§ 2.35 p.m.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have considered the suggestion in the Annual Report of the Herring Industry Board for 1959 that there may be a causal connection between the collapse of the East Anglian fishing and the intensive killing of herring by large German trawlers on the Fladen Ground; and whether it is proposed to make any representations to the Government of the West German Republic on this subject.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have noted the suggestion to which the noble Lord refers. While there is some evidence that trawling has been a contributory factor to the changes which have taken place in the East Anglian herring fishery in recent years, the extent of its influence, together with that of other possible causes, needs further investigation. Her Majesty's Government will continue actively to promote the scientific study of the herring fisheries, through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and otherwise, and will not hesitate to urge upon any other Governments concerned at the appropriate stage any conservation measures which scientific evidence may clearly show to be necessary. Her Majesty's Government do not, however, consider that they would be justified at 1128 this stage in making representations to the Federal German Government as the noble Lord suggests.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his not very helpful reply, may I ask him whether he realises the great anxiety that is being caused by the virtual disappearance of the herring from the Southern part of the North Sea for the first time since the reign of Henry VIII? Many fishermen believe that this is due to the intensive commercial fishing that has taken place since the war—the killing of immature fish for conversion to meal and oil by trawl nets which have raked the spawning grounds—for there was no scarcity when the principal method of catching herring was the drift net. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he thinks it is in the interest of any country fringing the North Sea that this once great industry should die, as it now gives every appearance of doing, and whether Her Majesty's Government would give consideration to summoning, as a matter of urgency, an international conference of experts from the countries directly concerned—namely, ourselves, Norway, Denmark, West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France—to consider what joint action can, and should, be taken to save this industry before it is too late.
My Lords, I am well aware of the anxiety the noble Lord has expressed about this industry, but, though I will bring his suggestion of an international conference to my right honourable friend's attention, I rather doubt whether that is the immediate next step that we ought to be taking. Surely we ought to be relying on the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention that we signed last year. It will not be possible to bring that Convention into force until we have ratification from, I think, seven nations. The Republic of West Germany have not yet ratified that Treaty. If the noble Lord, or anybody else, can do anything to get that North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention ratified, as this country has ratified it, by the other signatory Governments, I think that is the first step towards getting moving on the conservation of the herring in the North Sea.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether I am rightly informed when I am told that modern methods of taking fish, with surface fishing, mid-water fishing and deep-water fishing, will enable a properly equipped fleet to take fish from the Atlantic from Cape Farewell to Gibraltar, and, if that is so, whether it would not be worth the Government's while to consider restoring the great breeding grounds that we used to possess in the Minches and the Moray Firth?
My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know whether the noble Lord is properly informed, and the hypothesis, therefore, I must leave until I can find out whether he is.
My Lords, would the noble Earl answer the second part of my question: is it not worth while to restore the old breeding grounds that we used to possess?
My Lords, I thought the noble Lord wished to hang that on to the first part of the Question, and as I was unable to answer that first part, I was disinclined to answer the second part.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, without asking the noble Earl any detailed question about breeding, may I ask a more general question? As it always seems that we make conventions and ratify them first, and nobody else ratifies them at all, would it not be wise for us in future to refrain from ratifying conventions until the other Powers have ratified them, and thereby retain in the meantime our own freedom of action to take such—I suppose it would be offensive to say retaliatory action, but such defensive action as would probably lead other countries to ratify in the first instance?
My Lords, I will take note of what the noble Earl has said, but I think we should keep a sense of proportion here. As a matter of fact, this Convention can come into force, I understand, when seven signatory Governments have ratified it. Up to date, five have done so. It is understood that the Federal Republic of West Germany is likely to ratify in the near future. So we are nearly home on the orthodox method of procedure.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, may I ask whether any other result can be expected when the fishing industry is carried on not for the purpose of feeding the people with fish but for making as much money as possible out of the industry?