HL Deb 28 June 1976 vol 372 cc592-9

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should now like to repeat a Statement on fisheries policy which is at present being made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Statement is as follows: "I should like to deal first with the short-term consequences of the agreement with Iceland for fishermen and shore-based workers whose jobs are likely to be affected. We intend, as a Government, to do all we can to avoid hardship to those concerned. We shall give all possible help under the existing schemes for the re-training and re-settlement of redundant workers.

"We will discuss with the unions and employers the feasibility of an arrangement for compensation for those fishermen directly affected by the settlement who, because they do not have regular contracts of employment, are denied the benefits they might otherwise have received under the Redundancy Payments Acts.

"We know that our fishing opportunities will undergo radical change. In the Government's view a satisfactory revision of the EEC's Common Fisheries Policy is of major importance and priority.

"Other countries outside the European Community are preparing to extend their fisheries limits to 200 miles. We are therefore pressing for an early declaration that the Member States of the Community intend to do the same. We have also made very clear to the Community the United Kingdom's requirements for a reserved coastal band of not less than 12 miles, and extending in parts to 50 miles. We are pressing also for early progress in the Community's negotiations with third countries about access to their waters for British and other Community fishermen, and about the limitation of fishing by third countries in the waters of Member States.

"Outside the coastal bands we expect there to be a system of properly enforced quotas to ensure fair shares of the available fish resources and effective conservation of fish stocks.

"As these negotiations progress, we shall be able to establish more precise objectives for our fishing industry. But already it is clear that changes will be called for in the structure of the fishing fleet, including provision of more stable conditions of employment. Changes will be called for also in handling and distribution, and in the processing industries.

" The fish resources available to us will include species different from those now familiar to the consumer. Work on methods of processing and using these new species will be intensified. In carrying forward our plans, we shall of course seek to derive maximum benefit from any EEC schemes.

" Accordingly the Fisheries Ministers and other Ministers concerned are embarking on a programme of consultation with the industries and other interests affected. As a first step in this consultation my colleagues and I are meeting more than thirty representative organisations later this afternoon.

"The international regime for fisheries is changing, and other factors are making adjustments inevitable. We can begin to see the direction in which a new strategy can he developed. The Government are determined to ensure that our fisheries resources and the industries exploiting them make a major contribution to the British economy."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, we arc very grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement which has been made in another place. For so long as our fishermen have been able to fish up to 12 miles off the shores of other countries such as Norway, the Faeroes and Iceland (as a large proportion of our fishermen have) the United Kingdom have not sought to extend our fishing limits beyond 12 miles. Now, as the noble Lord said, it is very likely that international action within the next year will cause a complete change with the coming into effect of 200 mile economic zones. The whole situation will be different; fishing countries will then have to catch much more fish in their own home waters and will have fewer fishermen, if any, fishing off the distant shores of other countries.

In preparation for that dramatic change in fishing patterns, and to promote effective conservation measures, we believe that it is essential that a new agreement be reached with the EEC. From the debates that have taken place in your Lordships' House in recent weeks, the Government will know that we have been urging from this Bench that the Government should enter into urgent, serious and powerful negotiations with this in view.

I should like to ask the noble Lord whether the Government recognise that 12 miles will certainly not be enough for the United Kingdom reserved band, and that 50 miles will need to be the minimum in important areas, especially off our Northern coasts. The noble Lord indicated that the band would he from between 12 and 50 miles and of course this is one of the most important matters of negotiation within the EEC. We wish to encourage the Government to get as wide a band as possible in these negotiations. One reason for this is, as the Statement indicated, that there are new species in British home waters, such as the blue whiting and ling, with which consumers will no doubt become familiar in the future, and these will require new methods of fishing.

Is the noble Lord aware that we expected and welcome the special measures which are announced at the beginning of the Statement to help the ports which have been affected by the settlement with Iceland? Does the noble Lord agree that there is likely to be a period of great change, not only for Britain but also for other fishing countries, but that a large and prosperous British fishing industry can continue provided that successful results are achieved in these EEC negotiations?


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord who, with his great experience of the industry and the problems involved in this changing world, has given a general welcome to this Statement, and for his appreciation of the fact that the Government are trying to negotiate the very best deal possible for the industry. Regarding the limits—and here I am speaking only of the EEC context—it is the intention of the Government to negotiate limits with our EEC partners of from between 12 to 50 miles. On the matter of the future of the industry, my right honourable friend is consulting both sides of industry and will be meeting with a great many of the different sections of the industry within the near future. We hope that the outcome of these negotiations will be fruitful.

The noble Lord also rightly said that it is important that we should continue with research for new species, of which the most important is the blue whiting. I think there should be considerable scope for good use of this abundant, though seasonal, fishery for both human consumption and for fish meal. This will certainly be one of the items on the agenda which the Government will be discussing.


My Lords, does my friend appreciate that this is a smack in the face for the British trawler industry, and with tragic results? Can he say, first, what is the amount of compensation that will be required to be paid to the displaced trawlermen? Can he further say whether the Government realise that the price of fish in the future to the domestic consumer and industrial consumers is bound to reach very high levels? The noble Lord referred to blue whiting. Blue whiting will replace cod and it is a different kind of "material". Perhaps noble Lords will be surprised that I should be talking about this matter. It so happens that I have had some experience of the trawlering industry. I organised the industry for several years in Grimsby, Hull, Fleetwood and elsewhere, and I got to know about them through that. That is the only qualification I have in the matter, but I am concerned about the effect on these men. I do not believe that the replacement of cod by blue whiting or any other kind of fish will satisfy the fish and chip industry in this country, which is a very profitable one, and very necessary in present conditions.

Can my noble friend say what has been the average tonnage of fish landed in previous years and what is likely to be the average tonnage caught by trawling 200 miles off Iceland in the future, or in some other ocean? Have the Government gone into this matter? Also, since we are discussing metrication today, perhaps my noble friend would use metrication terms when he speaks of the number of tonnes which are likely to be caught.


My Lords, in answer to my noble friend perhaps I might say that of course the Government are concerned about the effect of redundancy. He is not the only one to be exercised about these matters. The Government arc concerned, as indeed I am, too. My father was Member for Central Hull for many years between the wars, and I am well aware of the wonderful work done by the fishermen of Humberside. We shall be consulting both sides of the industry as soon as possible to discuss the extent of redundancy among fishermen and the feasibility of a scheme. There will be a few hundred fishermen who may be affected but, as I have said, the Government are making plans to deal with the consequences of redundancies in the trawling ports. The nature, scale and effect will be governed by the nature and timing of the operational decisions to be taken by both individual owners and the shore-based establishments in conjunction with the Government.

The noble Lord asked me how the shortfall of fish might be made good. The shortfall, of course, may not amount to more than a small percentage of our total supplies of fish, although I admit readily that most of this will be cod. In the short term part of it will be made up by imports, but a great deal will depend upon market conditions. In the longer term, species which are at present under-utilised and unfamiliar fish to consumers could become a more important part of our supply. We must continue to work for progress aimed at making the most effective use of these resources.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to clarify one point in his very interesting Statement? He talked of "all fishery resources". I am hoping that term includes fish farming as well as deep sea fishing, because the subject needs to be taken as a whole and should not be separated into compartments. I should like to have a reassurance that the fish farming and off-coast fishing will be considered in the same picture as the deep sea.


My Lords, of course it is being considered in a general way, and I can say that a great deal of research and development work is in progress. Marine fish farming has a great potential and a great future, and the contribution it can make to our fish supplies is still in debate. However, we are, as the noble Baroness knows, discussing this with all the bodies concerned. As I told the House the other day, the Government are putting £1 million into the industry every year for development.


My Lords, in talking about redundancies, what size of figures are we talking about? Is it not the case that many of the ports are not even in development areas, although one or two of them are? As we have never produced any special development areas other than in connection with the coal industry, will it be in the mind of the Government to designate, for example, Fleetwood, Grimsby and similar areas as development areas? Or will the extent of the unemployment which is envisaged mean that they will have to be scheduled as special development areas, as was done when a great number of collieries were being closed down?


My Lords, this is certainly something that would be considered. I think about 600 fishermen may be affected in Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood. The Training Services Agency run schemes for retraining and resettlement, and this is only one of the schemes which the Government will be considering when they consult with the industry. We have the matter of redundancy very much in mind, of course.


My Lords, when it comes to the introduction of these exotic species of fish to our dinner tables. may I ask my noble friend whether it might be a useful thing to consult my noble friend Lady Summerskill, who did so much during the war by the introduction of snoek to sustain us during those years?

Secondly, as a number of trawlers are to become surplus to requirement, with the diminution of the fishing industry in the North Sea and the expansion of the oil extraction industry, would it not be possible to organise those trawlers for the servicing of the oil rigs in the North Sea and for carrying the food, fuel, machinery, cement and other materials which are required? In considering that point, will my noble friend bear in mind that these particular trawlers are well accustomed to braving the rigours of the North Sea?


My Lords, I am sure that is a very interesting and useful suggestion from my noble friend Lord Leatherland, whose constructive attitude we always appreciate. He asked whether the Government would consider using the laid-up trawlers for protecting the oil rigs. I suppose there is the possibility that they could be used for protecting the fishing fleet. Some thought has been given to this point, but we have to bear in mind the expense of converting the ships to a new task and maintaining them after wards, as well as their relatively slow speed. They would not be as cost-effective for protective purposes as new craft, many of which are at present in commission.


My Lords, might I ask the noble Lord, when he says quite rightly that there will be consultation with all the interests concerned, whether the smaller fishing ports will receive as much consideration as the larger ones? From my experience of having represented an area containing a fishing port, perhaps I might say that Hull, naturally, has had a great part to play in all the final decisions. I should like to know, when the reductions are made, whether they will be fairly spaced out. For instance, North Shields is a very small fishing port as compared with Hull. Presumably we shall have only one representative taking part in the consultations—though of course I hope we might have more—but it would not be fair if, for instance, Hull were to have a larger number of trawlers maintained whereas North Shields could have only a proportion retained.

I am not criticising, because this is a very difficult matter and I am sure the Government will do their best to be fair to everybody; but it helps smaller fishing ports if they know how their special interests, particularly over compensation, are to be dealt with and also know whether a smaller fishing port will have as much right to consideration as a larger one.


Yes, my Lords; we shall certainly bear this in mind. People are people, whether they work in large or small ports.


My Lords, I think I am right in saying that the Statement referred to the necessity for the improvement of the distribution and processing of fish. Can the noble Lord say exactly what was meant by that? I take it that he does not mean nationalisation of the distribution of fish.


No, my Lords; I can confirm that there are no plans for nationalising the industry.