HL Deb 06 December 1978 vol 397 cc114-7

2.45 p.m.


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 will take steps to limit the number of factory ships permitted off the West Coast of Scotland and to regulate their use in order to protect employment in west coast fishing ports, to conserve the stock of mackerel and to reduce the pollution of the coast.


My Lords, the Government have no plans to limit the number of factory ships. Purchases by these ships, which provide a valuable export market, have not prevented the home processing industry from obtaining supplies, nor have they affected employment levels in the industry. The fishery is regulated in the interests of conservation by means of statutory licensing which limits the quantity of fish which each fishing boat can land or transship. Because of the availability of the mackerel stock, however, large quantities of fish would, in the absence of the factory ships, have had to be sold for reduction to meal or oil at a much lower price. In the light of the experience of this year's fishery, my officials are considering with Ross and Cromarty District Council the possible introduction of further controls to prevent pollution.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I should like to ask whether the Minister is aware that last year there were six of these factory ships opposite Ullapool and within Loch Broom, and that this year there have been 25? Is he aware that this has caused a great deal of pollution to the coasts? Perhaps the Minister has never smelled these things. The stink is absolutely appalling. Is he also aware that this is causing a considerable adverse effect to our own West Coast fishermen?


My Lords, of course the fishing season is now over, as the noble Earl will be aware, but I can advise him that Ross and Cromarty District Council intend to promote an order. I can further confirm that I am aware that pollution has occurred, which of course is one of the reasons why the district council seeks to promote the order which will come before us. I do not think I can say anything other than that the Government imposed a quota on each fishing boat this year in an attempt to contain mackerel stocks.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that on a day not so long ago, perhaps six weeks ago, 35 Russian vessels were counted in Loch Broom, and that Ullapool was thronged with Polish fishing vessels?


My Lords, that may well be so. The point I was trying to make is that the season finished in October.


My Lords, will the noble Lord consider the following, and will the Government consider action upon them? First, numerous foreign vessels which are not fishing vessels but processing and transport ships are causing pollution and nuisance, and the Ross and Cromarty Pollution Order, which has only just come out, is unlikely to go through Parliament before May. Secondly, unless something is done to control the catch by British fishermen, the mackerel is likely to disappear as the herring has.


My Lords, the season does not start again, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will know, until next August. The Ross and Cromarty Order, one hopes, will be effective before that date. I was saying earlier that during the Scottish summer mackerel season the fishing quota allocations varied between 3½ tonnes and 5 tonnes per crew member per day. That was a licensing restriction. I should also advise the House that fishery scientists considered that, for 1978, 450,000 tonnes could be fished, but of course the Government restricted that.


My Lords, is the noble Lord able to say whether this kind of problem will remain with the United Kingdom Parliament, or is it likely to be devolved to the Assembly?


My Lords, the Department of Agriculture for Scotland remains with the Secretary of State for Scotland.


My Lords, does not controlling Russian trawlers come within the responsibility of the Foreign Office?


I am sure that is true, my Lords, but I thought the noble Earl was going to remind us of a debate at the time of our devolution deliberations when we wondered whether the Scottish Assembly could express a view on foreign affairs.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that Devonshire and Cornish fishermen would not wish this little controversy to be confined to the Scots?


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind—this follows on the last supplementary—that the fishermen in the South-West, particularly apropos the mackerel stocks, are equally or more so affected by the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and that off Falmouth there are not only Russian factory ships but also Scottish fishermen with their purse seine fishing nets, removing the basic mackerel stock from the whole of the South-West?


My Lords, I indicated that since October last they had moved away from Scottish waters.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that despite intense and expert activity off the West Coast of Scotland last summer I managed to catch only seven mackerel? More seriously, will the noble Lord undertake to keep under very close review the ques- tion of the possible depletion of mackerel stocks both off the West Coast of Scotland and off the West Coast of England?


I can give absolute confirmation to the second point made by the noble Earl, my Lords.