HC Deb 22 January 1981 vol 997 cc410-1
6. Sir Walter Clegg

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures he proposes to take to help improve the marketing of fish.

Mr. Peter Walker

The Fisheries Bill at present before Parliament provides for a new statutory authority for the sea fish industry whose powers will include that of promoting the marketing and consumption of fish in the United Kingdom. In addition, I announced on 12 January that I have asked two of the five marketing advisers whom I appointed some 12 months ago to make an examination of this sector to try to give advice as to how to increase and improve the marketing of fish in this country.

Sir Walter Clegg

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but does he realise that one of the marketing factors that has been most deleterious to the industry in the past 12 months has been the low price of fish on the quayside? While I welcome his efforts to increase the minimum price through Europe, will he continue to press those measures upon our colleagues in Europe?

Mr. Walker

I certainly will. I agree with my hon. Friend that the price as compared with the costs during the past year has put considerable pressure on our fishermen. I think that my hon. Friend knows that that is the reason why the Government decided to provide substantial aid to the fishing industry during the course of last year. But certainly, we want to see an improvement of the marketing and to collaborate in Europe to get the price at a sensible level.

Mr. Strang

I welcome any improvement in the marketing of fish, but does the Minister accept that the state of the industry is now so desperate that if action is not taken to provide further temporary financial aid or to control cheap imports, there will be scarcely any catching industry left to provide any fish to market? Will he give an assurance that, if there is no agreement in the negotiations next week for a common fisheries policy, the Government will bring forward further measures to help the industry?

Mr. Walker

Having seen that, in the course of last year, the Government provided more aid and assistance to the industry than for several years past, including the latter years of the previous Government, I think that the industry knows that the present Government are determined to sustain a viable and sensible fishing industry in this country.

Mr. Shersby

Will my right hon. Friend say what discussions he has had with the frozen food industry about its need to import substantial quantities of manufacturing cod, which simply cannot be caught in British territorial waters? Will he consider the possibility of reducing reference levels to below the world price so that this fish can be bought in without threatening our own fishermen and can satisfy the enormous consumer demand for fish fingers?

Mr. Walker

What is important here is that our own fishing industry and our processors work in collaboration. There is no reason why they should not do that. Certainly, we have endeavoured to obtain a better understanding between the two sides of the industry so that we can pursue policies that are beneficial to both. Obviously, it is important for our fishermen that we sustain an important and viable processing industry in this country.

Mr. Myles

Would the Minister care to tell the House when the two marketeers are likely to report to him? Given the urgency of this matter, I hope that it will be soon.

Mr. Walker

Clearly, they will have to decide the timetable in the sense that they will have to decide whom they will consult. They will, of course, be consulting retailers, wholesalers and the fishing industry itself. However, one advantage of our system is that the marketing advisers do not wait to make their final report. Any ideas or suggestions that they think are sensible they make known to us immediately and we act upon them immediately.