's fishing industry.
That is not a piece of special pleading. The whole industry focuses on the kind of market that Grimsby provides for the whole country. A high proportion of the fish landed everywhere, be it Scotland, inshore ports or imported landings, goes to the market in Grimsby.
Our distribution system at Grimsby supplies much of the country. It is interconnected. The port supports the market, the market supports the distribution system, and the distribution system keeps the industry going. If one of those links is knocked away, there is a danger to the whole structure. A threat to one is a threat to the whole system. No Government can stand idly by in this sort of crisis and danger. I am convinced that a Labour Government would not have stood by and let this situation develop without help, without plans for the restructuring of the industry and without aiding the industry, even if only temporarily.
The fishing industry is now struggling for survival. The Government might believe in market forces, in everything from steel to Japanese tailoring. But market forces cannot be a dominant consideration in the sort of crisis that we now face. The big European fishing Powers are all keeping a massive fishing effort in being to survive—on the principle that the survivor inherits the settlement. But if we do not survive they inherit our fish stocks. It is no use negotiating and arguing for the best possible settlement in the EEC if we do not have the fishing effort to support it. We have already had a more severe rundown in our industry than any country in Europe, and we cannot stand another rundown on the scale that is now threatened.
We are perilously close to a situation where we shall no longer be able to catch our plaice quota The vessels that fish for plaice are the vessels that are now being laid off.
Market forces do not apply when the competition is subsidised on the scale that we are now witnessing. There is a fuel subsidy of 10 centimes a litre in France. Lay-up, scrapping aid and restructuring 1893 aid are available in Germany. Aid for exploratory trips is also available there. I saw the effect of that when I was in New Zealand last year. Industry is aided in Denmark. In Holland 42 beam trawlers, with horse-powers from 1,600 to 2,500, are being built, presumably to rape our fishing grounds. Those vessels must be subsidised. No one in his right mind would build them without subsidy.
We are struggling for survival against subsidised competition. That is a case for aid. I am not saying that there is a need for overwhelming aid. We simply need enough to keep the industry going during the crisis.
The Minister said that we have 26 per cent. of the fishing effort of the fleet but only 17 per cent. of the aid provided by Governments in the Market. That indicates that there is a case for aid. There is a need for action soon. I can merely suggest some outlines of aid as, tragically, there is a need to be brief in a debate such as this.
First, there must be, by collective effort, pressure to put up the official withdrawal prices—OWPs—on the Continent. They are the basis for the price system, and they are well out of kilter with what the market needs. We need a substantial increase, because as long as OWPs are so low in the Common Market countries there is a direct incentive to land the fish and flood our ports. The industry on the Continent surely does not need any further incentive with the pound at its present high level. The incentive needs to be minimised as far as possible. We also need direct financial aid for the industry. That could be given either through a fuel subsidy or through the sort of price support subsidy that the industry is urging, in which the Government would underpin prices to allow our prices on fish caught by our fishermen to be increased.
There is also a need for a Government-planned and financed restructuring system so that the industry can go on reconstructing and re-equipping itself with the kinds of vessels it needs to cope with our new opportunities in British waters.
There is also a case for help on dock charges. This is perhaps a plea that is peculiar to Grimsby, but it is very impor- 1894 tant for Grimsby because we are central to the whole distribution system. We are competing with docks on the Continent, which seem to be largely supported by local government and are not financed by the industry in the way that our industry has to carry the entire burden of charges here.
There is a strong case for an emergency levy. Given that we are now facing what amounts to a dumping crisis, and with the pressures from the Continent and the high value of the pound, an emergency crisis should produce an emergency levy on imports, particularly on those that are not coming through the markets and are not bearing their share of costs in this country. On a longer-term basis, we need a levy on the flood of frozen fish that is coming in and which, again, is a threat to prices in our markets and to prices of the fish caught by our vessels.
Those are the problems that need immediate attention. As long as those problems remain, it would be ludicrous if this country—which had the biggest fishing fleet, brings the richest fishing grounds to the Common Market and contributes 70 per cent. of the catch—finished up by importing its own fish. The Continental countries, with their massive fishing fleets, are driving our industry out of business by flooding our markets with our fish at cut prices. That is the kind of position that we are now in, and it can be overcome only by help from the Government.
I would have liked to deal with the Common Market negotiations but there is not time for me to do that.
I have to put to the Minister that there is a fear in the industry that the Government are ready to see it slide down-hill in this kind of fashion because it will make the Government's negotiating position easier if in the final outcome they have only to get the catch that is appropriate to the slimmed-down industry that we shall almost certainly have unless they act promptly to aid the industry.
I am sure that the Minister recognises the vital importance of fishing to this country, but he must also recognise that he has to act on both fronts, because the two problems are interdependent and a better deal on one does not remove the need for a better deal on the other. Without the aid, we do not survive to 1895 inherit the settlement. Without a satisfactory deal, there will be nothing to inherit. Fishing needs both.
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
Although the two fishing towns in my constituency—Filey and Bridlington—are inshore fishing towns, my constituency borders on Hull and many of my constituents work there. I therefore endorse the remarks of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson). The position in the fishing industry there can only be described as tragic. The fish docks are like a graveyard, with the deep-freeze trawlers laid up.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West spoke of the two shackles on the industry. I agree with him that two shackles have been put on the industry. He said that one was put on when the last Conservative Government took us into the Common Market and accepted a common fisheries policy which did not protect our interests. It hurts me to have to agree that that is correct. But the other shackle was put on the industry when the opportunity to put that matter right went by default and the prevous Labour Government failed to look after the fishing industry's problems at the time of the renegotiation.
There is no doubt that the complete decline of the deep sea fishing industry cannot be laid at the door of the EEC. As the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) said, much of the decline was caused by the loss of the Icelandic waters. It became clear that the industry would have to adapt, and that as the distant water industry declined there would be scope for expansion in near water and medium water fishing. This is exactly what Bridlington has done over the last decade. During the past 10 years the amount of fishing weight landed there has doubled. The number of boats has increased to nearly 50 and the sales amount to £2.8 million.
This has made Bridlington the third largest English inshore fishing port after Shields and Grimsby, and it employs 200 people plus a number of ancillary workers. In an area of high unemployment—it is an intermediate area—this industry is absolutely vital to the local 1896 economy. The expansion ground to a halt in 1979, partly due to tighter quotas.
As many of my colleagues have said today, there are two major problems facing the inshore fishermen. The first is the low quayside price paid for fish. We have heard that this has been caused by hidden and open subsidies, but low prices are also caused by illegal fishing, irresponsible fishing and over-fishing Many Governments turn a blind eye to blatant illegal fishing and the products of such fishing are exported to our market at low prices.
One of the problems that we face in the Common Market is that we have not come to terms with the fact that European Governments, industry and people have a different attitude from the people of this country towards rules and regulations. I have come to the conclusion that at times Britain is the only country that obeys the rules.
The second problem that faces fishermen is the soaring cost of fuel and the high interest charges. This applies especially to the inshore ports, where many of the boats have been leased by one man or a joint partnership and the interest charges are a heavy burden. With decreasing sales and rising costs, eventually large parts of the industry will face bankruptcy if something is not done soon.
In general I am opposed to Government subsidies for industry, but this type of industry not only needs encouragement; it deserves it. Opposition Members may laugh, but I am not about to suggest that the industry receives cash subsidies. This Government are committed to helping and encouraging small businesses, and many of the boats are small businesses; they are owned wholly or partly by their skippers or their crews.
No industry is more deserving of help. The work force does not strike; it is hard working and it is courageous. It is much more deserving than British Leyland. What we need at present are import levies. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not say tonight that what I have suggested would be against the rules. If it were against the rules for a short time the rules would have to be bent or broken. We should, perhaps, take a leaf out of the French book.
I am sure that we can depend on the Minister to take a very tough line with 1897 the European Community in his negotiations, and that he will fulfil the pledges that the Conservative Party has consistently made both at the election and since then. I trust that he will remind his colleagues in the EEC that many hon. Members who support the Common Market wholeheartedly will have to reconsider their position if we do not get a fair deal on the budget and on the fishing negotiations so that we get an adequate share of the fish from our waters.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend). I think that at one point he was saying that the trouble with the Europeans is that they are not British, which is undoubtedly true.
This is one of those historic occasions when I find myself in agreement with something that was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). He said that what is happening is that the fishing industry is restructuring itself as a result of crude market forces and for a variety of other reasons.
Fisherman, as we have been told repeatedly, are going out of business, as are many processors on shore. Only a few weeks ago a long-established family firm in Eye worth, in my constituency, went into liquidation. Boats are being laid up. The saddest thing about boats being laid up is that for obvious reasons the newest and best equipped boats are too often involved. One of the reasons is unfair competition, which introduces impossible trading pressures. A second reason is the high interest rates that fishermen are facing. The owners of newer boats have to carry the heavier loans and overdrafts. The Government have imposed high interest rates, and these owners will face the greatest difficulties.
Meanwhile, the Danes are providing laying-up payments for fishermen who want to leave the industry. The Germans are giving special support. The French are paying fuel subsidies. The Dutch are even expanding their fleet. The Norwegians are protecting literally every aspect of their fishing industry. That includes catching, processing and boat building. The Norwegians are so successful in protecting their boat building in- 1898 dustry that they are exporting new fishing vessels into the United Kingdom. They are doing that on the strength of subsidies, thereby ruining our fishermen and our fishing boat builders.
Our industry is in a desperate state. We are having threats bandied about of blockading fishing ports and Sullom Voe. I sincerely hope that that will not be necessary. I hope that when the Minister of State replies he will allay the fears of fishermen throughout the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State must follow the example of his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Depttord (Mr. Silkin). He must fight hard to win back some of the rights that were sold down the river by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he negotiated our entry into the EEC.
I was worried when I heard about the agreement that had been reached on total allowable catches. It seems to be a concession that was made during the negotiations without an agreement on quotas, exclusive zones or preferential zones. Another card was being played with no noticeable gain being achieved. The clock is ticking on. By 31 December 1982 European fishing vessels will be able to come right up our beaches. The day is not so far away.
I hope that the Minister will tell us that the quotas that will be agreed in due course will be fair and that they will be enforced. The hon. Gentleman said earlier, in reply to an intervention from the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), that the quantity of fish—mackerel, or whatever—that is killed or dumped in the course of purse seining and wasted will be taken into account.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I am sure that I do not know how that will be taken into account. I know that the Minister is very clever, but I do not think that he can explain how account will be taken. Does he expect purse seiners to return to port and to say "Excuse me, sir, we have just dumped so many hundred tonnes of fish that we did not want to land"?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
It was exactly for that reason that the Select Committee recommended that it should be an offence for which the master of the vessel 1899 and the vessel itself should lose their licences to catch.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I am far too new at this job to indulge in debates about Select Committees with the hon. Member for Tiverton. However, that sounds to me like a sensible recommendation. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us a little more about the proposals for reporting-in schemes. How are their precursors working within the common fisheries policy?—not that there is such a thing yet. Fishing vessel skippers are going into ports, particularly on the mainland of Europe, and telling fairy tales about how much they have landed or caught. How are the reporting-in schemes, quotas, and so on to be policed? The existing enforcement effort being carried out seems to be inadequate.
It is worth drawing the attention of the Minister to a problem of detail in the rigid enforcement of by-catch quotas for our fleet. When prices for certain fish are low, it presents a temptation to our fishermen to discard catches of fish that are not marketable because they want to be able to be allowed to land more of the more lucrative species of fish.
It has been said repeatedly that the industry needs direct intervention and assistance before long. Hopes have been raised. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) has already quoted from tomorrow's Fishing News, and I shall quote further from it:The clamour for financial aid came at the instigation of George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland, who told the Scottish Fishermen's Federation that the climate was ripe to make an approach to government.I appreciate that the Secretary of State for Scotland may be a little ruffled now—I would be if I were in his shoes, having learnt that Mr. Teddy Taylor is likely to get the Conservative nomination for South end, East. However, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has no such reason to be ruffled. Again, I quote from Fishing News:The situation was put into perspective this week by Fisheries Minister, Peter Walker, who told Fishing News that any aid would be linked to a settlement of the Common Fisheries Policy which could be around June.Many would reckon that that is too late. Certainly, my constituents in Eyemouth, Dunbar, Port Seton, St. Abbs, and so on, feel that they cannot continue to survive 1900 the unfair black market competition from cheap imported fish. I gather that there has been an instance of fillets from the Netherlands being landed at Shields for £2.50 per stone. Our fishermen cannot cope with that sort of competition. We hope urgently that the Minister will be able to give them some encouragement when he winds up the debate.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Briefly, I shall remind the House and my right hon. Friend of the recommendations of the old Select Committee on trade and industry in its report on the British fishing industry which have yet to be put into effect. It recommended that there should be a ban on dumping at sea which has two harmful effects.
First, the records become fudged. In that respect, the first time that we had witnesses from Felixstowe before us, they denied the assertions of West Country fishermen that when a mackerel shoal was enclosed in a net and subsequently released it was to all intents and purposes dead. However, we took evidence on that point from the Icelandic marine laboratory at Reykjavik and the joint permanent secretary to the Norwegian Department of Fisheries at Bergen, and the experts from both confirmed that. The Icelandic expert said that the mackerel is a neurotic fish which becomes so excited when it is enclosed in a net that it uses up all the oxygen in the water immediately surrounding it and suffers irreversible brain damage from inoxia. Although it may be true that when released into the sea it is alive, we should assume that within 24 hours it will be dead.
The second harmful effect is that the bottom of the sea becomes covered in dead fish, so that when there is trawling for demersal fish the otherwise marketable fish become contaminated with rotting, dead fish so that they become unmarketable. That was foreseen three years ago by the Select Committee. However, no Government have carried out its recommendations. We also foresaw the difficulty of monitoring catches. One is not monitoring catches iffish that are caught and released dead into the sea do not count as a catch.
The Eastern zone factory ships offer a good price. They underweigh. They 1901 book 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. less than they have taken. The records show far less than has been transferred. As a result, all the calculations about the attrition of the breeding stock are wrong in absolute terms and in terms of the year classes of that stock. The records are meaningful only if fish are caught when they come to fruition, at the right size and in sequence.
A tripartite Select Committee spent a lot of effort and public money in order to find out the facts and make recommendations. There is not much point in doing that if the Committee is ignored by Government after Government. It is no good saying that it is difficult to monitor dumping at sea. It is difficult to monitor murder, but that is no reason for not making murder a major offence. That is why we recommended the draconian penalty of removing the licence from the vessel and from the master.
Fishermen observe what other fishermen do. As a result, it is a little easier to detect dumping at sea. When we went out on maritime reconnaissance aircraft, we were astonished at what could be seen. Very often we were unobserved by the fishermen below. The Minister should ensure that the total allowable catch does not become a political figure. He should not believe that British is best as regards scientific advice. If we had paid more attention to the absolutely accurate reports of the Icelandic fisheries laboratories during the cod war, we would not have taken the position that we took. They were right and we were wrong. There is a danger in multi-party negotiations—as there was with the International Commission on Exploration of the Sea—that the limits fixed may become political limits. Everyone may agree to those limits, but they are not necessarily related to the breeding habits of fish.
The tasks that were set were difficult. However, those tasks will become more difficult when Spain and Portugal join the EEC. They fished out their own waters. They fished out also the West African coast until the States there began to buy fishery protection vessels. They would now like to fish out our waters. The coming task will be much more difficult. We should bring in the measures suggested by the Select Committee. It will be less difficult if we do so before 1902 Spain and Portugal join the EEC. That is the only effective way of safeguarding our breeding stocks.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
First, I should like to state that fishing in Scotland is not confined to the East Coast and the Islands, as the Secretary of State, who represents Ayr, will confirm. The Clyde is an important area. Concern about fishing spans the country and crosses political barriers.
Last Saturday I met fishermen from Girvan and Maidens in my constituency. Together with those from Ballantrae and Dunure, they comprise an important fishing resource in our area. They are independent, hardworking and, as I found last Saturday, fairly agitated. Their view is stark and a little frightening, but there is evidence to support it. They believe that the European countries want our fleet to go to the wall and thus eliminate future competition from the United Kingdom. They believe that the European countries are undermining our fleet by hidden subsidies and over fishing and then dumping the excess catch over the border, here in the United Kingdom. They feel that very strongly.
The Ayrshire fleet can provide strong evidence to support that. Its herring catch is limited because of restrictions and quotas. Cod that is processed and brought to Scotland from Europe arrives at £1.60 per stone. Cod caught in the waters of Scotland and brought into the United Kingdom by Scottish fishermen costs £2.80 per stone, yet those fishermen are efficient. The evidence is clear. Other countries must be dumping their surpluses or are heavily subsidised, much more heavily than the Secretary of State indicated.
I should like to make three points. First, I support what has been said. We must seriously consider the type of fuel subsidy that the French are introducing. We are always hearing from the French that they are the great Europeans and we are not. However, we stick by regulations and suffer by them. For all their expression of being great Europeans, the French appear to break them. I add my voice to the call to introduce subsidies.
Secondly, we must monitor and control the catch. The Secretary of State said that there was to be Community catch 1903 reporting. I have read in the newspapers that all member States except Britain have been bound by a gentleman's agreement. I wonder how strong that agreement is. In the United Kingdom, fisheries inspectors are efficient and keep an eye on the level of catch, but that is not so in other countries. How will we carefully monitor catches made by other countries?
Thirdly, the fishermen in Ayrshire are concerned about herring. They will be allowed only 20 weeks, from June to October, to fish herring. Processors and retailers understandably look elsewhere during the rest of the year in order to keep their outlets going. They look to Iceland and Canada and they enter into contracts for 52 weeks of the year. We should consider a moratorium on imported herring during the weeks that our fishermen are allowed to catch them.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), I support the principle of European co-operation and our membership of the Community. I say strongly and clearly that that support in principle does not mean that we cannot criticise operations and practices of the Community. I aver that it comes better from those of us who are in favour of the principle of the European Community, because our viewcannot be said to be distorted. We can criticise far more objectively.
On this issue, my view is that we can best achieve our aims in the short term through unilateral action on the questions of subsidy, control and monitoring. In the longer term, we can best achieve our aim through the common fisheries policy and European co-operation, but that needs strong, firm, and, if necessary, belligerent action by Ministers. When I read that Britain has adopted a "conciliatory stance" at the meeting of EEC Fisheries Ministers, I say that it is time to take off the gloves and go in fighting on behalf of the fishermen of the United Kingdom.
§ 11.1 pm
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
I come immedately to the central issue of the debate tonight. That issue is not the many and complex documents that form the basis of our discussions, nor the negotiations leading up to the CFP, crucial as they are to our industry.
1904 The central concern of all hon. Members has been the immediate crisis afflicting our fishing industry. I hope that the Minister of State will address himself primarily to that when he replies to the debate tonight.
The crisis is caused by cheap imports, which have cut sharply the returns of our fishermen. These imports are from third countries, such as Canada and Iceland, which have benefited from the general extension of limits and, as a consequence, catch more fish. Worst of all, the imports come also from member States of the Community, and this means fish caught by EEC fishermen who are using grounds where they have no business. In doing so they are in total defiance of the Community's conservation measures.
Surely no one in the House could regard this as other than totally unacceptable. The livelihoods of our fishermen are being jeopardised by fish that are caught illegally by our partners. There is no disagreement in the House. The presence of so many Members at this relatively late hour and the content of speeches from Members of all parties are absolutely clear indications that the House is insistent that we get effective action to provide temporary assistance to this valuable industry.
We are talking not about a declining industry but about one that has a great future. It is an industry in which people have spent their lives. Families have fished for generations—in some cases for well over 100 years. Surely this Government will not be found wanting in these circumstances.
What action should the Government take? One course would be to tackle the source of the problem and impose import controls. It would not make sense to have a complete ban on imports, but one approach is to look at some of the imports that are causing the damage.
More appropriately, we should look at the possibility of a cash injection. The last Labour Government did not hesitate to take temporary action and make direct cash payments to the fishing industry when they were needed. Daily payments began on 1 January 1975. Daily payment for a vessel between 60 and 80 ft. was £20 a day. In the years since 1975, prices have doubled. At today's prices that represents a daily payment of £40. 1905 For vessels between 80 and 110 ft. the payment should be £90 a day. That may be one way of helping to tackle this short-term problem, combining it with some sort of compensation for fishermen unable to make catches because they have exhausted their quotas or because they must comply with conservation measures.
Perhaps the Government will opt for the solution favoured by the industry, which is that they should offer support to enable withdrawal prices to be set at realistic levels that would provide adequate returns to the industry during this difficult period.
I do not expect the Minister of State to be able to outline detailed measures showing how the Government will tackle this short-term crisis. We know, after all, that the Government have only just received these proposals from the Scottish Fishing Federation. But it is absolutely crucial that we have a positive statement from the Minister this evening.
Let no one tell me that we cannot afford to support the fishing industry. Conservative Members have referred to the support for the British Steel Corporation and British Leyland. I make the point that sections of the inshore industry, particularly in the North of Scotland and the Shetlands, have been disadvantaged and have suffered to some extent because of the development of our important North Sea oil industry.
I remind the House that the revenues expected by the Government from North Sea oil in the next financial year will be in the region of £3,000 million. What is the fishing industry asking for? It asks for perhaps £3 million, or not much more. That money would support it during this temporary difficulty. Let us have no nonsense, therefore, about the Government not having the money to provide the cash injection needed by this vital industry.
§ Mr. Strang
I think the length the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) means is 40ft. I do not think that we want to go into that argument again, but I take his point.
We are talking about a desperate situation, and I have to say that the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech did not seem to have grasped the urgent need for early and effective Government action. It causes me great concern to find that in tomorrow's edition of Fishing News the Minister is quoted as saying that:any aid would be linked to a settlement of the Common Fisheries Policy which could be around JuneLater the article states:Mr Walker said that, when we have a CFP, the picture would be clearer about where aid should be given as some people would suffer more than others.I hope that the Minister of State will utterly refute any suggestion that no aid is forthcoming for this hard-pressed industry untilwe have a settlement of the common fisheries policy. That is wholly unacceptable. Surely the hon. Gentleman must realise that if his strategy is that the money will be held back to provide some sort of sweetener to go with the settlement—which may not achieve everything that the fishing industry would like—he will not get away with it.
It is utterly unacceptable that there should not be an immediate response to the needs of this industry. By "immediate" I mean that we want an undertaking from the Minister of State that the Government will make an announcement before the end of the month about the special temporary measures that they intend to take in order to support this industry and prevent the bankruptcies that are imminent if immediate help is not given.
I turn to the long-term prospects for the industry. My right hon. Friend pointed out very effectively just how relentless and tragic has been the decline in our trawling fleet, formerly the best in the world. That decline is not the responsibility of this Government or of the last Government; it is partially a consequence of a reduction in the stocks that were available, but it is also a consequence of the fact that the British fishing industry has had the worst of all worlds.
1907 We have not benefited from the extension of limits to 200 miles. We have been forced out of our traditional fishing grounds. We have lost out in the Norwegian and Icelandic waters. Membership of the Community has prevented our securing the advantages that the national extension of limits would have given to our industry. I am not getting involved in the arguments for and against our membership of the Community; I am simply stating that we have had the worst of all worlds.
The Minister said that the best thing that he could do would be to achieve a rational and effective common fisheries policy that did justice to the interests of our industry. We support him in that. It would be a tremendous achievement. Let us not forget that fish are no respecters of national territorial boundaries. It would be better to have effective conservation throughout the whole of the Community waters, not just in British waters. So we support the Minister's objective.
We have spelt out time and again the elements of a satisfactory settlement in the common fisheries negotiations. Above all, we must have a fair share of the fish for our own fishermen—a share that reflects our input into the Community waters and our losses in third country waters; a share that will rise as the stocks rise with the efficacy of conservation measures. We must have an exclusive 12-mile limit, a dominant preference in the 12 to 50-mile limit, and effective conservation measures.
The Minister was being a little optimistic in his reference to the catch reporting arrangements that had been agreed and will come into operation on a Community basis on 1 July. Catch quotas alone will not suffice. We must have an effective control of fishing effort. That, above all, means a national licensing system. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr Silkin) pledged the fishing industry that in the course of 1979 he would implement a national licensing scheme. The leaders of the industry are prepared to accept it. Of course it will be restrictive and will involve some sacrifices, but an effective national licensing scheme, backed by a proper restructuring programme, is what the industry needs.
1908 We must have a real approach to effective conservation in the Community. Every vessel operating in Community waters must have a licence, so that we can know whether the vessel is entitled to be where it is. That system must be linked to the Community's approach to fishing plans. Our fishermen have no respect for the catch reporting arrangements that have been agreed. There is evidence of the Germans fishing for cod off Greenland, where it is banned, and the French catching herring in our waters—herring that our fishermen are not able to catch. We cannot go on like this. There is no prospect of a common fisheries policy that will be effective and will have the support of the industry if this flouting of conservation measures continues.
I come back to the point with which I started. We want an effective common fisheries policy, but we shall not have an industry to take advantage of that settlement unless immediate measures are taken. We must have a clear-cut commitment tonight that an announcement will be made. We need effective action. This is a vital industry, which is part of our national heritage, and the Government must do their duty.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)
I follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) in saying that we have had an extremely useful and wide-ranging debate. Almost 20 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken in the debate, and the House has had the opportunity to hear differing views from many parts of the United Kingdom.
The debate has been dominated by the current financial problems of the industry. I make no complaint that that should have been the theme of so many speeches.
It is necessary that with the difficulties that face the industry—and I would be the first to acknowledge those difficulties—it is incumbent on hon. Members not only to say in shorthand and sloganising words what they think the answer should be but to analyse more deeply what the problem is. Only if we analyse the problem can we be more sure of identifying the answers and ensure that those answers are effective at the end of the day.
1909 The basic problem faced by the industry, which underlies nervousness and totally understandable anxiety, is fundamentally the deep uncertainty about its future. From where does that deep uncertainty stem? It stems from—I freely acknowledge it—worry of what will be the outcome of the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy.
In the short time available to me, I shall not go into the background of that. It is at the root of the industry's problems. It underlines first and foremost the necessity to seek a satisfactory settlement of the policy.
In dealing with the problems—I do not underestimate them—we must not let ourselves be mesmerised by the immediate problems and lose sight of the longer-term solutions that are needed if the industry is to succeed and prosper, not only for the present generation of fishermen but the future generations also.
I remind the House of the real basis of the debate, namely, the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. We have had before us in the debate a large number of EEC documents for discussion. Although the debate has been dominated by the economic position, I was encouraged—by those who dealt with some of the documents—by the relatively minor criticism of the substance of the documents and of my right hon. Friend's explanation about the Government's attitude towards them.
Specifically, in the two documents of greatest relevance to us—total allowable catches and catch reporting—we have seen in the House a broad consensus of agreement on the line taken by the Government. There have been one or two reservations. I see that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is shaking his head. I shall return to him in a moment. We believe that it is essential to seek some movement on the common fisheries policy.
We supported the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) in the strong line that he took when he had unacceptable proposals put before him. He was right to do so. Not to seek a solution looks fine interms of a boxing or wrestling ring, but when applied to the future of an industry, of men's livelihood, surely 1910 one has to find some solution and show some concern.
Some of the criticism that we have heard from the Opposition stems, I believe, from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. There is a certain grudgingness at the fact that we have managed to achieve, in the past nine months, from the Commission and our colleagues in Europe, some movement which the previous Government were not able to obtain. I do not overplay that. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) is muttering, and it is easy for him to do so. He has not taken part in the debate, but I do not criticise him for that. He should not interrupt from a sedentary position simply because he sees another party and another Government making progress where he failed.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan(Glasgow, Craigton) rose—
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene from a sedentary position, that is up to him. I do not over-emphasise, over-stress or take too much credit for what we have achieved so far. All that we have done is to get some movement and better understanding of Britain's case and her fishing industry.
I do not understand how the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) thinks that we we can start to discuss quotas—which, I agree, are absolutely vital—unless we first discuss the total allowable catch upon which quotas will be based. I am afraid that that underlines some of the misapprehensions among Labour Members.
I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North will recognise that if we are to make progress we must start somewhere. It is at least better to start with those things on which there is agreement, such as scientific advice, and to that extent we have made considerable progress.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) specifically criticised the Common Market negotiations when he referred to third country agreements. I am afraid that I cannot take that from the right hon. Gentleman, because the level of that criticism to some extent demonstrates the grudgingness of the fact that 1911 there is now some movement in relation to the common fisheries policy. For example, I know that the Canada agreement is not as much as we would have liked. It is not as much as the right hon. Gentleman would have liked. But, although the amount of fish that is made available to the United Kingdom is relatively small, we have doubled the proportion of fish of valuable species.
As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North knows, we have taken a particularly firm line with regard to the Faroes. I am sorry to say that our talks with the Faroese have broken down, precisely for the reason that was supported by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North—that we are not prepared to accept conditions in Faroese waters which make it impossible for the vessels from Aberdeen to fish. Here again, we are standing firm and there has been no sell-out, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason).
Let us look at the case of Norway. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, because he skated over the subject and almost failed to mention it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) will acknowledge, if we did not have that agreement with Norway where would the Aberdeen fleet be fishing at present? Without that agreement, a major section of the Scottish fleet would be in great trouble.
The question of Spain in an important one. The right hon. Gentleman carefully forgot that the framework agreement was agreed by the Government of which he was a member. He also chose to forget that that framework agreement, which we have now signed, has two enormous advantages. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) acknowledged the problem which will arise if Spain joins the Community, because it will bring in an enormous fishing fleet. Frankly, we should at least start talking and prepare ourselves for what will happen. The right hon. Gentleman may not want to do so, but that would not be in the interest of our fishing industry.
We supported the right hon. Member for Deptford in what he negotiated in relation to Spain. But the right hon. Member for Barnsley seemed to forget the regressive nature of Spain's licences. As the agreement continues, the number of 1912 licences granted to Spain will decrease. In that way, we ensure that if Spain enters the Community its opportunities to fish in our waters will be diminished in the years leading up to its entry.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to make a certain amount of fun in relation to smaller countries such as Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. That does not really wear when one looks at the merits of negotiations such as those. It is perfectly true that with regard to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau the agreements do not bring direct advantage to the British fishing industry. But it should be remembered that they give European countries the opportunity to fish in other waters, and it removes a certain number of vessels from the waters of Northern Europe which might otherwise fish there. We must not simply participate in political posturing. We must get the best possible deal in the longer term for the British fishing industry, and I hope that we shall do so with the support of the Opposition.
A considerable number of other topics were raised tonight. I should like to deal briefly with some of the problems which relate to conservation. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) mentioned salmon. That is an area, although it is not directly subject to the documents which we are discussing, where we believe that conservation is important. We are in discussion with the United States and Canadian Governments, and we hope that there will be EEC participation in the international convention that may result from those discussions. I support the hon. Member in what he said.
The right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) raised the question of enforcement. I agree that there should be effective enforcement. He mentioned the herring at Boulogne. We took the matter up with the French Government, and they undertook prosecutions which resulted in two convictions.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised the question of herring. That is an important matter. We must make certain—we saw what happened to the herring stock previously—that before we open our herring stocks again we not only have the first generation of new stocks of 1913 herring but we also have one or two generations, so that the stock is capable of regenerating for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) raised the question of mackerel. As he knows from the discussions that I have had with him, we have taken action through the restrictive licensing scheme which we are discussing with the industry to make sure that we conserve this important stock. I share my hon. Friend's concern over the question of recording. We have checked our figures. I am concerned about what has been said and reported about the statistics. We have checked the figures with the Customs and Excise. There has been a certain amount of error, about which I should like to write to my hon. Friend. We find that the Customs and Excise exaggerated—because of the conversion coefficient it used between fresh and processed mackerel. I turn to the economic situation in the industry. [Interruption.] Hon. Members show their lack of concern for the longer term. After crying out last week for a debate on EEC documents, they now show their lack of concern for the long-term interests of the industry.
It is important that we analyse the cause precisely. Imports are a factor, but there are many other factors, such as cost and demand. There is also the question of the needs of the processors. Imports are important, but equally we must be certain that we get an answer that is effective.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear earlier, we are ready to study the representations of the industry and to discuss what might be done.
§ Mr. Mason rose—
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to wave a copy of Fishing News. I ask him to read on. He should read the rest of the interview. It relates specifically to the restructuring that might be necessary following the outcome of the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. To take that out of context from a newspaper that is not due to be published until tomorrow is another example of the right hon. Gentleman's irresponsibility.
1914 The industry has suggested a number of interesting and constructive proposals. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East acknowledged, some of the documents and representations were handed to us only this afternoon. We shall study them with the industry. I accept that there are problems of imports in relation to the GATT agreement negotiated by the previous Government. We cannot simply opt out of that.
It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).
§ Question agreed to.
§ 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/3045/78, 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, 409/80, 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.