HC Deb 21 May 1981 vol 5 cc405-7
6. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he is making towards achieving an acceptable common fisheries policy agreement.

9. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement about negotiations over the common fisheries policy.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I have nothing to add to the statements I made to the House during the debate on 18 May.

Mr. Hicks

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is increased concern in the South West fishing industry as a result of remarks made by M. Mitterrand during the French election campaign about the attitude adopted by the previous French Administration in respect of the common fisheries policy, specifically regarding access? Is my hon. Friend able to assure fishermen in the vulnerable parts of the United Kingdom that there will be no weakening of the United Kingdom position?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I understand the point that my hon. Friend puts. I know the concern of fishermen in his part of the country. I met many fishermen from that area when they visited the House a month or so ago. I assure my hon. Friend that despite the change of Government in France we shall continue to negotiate as vigorously as in the past on behalf of the British fishing industry.

Mr. Brotherton

On the assumption that this problem will be solved, the solution will have to be enforced. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that we have sufficient fishery protection vessels and resources to implement any solution?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

My hon. Friend is correct. Effective policing must be one of the most important elements of any fishing policy, both now and in the future. I assure my hon. Friend that relations between my Department and the Ministry of Defence on this matter are excellent. We shall continue to work together closely to ensure that within the waters for which the United Kingdom is responsible we have the most effective policing that is possible. I pay tribute to those in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force who contribute towards that policing.

Mr. Maclennan

As there is unlikely to be an early settlement, what steps have the Government in mind to stabilise markets and protect them from the impact of inadequately regulated imports from third countries? Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the predicament of the shellfish industry?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

While matters such as access and quotas are of vital importance in any fishing agreement, matters of marketing are almost of equal importance. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that we regard effective marketing measures as one of the most important elements in the negotiations. Certain proposals have been made to the Commission. They include much more effective control over imports from third countries, which we regard as vital. We shall strongly support such control, in the interests of the stability of our own market in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Minister accept that the inability to agree a common fisheries policy is having far-reaching effects on every section of the industry? Is he aware that the members of a deputation representing fish merchants in Aberdeen who his noble Friend, the Earl. of Mansfield, saw earlier this week came away from that meeting angered by the lack of sympathy and response by the Government to their plight?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman is wrong when he talks about a lack of sympathy or response. In recent weeks the Government have given |£25 million to the fishing industry above what is paid in normal continuing subsidies. It came on top of £17 million paid last year. I do not think that such action represents either a lack of understanding or a lack of sympathy, or, indeed, any lack of belief in the future of this industry.

Mr. Mason

In view of widespread suspicions in the House and in the fishing press that the Minister is reneging on the unanimous resolution of the House on a Common Market fisheries policy package, will he allay those suspicions? Will he assure the House that in the next round of talks he will press for a 12 to 50-mile dominant preference zone for British fishermen?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I have made it clear on a number of occasions that the fishing plan proposals which the Government have put forward, and which have been discussed, show a firm commitment to the need for preference in areas where fishing is important between 12 and 50 miles. It shows the shallowness of the right hon. Gentleman's case when he has to rely on an erroneous and incorrect headline in a fishing newspaper, which he knows to be wrong, and which I have denied in the House.

Mr. Mason

I said that there was widespread suspicion in the House, as distinct from that in the fishing press. I take the hon. Gentleman's robust reply to mean that he intends to give a guarantee to the House that he will adhere to and not renege on the unanimous resolution, passed by all parties in the House, on a common fisheries policy package.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am sorry to have to keep repeating to the right hon. Gentleman, who does not seem able to understand these things, that there is provision in the discussions in Europe, which we shall pursue to our utmost, for preference beyond the 12 miles in relation to the proposals on fishing plans. If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand the issue, it is at least understood by those in the fishing industry, and they are the people who matter.