HL Deb 28 January 1982 vol 426 cc1060-2

3.22 p.m.

Lord Alport

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 give the same measure of assistance to the lobster fishermen of the Western Isles as they give to the crofter community.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

My Lords, the various forms of assistance which are available to crofters and lobster fishermen are designed to meet the very different circumstances of the two occupations. I do not consider that it would be realistic to bring the two into line. A number of lobster fishermen are of course crofters and qualify on both counts.

Lord Alport

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask him whether he would agree that fishing is as much a way of life in the Western Isles as is crofting; and that, so far as lobster fishing in particular is concerned, it has had the result of bringing hack into the islands, or keeping there, a number of young men who otherwise would have emigrated or worked outside, and who have been able to make a fairly successful livelihood lobster fishing? Would he say, further, whether he has received representations personally, during a visit to Lewis, along the lines of the Question; and, if so, whether any action was taken as a result and on receipt of those representations?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, first of all, I entirely agree with my noble friend on the effects which lobster fishing has had upon the people who live in the Outer Isles, whether they are born and bred there or whether they have come back. I have in fact not only received delegations of lobster fishermen but have met them on numerous occasions on various trips to the Western Isles. I think that the matters which concern lobster fishermen most are imports of foreign lobsters and imports of foreign lobsters bearing disease. In both those situations Her Majesty's Government have taken the matter very seriously, and we have taken the appropriate action.

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend that I think the fortunes of lobster fishermen in the Western Isles are on the up-turn so far as the latest figures show; for instance, in the first 11 months of 1981 lobster landings in the Western Isles amounted to over 580,000 lbs. That is an appreciable increase over the 490,000 lbs. gross during the whole of 1980.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that in fact the development of the Western Isles as a whole is enormously important to both crofters and lobster fishermen, and could he give us some information as to the progress of the EEC scheme to develop that whole area?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, this is really the subject of a Wednesday debate rather than a Starred Question, if I may say so, but perhaps I could confine the matter to lobster fishermen. They are of course entitled to receive all the interest which the Government give to fishermen as a whole, wherever they may be situated in Scotland. They will also be entitled to avail themselves of the aid which is to be offered in the new integrated development programme for the Western Isles, details of which are just being completed by my department. So far as lobsters are concerned, as I have said, we have sought to persuade the Commission and our partners in the Community to impose a reference price system. In fact, that was not agreed, but we are now in the throes (if that is the word) of working out a scheme of deficiency payments so far as lobsters are concerned.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that over quite a number of years the Highlands and Islands Development Board have given very liberal grants to lobster fishermen to buy new boats and equipment? Would my noble friend not further agree that this, unfortunately, has rather resulted in over-fishing, and that certainly in my area of the Hebrides the lobsters are vanishing? Would my noble friend also not agree that we do not want to happen to the lobster what happened to the herring on that coast, as I was repeatedly warning this House, and as in fact happened? They completely vanished for two years.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am glad to say that herring have now reappeared in the Minch and there was a fishery last winter. It is because we are worried about over-fishing of lobsters in the Western Isles that, for instance, we have increased the minimum landing size for lobsters from 80mm to 83mm carapace length with effect from 1st May 1981. A further increase to 85mm is proposed from 1st May 1983, but that is subject to review.

Lord Oram

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the good work that is being done by the Highlands and Islands Development Board in the encouragement of community co-operatives, and is he aware that such co-operatives can include in their membership both fishermen and crofters and therefore provide an ideal channel through which Government assistance can be provided to people in both these occupations?

The Earl of Mansfield

Yes, my Lords. I have very regular and cordial contact with the Highlands and Islands Development Board, and this is one of the means of encouraging commercial developments, not only in respect of fishing but of all kinds of commercial activity in the Outer Isles.

Lord Alport

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether among the representations he received was a representation that, as the crofters receive compensation for storm damage and other damage to capital equipment on their crofts, so the lobster fishermen should receive some sort of assistance when there is damage to their boats or equipment as results from the same sort of reasons?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am not aware of any scheme by which crofters can obtain compensation as of right for the vagaries of the climate or weather, and I do not think it would be appropriate for Her Majesty's Government to underwrite any such scheme for fishermen.