HL Deb 07 July 1977 vol 385 cc451-4

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, in view of the fishery limits that must now be imposed in order to ensure the survival of the fishing industry, they are satisfied that the Royal Navy has enough fishery protection vessels to enforce them; and, if not, whether more will be laid down.


My Lords, in anticipation of the extension of Britain's fishery limits, orders were placed two years ago for five new vessels of the "Island" Class. These are in addition to the nine vessels of the Coastal Division of the Royal Navy's Fishery Protection Squadron and the six fishery protection vessels of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, and to the vital surveillance effort regularly provided by Royal Navy Sea Devon and Royal Air Force Nimrod aircraft.

Two vessels of the "Island" Class are already undertaking operational patrols as part of the Offshore Division of the Fishery Protection Squadron; the third will undertake its first patrol in a few weeks' time, and the last two will be in service by early next year. Meanwhile, frigates are being used to make good the gap. Her Majesty's Government have no grounds for doubting the adequacy of their planned fishery protection resources, but are of course keeping the matter under constant review.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his interesting but not altogether satisfactory reply, may I ask whether it is a fact that last year the Dutch caught three times their quota of herring off the West Coast of Scotland, and that recently Danish vessels have been fishing for herring in an area of the North Sea which is closed? Furthermore, do Her Majesty's Government realise that the British people as a whole will never tolerate the destruction of the fishing industry of this country, either by the European Economic Community or by anyone else?


My Lords, I am certain that the whole House will be in agreement with what the noble Lord has said in the last part of his supplementary question. May I say in reassurance that from 1st January to 4th July 1977 there have been 830 boardings of foreign fishing vessels and 98 boardings of British fishing vessels by fishery protection vessels of the Royal Navy and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, resulting in 24 convictions for contraventions of fishing legislation within the extended fishery limits.


My Lords, in view of the anticipated shortage of fish in the deep sea, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is satisfied that Her Majesty's Government are doing all they can to help fish farming in this country?


My Lords, that is another matter.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the Government have ever considered converting some of the redundant deep-sea trawlers—which have considerable speed—in order to supplement the Royal Navy?


Yes, my Lords, this has been considered but was turned down as not being the best solution. My noble friend must not forget that behind the Fishery Protection Squadron is the Royal Navy, with its frigates, and the surveillance flights by Nimrods, which in one hour can cover between 500 and 5,000 square miles of sea.


My Lords, may I ask a question which I asked previously but to which I did not receive an adequate reply? In view of the increasing threats to the British fishing industry, are the Government satisfied with the present machinery for continuing adequate discussions with the fishing industry and fishing interests on the protection of the British fishing industry?


My Lords, periodic discussions take place between the Royal Navy and the fishing industry to make certain that the facilities available for the protection of our fishing interests are always there to be called upon.


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind—and I am entirely in accord with his desire to do what I know all of us want—that, if we are to extend our fishing limit to 200 miles (which is, at the moment, a thought) then the present situation, even with Nimrods, is totally and absolutely unsatisfactory? Perhaps, within our capabilities, it always has been. I have spent many hours on Scottish fishery protection vessels and have listened to the fishermen talking to each other about exactly where we were and when to get out. I am certain that the same thing happens with naval vessels. Will he bear in mind that the larger we make our fishing limits—and I am not objecting to doing so—the more essential it is to provide the resources to patrol them, otherwise the effect will not be achieved?


My Lords, as I have explained more than once, the facilities available are very large—including not only those of the protection squadron but those of the whole Royal Navy and the RAF with its very great surveillance capacity.


My Lords, on this subject of North Sea fishery protection, can the noble Lord say whether the examination within the Ministry of Defence of the possibility of aiding fish patrol work with lighter-than-air craft—which has been successful in the past—has been concluded; and, if so, what is the result of the study?


My Lords, I know that the noble Lord is interested in this matter. Studies have taken place, but the present thinking is that the capacity of lighter-than-air craft to remain on station in the sort of gale conditions that can occur in the North Sea precludes them from being an essential element of our protection services.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Dutch have an excellent habit of eating strips of salted herring at street corners? Would he advise his right honourable friend to take additional steps to promote our export trade in that direction?

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