HC Deb 26 November 1980 vol 994 cc431-3
13. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest situation in the fishing industry in Scotland.

Mr. Younger

The fishing industry is facing formidable problems as a result of rising costs and the decline of many important fish stocks. This underlines the need for a satisfactory settlement of the common fisheries policy, and the Government are working urgently to this end.

Mr. Sproat

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grave concern amongst fishermen about the use of the 35 per cent. figure, which is the amount that they are supposed to get out of EEC waters? Does he accept that that is a somewhat phoney figure since it is not on the same basis as that for which the fishermen originally asked, which involved 45 or 65 per cent. of the fish that we contribute to EEC waters? Does he accept that the current EEC offer is worth only 26 per cent. on the normal basis of calculation? Will he continue his robust fight to increase that percentage?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the figures that my hon. Friend has spelt out. They formed a large part of the discussions that my right hon. Friend and I had with our Community colleagues last week. We shall be examining the figures. We made it clear to the Commission that we considered them unsatisfactory. We shall do our best to achieve a deal which the fishing industry can accept.

Mr. Grimond

When does the Secretary of State expect discussions in Brussels to come to an end and a decision to be taken?

Mr. Younger

We are all working towards a 31 December deadline for an agreement. There is modest hope that the current rate of progress will enable us to achieve that. It certainly is our aim.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is still Government policy to adhere to the four points mentioned by the Prime Minister before the general election in relation to exclusive and preference zones?

Mr. Younger

There is no change in our basic negotiating position. We are still trying to achieve a full settlement that is acceptable to the industry, including an exclusive zone and preference in a zone beyond the exclusive zone.

Mr. Myles

If it is possible to reopen the herring fisheries next year, will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to ensure a 15 per cent. tariff on third country imports, in order to keep the market stable?

Mr. Younger

We shall certainly press that upon our colleagues. We have made it clear in negotiations that if there is to be an agreement on quotas firm arrangements must be made for when herring can be caught safely once again.

Mr. Millan

Will the Secretary of State clarify the Government's position in the negotiations? Will he confirm that he and the Government will not accept any common fisheries policy unless there is a 12-mile exclusive limit and dominant preference within the 12 to 50-mile zone outside that?

Mr. Younger

That is a general description of our objectives. There is no change in our position. We are in the middle of negotiations and I do not wish to make any statements here that will make them more difficult.

Mr. McQuarrie

Will my right hon. Friend assure us that if the CFP is not agreed by 31 December this year we shall take the necessary unilateral action to safguard the interests of our fishermen?

Mr. Younger

We have always made it clear that the interests of our fishing industry must come first. I hope that that eventuality will not arise, but if it does we shall have to consider seriously what we can do to protect our industry.

Mr. Strang

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a widespread fear in the fishing industry in Scotland that during the course of the year the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will sell out our vital interests? Is the Secretary of State aware that the Scottish fishing industry is relying on him to prevent that? We welcome the precise incorporation in the Government's motion tonight of the wording of the Opposition amendment on the share-out of fish stocks that we debated last August. Will the right hon. Gentleman give a clearcut undertaking, however, that the Government will stand by not just the 12-mile exclusive limit, but a dominant preference in the 12 to 50-mile band?

Mr. Younger

I accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that there is concern throughout the industry in Scotland. I do not accept, however, that that concern is that there is a danger of my right hon. Friend or myself selling out the industry's vital interests. We are determined to secure an agreement that the industry can support, and we are keeping in the closest touch with it to ensure that it is fully apprised of the progress of the negotiations.