HC Deb 08 May 1986 vol 97 cc246-8
15. Mr. Wallace

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the present state of the fishing industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gummer

I am satisfied that, with the common fisheries policy now firmly in place within an enlarged Community, confidence is returning to the fishing industry. The value of catches continues to increase year by year, and investment in construction and modernisation of fishing vessels appears to be running at a very healthy level.

Mr. Wallace

I am grateful for the Minister's response. Does he recall that at Question Time during the latter part of 1985 he indicated to me that before the end of the year he would make a statement on the future of the licensing system for the fishing of pelagic species? That statement has not yet appeared. Can he say when he expects it to appear? Will he accept that as long as there is delay there must be uncertainty in the industry and some suspicion about what is going on with regard to further licensing of freezer trawlers?

Mr. Gummer

I assure the hon. Gentleman that any suspicions in that sense are unfounded. The only suspicion that people ought to have is that we are trying to come to a proper decision in the proper time.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Minister in a position to make a statement on the story that has been running in newspapers for the last few days to the effect that there is a plan to divide the fishing grounds into areas, which would be allocated to individual vessels? That is regarded as a horrific suggestion in the fishing industry in Scotland.

Mr. Gummer

If the right hon. Gentleman were to think for a moment about the possibility of doing that, he would understand that it is unlikely. There is no plan for an overall change of the present system.

Dr. Godman

Is the Minister satisfied with the performance of the Sea Fish Industry Authority in the promotion and marketing of the product?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that one is never wholly satisfied with any organisation that seeks to market anything. I am keen on the promotion of fish, a thoroughly good product which should be very widely eaten and which provides extremely good value for money. The SFIA is doing a good job and has increasingly proved that to the industry. It now has considerable support in the industry for the operation it is carrying out in circumstances that are not at all easy, particularly since herring was off the menu for so long and now has come back on it more widely.

Mr. McQuarrie

I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the award last week of the FEOGA grants to the fishing industry. The Scottish fishing industry is extremely grateful for the £2 million which was granted to it by FEOGA last week. In my constituency, 17 projects will benefit by £1.2 million. Long may my right hon. Friend continue to work as hard for the fishing industry in Scotland as he has done since he took office.

Mr. Gummer

It is not I who should be congratulated, but my hon. Friend, on the enterprise of his constituents. I point out to him that the common fisheries policy, which is producing such dividends to the United Kingdom, was wholly opposed by the Labour party, which thought that it would lead to the outrageous destruction of British fishing interests. In fact, we have seen that it is one of the most progressive and sensible policies that we have entered into for many years.

Mr. Randall

Is the Minister aware that there are still a substantial number of United Kingdom quotas which are not being taken up? Will he tell the House what specific steps he will take to encourage fishermen, especially English and Welsh fishermen, to exploit those quotas? Is he aware that if they are not taken up they will be exploited by other countries, which will make negotiations on next year's quotas much more difficult?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. It is important that we should fish to our quotas, except that some of the quotas are there for historic reasons but have not been able to be fished because the fish have not been there. We are concerned about that, because we want realistic quotas in every case. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we should fish to our quotas. In the end it is the industry which must respond to that, and not the Government who must force it to do so. I encourage the industry in all cases that I can.