HL Deb 24 June 1980 vol 410 cc1471-4

2.43 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, now that the British long-distance fishing industry is nearly dead, they can give an assurance that they are determined to protect the vital interests of our inshore fishing industry by limiting imports of cheap subsidised fish, and by ensuring the conservation of our breeding grounds, if necessary by means of an extension of fishery limits in certain areas.


My Lords, the Government's objective is to secure a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations on the common fisheries policy, which must include appropriate measures on conservation. We are, of course, aware that the fishing industry has been facing very real problems because of increased costs and weak markets. We have introduced a programme of temporary additional aid and pressed for changes in the tariffs which are applied to certain imports from outside the Community. Fisheries Ministers will be meeting representatives of all sectors of the industry on 3rd July to reassess the situation.


My Lords, arising out of that Answer, do Her Majesty's Government realise that the present import of cheap, subsidised foreign fish into this country requires immediate action on the part of Her Majesty's Government if a serious crisis for what is left of our fishing industry is to be averted? Secondly, can we take it from the noble Earl's slightly vague reply that Her Majesty's Government have no intention of selling the British inshore fishing industry to the EEC in exchange for a budget settlement?


My Lords, I think that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, on the last of his supplementary questions, which is that the solution of the common fisheries policy is one which must be found on its own account, and it will not be part of barter over any other aspect of the Community, least of all the budget.

With regard to his first supplementary question, I would dispute one point with him and that is his reference to supplies of cheap, subsidised fish. I have no knowledge of fish which is coming into this country being subsidised by other countries; but, of course, there is the position of the hardening of the pound which has made our country an attractive market. I would simply tell the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, that we have, in fact, increased the reference prices for foreign fish—that is, third country fish—from about 6 per cent. to 25 per cent., and consideration is now being given to the restoration of full tariff rates on imports of cod, haddock and hake from third countries.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is great consternation among the fishing population about what is happening in their industry today?—particularly in the importation of fish in which they cannot compete, and which makes life very difficult for them. Did the noble Earl watch the programme shown on television which showed how the French are exploiting our waters and selling our fish in French markets, and that no action is being taken?


My Lords, this is one of the problems which we are trying to overcome by the solution of the common fisheries policy. It is our desire to see—and in this we are in agreement with all the other members of the Community—that there is a fair and proper allocation of fisheries within the European Community.

As regards the French fishermen, I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, that there is an agreement as to the size of the total allowable catch within the Community. We have our own amount which we try to catch within our limits, and it is up to this country to ensure that those waters are properly policed, which we do. At the moment we have no evidence that there is unfair catching by other countries, other than the fact that until the total allowable catch is agreed between all the other countries, there may be some members of the Community who are taking, more than others, but they are not exceeding the total allowable catch.


My Lords, will the Minister not agree that there is con- siderable evidence that the decline of the Welsh deep-sea fishing industry followed by the decline of the inshore fishing industry has, in fact, been accelerated by the common fisheries policy; that in that area—whether or not it is accepted in this House—it is firmly believed that that is so; and that the classic over-fishing of the area as a result of the accelerated policies of the Common Market has contributed to that death?


My Lords, of course, the original problem arose when the fisheries limits were extended universally to 200 miles. As a result of that, in 1972 in third countries we used to be able to catch 320,000 tonnes of fish and now our quota from third countries is less than 80,000 tonnes. Therefore, in that respect the noble Lord is quite right, there has been a severe curtailment of the deep-sea fishing industry. I go along with him in understanding the concern which is felt in the western parts of the United Kingdom, but I can only tell him that that is not solely the result of the common fisheries policy. However, we are trying to achieve a fair settlement which will benefit the industry.


My Lords, as the Minister has been so forthcoming, will he further agree that there is an honourable point in this, that the British fishing industry has always honourably observed the regulations? Will he agree that it cannot be proved that that has always been the case in regard to other countries?


My Lords, I should like to agree 100 per cent. wholeheartedly with the noble Lord; I would go along with him to about 98 per cent. whole-heartedly.


My Lords, does my noble friend know that there is great concern in the West Country that the power for the present three-mile fishing limit for inshore fishing may be taken away from local authorities?


My Lords, I am not aware of the point to which my noble friend refers, but I shall certainly look into it and let him know.