HC Deb 30 October 1980 vol 991 cc683-5
7. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the state of the fishing industry.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

On 7 August I announced a £14.1 million scheme of aid for the industry. My right hon. Friends and I keep in close consultation with representatives of the industry.

Mr. Brotherton

When will my hon. Friend be in a position to give a definitive answer to the House about the future of the British fishing industry, particularly with regard to our European partners? Will he bear in mind that we require that fish around our coasts should remain our property? It has nothing to do with common ownership with the EEC.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

It is to ensure a proper future for fishing in this country that we are negotiating with our Common Market partners. It is our hope that we can keep to the programme of resolving these negotiations between now and the end of the year.

Mr. James Johnson

Bearing in mind that the Minister knows full well that, in Hull, we are on our knees, will he accept that if he does not get a settlement by the end of this calendar year we shall be on our backs, and finished as a fishing port?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful for what underlies the hon. Gentleman's statement. It underlines the need to try to get the common fisheries policy settled. It is a matter that has been outstanding for far too long. I am glad that we have his support.

Mr. Henderson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most deep-rooted problem associated with the state of the fishing industry is the fact that fewer people in this country are eating fish, in contrast to what is happening in Europe? Will he give an assurance that his Department is actively considering an improvement in the marketing of fish generally, along the lines of what has sometimes been done in agriculture?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I share my hon. Friend's concern. Over recent years there has been a decline in consumption per head of fish. Marketing is a responsibility of the White Fish Authority. I shall be discussing the matter with the authority and others responsible.

Mr. Mason

The original question asked the Minister to make a statement about the state of the fishing industry. If the Minister were honest he would admit that the industry is in a dangerous and parlous condition, that the situation has worsened since his Government came to office and that he has not yet done much about it. What thought is being given within the Ministry to the restructuring scheme that is essential to revive the British fishing fleet in anticipation of the CFP deal at the end of the year, which is only two months away?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The right hon. Gentleman knows that one of the reasons why the fishing industry is in a parlous and difficult state is the failure of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) to come to a sensible negotiated arrangement in Europe. The British fishing industry is now paying the price for that intransigence.

I acknowledge the need to restructure the industry. The Community has made proposals for restructuring. We have welcomed the proposals in principle.

However, it is important to know precisely the opportunities for the British fishing industry in terms of quotas and access. When we know that, it will be sensible to deal with the question of structure, and we shall.