HC Deb 30 July 1981 vol 9 cc1182-3
Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the need to stop immediately herring fishing in the Minch.

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for not giving notice before 12 noon. I hastened to do so as soon as I had details of the matter.

This is the first time that I have submitted a motion under Standing Order No. 9. I say that not to comment on, or to pre-empt, your eventual decision, Mr Speaker, but to make the point that it is not a procedure that I invoke lightly.

The matter is specific, because it applies solely to the dangerous situation concerning herring stocks in the Minch. For three years, fishermen of the Western Isles and others who have fished these waters have acquiesced in the total ban on herring fishing in the Minch. That has been a severe sacrifice, but it was agreed in the knowledge that the herring stock had been virtually wiped out and that if it was to be saved protection had to be given and time had to be allowed to allow the stock to revive.

So severe were the restrictions that two local boats that fished only with drift nets—a conservation measure in itself—were not exempted from the ban, despite several appeals that I made to the Ministry of Agriculture.

I have received a sheaf of telegrams from skippers of vessels from Stornoway, Eriskay, Scalpay in my constituency, Mallaig on the West coast and Avoch on the East coast. The message is clear. Those skippers say that the fishing must end immediately or their livelihoods will be destroyed virtually overnight, in spite of their previous sacrifice.

The limited stocks of herring are being decimated and, because of previous experience, fishermen have no faith in talk of management controls. They all express anger and astonishment that the Government have acquiesced in the blunder.

The matter is urgent because another two or three weeks of the fishing would deplete stocks and destroy for ever the staple living of fishing communities. Today's papers report that hundreds of tonnes of herring caught in the reopened West of Scotland grounds yesterday went for fish meal. At a time of world hunger and when our fishermen need to make a reasonable living, food that should be going for human consumption is being reduced to fish meal.

It is essential that the fishing is stopped immediately, so that fair shares can be allocated to the local fleet and the traditional fleet that fishes the Minch and until satisfactory arrangements for control have been agreed. Appalling damage has been done to the stocks, and that is why I seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely: the need to stop immediately herring fishing in the Minch.

The House will have listened with anxious care to what the right hon. Gentleman said. He knows that under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reasons for my decision.

I listened with great care to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.