HC Deb 10 December 1981 vol 14 cc972-3
3. Mr. Adley

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to examine the latest developments concerning oil exploration and exploitation in the English Channel, in view of the effect and potential effect on the fishing industry.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I am aware of the oil developments in the English Channel and I am in touch with fishing interests.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, after another incident, many fishermen on the South Coast feel both frustrated and angry at the disdain with which they so often seem to be treated by the oil companies? As the fishermen were there before the oil men and will, we hope, be there afterwards, will my right hon. Friend take further steps to ensure that they have not only the right to be consulted but some form of simple and inexpensive redress when they are not?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I acknowledge the concern expressed by my hon. Friend about the matter. As he knows, in relation to offshore licensing rounds my Department is consulted about fishing interests. There is also a fisheries and offshore oil consultative group, to which application to join has been made by the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees of England and Wales. I hope that some progress will be made in the matter, as it is vital that all interests are properly taken into account.

Mr. Nelson

Is my hon. Friend aware of the problems faced by the lobster fishing industry off the coast of my constituency, and the damaging effect upon lobster pots of the trawling seismic lines towed by certain trawlers, which have been a problem in the past? Will he use his office to draw to the attention of the companies concerned the very damaging impact of undertaking such exploratory works without prior notice, and encourage the companies to ensure that such works are carried out in the least damaging way?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am concerned that such work should not be carried out without prior notice, because it is sensible in everyone's interests that there should be the utmost co-operation. If my hon. Friend has a particular incident in mind, I should be grateful if he will draw it to my attention so that I can look into it.

Mr. Buchan

Does the Minister agree that, while we welcome any measures that he takes to try to protect our inshore fisheries in relation to oil development, the damage that that can do is probably as nothing compared with the damage that he can do if he does not agree to our proposition of last night for a 12-mile exclusive limit so that we have complete control over our fisheries as well as protective measures in relation to oil? He has an opportunity today to retract from the nebulous nonsense of his amendment and to give encouragement to our fishing industry.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman always loves fighting lost battles. I suggest that he looks again at the amendment to which the Opposition agreed, without a Division, last night. It contained the very words of an earlier amendment tabled by the Opposition Front Bench. That shows how hypocritical the hon. Gentleman is about this matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. As I have said so often, no one is hypocritical in this House. That is official. I know that the Minister will withdraw that expression.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I certainly withdraw the word "hypocritical", Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Peter Mills

I welcome the development of oil exploration in the South-West, but will my right hon. Friend remember that it is important to learn from the mistakes made elsewhere, especially where they affect fishing, agriculture and the whole economy of a region?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am especially concerned that the experience that has been gained in the Scottish waters in the North Sea is put to good use in the South-West. I hope that negotiations will progress towards that end.