HC Deb 19 February 1976 vol 905 cc1501-626

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pendry.]

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the first speaker, let me tell the House that I have a very long list of hon. and right hon. Members who wish to speak. I hope that that will be borne in mind.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

The debate that we are to have today is important not only in terms of its interest to the House, as indicated by the number of hon. and right hon. Member who wish to speak, but in the eyes of the industry and of many tens of thosuands who wait to hear what may be said. This is the first full day's debate that we have had on the fishing industry for a very long time. I might have done my research better, but I can say that it is certainly a number of years since we had such a debate. It is a measure of the Opposition's anxiety that we have given a day of our time to debate this industry.

But I remind the House, particularly hon. and right hon. Members opposite, that, although it is the first full day's debate for a considerable time, it follows a series of shorter debates. The last six months have seen the subject of fishing raised on the Floor of the House in debate more frequently than for a number of years. To go back over only the last seven or eight months, we had a subsidy scheme debate in May. In June, in Opposition time, we had half a Supply Day's debate on the fishing industry. In October, we had a debate on the subsidy scheme. On 1st December we had another debate on the subsidy scheme.

Therefore, I start by saying that the Government have no excuse for not knowing the feelings of hon. Members or the industry. Yet, despite what Ministers may have said in debates in the last year and the many protestations of good intentions that we have had from them about what they want to do for the industry, the Government must realise—and I hope that if they do not realise it now, they will do so at least by the end of the day—that there is still an enormous amount of anxiety in the fishing industry throughout the United Kingdom about the future.

In particular, there is great concern because since 1st January this year there has been no continuing financial support in operating subsidies. Secondly, and perhaps of greater importance—and I hope that the debate will dwell more on this than on other topics—there is concern about whether the Government really have a long-term policy for this important industry. The purpose of the debate today, therefore, is to get the Government to tell us whether they have a policy and, if they have, whether it is a policy which they are prepared to back with action, because it is action for which the industry is looking.

Unfortunately, we debate fishing and the need for a proper policy for it against a background of crisis. There is a threefold crisis. First, there is an economic crisis, a desperate cash problem, in the industry affecting some sections more than others. Secondly, there is a crisis of conservation of fish stocks, a problem becoming increasingly acute as the international fishing effort is concentrated in smaller and smaller areas round our coasts. Thirdly, there is a crisis in the industry so far as the Government themselves are concerned. The whole industry wants a lead from Government, and until it has that lead, a feeling of crisis will exist.

But there is also the shadow of Iceland hanging over any discussion of fishing. So long as there is any chance of resolving this problem by direct negotiation, I hope that that opportunity will be taken. The Government are aware that Iceland has its own internal problem, but it is as well for us to remind ourselves that British fishermen are currently going about their legal business in international waters off Iceland. I express my admiration, and that of my hon. and right hon. Friends, of the resourcefulness and patience of British fishermen and the men of the Royal Navy in their support.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Would not the hon. Gentleman think that the advice given to the Government by Lord Boothby in another place was now worth following?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I wish that the Scottish National Party would be less narrow in its approach to this problem. If it is supporting illegal unilateral action by one nation, so be it. But let that party know what it is supporting. Let that be quite clear.

Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff) rose——

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I know his views on this subject and he will be given every opportunity this afternoon to repeat them. There is no need to state them twice, for once is enough. I am sure that those outside know his views.

I would say to hon. Members of the Scottish National Party that there is no dispute about the end which, I hope, the Government are seeking to achieve—the extension of limits. The dispute is about the means and the timetable for doing so. Iceland is taking unilateral and illegal action in advance of multilateral negotiations.

I ask Scottish National Party Members even at this late stage to consider a fundamental feature. We in Britain understand what Iceland is aiming to do, and our aims through the Law of the Sea Conference are the same. But we are seeking to act internationally and properly. I hope that even at this stage the Icelandic Government will prove more flexible about achieving the kind of solution wanted not only by Iceland but by many people and by the fishing industry in this country.

I have spoken of the problems of the industry and the crisis facing it. I want the Government to realise that it is a crisis not only for those 23,000 in the catching end of the industry and their families. It is also a crisis for all those who derive a livelihood from that industry through boat building, fish processing, supplying the industry and so on. Although the fishing industry itself directly covers only some 23,000 people, we are talking of well in excess of 100,000 people whose livelihood and prosperity depend on the prosperity of the industry.

Secondly, I ask the Government to remember that the industry is important not only for itself—I have said this before, but it bears saying again—but for the contribution it makes to the United Kingdom economy. Here I refer to supplies of food. In the White Paper of April last year "Food from our own Resources", it is stated: The whole nation has an interest in the best use of our resources and in a reliable and fairly priced supply of food to our tables. That declaration of intent sometimes causes a hollow laugh in our agricultural community. Although the fishing industry is specifically excluded from the White Paper, I beg the Government to treat it with the importance it deserves as a major food industry.

A strong fishing industry is a safeguard far wider than just those directly involved. First, a strong industry is a safeguard for food supplies for the housewife. Second, we save foreign exchange. United Kingdom landings in 1974, the most recent year for which I have figures, totalled more than £150 million a year. If our fishing effort is restricted, we shall have to get more from abroad, which will increase the burden on foreign exchange.

Third, and most important, the Government should not forget that fish are a major natural resource, as important as soil is for crops, as coal is for fuel and as oil is for our future prosperity. But there is one great difference: fish are a renewable resource and can serve us long after the reserves of coal and oil have been exchausted. If this resource is to be properly used, it requires husbanding. The Government's policies must ensure that it is neither plundered nor squandered.

Of the three areas of crisis I mentioned, I shall deal first with the industry's economic problems. I rely here on figures produced by the Scottish Trawlers Federation. There can be no question of scare-mongering since they are officially audited and available to the Government. I deal with the Scottish Federation not because I have a narrow interest here, but because these are the figures most readily available to me. I know that they reflect the performance of the whole British trawling fleet. They may apply specifically to Aberdeen and Granton, but they can be duplicated, I am sure, in Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft, Milford Haven and many other ports of the inshore industry.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, although we do not have audited accounts for Humberside, we have figures for unemployment? Does he know that 1,000 fishermen are without jobs, a figure which speaks for itself?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Member has spoken for himself. This is a problem in many ports. When the industry is in crisis, not only fishermen but others are unemployed.

The audited figures of the Scottish Trawlers Federation relate to the year to 30th September 1975. I take a whole year to show that this is not a new situation but a continuing crisis. In that year, each of the 94 vessels over 80 ft. showed a loss of £17,500 before depreciation and £34,500 after depreciation. Taking into account the operating subsidy available at that time of just under £10,000 per vessel, the average loss was £25,000.

To make the point even more dramatically, for every day that the fleet was at sea there was a gross loss of £133 per vessel against a subsidy payment of £38. What industry can contiuue to operate in that way? There must be a limit to what the industry can do. It is remarkable how much resilience it has so far shown.

In the debate at the beginning of December, the Minister of State said that things were getting better, as they were, in the third quarter. But the figures moved down again in the fourth quarter. Including depreciation, there was a loss during that quarter of £10,500 per vessel against the subsidy payment of £2,500, leaving a net loss of £8,000. The loss for every day at sea was even higher than before—£148 per vessel against a subsidy of £37.

The crisis is continuing. It is amazing that the industry has own such resilience when it has been losing vessels from fishing. Over the last 12 months, 24 vessels of the Aberdeen and Granton fleet—about a quarter of the fleet—which were fishing before last year are now tied up or have gone on to work in the oil industry. That is a dramatic turndown in the fortunes of the industry.

I have even greater worries than the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). One of the reasons why many of the vessels in Aberdeen have kept going is the fear that, because of the relatively full employment offered by the oil industry, if they tied up they might not go to sea again. This is not a temporary phase for the industry. In the Scottish section of the fleet particularly there is a real danger that if boats continue to tie up at the present rate, they will not go to sea again. The inshore fleet around the whole British coast faces the same problems. The plight of the Scottish fleet simply illustrates the crisis.

There are three root causes for this. The first is costs. Fishing is no more insulated from inflation than any other industry. The cost of oil rose from 1st January by £15 a ton, which adds £5 million a year to the costs of the boats of members of the British Trawlers Federation.

Second, although costs rose by 25 per cent. last year because of inflation, despite the optimism expressed by the Government in an earlier debate, prices rose by only 2 per cent. last year. Faced with this pincer of rising costs and almost static prices, it is no wonder that the industry is in difficulty.

Third, imports have risen to unprecedented levels, under-cutting markets of our own fishermen. The Trawling Times this week, under the heading "Imports Lunacy", said: The industry's neck is back in the economic noose". In the three months November and December 1974 and January 1975, there was a dramatic 300 per cent. increase in imports. That is what triggered the crisis which caused the Government to bring in the temporary aid scheme. A year later, in November and December 1975 alone, imports were up again by 21 per cent. That shows how imports are undermining the industry's position.

In the report there is mention of a Russian vessel landing 1,400 tons of frozen fish at a price of about £19.14 a kit as opposed to a price of £21 a kit a month ago. The same is true of cod and haddock. The prices of both fish were falling during the earlier period. Therefore, in costs, prices and imports, the industry, through no fault of its own, is facing an extremely difficult situation.

Apart from the catching side, with boats being tied up and so on, the ancillary industries are being affected. I have in my possession the Press and Journal of Wednesday 18th February which mentions that 300 jobs have been axed in Aberdeen. It says that "Findus"—one of our major food processors— are to close their modern fish-processing factory…cutting 173 full-time and just over 200 part-time jobs. The Findus factory was opened in 1970 and at the time was the most modern fish-processing factory in Europe. That is the toll of the crisis in the industry. The Government know the position because they have met deputations from the industry.

In those circumstances I ask the Government to continue to give the industry help on a short-term basis. The industry does not look for more than short-term help to get it over its present problems. If the Government do not give it that help our future fish supplies will be put at risk and the strength of the industry when it enters international negotiations, will be weakened. I believe that if the Government do not continue to give help the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland will be placed in a much weaker position than they would be if they had a strong industry behind them. Therefore, if there is to be cheese paring in the short term, it will prove to be a policy of penny wise and pound foolish.

I turn to conservation. The long-term prosperity of the industry must depend upon the availability of fish stocks. I confess that I am becoming increasingly worried about whether our efforts to achieve effective conservation at an international level, through organisations such as the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and internationally agreed quotas, will be the most effective and best way to achieve the husbanding of our fish stocks and our resources. Already action has been taken through the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission concerning herring, sprats and so on.

I am sure that the Government realise that some of the problems which exist—for example, off the Cornish coast—have arisen because of the actions of international commissions, such as the NEAFC, and the imposition of internationally agreed quotas. There is a buffer effect all the way along the line. When fishing efforts have to be reduced in some of the international waters, pressure is brought to bear in areas such as Cornwall, and that creates all sorts of difficulties for our own domestic fishermen. I believe that if we do not get this position more correct at international level, the situations which have arisen off Cornwall in recent months will be nothing compared with the type of conflict which will arise in future.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the situation off the North-East coast in connection with sprats and herring fishing gives rise to similar concern. There is massive depredation by Norwegian and Danish vessels while British fishermen are restricted by unreasonable quotas. Such a situation gives rise to precisely what the hon. Gentleman has described.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I completely agree. I wish that there was time to mention all the places around the coast of England that have been affected. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will have an opportunity to enlarge on the matter.

I should like to ask three questions about quotas negotiated on an international basis. I wonder whether in approaching the problem through organisations and commissions like the NEAFC we are taking too piecemeal an approach. We must remember that there is a buffer effect which will eventually concern Cornwall, Northumberland and so on. However, the problem starts much further out. It originally started with the Icelandic negotiations as a result of which we had to reduce our catch. The reduction was then extended to the trawler-free zones of Norway and then to the Faroes. There is a piecemeal effect right down the line until it is brought home to our own coast. We have to question the whole basis of this international approach.

I also question whether the basis of negotiation through the international quotas gives us adequate results in terms of the size of quotas to preserve our fish stocks. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to sprats in the North Sea. The liaison committee, which comprises the experts of the NEAFC, recommended a total allowable catch of 300,000 tons. However, as the catch is internationally agreed, we must take the lowest common denominator. Therefore, the Commission agreed on a total of 600,000 tons, which is exactly double what the liaison committee had recommended. Moreover, countries such as Norway whose quota is based on recent catches—to which special efforts were made in anticipation—gets a quota far in excess of that of the traditional British fishermen who are working in that area. Can we hope to get an adequate basis for preserving fish stocks through this approach?

I also question whether the quota method internationally agreed through looser organisations like the NEAFC is really effective. I am concerned with whether it can be policed. Can we be sure that it will be observed? I know that there is a strong feeling within the fishing industry that cheating takes place. I believe that our fishermen are normally good, but at the same time I acknowledge that they are not all dressed like angels in white robes. However, I believe that our network of fishery officers and fishery protection cruisers around our coast ensures more effective observance by British vessels than by foreign vessels.

I recently saw the report of a Hull skipper who had been fishing in the North-West Atlantic. He said that the Portuguese were sweeping up fish in that area with nets with a mesh of well below the internationally agreed minimum size. I have recently read quotations in the Norwegian Press expressing anxiety about Russian, Belgian and French vessels fishing with nets below the internationally agreed minimum limits.

We must work towards a single controlling authority for quotas if we are to ensure that they are effectively observed. I suggest that the best way in the long term is to use the coastal State as the single policing authority for quotas. I question the ability effectively to conserve stocks around our coast through internationally agreed quotas of the kind we have seen up to now under the NEAFC and other organisations. The Government must take a completely new approach and initiative.

I do not believe that the present proposals for conservation are working properly. I believe that the international approach through the Law of the Sea Conference is the right one. Moreover, I believe that it is right that the House and the Government should support moves towards a 200-mile limit. There is concern about whether we shall reach agreement at Geneva later this year. That concern is not because of a lack of general agreement for there is general agreement. However, there are many other issues and whether we reach full agreement on this matter is open to doubt.

If agreement is delayed it will be necessary for the Government to consider bilateral negotiations with the other Governments involved to ensure that the matter is not allowed to drift. Allowing it to drift will be at the risk of the fish stocks around our coasts. Norway is already impatient. It wants to get moving. In Canada and more particularly in the United States of America legislation is being prepared in the event of there being disagreement at the Law of the Sea Conference later this year.

I believe that the Law of the Sea Conference is important in the longer term. But fundamentally what matters at present to the British fishing industry is how the extension of limits, through the Law of the Sea Conference, is related to the common fisheries policy of the European Community It is here more than anywhere else that we should exercise some initiative, because ours is the biggest single fishing interest in the Common Market. I am asking the Government to give the industry and the Common Market a stronger lead in renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. I hope that the Minister will say something about that today.

International quotas are not working, and if the policing of them is to be effective, it must be carried out by a single authority. In that case, it would be probably best done by the coastal State. Therefore, in the renegotiation of the CFP I hope that in order to ensure effective conservation the Minister will make as his negotiating objective a zone of 100 miles around our coasts reserved for British fishermen. That is the only real hope we have of conserving our fish stocks.

This point was made in the Edinburgh Declaration of 26th March last year when all sections of the industry—the Scottish Trawlers Federation, the British Trawlers Federation and the inshore sections of the industry—met for discussion. It was proposed, too, in London yesterday at a meeting of all sections of the industry, including the processors. It is a reasonable and sensible objective for the renegotiation. If it were carried through, it would provide control over the fish stocks in our waters and we could ensure effective conservation.

I was encouraged by the representations made by the Foreign Secretary, as reported in The Times on 10th February, to the Council of Ministers in Brussels about the special position of the British fishing industry and the need to protect it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go strongly into these negotiations. There are good reasons for seeking to reserve to British fishermen a 100-mile zone. We are now in a completely new ball game on fisheries policy. The CFP was drawn up originally when territorial limits were 12 miles, and the new policy must be drawn up against a background of international territorial limits of 200 miles. That creates a completely new situation, and I hope that our Common Market partners can be made to appreciate the fact.

The Minister will be aware that with 200-mile limits 56 per cent. of the EEC waters will be attributable to Britain. We have the biggest single interest and I believe that the Government should stand up and fight for it. We have the prime claim for a place in Common Market waters also because of the extent and number of our deep-sea vessels which will be displaced from their fishing grounds by the extension of limits to 200 miles elsewhere. We stand to lose about one-third of our catch—that is about 350,000 tonnes—if we are excluded from third country waters by the extension of limits to 200 miles.

We should bear in mind constantly that fish stocks are at risk. If we are to use them responsibly, they should be devoted primarily to feeding people. It is feeding humans that matters, and on that score our record is the best in the Common Market. In 1973 of the 1.12 million tonnes landed by the United Kingdom, 1 million tonnes went for human consumption. By comparison, Denmark caught 1.48 million tonnes and of that only 300,000 tonnes went to feed humans. As a nation we fish for food for people, and the right hon. Gentleman should use that as a factor in his Common Market discussions.

This afternoon I have asked the Government for specific action in three areas. First, I have asked them for short-term financial help to carry the industry over the crisis it faces. Secondly, I have asked them, in the event of delay in agreement at the Law of the Sea Conference on the establishment of 200-mile limits, to declare their readiness to negotiate bilaterally in order to conserve our fish stocks. Thirdly, I have asked them as the Government with the greatest interest in fishing to take the initiative on the CFP, to give the industry the lead it wants in stating our objectives, and to make an objective a 100-mile zone reserved to our fishermen.

This afternoon the Government have the opportunity to let the House, the industry and the country know whether they have a policy for the fishing industry and, if they have, to state it. I have been specific. I have not tried to dodge the issues. I have stated where my party stands. It is up to the Government to meet their responsibility to the industry. If they do not do so today or in the near future, I warn them that we shall return to this matter in a much more critical mood in contrast to the constructive approach that I have sought to adopt this afternoon.

4.36 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) on his constructive speech. I make no complaint about the emphasis he placed on various aspects of the subject. It was an effective speech, and I hope that it has focused attention on many of the matters we shall debate. I know that many hon. Members will wish to take part.

The House is right to have given time for a full debate on fishing. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns mentioned the previous short debates which have taken place. They were effec- tive. This, however, is the first full-day debate for some time and we should therefore treat it as of major importance.

The timing of the debate is remarkable. The dispute with Iceland has taken another unhelpful turn with the rumours of the severance of diplomatic relations and the stepping up by the gunboats of dangerous action against our trawlers fishing legally under international law. I cannot agree with the opinions of Lord Boothby as reported in The Guardian the other day. I wonder whether he would be speaking in those terms if he were still an Aberdeenshire Member. After all, our fishermen have their rights, and I emphasise that to the Scottish National Party, as did the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns.

Today also the EEC Commission has announced its proposals for reviewing the common fisheries policy to take account of the changes now to be expected in the law of the sea. Finally we have the resolution, to which leading organisations of the industry subscribed yesterday, asking the Government to plan for the extension of United Kingdom fishing limits and the prior amendment of the common fisheries policy. These separate points are all closely related. They contain the key issues of fisheries policy. I shall try to deal with them in the context of the Government's approach to fisheries policy.

I turn first to the international Law of the Sea Conference. Let me state the international background. Most of the major questions which face the industry at the present derive from expected changes in international law on fishing limits. They affect our domestic policy, the policy of the Community and our relations with third countries. At the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea a large body of support is emerging for the concept of 200-mile exclusive economic zones—and that means 200-mile fishing limits.

The United Kingdom is among the countries which support that concept. We support it, however, in the context of a general, international agreement. For it to be brought into effect in an unco-ordinated scramble of unilateral claims would be a quite different matter. Some hon. Members have pressed the Government to act unilaterally, but I believe that that would be wrong. Once 200-mile limits become the general rule, our distant-water fishing grounds will fall almost entirely within the economic zones of other countries, in particular those of Norway and Iceland.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Since the Minister agrees—I do not think anyone would quarrel with it—that eventually all the countries around the North Sea will have 200-mile limits, does not that make it ridiculous that we should be endangering men and ships in the quarrel with Iceland at present?

Mr. Peart

That is the point I am making. We believe that our fishermen should have adequate protection when necessary. I thought that there was full agreement about that policy. Some hon. Members do not accept it, but I believe that the main parties in the House accept it.

When the hon. Gentleman intervened I had just said that once 200-mile limits become the general rule our distant-water fishing grounds will fall almost entirely within the economic zones of other countries, and I mentioned Norway and Ice-land in particular. Similarly, we shall have jurisdiction over much of what is now the high seas around our shores, where many other countries fish.

It is obviously sensible—to put it no higher—that changes in international fishing limits should be made within the framework of international agreement and after consultation. Unless this happens there will be a shambles. Waste of resources and human hardships will occur. Frictions will develop between friendly nations. All that should be avoidable, but it is avoidable only if all accept consultation, not confrontation.

I commend to the House the resolution by organisations in the industry to which I have already referred. It asks for an early and orderly extension of United Kingdom fishing limits, preferably in concert with the rest of the E.E.C. and, indeed, with all coastal states in the North Atlantic". That is a positive statement by a responsible group of people to whom hon. Members have paid tribute. It reflects the responsible attitude of men who respect the rule of law and recognise that others may have legitimate interests. It should be the duty of all of us, in public life, whether in Government or on the Opposition Benches, to give our backing to an industry that, on an issue of such over-whelming importance to it, is capable of advocating a policy that is as realistic and at the same time as responsible as that.

If, neverthless, we found that our interests were being threatened by the unilateral action of other countries, or if a series of unilateral moves brought about a change in international law, we would have to be ready to take the action necessary to protect our own fishing interests. [Hon. Members: "How?"] That would be a matter for us to judge when we came to the situation. I am not a prophet.

In a matter of this sort I believe that we should concert action with our Community partners, and I am glad that this view was expressed by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. The more broadly based action is, the more effective it will be. I shall actively press this view——

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I understand my right hon. Friend's point. Since part of the argument is based upon whether one breaks the law—and the possibility is that we may then act unilaterally if there is no agreement at the Law of the Sea Conference—is it not as bad to break the law as Europeans multilaterally as it is to do so unilaterally?

Mr. Peart

We have not broken any law in any way. It is Iceland which has broken the law. I shall actively press in the Community the view that the more broadly based action is, the more effective it is. I shall be fortified by the knowledge that the industry is behind me.

Meantime, the Government will continue to work for an agreed convention on the law of the sea in 1976 which embodies 200-mile fishing limits. I hope and believe that the vast majority of other countries will act in the same way so that—to the advantage of all nations—the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference may end with success.

Against this background, it is more than regrettable that in July 1975 the Icelandic Government declared, without waiting for any international agreement at the Law of the Sea Conference, that they would claim a 200-mile limit effective from October. The Icelanders have defended their unilateral declaration on the ground that it was necessary to conserve the cod stocks. I should like to say something about the conservation of the cod stock off Iceland, because it seems to me that it has generated more words than understanding.

Let me make clear, first of all, that the fishing by British trawlers has not caused a crisis in the condition of this stock. British fishing in the area has been declining for some years. Five years ago our cod catch was about 150,000 tons. Last year it was down to less than 100,000 tons. In the meantime the Icelandic fishing industry has been increasing its trawling effort, partly by investing in new trawlers and partly by the conversion of other vessels to trawling following the collapse of the Icelandic herring stock—caused by Icelandic over-fishing. If there is a risk to the stock, it has been caused by the Icelandic industry, not by the British.

I must add, even so, that we have agreed with Iceland that measures should be taken to build up the breeding stock of cod. The difference of view has simply been this: Iceland has argued that this should be done by a drastic reduction in fishing this year, the brunt of which should fall upon the British industry, which did not cause the trouble; we have replied that exactly the same conservation effect could be achieved by a more moderate reduction in fishing sustained over three years—a reduction in which we should certainly play our part but which would take account of our interests. That, in a nutshell, is the conservation debate. Is is quite wrong to suppose, as some reports seem to have done, that Iceland is the conservationist party in the argument. Our case is at least as well-based on scientific grounds—I feel bound to say, better.

The debate gives me an opportunity to give the House an account of the dispute. From November 1973 until November last year the operation of our fishing vessels off Iceland was governed and restricted by an interim agreement. We had foreseen that the negotiation of an agreement to succeed the interim agreement in November would be difficult and that the declaration of a 200-mile limit would increase those difficulties further. Time was therefore essential to enable negotiations to take place in a calm atmosphere. Consequently, well before summer last year our ambassador in Iceland was pressing on the Icelandic Government the need to start negotiations in good time.

It was not until mid-September that the first talks took place and on that occasion the Icelandic representatives told us that their Government's position had not yet been decided and that the talks could only be exploratory. There was then a further delay of six weeks, until late October, before they were prepared to resume talks.

By that time it had become almost impossible to complete the negotiations before the end of the interim agreement on 13th November. Her Majesty's Government therefore suggested that both sides should continue to act for a time after that date as if the interim agreement were still in operation in order to allow a breathing space for further discussion and consideration. The Icelandic side ignored this suggestion. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my own Minister of State arrived in Reykjavik on 16th November to continue the negotiations, they were met with the news that our trawlers were already being harassed and that the warps of two trawlers had been cut. We continued to negotiate nevertheless, but we found that there was no flexibility in the Icelandic position. Our repeated statements that we were prepared to be flexible and to make concessions drew no response from the other side.

Hon. Members may ask whether we should have settled for whatever Iceland was prepared to offer, which amounted to half our current catch. We acknowledge the dependence of Iceland upon fishing. We were, and we are, prepared to ask our industry to make considerable sacrifices in the interests of reaching agreement. But we cannot forget our fishing industry altogether. There is a dependence there, too. More than 100 vessels operate off Iceland, each carrying a crew of 20 men. About three times as many jobs on shore depend on the fishing vessels and, in turn, the work of all these people affects the prosperity or otherwise of the whole of the community in their towns—Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood. These are towns where unemployment at 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. is already well above the national average. I remind the House that in Iceland there are virtually no unemployed.

These are factors which we could reasonably ask the Icelandic Government to take into account. The Icelandic Government could also be expected to take into account the benefit to them of an agreement with us which gave tariff preferences in the United Kingdom market, that is, the market of the men in our fishing ports whose jobs are at stake.

We therefore considered it right to continue to press for an agreement which, while acknowledging the special position of Iceland as a nation dependent upon fisheries and resulting in a further considerable reduction in our catch off Iceland, would strike a reasonable balance between the interests of Iceland and the interests of the United Kingdom fishing industry. Iceland was unable to reach agreement on that footing last year, and we were forced either to give naval protection to our vessels or to see them forced off their fishing grounds altogether and for good.

As the House knows, we continued to fish under naval protection until 19th January this year. Then, following efforts by Dr. Luns, the Secretary-General of NATO, to bring the two parties together, we withdrew our frigates in the expectation, shared by Dr. Luns, that the Icelandic Government would similarly restrict their gunboats for long enough to allow negotiation to take place.

At this point I must pay tribute to Dr. Luns for his efforts. These are recent events, and I need hardly remind the House that we were again disappointed. Harassment started as soon as we withdrew protection, and the Icelandic negotiators neither responded to our proposals nor made any firm proposals of their own. Once more we were left with no alternative but to restore protection to our fishing vessels off Iceland.

To bring this story up to date, I should mention two further matters. The Icelandic action in harassing our trawlers on the high seas is not only contrary to international law, but is extremely dangerous. I have to tell the House that when the warp of one of our trawlers was cut this morning close to the vessel, it whipped up and struck a member of the crew, injuring him. I do not yet know how serious his injuries are. I can only say that the danger of this happening has been well-known to the Icelandic authorities all along.

It has also been reported today that Iceland is on the point of breaking off diplomatic relations with us. These reports had not been confirmed when this debate began, but it must be clear to all that a break of diplomatic relations could only increase the difficulties in the way of a negotiated settlement which is what all responsible people want in Iceland as much as in Britain.

I now leave the subject of Iceland, but not before referring to the forbearance and co-operation which the industry has shown under the most difficult conditions. The trawlermen, the officers, the owners and the bodies representing them have co-operated to the full in trying to keep down the temperature of the conflict and in improving the atmosphere for negotiations. It is not their fault, nor the Government's, that this has so far been in vain. My colleagues and I are sincerely grateful for their support.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)

And the Navy.

Mr. Peart

The Navy as well. I must not miss out the Navy, which, as always, has given magnificent service.

The most recent demonstration of the industry's support is in the system of voluntary restraint which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs announced on 6th February. The catches of our trawlers in the disputed waters will be limited to 100,000 tons per year and the number of vessels operating there to 105. I should stress that that represents a very serious loss to the industry. There have been about 40 vessels, on average, on the fishing grounds each day since harassment began, and about 120 are involved in the fishery altogether. While we very much regret the need to use naval vessels to protect our trawlers, there is no denying that protection has been effective and that catches off Iceland have been good.

In the period from 13th November to 31st January our trawlers caught over 18,000 tons of fish there compared with less than 12,000 tons in the same period a year before. This is a tribute not only to the fortitude of our fishermen, but, as I said earlier, to the skill and determination of our Navy. I am sure that the whole House shares my admiration for the way in which both the naval and the civilian protection vessels have conducted themselves in almost impossibly difficult circumstances.

However, our real interest obviously lies in reaching an agreement with Iceland. We are anxious to negotiate and have said so again and again. In the light of the likely change in international law, we are not basing our case on narrow legalistic arguments. We want a reasonable agreement which will benefit both sides, for Iceland has much to gain by normalising her relations with us and with the rest of the Community.

I reiterate what has already been made clear by my colleagues: the Government are ready to negotiate with Iceland anywhere and at any time. We are ready to explore opportunities for discussion whenever and however they arise. I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss Iceland only last night with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who may make a contribution later and give us more information if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.

I turn now to conservation—we must not let Iceland engross our attention, and there are other vital matters. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns rightly raised the issue of conservation. Pressure on fish stocks has shown a vast increase in recent years, and I am well aware of the threat that that poses to the future of our industry. If stocks are not properly protected, many of the species which United Kingdom fishermen have traditionally caught could disappear, or at least be greatly reduced. The disappearance of those stocks would destroy the income and way of life of those who have depended on them for a living.

A few minutes ago I spoke of Humber-side and Fleetwood. I am now thinking of other communities—this matter was mentioned by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns—whose welfare must also engage the attention of the House: the inshore fishermen of Scotland and Northumberland, who are anxious about the herring and white fish stocks of the North Sea; the men of Lowestoft, who are concerned with the North Sea plaice; the local fishermen of Sussex, who are worried about plaice and sole; the West Country fishermen, who are now becoming anxious about the increasing fishing for mackerel; and many more.

The conservation of fish stocks is a most serious matter which further emphasises the need for and the importance of international conservation bodies. I do not accept the criticisms of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. It has performed an effective and useful purpose. I am convinced, and I have stated it again and again, that satisfactory conservation measures depend on international agreement. The United Kingdom has been a leading country in the work of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission.

Recently we have been pressing strongly for effective measures to prevent over-fishing. We have pressed for realistic quotas based on what the stocks can withstand and for tight control of industrial fishing, which too often in the past has led to wasteful by-catches of species needed for human cosumption. I believe that we have made significant progress. But it is not a complete success story and there are still some major problems. I am thinking particularly of North Sea herring which the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission is to consider again very shortly. In addition, there is criticism, which is by no means confined to this country, of the partial failure to enforce some of the measures and restrictions of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. Quota restrictions are still in their early days and some teething troubles are only to be expected.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

I apologise for not being present to hear the Minister's opening remarks. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that fishermen in Sussex believe that the quota system is not working because month after month huge beam trawlers come in close to their waters, steam up and down and eventually will drain those seas dry of fish unless action is taken?

Mr. Peart

I mentioned that aspect in my remarks and it was also mentioned by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. I give the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) the assurance that I shall follow up the matter. There are teething troubles about quotas but we still have to get international agreements.

There is also the question of policing, which is not an easy matter.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Peart


Sir F. Bennett

My intervention is on the same subject.

Mr. Peart

If it is on the same subject, there is no point in my giving a similar answer.

Sir F. Bennett

The right hon. Gentleman must not try to be too clever. I was referring to a different aspect of the same problem. Earlier he referred to the difficulties encountered over conservation. Are they administrative difficulties or difficulties arising because some countries are more helpful than others?

Mr. Peart

There is no doubt that some countries are helpful and some are difficult. I once gave an assurance in the House that I would raise a matter with the Danish Government. I had some helpful talks in the Community. We can be very effective in the Community if we press even harder. We want to narrow many of the loopholes. The United Kingdom will continue to play a leading part—this is an important matter—in ensuring that vital conservation measures are properly observed.

When limits are extended, it should be possible for policing measures by sovereign States to become more effective. I want that. This is a subject on which we shall seek to focus attention within the Community.

I turn to the Community's policy for fishing. The United Kingdom is a full member of the Community—we are not negotiating terms of entry. It is interesting to hear criticisms of the common fisheries policy from people who previously accepted it: I shall not name names, because it is a matter of history.

Membership of the Community is important. Everyone concerned with the industry accepts that. Hon. Members will recall that last April I secured the agreement of the Council of Ministers to a general reappraisal of the common fisheries policy. The existing policy provides for common access by member States to the waters under each other's jurisdiction, although derogations were embodied in the Treaty of Accession, as hon. Members know only too well.

When fishing limits are extended, it will not be enough simply to apply to new wider fishing zones the system that now applies to the 12-mile limit. The important fishing grounds off the shores of member States which formerly were on the high seas will fall under the jurisdiction of Community members. The fish stocks in this area are already under pressure and that pressure is likely to increase. Community fishermen have the resources to catch more fish than the waters potentially falling under the control of member States can safely yield. The fish stocks are no respecters of the boundaries of national jurisdiction, and conservation of fish requires international action. I am glad to say that the rest of the Community is well aware of the need for the development of Community policy to meet the uncertainties besetting the fishing industry at the moment.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reassure the House and the fishing industry about the extraordinary statement by Commissioner Lardinois in reply to some remarks I made on 15th January in the EEC? Commissioner Lardinois is responsible for this subject. He said that he did not believe in renegotiation of the common fisheries policy.

Mr. Peart

Whatever Commissioner Lardinois or any member of the Community says in a speech, there will be a reappraisal of the common fisheries policy. I am dealing with this subject now—it is the whole tenor of my approach. I took the initiative on this matter when I was speaking in the Council of Ministers. I am glad to say that the rest of the Community is well aware of the need for the development of Community policy to meet the uncertainties besetting the fishing industry at present.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus) rose—

Mr. Peart

I cannot give way, Many hon. Members wish to speak and if I take longer there will be less time for Back Bench Members.

Since I gained the agreement of the Council to a reappraisal of the CFP I have frequently pressed—as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—for definite proposals. The House will understand, however, that before they could be made it was necessary for the Commission in Brussels to carry out a careful study of the circumstances that would face the fishing industries of all member States once the 200-mile limit became general. That has been done and hon. Members may have seen the helpful paper which has been put before the House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Yesterday the Commission carried matters forward by producing a further paper setting out proposals which include a 12-mile belt of coastal water for the coastal fishermen of member States. The Commission's paper has not yet reached me and it would be wrong to attempt to say too much until we have had the opportunity to study the Commission's ideas as a whole.

I know that the Commission has grasped fully the importance and urgency of the issue raised for the Community by the changing state of international law. I know, too, that the Commission is prepared to use its commercial negotiating strength—which is, of course, very great—to protect the interests of distant-water fishing industries. Those are positive points. At the same time, the suggestion that coastal fishermen should have reserved areas of no more than 12 miles at a time when the world in general is moving to 200 miles is very far from being what our industry believes necessary. I cannot conceal from the House that I am disappointed with such a proposal.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have made it abundantly clear that the development of the Community's fisheries policy must provide adequate safeguards for the industry in the United Kingdom. New measures for the allocation of the resources available to the Community must reflect the extent of the resources around our shores, resources which are, after all, a contribution made by the United Kingdom to the economic wealth of the Community. The safeguards must reflect the special dependence of our fishing ports, where any further decline in fishing opportunities would cause serious economic problems. They must take account of the needs of our consumers and of the size of our distant-water industry and the upheavals which it is likely to face as a result of the general extension of limits.

However, as I have said, we need to study the Commission's ideas before we reach a final judgment. I can only say now that once we have done so we shall conduct the subsequent talks with our Community partners with reasonableness, but firmness. The House need not fear that I shall be weak on this matter. Our objective will be to maintain the essential interests of all sections of our industry and to safeguard our ability to continue to produce that essential part of our food supply which we gain from the sea.

The negotiations with the Community on the development of the CFP in the light of developments in the law of the sea are essentially about access by our industry to fish stocks. However, the industry has to be in a financial state to exploit the opportunities open to it. I have fully recognised that in the policy that I have followed on financial aid.

By common consent, 1974 and 1975 were without parallel in the industry's experience. Steep cost increases, principally of fuel, were unmatched by quayside prices. I know that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns lays great emphasis on that and he was quite right to point it out to the House. As a result of the cost increases, many vessels were fishing at a loss. The industry lived on its reserves for as long as possible, for it had enjoyed good fishing previously, but by the autumn of 1974 it felt obliged to ask for help.

As the House knows, we felt justified in providing temporary aid. But we left no doubt that the aid was essentially tem- porary to allow time to adjust to changed circumstances. We also made clear our view that costs must in principle work through to prices. Nevertheless, we have been criticised for not continuing aid virtually as a matter of course. Certain figures published recently by the British Trawlers Federation have been widely quoted in support of that criticism.

The last thing I seek to do is to minimise the industry's very real difficulties over the past year. However, it is a fact that prices firmed up steadily over the period, resulting in improved earnings. The indications are that losses made in the early part of the year were offset by later profits. In short, by the second half of 1975 the fleet generally—of course, there will always be exceptions—was apparently back in the black. I accept that a further round of fuel price increases has been announced, but competition in the fuel market is re-appearing and the real effects may not be as severe as feared.

The material published by the BTF endorses the fact that there were problems during part of the period for which the Government gave substantial aid. This does not surprise me. It was because I recognised that there were very real difficulties at that time that I felt that aid was justified. But the figures do not in themselves justify further aid now.

I have, however, told the BTF—and the fact is known to the industry generally—that if a case of overwhelming need can be established and documented we shall be prepared to consider it.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Peart

Only if the hon. Gentleman is very quick.

Mr. Cormack

I am most grateful. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the enormous bitterness that was felt in the fishing ports—I speak as one born in Grimsby; I spent most of my life there—when the Government seemed quite haphazardly to give away £162 million just before Christmas, when they knew the difficulties that the fishing industry was facing? There is no industry in the country in which people work harder or have done more for the national good.

Mr. Peart

I do not quite accept that. I visit fishing ports. I am going to Hull again soon. I think that the British Trawlers Federation was appreciative of all the aid we gave. Indeed, we gave generous aid during the Icelandic dispute when some of our men could not fish. Therefore, I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Perhaps if he visits a fishing town he will see a difference now from what used to be.

Mr. Cormack


Mr. Peart

I am going up to Hull again in a fortnight's time. I have said that I am prepared to consider help.

I want quickly to come to the subject of reference prices. Whatever decisions are made about short-term aid, the real foundation for a financially successful industry must be the market. The industry is well aware in this context of the system of reference prices to protect the market from the risk of unduly low-priced imports from third countries. The reference scheme originally covered only fresh and chilled fish, but in May 1975 we negotiated its extension to certain frozen fish so as to give fishermen protection against unduly low-priced imports. Commissioner Lardinois told the European Assembly on 15th January that he would be proposing improvements to the reference price arrangements. I welcome this in principle and my officials are keeping in close touch with the Commission about it.

In discussing reference prices I do not forget that there is a consumer interest, given that the United Kingdom is a net importer of fish. The 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of supplies represented by imports are important to the consumer, but it must be recognised that they should not undermine our markets. Generally, they do not do so.

As I said at the outset, it is right that we should debate the state of the fishing industry today. It is an industry facing immediate difficulties because of the dispute with Iceland.

I have to say at this point that I have been asked by the Foreign Secretary to tell the House that notice has come to me that the Icelandic Government have requested that we should close our Embassy in Reykjavik. While the French will look after United Kingdom interests there, the Norwegians will look after Icelandic interests here. I am sorry that they have done this. I regret it. At present I shall say no more about it. Our fishing industry is facing immediate difficulties because of the dispute with Iceland and the prospect of very significant changes as the law of the sea develops.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one question? He said that in the normal course of events imports of fish did not affect our markets. However, does he not agree that they are undoubtedly doing so at present, that they have been doing so in the recent past and that there is every risk that they will continue to do so in the immediate future?

Mr. Peart

Yes, they have, and that is why I was anxious to get a good reference price system approved by the Community. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the problem of Norwegian exports and I know that his right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) expressed concern about imports of Dutch plaice and, I think, fillets. There have been instances when our industry has been hurt. I accept that. However, generally the position is as I have stated it.

I must conclude. I have said that our industry has been facing immediate difficulties. I have mentioned Iceland and the prospect of very significant changes as the law of the sea develops. The industry continues to be subject from time to time to financial difficulties and it must always be aware of the need to conserve the fish stocks on which its existence depends. The Government understand and share its anxieties.

We have demonstrated by the financial aid we gave it last year, by the way we have defended its interests with Iceland, and by the pressure we are exerting for a reappraisal of the common fisheries policy, that we fully recognise the Government's responsibilities towards it. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to fight for its essential interests in the negotiations we face both at the Law of the Sea Conference and within the Community.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I regret the announcement that the Minister has had to make about the Iceland situation. I believe that there has been considerable sympathy in Britain for the Icelandic point of view. It can also be said, of course, that the maritime nations of the North Sea sliced up the oil without much reference to anyone else. Nevertheless, I think it is beginning to be felt that the Icelanders should not play their hand too hard. They have been offered negotiations, and the time is coming when they would be wise to exercise some restraint.

Before coming to my main theme I want to mention two unrelated matters. The first is the use of fishing boats in oil work. I am by no means against this. It is beneficial employment for several Orkney and Shetland fishing boats which otherwise might have been having a hard time. However, Parliament is always accused of being behind-hand in its planning. In the course of time we must get back these boats. I hope that some arrangements can be made by which they can eventually be reintegrated into the fleet. In the meantime, if the oil companies are going to hire boats, I should like to see them hiring local boats.

My second preliminary point is about fish farming. In the normal course of events it would seem reasonable to suppose that ultimately this hunting industry will be turned into a more domestic-type industry. There has been some interesting correspondence in The Times about the economics of fish farming. It is disputed whether it is a valuable method of creating protein out of waste, and so on. Perhaps at some point the Government will tell us something of their conclusions on this matter.

My main theme is one that has already been touched on—that the problems of fishing are interrelated. In regard to the Far East there used to be a theory called the domino theory, which postulated that if damage took place in one country, it would spill over into others. One of the changes that have come in fishing debates is that while some years ago it used to be assumed that inevitably the different sections of the industry had different interests and, indeed, to some extent were antagonistic to one another, is changing and it is all too clear that pressure upon one set of fishing grounds reacts ultimately upon the whole industry. One of the most serious aspects of the Iceland dispute is that, inevitably, if we lose the distant waters, there will then be pressure upon the middle waters and ultimately upon inshore waters.

There are other pressures upon the fishing grounds. To begin with, the North Sea is becoming fouled. One has only to look at a fishing map of the North Sea to see this constant fouling of the grounds through oil wreckage and from other causes. Another matter is the pipelines. Unfortunately, oil companies like to lay their pipelines on exactly the type of bottom on which fishermen like to fish. They avoid rocky bottoms and lay pipelines through valuable seining ground on sand.

There is some dispute as to whether the pipelines will remain sunk. Undoubtedly some of them have already come adrift, as is well known, near Shetland. There is widespread fear that as the bottom of the North Sea rises and falls, as it does considerably, and even if the pipelines are coated in concrete and sunk, they will still appear above the sand. The Government are the only people who can give an impartial answer. The oil companies maintain that they have the matter under control and the fishermen maintain that they have not. It would be serious if we lost all the seining grounds from the north of Whalsey right out to the oilfields. I do not think that that will happen, but there is a danger that it will.

Certain dangers stem from industrial fishing. I know that many parts of the industry, including some in my constituency, have been engaged to some extent in industrial fishing. But it is a type of fishing that should be kept under control. I remember visiting an industrial fishing plant in the Faroes and seeing hundreds of tons of immature fish being piped into the plant for the production of agricultural meal and such like. That sort of fishing is a fearful waste of the earth's resources. After a certain period the practice is indefensible. All too often it is based largely on immature fish.

That brings me to the Danish quota. I know that the Minister has done his best over the years to deal with the Danes, but they have huge quotas for industrial herring fishing. That is one of the reasons for pressure now being put upon various grounds around Britain. I am inclined to think that the best we can hope for is the extension of the limits. But are the Government certain that they are not leading the industry up the garden path? If we can obtain a 100-mile or 200-mile limit, does that mean that the Russians will go home? The Russians, the East Germans and the Poles have vast fleets like towns anchored off my constituency. Will they go home? It seems that it is worth inquiring into. Secondly, how do we enforce the limits?

The tragedy is that 50 years ago off Shetland nation upon nation was fishing. The Spaniards fished for hake, the Belgians fished for mackerel and the Swedes fished for ling. As the catching power was nothing like what it is today, and because to a great extent the fishing was carried out for human consumption and there was an interest in the quality and type of fish caught, the activity was containable. Now we have industrial fishing. The fish are dredged up and turned into animal feed or manure, or at best into fish fingers. We do not know the composition of fish fingers. It might be hake, cod, ling, or God knows what.

Industrial fishing is introducing pressure to the English Channel and the Cornish waters. I do not believe that it is in any way to the advantage of the Scottish fishermen to see the Cornish mackerel, or anything else in the English Channel, being fished out and extinguished. I know that there is a view that before fish are extinguished it becomes uneconomic to continue fishing. That is a view that is held by some people in the FAO, but I do not share it. We have very nearly extinguished whales in the North Sea and we have extinguished pilchards in certain parts of the world. We cannot rely on economic forces to control our operations.

The Cornishman's view can be well understood when boats enter their waters with enormous purse nets and fish close to their coast. That sort of operation is capable of cleaning up all the shoals in a fairly short time. We must look at the matter from our own point of view. I agree with the broad policy that there should be international agreement on limits. I hope that we shall obtain a 100-mile or 200-mile limit. I hope that we shall be able to enforce it and that other nations will respect it. However, I think that we should also seek national agreement among ourselves on local limits. I have some sympathy with the Cornishmen, because in my part of the country in some places shell-fish have been dredged up and virtually extinguished. This has been done sometimes by boats which have come from far away.

Fishing is a vital social industry. There is nothing which keeps the population of the North of Scotland together like the fishing industry. Agriculture and farming do not have the same influence. The fishing islands are the only islands in the North which have kept their populations steady for 100 years. Once their stocks go, their populations will go.

Let us consider local limits. It may well be that in the Channel and off the Cornish waters only a certain type of fishing should be allowed within certain limits. I should like to see some protection given to shell-fishermen in my part of the country.

I was encouraged by what the Minister said about a Common Market agreement. I am a supporter of the Common Market, but that does not mean that we are not entitled to negotiate for better policies within it. I hope that it will be realised in the Common Market that Britain and other nations have a great interest in fishing which is not common throughout the EEC and that stocks must be preserved.

Conservation is of overriding importance to the industry. That must be our appoach in the short term until we get an effective wide-scale agreement, as well as local agreements, to limit catches, to limit quotas and to reduce industrial fishing. We must ensure that conservation areas are coterminous with breeding areas. That is something that the Government will have to work on and keep in mind. It is no use establishing limits that do not protect breeding areas. I hope that from this debate we shall evolve some general policy for the industry.

I was a little disappointed by what the Government said about long-term financial support. Perhaps this is of particular importance to the trawling industry, but there is a need for some longterm assurance for the industry as a whole. I finish by reiterating what has so often been said in the past—that the fishing industry is of enormous importance to certain areas of the country.

5.27 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

There has been a considerable amount of discussion about the importance of the fishing industry to the wealth of the nation and about the importance of the fishing fleets. The industry is also of great importance to British consumers.

I shall quote one or two statistics from a document published by British United Trawlers Limited on 9th October 1975. A table in the document sets out meat and fish supplies moving into consumption in the United Kingdom on a lb./head/year edible weight basis. Total edible weight in 1974 on that basis was 12.3 per cent. That level has remained remarkably stable since 1971. It is a greater proportion than is provided by mutton and lamb. It is almost as high as that provided by bacon and ham. We are dealing with a food resource which is extremely important for the consumer, and in these debates the consumer is very often left out of things.

My right hon. Friend was unable to forecast very much of what might happen in the future, but he has given us a detailed breakdown of the Icelandic situation. It is a worrying situation. I am as unhappy as he is to hear that the Icelanders have, in effect, broken off diplomatic relations. That cannot be good in the general sense, and it is certainly not good in the fishing sense. I understand that there are a number of imponderables which make it difficult for my right hon. Friend to be specific about the industry's future.

When I and other hon. Members have pressed at Question Time and in earlier rather brief debates on the fishing industry for a White Paper to define what might be happening and to pose the options and problems, we have always been told—I accept that there is much logic in this—that there are difficulties in knowing what will happen about limits and other matters at the Law of the Sea Conference. There are difficulties about quotas, even when limits are defined. If we extend limits without changing what happens within them we shall be no better off.

There have been requests or demands for a 100-mile exclusive limit for British fishermen, and a 50-mile limit of the same character. This makes it difficult for my right hon. Friend to present a clear-cut policy. We have the additional complication of the EEC policy. Like my right hon. Friend, I have no intention of going over past history.

I listened with some concern to the remarks of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing). For the twentieth time she asked whether there was to be a renegotiation of the common fisheries policy and whether Mr. Lardinois was correct in his statements. On this topic. I would have taken the hon. Lady's persistence much closer to heart had she been present for the recent fisheries debate at the European Parliament. She appears to dissent. If she persists I shall quote from the report of that debate in the European Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it out."] It makes very interesting reading.

I shall quote briefly from the report of the debate in the European Parliament at Strasbourg for Thursday 12th February 1976. I begin by quoting from column 492, when my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was speaking. My hon. Friend said: The Commission made it clear that it takes the view that it should take a firm stand on this matter. It is regrettable and indeed absolutely scandalous that Mrs. Ewing is not here for the first major debate on this subject.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

As I have been attacked, and since the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has obviously fallen back into the gutter again, I should say that I am surprised that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has become the spokesman for his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central. May I tell the House what happened on that occasion, when I was unavoidably absent in that short debate and when I had been present for every other fishing debate? The Speaker in that Assembly rebuked the hon. Member for Fife, Central and said that his behaviour was unparliamentary.

Mr. Hughes

It is correct to say that my hon. Friend was rebuked. My hon. Friend said that he had looked for the hon. Lady, but could not find her because she was busy sticking SNP badges on everybody.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Deny that.

Mr. Hughes

That might be a useful exercise for the hon. Lady to indulge in, but it does not help the fishing industry. It is not good enough for her to keep repeating these charges when she does not take the opportunity to take part in debates in which she might be able to do something for fishermen.

Mr. William Hamilton

And she was well paid for it, too.

Mr. Hughes

I am concerned, as is everybody else, about the broad questions of fishery policy. One would like to think that there is time to examine these matters and to assess the situation. My right hon. Friend the Minister said that there was an overwhelming case to be made for subsidy or support for some part of the industry and that he would consider the matter. I very much welcome that statement; and I hope my right hon. Friend means what he says.

I wish to confine my remarks to the difficult, and indeed desperate, position which has been referred to by the Scottish Trawlers Federation in regard to the boats that fish from Aberdeen and Granton. Last year 24 vessels were laid up. I asked the Federation how serious was the situation. It said that unless it received Government support, not next month, or the month after that, but by the end of March, the remaining 80 vessels would be laid up.

In the discussions which a number of hon. Members and I conducted with the Federation, our advice was specific. We said "There is no point in your crying 'Wolf' or spinning us a yarn, because it will destroy all credibility in your case." The Federation members told us that it was not a question of being over-pessimistic, but they stressed that their figures showed that by the end of March every trawler would be tied up. That gives my right hon. Friend the Minister only a short time in which to make up his mind.

If those 80 vessels were to be laid up, it would mean the loss of 8,000 direct jobs in Aberdeen alone and it is suggested that in the Grampian Region 20,000 jobs would be lost as a result of the widespread collapse of the fishing industry.

Why have we arrived at such a position? Ministers have suggested that the market is firming up, that prices and returns have improved and that the industry will come through its problems. The Federation told me that in January 1975 the average all-species price in the port of Aberdeen was £13.43 per hundredweight and that in January 1976 the comparable figure was £13.46—an increase of 3p per hundredweight, comparing January with January. It may be that the Federation is taking the worst month or the best month, but on that kind of return, bearing in mind the heavy increases in fuel costs, and so on, no industry can survive.

The Federation makes plain in its memorandum, submitted to a meeting attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister in Edinburgh last Friday—the Federation was very grateful for that meeting with my right hon. Friend—that this year it is losing as a global sum, per month, £188,500. If we add depreciation charges on the present fleet to the global sum that it needs to break even, not even to make a profit, the sum required, per month, amounts to £308,500. Over a year the total subsidy required would be £3,702,000.

We all understand, even without reference to today's White Paper on public expenditure, that the Government do not have money to throw around, and have to be careful in their spending. However, it has been estimated that if men become unemployed because boats are tied up, it will cost £3,200 per week per vessel. That matter also must be taken into account.

The Government take the view that the industry is far too pessimistic about its prospects. The Government's view is that although the figures that I have quoted are probably accurate they do not in themselves reflect the full story. We are told that because of changed circumstances, relating to cold storage and what is happening in the American market, things should improve. However, there are no signs yet of an improvement.

It is also suggested by the Government that, comparing the figure in January 1975 with that in January this year, catch rates are up by 40 per cent. and that in the gross returns for January 1976 the vessels are earning £800 per day as against a figure, in January 1975, of £600 per day. On this basis the Government have so far resisted any pleas for them to take action on subsidy.

I wish to be constructive in this debate, as I am sure do other hon. Members, and I am sure that applies to all hon. Members. The important matter is to assure our food supplies. If these vessels are laid up—half of the 80 vessels were built five years ago, or even more—they will never again go to sea, because of deterioration, and they will be sold as scrap. We must also remember that if those vessels were laid up for any period of time, the industry would lose men because of competition from the oil industry. In other words, the trawlermen would find jobs elsewhere—and no doubt those jobs would be more remunerative and not so difficult as their present jobs. If these vessels are tied up, it is virtually certain that they will not go to sea again, and the Scottish trawling fleet will be non-existent.

I have been considering whether it is possible to reach a compromise between the industry, which takes a pessimistic view, and the Government, who are more optimistic. During the last Scottish Question Time, I asked whether the Sea Fisheries Act could be reactivated to provide a subsidy. I have been told that the legislation is still on the statute book but that an Order would be required before it could be reactivated. The technicalities of doing this are easier than finding the money. If the Minister will not agree to a subsidy similar to the 1973 one, or a temporary one, he should at least find a way of keeping vessels at sea and ensuring that the industry does not go bust.

I wish to make clear that, in the longer term, the industry does not regard itself as a lame duck. It believes that it can be viable and catch enough fish to make itself pay. It does not want a permanent subsidy from the Government. One of the reasons for this may be the fact that if the Government started paying long-term subsidies, I would want them to have a say in the way the industry is run, and this would not be particularly welcome to the Federation. I do not agree with the Federation about the way the industry is run or what its future might be, but we agree that there is no point in arguing these matters if there is no industry to argue about.

We must sustain the industry to enable it to get over its short-term difficulties. I would like to suggest one possible solution. I have not worked it out in detail, which will make it very easy for Ministers to shout it down, but I would like them to consider setting up an insurance or underwriting scheme with a fund that could be drawn on by the industry, if necessary, on the basis of audited monthly returns.

If the monthly deficit of £308,000 continues and the industry's forecast of a downturn in earnings is correct, the fund will be available. If the industry is wrong and the Government are correct, nothing will be lost, because nothing will be taken from the fund. I must impress on the Government that we cannot afford to gamble with this industry. We must sustain it.

Another way of helping the industry would be to postpone the repayment of loans from the White Fish Authority and other sources, which total many thousands of pounds a month. This would make a great difference to the viability of the industry.

In the North-East of Scotland, our concern is not so much with the longer-term problem, important though that is, as with the short-term problem of ensuring that the industry survives to provide employment and food for consumers at a reasonable cost. I am sure these objectives are close to the Government's heart. It is in our interest to do something swiftly. I hope that the Government will not delay in this matter any longer.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I am most grateful for the opportunity to take part in this full day's debate, which I greatly welcome. I hope that it will go out from this debate that we support what the Minister is trying to do. I bitterly regret the fact that the Icelanders have broken off diplomatic relations. I do not see what that action will achieve, but it is typical of their attitude. We wanted to start negotiations early in the summer, but the Icelanders refused to talk until we were almost at the deadline. It has been claimed that many people have sympathy for Iceland and look upon Britain as a bully. The view in the ports, particularly Fleetwood, is very different. We feel exactly the reverse.

The regrettable incident that occurred today was forecast from the beginning. It was obvious that, sooner or later, some fishermen would be injured by the cutting of warps, and this is likely to continue if the Icelanders maintain their tactics. Indeed, it could lead to even greater dangers. The Government are doing the only thing they can at the moment.

The longer-term situation is very important for the industry, which is unhappy because of uncertainty about the future. Much of this uncertainty is beyond the Government's power. For instance, they cannot bring forward the Law of the Sea Conference, but I beg them to make every effort at that conference to get a result on fisheries, otherwise there will be a kind of gold rush, with countries rushing to push out their limits. This must be bad. Iceland jumped the gun and set the pattern, but I concede that if there is a general rush, we may have to take part—and there are many countries fishing within 200 miles of our shores, especially the Russians.

There is general agreement in the House that it is vital to get the terms of the common fisheries policy altered. It is ludicrous that we should still have a policy which was determined when some limits extended to only three miles. We are now in a totally different situation. It is important to get control of the 100-mile zone for ourselves, for conservation purposes as much as for anything else. I echo what has already been said about resentment in our fishing ports towards the foreign trawlers who are not playing the game and are not abiding by rules which are virtually unenforceable. There have been cases in which countries have been told they have reached their quota, yet their vessels are still in our fishing grounds and there is nothing we can do to stop them. In Fleetwood, there is great resentment that we have to keep to certain mesh sizes while foreign fishermen are destroying resources by using illegal nets. Coastal States are the best people to control fishing limits. That is another good reason for getting a 100-mile zone to ourselves. We could then conserve our stocks in a reasonable fashion.

The country must understand that when we talk about conservation of fishing stocks, we are up against major problems. The port of Fleetwood had a great hake fishery off Scotland, but it has been fished out, largely by Spanish and Portuguese trawlers, and there is now no hake fishing. My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said that the fish stock will be here when the oil and coal have gone. It will not be here unless we take sensible measures to conserve it. The "hoovering-up" of the seabed which is taking place, possibly outside the 200-mile limit that we are hoping to get, must be controlled. Some of the stocks that are being taken, for example, by the Danes in the North Sea go to feed the fish that are caught within our own waters. The whole system is interdependent. I should be very pleased, as I am sure would everyone in the fishing industry, if we were able to come to an agreement with Iceland to preserve the cod, because it is in our mutual interests so to do.

I come now to a constituency matter, which I make no apology for mentioning because what happens in one fishing port is likely to be happening in others. I am concerned about the long-term future of the deep-sea fishermen. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that the various parts of the industry are coming closer together. I am sure that is true between the inshore men and the deep-sea men. As pressure comes on the fishing grounds round our island they share a common cause.

What concerns me is unemployment in the long term. If there is nowhere for our deep-sea trawlers to operate, there will be nowhere for our deep-sea fishermen to work. It will be hard for those between the age of 40 and 65 to find any other kind of work. Those who criticise us for defending British interests in Iceland should realise that the jobs of their fellow countrymen are at stake, and that there must not be a sudden rundown. There must be time for readjustment.

By the end of this year we should be able to predict the sort of vessels that we shall need in future. No one is laying down deep-sea trawlers at present because no one knows what type of trawler to lay down. No one knows what deep-sea fishing will be guaranteed, and that creates unemployment in the shipbuilding industry. I know that it is not entirely within their control, but I urge on the Government that by the end of this year there should be some certainty about where we are going, what sort of vessels should be built and how we should adapt ourselves to the various problems.

I come now to the question of help for the industry in the short term. The fish quay price is low because of imports from abroad. If those imports were not being subsidised before coining into the country I should say that we ought to have a subsidy. If we cannot compete with foreign fishermen and they catch fish more cheaply than we can, I would say that fish should be allowed to come in. But that is not so. Foreign fish coming into the country is caught by heavily subsidised fleets. The Norwegian fishing industry has been subsidised to the tune of £90 million. The competition is heavily subsidised and is therefore unfair. I am not sure whether the best way to counter that competition is to give our own ships a subsidy, or whether there should be an increase in the reference price. I find that difficult to determine. In the short term we could do with financial help but in the long term we need reference prices to guarantee our fishermen a market.

For my port of Fleetwood the future is fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. The sooner we get rid of the uncertainty the better. I wish the Minister well in his efforts to renegotiate the common fisheries policy and to get the 200-mile limit at the Law of the Sea Conference.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Like the nineteenth century sailing ship, the deep-sea fleets seem to be becalmed; they are certainly in the doldrums. We had a similar situation before when the owners and the industry as a whole asked for money. Then, in the early 1960s, we had the Fleck Committee Report and the handout of money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) mentioned a short-term injection of money into the Scots fleets, but I am not sure about that. We are now living in a different political and geographical climate. To mix the metaphor, we live in a different kind of ball game. Would money suffice? A short-term injection, yes. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North and I yesterday saw a delegation from the Scottish Trawlers Federation, which put up to us an impressive case. Here are 80 vessels of over 80 ft. in length. If they are to continue they will need a subvention of £300,000 a month. The industry is suffering from more than a malaise; it is very sick. The figures given to us were certified by accountants and we can depend upon them. Yet this is a basically efficient industry, with a good future. The fleets in Scotland, Hull and Fleetwood are not "lame ducks", such as may be found in other parts of the economy. I believe that, given a solution to our EEC difficulties and an extension of the international limits, we can get out of the difficulties.

Many people give the Minister advice. There are many on Humberside who think that they know the answers. I have in my hand a policy document which the Minister and the Minister of State have on their desks. It is put out by British United Trawlers—the biggest fishing concern in Western Europe. I know these people; they are my constituents. They are shrewd people, and the document is well worth studying. I shall give one quotation from the document, which sums up our argument: The important contribution which the United Kingdom industry makes to the nation's food requirements is in jeopardy because of the many uncertainties facing the industry at the present time. Ships are being laid up and skilled men made redundant, new investment is at a virtual standstill, our traditional fishing grounds, e.g. Iceland, are threatened, yet large foreign fleets continue to fish about our shores. A policy for the future is required as a matter of urgency". What do we do about this dismal catalogue? There are between 30 and 40 vessels laid up in the dock in Hull, and one can bet one's boots that for every one man on the dock who becomes idle, five or six ancilliary workers on shore will become idle—bobbers, riggers, filleters, auctioneers and merchants who work for Birds Eye, Findus, Eskimo, or any other firm one can think of. All these people are facing unemployment.

I quote from a report in a very dependable publication, the Trawling Times, of the BTF, concerning my part of the country: Crisis closes Hull firm. Humberside's biggest trawler repair firm, Humber St. Andrew's, is to close down, with the loss of nearly 800 jobs. The report goes on to say that The wet fish fleet in Hull, where the company is based, has been almost halved in the last three years, and, with no solution to Iceland in sight and other difficulties, it is bound to continue in rapid decline. This is the picture that we have to consider. When I heard the Minister's remarks earlier about the common fisheries policy, and so forth, I was considerably heartened, because it is essential to maintain the fleet at the 1974 level. We have heard some excellent points—not debating points—from both sides of the House. Except for the Norwegians—who talk about getting a new formula for catching sprats somewhere off the North-East coast of England, in the North Sea—the quotas are determined by the size of the fleet and the amount of fish caught in other years. If we catch fewer fish, our future quotas will be lower.

The size of our fleet, as I see it, will vary according to our access into distant waters. The White Sea is exhausted. For Norway the figure is 50,000 tons. Our side put forward a voluntary figure of 85,000 tons in respect of Iceland. We have fewer vessels leaving Hull and catching fish in those waters because our figure has been reduced from 134,000 tons last year to 85,000 tons this year. It is for the Government to have discussions and to make arrangements with their neighbours in order to cushion the blow occasioned by our withdrawal from these distant waters.

I believe the CFP to be abominable; it is slightly less abominable than the common agricultural policy. But we cannot escape our obligations, having decided, by the vote of our people, to stay in the Common Market. Do not let us talk too much about democracy. We gave our people the chance and by over two to one they decided to stay in the Common Market. Therefore, there should be no whining or moaning now. We are in the Common Market and have obligations to fulfil. It is for the Government to argue and try to alter those conditions to which we object.

I was in favour of Britain's being in the Common Market. I believe that the CFP was cooked up in the dying days of December 1972. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) was involved in the negotiations which gave us the six-mile limit between the mouth of the Coquet and the Tweed for our fishermen at home.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I take the point about not going over ancient history, but are we not still in a very strong position, since this country has something to put into the fishing pool and the rest have nothing to offer?

Mr. Johnson

I accept that. We have the longest coastline, we have the largest fleet, and we catch the most fish. Apart from the Soviet Union, we are the first in Europe. I accept that, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has underlined it.

As I emphasised earlier, I do not like the CFP, and this policy has to be altered.

I should like now to deal with Iceland in the context of the Minister's remarks. We have attempted, to the best of our ability, to get a settlement with old neighbours in the North-East Atlantic waters. I am not sure whether we all know what our peace proposals were, and how we not only leaned over backwards but almost fell forward on our face to accommodate Iceland. Our last peace proposals were rejected out of hand, and no counter proposals were made.

We can talk of conservation until we are blue in the face, but the British have a record in this respect that is second to none. In our discussions with the Icelanders we said that we recognised their concern about the stocks of fish in the waters around their island. We told them that we were also concerned, and that we were at variance only on the total allowable catch. The Icelanders talked of 230,000 tons, and we did not want to come down below 265,000 tons.

I am able to speak dogmatically about the figure of 230,000 tons, because I have been in the Icelandic Embassy once a week for the last two months, talking to my old friend, Ambassador Nils Siggurdsson. Our negotiators said that they would accept the figure of 230,000 tons put forward by the Icelandic scientists as a total allowable catch, and submitted that we should be allowed 28 per cent. of it. By a quirk of fate, that is 65,000 tons, which was the first figure put before our Minister of State at the Foreign Office when we negotiated in Iceland in November last.

I do not think anyone can say that we have not attempted to reach a settlement based on good conservation considerations. That earlier proposal has now been withdrawn, and today we have the sad news that, as a result of an action involving the Icelandic gunboats, one of our fishermen has been badly injured. I understand that he has been conveyed to the "Miranda" today.

I do not know the constituency in which this fisherman lives, but I am as deeply shocked as anyone about this incident, and by the fact that Iceland no longer wishes to have diplomatic relations with us. This is most unfortunate, because I am sure that we all wish to behave like civilised neighbours towards anyone involved in the North-East Atlantic waters.

There was mention earlier in the debate about the manner in which we settled the question of our oil supplies. Certainly we did not go about it in the manner of international buccaneers on the high seas. We sat down with our neighbours in front of a big map of the North Sea, and in a polite, civilised fashion we settled, to our mutual satisfaction, the lines of demarcation on the bed of the North Sea. It is a pity that we apparently cannot do this on the matter of fishing limits.

We all hope that the delegations at the Law of the Sea Conference next month will produce a climate of international opinion that will be conducive to the extension of limits. We hope that, as with the map of the oilfields, it will be done by mutual, universal, total consent. Naturally, there will have to be some compromise, but nevertheless that is the way in which we should settle the problem.

We wish to extend our limits. So does the BTF, and all the fishermen I know. The 200-mile limit seems fairly simple on the West Coast. There is plenty of water between us and Labrador and Newfoundland. It is not so simple on the south-west side or the northern side, as the case may be. But on the east, in the North Sea, we shall need to have a median line down the centre, and within that so-called EEC lake we shall need an exclusive zone of perhaps 100 miles.

The Minister's words cheered me up immensely. I had come here today prepared to tell him that we badly wanted a policy and to ask whether the Government wished to have a good deep-sea fishing fleet. The answer, of course, would have been "Yes", because we all want that. But then I intended to ask him whether he was prepared to give this short-term injection of capital to tide over firms' difficulties not merely in Aberdeen but in Fleetwood and on the Humber, in Hull and Grimsby.

On the CFP, I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he had begun negotiations with Mr. Lardinois. My right hon. Friend went on to say, "We shall not be weak." I welcome that. Again, it was significant that my right hon. Friend referred to a time when limits are "pushed out"—if we get that far. But, as I listened to my right hon. Friend saying those words after having discussions with Mr. Lardinois and his fellow Ministers inside the EEC, I felt a good deal happier than I did two or three hours ago.

Let us make no bones about it. The common fisheries policy must be changed. It is quite impossible to think that under existing conditions, in two years, five years or 10 years our fleets will continue to fish. It is absurd to think of our distant-water vessels coming back to middle waters and our middle-water vessels coming back inshore. In such a situation we could have a domestic, internecine squabble in which a company in my constituency, say, could send a big freezer to Cornwall and catch 650 tons of mackerel, as did happen—to the consternation of a number of Opposition Members. We must not have anything like that, otherwise there will be no future. We can talk about conservation until the cows come home, but action like that would be quite stupid and ill-advised. I am sure that no one would welcome it.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North, I believe that the Scottish fleets and our own, south of the Tweed, or the BTF as a whole, will need some injection of capital in the near future. I was glad to hear the Minister say that if he got evidence and if he knew that it was needed, he would take action. I hope that I am not misquoting him. He said that if a case could be made out, the Government would take some action. If they do not, inevitably more and more ships will be tied up and more and more men will be unemployed. In our constituencies, we are in a position where no one wants that.

The $64,000 question is whether the Government want a deep-sea fleet. The answer, of course, is "Yes". In that case, are they prepared to help with a cash injection? The answer is "Yes, if a case can be made out". I think that it can be. But even more important, looking to the future, we have to fight inside the EEC to change these limits.

I end by reminding the House of a very old adage which is to the effect that he who gives quickly gives twice—and time is not on our side.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Richard Wood (Bridlington)

This debate was bound to range widely and be largely concerned, as the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) was, with the big ships in northern waters. I have given you my solemn promise, Mr. Speaker, not to interrupt for more than a few minutes this dominant theme of the debate, because I take the view as strongly as the hon. Gentleman, without knowing nearly as much as he does about that part of the industry, that these ships and those who sail in them are of vital importance to Britain.

I do not know whether their condition is grave or desperate. I do not think that there is much difference of opinion between my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and Kingston upon Hull, West. But if it is not desperate, the position of the trawling fleet is very grave. As I see it, these difficulties must be solved if our fleet is to be preserved, if our supplies are to be maintained, and if much dislocation and hardship are to be avoided in our greater ports.

The only other reflection that I make is that I was disturbed by the Minister's apparent optimism on this score. I hope and pray that his optimism is justified. But my fear is that without help this part of the fishing industry will find itself in greater and greater difficulties in a very short time.

Everyone taking part in this debate will agree that the men whom I represent, like other inshore men, are also very important. Their problems are connected. We have been told that anything that happens in the distant waters reacts now on the men further inshore. It reacts to their disadvantage because, whereas distant-water men can come in—to middle waters, and whereas those in middle waters can come inshore, all that the inshore men can do is to go on the beach—and there are not many fish there. Therefore, although their difficulties are different, they are connected. They are also enormous, and I am sorry to say that that are increasing. I plead with the Minister of State for some help, some consideration and some reassurance, which inshore men need badly if they are to be able to plan to continue fishing in the future. If they cannot continue, the economic loss will be great, but, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, the loss socially will probably be no smaller.

The Minister is well aware of the economic problems faced by the inshore men, because we have discussed them in earlier debates. But these men now face new burdens in the form of safety regulations, the costs of survey and inspection, and so on. None of us will disagree about the importance of safety. I do not suppose that any of us will agree about that quite so wholeheartedly as the fishermen's families themselves, because they are the people directly affected. Their view is that some of the requirements are likely to be excessive to their needs.

The Minister has been, as always, very helpful in his letters to me. He tells me that inshore men can apply to the Department of Trade for exemption from all or part of the Fishing Vessels Rules of 1974. But I hope that before the end of this debate we shall be given rather more specific guidance about the kind of conditions on which exemption might be granted, so that inshore men in my constituency and elsewhere may plan as sensibly as possible for the future.

The major anxiety that persists relates to the EEC Commission's 10-year programme for the restructuring of the industry. Again, the right hon. Gentleman has replied helpfully to my letters on this point. Few will deny that modernisation is a continuing process and that the fishing fleet of the 1980s and 1990s, like all the rest of our industrial equipment, must be ready for very different conditions from those which obtain today.

My plea to the Minister is that where personal savings, past effort and one's whole livelihood and way of life are at stake it is not surprising to find a profound concern caused by what at the moment is necessarily inadequate information. Therefore, I ask the Minister to take the opportunity afforded by this debate to give the fullest information at present available on this matter in order to allay some of the fears that have been created by the Commission's proposals.

6.19 p.m.

Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)

I want to express my thanks to the main Opposition party for having used one of its Supply Days to discuss the state of the fishing industry. I am afraid that that is all that my party can thank the Conservative Opposition for, because it was when that party was in power that confidence was knocked out of the fishing industry. Unfortunately it has not recovered. In fact, since then there has been a gradual deterioration in the situation.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House often accuse Scottish National Party Members of being able to speak about nothing other than oil and fish. This is not the case, of course. However, the fact that scarcely a week goes by without one or other of my colleagues mentioning fish and bringing up the subject of the problems of the fishing industry indicates the great importance to the Scottish economy of our fishing industry. If I tell the House that 40 per cent. of all full-time fishermen in the United Kingdom are Scotsmen fishing mainly out of Scottish ports and that 50 per cent. of total United Kingdom landings of fish in 1974 were landed in Scotland I hope I shall have shown the context into which fishing falls in the Scottish economic scene.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

I would ask the hon. Gentleman, if fishing is as important to Scotland as he says—and I agree—why was his hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) absent from the Common Market fisheries debate last week, and why did he and his colleagues decline to meet the Scottish trawlermen when they were here yesterday?

Mr. Watt

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is that I understand my hon. Friend was in close consultation with the Commissioner, Mr. Lardinois. On the second point, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we met, for a very short time, the delegation that was down yesterday. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that there were many delegations at the House yesterday, one of which, the Scottish Transport Group, was much larger than the fishing delegation.

Going on to the second part of the formula, considering that one-tenth only of the population of the United Kingdom lives in Scotland, and that our men catch one-half the fish landed, it will be seen that fishing is 20 times more important to Scotland than it is to England. I in no way wish to denigrate the importance of fish to constituencies like Hull, Fleetwood and other places. I want to show just how important fishing is in the Scottish context. I would say to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) that he has as important a job to do as all the fishing Ministers in the United Kingdom. It is, of course, the basic reason why the Scots, by and large, find themselves more closely in sympathy with Iceland than we do with the outmoded thinking here in Westminster.

While it is forgivable for a British Prime Minister to know little or nothing about fish and the fishing industry, as has been painfully obvious in the two years that I have attempted to get answers from the Front Bench, such answers and such ignorance will be totally unforgivable and inexcusable coming from the fisheries executive, whatever he is to be called, in a Scottish Assembly or Scottish Parliament, whatever it is to be called. In the Scottish Assembly fishing will claim its rightful place as one of Scotland's major industries, entitled to have its own Minister of fishing, who will be in much closer contact with all sections of the industry than is possible with the remote Westminster Government, however well intentioned. There would appear to be little doubt that it was the feeling of being neglected that took so many of the fishing constituencies into the net of the Scottish National Party at the last two elections.

Mr. Sproat


Mr. Watt

Does some hon. Gentleman wish to risk his seat on his statement?

By tradition the fishing industry of Scotland has been made up of a great many individual units—very different from that of England where most of the boats, especially the large ones, are owned by large companies. In Scotland the boats are owned by the families of the skipper and some of the crew, and they have been fiercely independent in the past.

The crisis of the last two years has done much to weld them into a cohesive force. I am particularly pleased to see that producers' organisations are at last getting off the ground, and I am sure they will grow very rapidly in strength as distant water boats are being crowded more and more into the inshore waters. Here we have an extraordinary situation where, for the first time ever, both the inshore men and the distant water men find themselves on the same tack, something which has never happened before, because all these men are anxious for Britain to extend her limit to 200 miles.

We honestly cannot understand the reluctance of the Government to press ahead for these extensions. I have told the House many times, and make no apology for saying again, that it is vital that Britain take control over her own 200 miles "fishpond" and then with other nations which are traditional users of that "fishpond" negotiate on the total allowable catch and the sharing out of that catch. To have any sensible conservation policy it is vital, as the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has said, that it is the coastal State that decides the total allowable catch.

I have repeatedly asked the Front Bench how many Icelandic boats are fishing for herring off our coasts at the moment. So far I have received no answer. Surely, it makes sense for us to have exclusive control of the herring catch in our waters, with Icelandic boats having the right to catch cod in their waters, and for us to swap them herring for cod, ton for ton, without Icelandic boats having the right to take herring in our waters.

We in the Scottish National Party totally deplore the present action of the Government in harassing such a small nation as Iceland, which is only intent on doing sonic prudent housekeeping. We Scots are more attuned to the thinking of the Icelandic Government.

Mr. James Johnson

Does the hon. Gentleman accept the figures I gave, which were given to me by the Icelandic Ambassador himself—230,000 tons being the total allowable catch? We have never demurred in the matter of conservation, and together could easily have come to a sensible, mutually acceptable settlement. I do not understand this harassment. We do not wish to harass anybody.

Mr. Watt

Does the hon. Gentleman man agree that it would have been far better if the Navy had not gone back in two weeks ago? Would it not have been sensible to have shown good will to the Icelanders by staying outwith 50 miles, if not 100 miles? After all, the Icelanders are only doing what any prudent nation should be doing, looking after the stock.

We Scots are more attuned to the thinking of the Icelandic Government in this matter. We clearly understand their motives, and approve their actions in seeking to preserve stocks of cod from total extinction. I wish the Government would recognise the urgency of the situation and take similar steps to conserve our own stocks from the plundering that is taking place by all those nations that persist in industrial fishing and are scooping up stocks of immature herring and other fish for fishmeal.

We have heard only today that the EEC proposes an extension of the economic zone around all the shores of the EEC to 200 miles. This is fine, but if it all right for the EEC to do it in June or July 1976, why is it all wrong for Iceland to do it in November 1975? I hope we shall be able to get an answer on that from the Front Bench. What is not fine, and what the Scottish industry will not accept, is the announcement by the EEC that only the first 12 miles around our coasts will be exclusive to the coastal State. This is an unbelievably bad situation, as the hon. Gentleman for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) agrees, a situation the Tories left when they negotiated entry to the Common Market by throwing away any bargaining position and jeopardising the future of the entire British fishing industry.

As the formula I have mentioned indicates, that decision was 20 times more disastrous to the Scottish economy than to the English one. Can the House now see why we in the Scottish National Party kick up such a fuss about fishing? I call on the Minister to give a firm assurance that the proposals made by Mr. Lardinois are totally unacceptable and that the first 100 miles of sea will be for the exclusive use of British fishermen, with entry to the next 100 miles strictly controlled by Britain, not by the EEC. After all, the area of the outer 100 miles is much larger than that of the inner. Two of the worst offenders, with vast international fishing fleets, are two of our partners in the EEC, Denmark and Belgium. Their interests are poles apart from ours.

My party fought a hard campaign against Britain's entering the EEC.——

Mr. Sproat

And lost.

Mr. Watt

—and against our remaining in the EEC.

Mr. Sproat

And lost again.

Mr. Watt

We often found ourselves with strange bedfellows in that fight, and the motives of those bedfellows were often suspect. My party's only motives, apart from a deep distrust of centralism, are a deep distrust of the common agricultural policy and outright opposition to the common fisheries policy. Every fear that we expressed during that campaign has been proven right.

We are grateful to the Minister of Agriculture for putting up such a magnificent fight for the British farmers, and we appeal to him to take an equally firm stand on fishing limits. Our biggest fear is that a strong man will not always be in that position and that some future Minister, for the sake of expediency, will sacrifice fishing again, as the Tories did in 1972.

An even bigger worry is that negotiation will be done not by the Minister of Agriculture and his team, who have some knowledge of fishing and fish, but by the Foreign Office, which has none. I am not saying that it is incompetent. It is just that it is not competent to do this job on behalf of the British fishing industry.

We in the North often have different lines of communication from those of people in London. One of the most interesting lines is that which links the fishermen of all nations. In that most cosmopolitan of all British ports, Lerwick, where fishermen of many nations regularly meet and the talk centres on fish, the talk recently has been of the terribly lopsided talks between London and Iceland. Icelandic fishermen have been talking to British academics. One side went through the hard school of the North Sea and the North winds while the other came through the soft school of double firsts at some university and straight into Westminster. It is little wonder that the talks failed. In both senses of the phrase, the two sides do not talk the same language. If the Foreign Office is to be our negotiator in the EEC, our fishermen will be the losers.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) dealt fully with the present state of collapse of the trawling fleet, so I hope that the House will excuse me if I do not go into it again.

What is needed now? What is the future for the fishing industry? What confidence has any fisherman to go ahead and order a new boat? One of the tragedies of the present situation is that there has been such a total loss of confidence in the industry that orders for new boats are just not being placed. As a result, the average age of the fleet is getting higher. That can be in no one's interests.

Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)

Does my hon. Friend agree that his point is well illustrated by the fact that a boatbuilding yard in my constituency has found that business will not improve if confidence in the industry is not resurrected? Is it not significant that most of the boats it is building now are for skippers from the South of Ireland, where their Government have a much more energetic policy towards the Common Market than our Government have?

Mr. Watt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Precisely the same situation pertains in boatyards in my constituency and throughout Scotland.

It would be a tragedy if we allowed the fishing fleet to become too old. I am an eternal optimist and I believe that there will yet be an upturn in the industry. I acknowledge that it is a complicated industry which it is difficult for an outsider to understand. That, perhaps, explains the sparse attendance tonight, but that is no excuse for the neglect.

Although there is a need to restructure the industry, there can be no rational restructuring till it knows where it is going. First, it is impossible for it to know where it will be fishing in five or 10 years and what the size of its own fishpond will be. Second, what catching capacity will be required to take the total allowable catch. Third, we must know whether our EEC partners or our own fishermen are to be the chief beneficiaries of the outcome of the Law of the Sea Conference. Fourth, they must know whether their markets are to be continually upset by subsidised imports.

The fishing industry is vital to the future well-being of Scotland. We in my party believe that it is utterly deplorable that control of fishing is not scheduled to pass to the Scottish Assembly. We shall be fighting to have it included in the forthcoming devolution Bill. One is inseparable from the other. Scotland's long-term future lies not in oil but in the careful husbanding of its natural assets, one of the most important of which is our fishing stocks, linked with the ability of our fishermen. Oil is a finite commodity: fishing must be for ever.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) frequently used the phrase "we Scots". In his own words, it is not that he is incompetent to speak for the Scots; it is just that he is not competent to speak for the Scots. Other hon. Members representing Scottish fishing ports do not take his view.

Apart from the hon. Member's speech, I am impressed by the degree of consensus on both sides in this debate. What is being sounded is not a party argument but a genuine note of alarm about the future of the fishing industry. In my constituency, I take as typical two large inshore ports and two small ones. The worries in these ports now are not the usual ones about income, prices and costs. For the first time, they have taken on a genuine note of alarm. We know that prices for the fish have remained constant, or not very good, while costs have shot up, and that real incomes are being squeezed.

But there is a greater depth of concern, which has been echoed in virtually every speech tonight, and it is to that that we must address ourselves. No one is pressing the Government unduly hard, but what hon. Members are asking for is not just a short-term stop-gap subsidy to cover over a temporary cyclical decline. This is not the usual argument that the grant should rise by a certain percentage, or that it should cover this category of vessel rather than that.

The deeper concern about the industry's future comes out clearly from a study of the economics of particular inshore boats. It is reckoned in my own fishing ports that 40 per cent. of the boats are making no profit at all. The interesting thing is that this applies not just to old boats, which may need renovation and cannot get past a stability test, but to new ones, where a tremendous amount of the cost is covered by loans and the interest charges are very high.

People sometimes say to the fishermen "You have had some good years recently. Why do you make such a fuss if there has been a turn-down in the last little while?" The answer is that they do not know how things will go five or 10 years from now. They are used to up-turns and down-turns but not to the question marks which now hang over their future.

The Government should try to dispel these worries by at least setting their own policy clearly before the country and the fishing industry. Everyone is worried about limits, conservation and, in my area, the declining consumption of fish in this country. However, the price of fish in the shops has not dropped to keep pace with the drop in price to the fishermen. There is genuine alarm about consumption, the future fish stocks in the sea and the international free-for-all over limits.

I was surprised that the hon. Member for Banff said that he and his area of Scotland supported the Icelanders. Many of us would agree with his observations about conservation and husbandry, but few would agree with his views on unilateral action. What would the North Sea be like if every country cut every other country's warps, or unilaterally declared limits? It bodes ill if the new Scotland plans on taking the view that it should make laws for itself and then defy other people by unpleasantness of this kind. I support the Icelanders' claim to their vital resources, but I do not support the way they have set about protecting those resources.

Mr. Prescott

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. However, is he aware that over 30 countries have extended their limits to between 20 and 200 miles, and that the 12-mile limit, which is generally recognised, has not yet been sanctioned by the Law of the Sea Conference?

Mr. Mackintosh

I am fully aware of that, but it does not justify any nation taking unilateral action of this kind. I ask the Government to bear these matters in mind when they consider the common fisheries policy. There is general agreement about the difficulties of the policy. I am glad about the 200-mile economic zone, but I am worried about the prospect of only a 12-mile exclusive limit. I should like to see the Government set a target for a higher exclusive limit, which they would be prepared to press for. Moreover, I should like us to have a Minister specifically in charge of fisheries. I have always felt that the Government did better in the late 'sixties, when the present Lord Hoy was a Minister specifically for fisheries. I am pointing the finger at no one, but this subject is complicated and intricate, and needs one person's full-time attention. In those circumstances I would feel happier if there were a specific Minister whose sole task was to deal with fisheries, rather than that responsibility was shared between the Secretary of State, one of his junior Ministers and an Under-Secretary, at the Scottish Office, sometimes helped by the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is too great a diversification of activity concerning a matter that needs constant attention.

In general, the fishing fleet wants to know whether there is to be a 200-mile limit with the distant-water boats coming back into the middle grounds and the middle-water boats coming back into the inner grounds. It also wants to know what the Government regard as the correct size of fleet for the future. Ought the fleet to be weathering the storm, as it were, and keeping going in the hope of better times, or do the Government think we need to slim it down? Ought there to be a scheme for retiring older boats for this purpose? The United Kingdom fisheries policy proposed by British United Trawlers provides for our catching three times as much fish. Is that the Government's view? If so, how are they prepared to go about it? What are their targets? What levels of catch do they think the British fleet should be getting and what percentage of the home market should we aim to supply ourselves? I believe that our targets or objectives within the EEC and in general policy terms should be set out by the Government. I do not believe that any short-term remedy will survive unless it is against the background of a long-term policy that is clear and definite, and that inspires confidence.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Richard Luce (Shoreham)

I agree with almost everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and especially with his plea that the Government should come forward as soon as possible with a forceful policy. I also join with him in deploring the remarks made by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) and especially the way in which he appeared to be identifying himself with another country rather than with the interests of the Scottish people and the United Kingdom as a whole.

I am sure that everyone agrees that this debate is most timely. It takes place against a background of catalytic changes in the fishing industry, and growing anxieties about conservation and trading practices, whether between different types of ships within our country or different nations. Moreover, we have the Law of the Sea Conference and the proposition that we should have a 200-mile economic zone. There is also the fact that the common fisheries policy is in the melting pot. We must also remember the anxieties of the inshore fishermen. The Icelandic dispute, about which I shall say no more, is simply a symptom—an unhappy symptom—of what some of the grave difficulties which at present face the fishing industry.

I am sure that the House agrees that we need an overall review of Britain's fishing policy. I wish to address my remarks mainly to the problems of inshore fishing. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) made an effective and important speech about their problems. It is important when we are talking about the inshore fishermen or, in the broader context, deep-sea fishing that we set ourselves the objective of providing adequate conservation and fair trading practices. Moreover, we must balance against them the need for encouraging efficient methods of fishing.

There is some misunderstanding among some hon. Members about what we mean by "inshore fishing". Let us consider the position of boats with a maximum length of 80 ft. About one-sixth of the total United Kingdom catch is taken within the 12-mile limit and of that catch 50 per cent. is taken by inshore vessels. This means that a sizeable proportion of the inshore vessels' requirements is outside the 12-mile limit. However, if we consider the position of the Southern coast and especially the Sussex coast, we find that the inshore fishermen by and large have smaller vessels and that in the main they fish within the 12-mile limit.

Mr. Bowden

I, too, am concerned about this problem. Perhaps I may quote from a letter that I received from an inshore fisherman in Sussex who said: We are not irresponsible people screaming unnecessarily. Our livelihoods are at stake and the so-and-so Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries just couldn't give a damn. As far as I am concerned the quota arrangements are nothing short of a farce. Who is capable of controlling it and who is going to stop the fishing of the Belgium beam trawlers? That sums up their grievances.

Mr. Luce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He and I have battled hard over the years to put across the anxieties and worries of the inshore fishermen. I agree entirely with what he says. Indeed, the implications are that the inshore fishing industry is of enormous social importance. It provides employment and it is an important service. Moreover, it contributes to our economy.

I should like to highlight the greatest anxieties facing inshore fishermen. They have expressed their views with great energy and particularly through the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee. I shall deal first with beam trawling. Those who have considered beam trawling will agree that it is a very efficient method of fishing. Indeed, it is so efficient that if we allow beam trawlers to carry on at their present rate soon there will be no fish left to catch. The inshore fishermen will be done out of a job, as well as the beam trawlers. Off the South-West coast it is not just a problem of beam trawling. I am sure that that statement will be borne out by my hon. Friends the Members for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) and St. Ives (Mr. Nott). The purse seine method is highly efficient, but it leads to gross over-fishing and in the long term it will damage our fishing. Therefore, the inshore fishermen are rightly anxious about the effects of beam trawling on the inshore fishing industry.

Allied to that is the fact that the Belgian and French trawlers, particularly the Belgians, have certain historic rights between the six-mile and 12-mile limits off the South Coast. There has been a considerable amount of evidence that they have violated these limits, and there is growing anxiety among the inshore fishermen that these vessels are exceeding their quotas as agreed by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission.

I come therefore to the next anxiety, which is the quota system itself. I agree that the test of it is whether it is fair and whether it is working, and the evidence so far shows that the answer is "No". The enforcement procedures are inadequate and they are not foolproof. What do we do about the weekenders? There are some 600 of them off the South Coast, and they represent a very important industry. How can a close watch be kept upon them? The real anxiety, however, is about the foreign ships. Of course the member States have the basic responsibility for enforcement, but there is a feeling, backed by considerable evidence, that Britain is prepared to enforce the quota system by inspecting its own boats very thoroughly, but that foreign nations are not fulfilling their enforcement requirements and that their vessels are therefore exceeding the quotas allocated to them.

The inshore fishermen feel anxious about the 12-mile limit, and they want it extended. They feel uncertain about the fishery protection system, which they regard as inadequate. Their anxieties are growing in the light of the Commission's rationalisation proposals, which would lead to a further reduction in the inshore fishing fleet. These are just some of the worries and anxieties of the inshore fishermen of the South Coast. They have been expressing their anxieties for up to five years, and those expressions are now growing into cries of despair, because nothing ever happens in response to them. The cries of despair come not just from the inshore fishermen, but from people like myself and other hon. Members who have been telling the Government repeatedly that the inshore industry faces grave problems. Still nothing ever happens. It is time that the Government recognised these anxieties and did something about them.

What action should we take? We need a radical review of the CFP. I hope that the Minister will do as he promises and be extremely robust when he goes to Brussels, because he holds the key to the future of the industry. It has been recognised that one of the main factors of British fishing is its dependence on waters beyond the EEC economic zone. Other EEC countries do not have this dependence. The implication here is that other Common Market countries must be prepared to make major concessions to the United Kingdom in the review of the CFP, and they must recognises our special position. Above all, the Minister must go flat out to defend British interests.

In this context it is right that the Minister should consider extending the limit to 100 miles, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) suggested. We should restrict beam trawling at least to certain areas, as the Conservative Government proposed in 1974 before the General Election. The Government should at least ban it within the 12-mile limit. They should seriously consider further restrictions on fishing vessels within the 12-mile limit. There is a serious case for providing that only vessels of 25 gross registered tons or less should be allowed to fish in those waters. There are restrictions on the eastern side of the North Sea based on the weight of vessels.

There should be a thorough and radical review of the quota system, because it is not working effectively. We should re-examine the enforcement procedures in view of the lack of confidence in their effectiveness, and we should consider the possibility of using the Royal Naval Auxiliary Reserve to back up the Royal Navy in the enforcement of fishing regulations.

The Minister must take these suggestions to Brussels, proclaiming the British interest, pointing out that we have a unique position and that the Common Market countries must give us favourable treatment in view of our present circumstances. When he goes into these negotiations, the Minister must be thinking not only of the British industry, but of the need for strong conservation measures, fair trading practices and the encouragement of fair methods of fishing.

6.56 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

It was with extreme sorrow that I heard my right hon. Friend the Minister in his opening speech say that Iceland had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain. Everyone will agree, whatever his view about the issue, that this development will only make it more difficult for the two countries to reach a settlement, as inevitably they must, on just and fair grounds.

This terrible conflict is giving rise to a highly dangerous situation. It is almost impossible to handle vessels with the necessary degree of accuracy when manoeuvring at close quarters in these conditions to avoid collisions. It was sad to hear that one crew member had been injured. Like other hon. Members, I have the constant fear that eventually someone will die or be injured in this situation——

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

We have now learned that the man's injuries are not serious.

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful both for my right hon. Friend's intervention and for his news. However, it is only a matter of time before a serious tragedy takes place. It was pointed out to me during my recent visit to Iceland that a man could expect to survive no more than nine or 10 minutes if he fell into those waters. This means that the sudden lurch of a vessel and someone losing his balance is all that is needed to contribute a death to the situation.

Let me deal first with the essential principles.

Mr. Bowden

When the hon. Member was in Iceland, did he make it absolutely clear to the Icelandic authorities that if they continued to harass British trawlers, inevitably, sooner or later, in the cutting of warps a man or men would be seriously hurt, perhaps even killed? Did he make that absolutely clear, and did he urge the Icelanders to stop their harassment?

Mr. Prescott

My constituents are involved in this dispute and I can assure the hon. Member that one of my prime concerns on this private visit to Iceland was to express my views and those of my constituents about the issue. I shall deal with this more fully later in my speech. One of the saddest aspects here is that everyone agrees about the danger, but that takes us no nearer to a solution.

What is causing considerable concern, not only between Britain and Iceland, but in all the world's fishing areas, is the fact that there is far too much capacity for the fish in the waters. For a number of reasons—technology and subsidisation in a number of countries—the capacity of ships has greatly increased in the past decade, with the inevitable result that far too much fish has been taken out. All the national and international statistics show that stocks of fish are falling dramatically and in some cases there has been extinction of certain fish and others are seriously threatened.

Therefore, any policy, national or international, must be geared to conserving what is essential for any fishing industry—namely, fish stocks. We must adopt policies that will sustain the steady development of stocks and possible expansion for the fishing fleets of the world.

Although everyone has recognised the problem, the attempted solutions have not succeeded in arresting the decline of stocks, as every hon. Member who has spoken has acknowledged. A different policy of management and control is crucial. One of the purposes of the Law of the Sea Conference, at which fishing is one of the matters under discussion, is to agree on such a policy. We want to introduce into 70 per cent. of the world's surface a rule of law, and move away from the laissez-faire policy that has applied so far. It should be recognised that the coastal States rather than the fishing organisations should take on the responsibility of deciding and enforcing the management policies, because they are the bodies whose interests are affected.

The conference has come to that principle already, but the problem for Britain is that we are now in the EEC which is still wedded to the concept of free accessibility to the waters, and the Commission has imposed quotas. The Dutch fishermen ignored the quotas set by the international fisheries organisations and the European Court decided that the Commission had not authority to impose quotas. The Commission will now need to make changes to the Treaty.

If that is necessary as a conservation measure, the policy of free access will also need to be changed. I believe that the Common Market will have to renegotiate the whole fishing policy and change the principles upon which it is based. Commissioner Lardinois's statement that the 12-mile limit will be the means by which we preserve essential stocks around our coasts is contrary to all the speeches tonight and all that we know about the decline of stocks. Such a policy would be disastrous.

The arrival in the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) reminds me that during the referendum debate it was said that in our dispute with Iceland we should be strengthened by belonging to the EEC. It was said that with the strength of the Community behind us we should be able to use Protocol No. 6 to force Iceland to come to an agreement. That is now seen to have been an empty promise. Our membership of the EEC has had no effect, for good or bad, on that matter. There has been a further deterioration of relations between our two countries.

Renegotiation of the common fisheries policy is essential, and must reflect certain principles. The industry complains continually about the present system: the referral pricing, import control and the whole marketing policy. All the data and facts are against the present CFP. It is essential to adapt the policy, recognising the right of the coastal State to determine the total allowable catch and its preferential right to enforce the policing of its 200-mile economic zone.

We presume that the Law of the Sea Conference will make a decision very soon. Some believe that it will do so in March, but I belong to the pessimist school and think that it may not come to an agreement in Caracas before June—if then. Other countries, including America, Norway and Canada, have said that if the conference does not come to an agreement, they will extend their limits. Ninety per cent. of our freezer catch in Hull comes from the areas which will take that action if the conference does not agree.

I have heard a great deal about the breaking of the law. I do not want to dwell on whether the International Court's decision is justifiable, but it recognises a principle which the conference is rejecting—namely, the historic right of nations to fish in areas where stocks become so low that they are insufficient to sustain the economic development of the fishing industry of the coastal State.

There is no body of law such as the Continental Shelf Act on which a court can base a ruling. It must decide on custom and practice. That principle, which is part of our legal system, is creating difficulties. It is what has contributed to the decline of fish stocks.

The present argument is over whether Iceland should take unilateral action. If the other countries that I have mentioned extend their limits, will Britain and the EEC unilaterally declare that they do the same? It is in their interests to do so. But if the law is cardinal—and everything that we are doing now is justified by the prevention of law-breaking and the maintenance of order in international law—shall we not then be breaking the law, whether as nine countries in the EEC or one? Clearly, we shall—and, by God, we shall do it, because it will be in the interests of our fishing industry and our country.

Therefore, the argument about unilateral action by Iceland is not so sound, particularly as 35 other nations have extended their limits to between 20 miles and 200 miles. Presumably, if America extends its limits to 200 miles without any agreement by the conference, we shall not send Royal Navy ships to protect trawlers going into the area.

Whatever we do must be consistent. Much more important, it must be designed to meet the needs of our fishing industry, and we are not doing that now. We hope that the conference will come to an agreement, but we should make it clear that if it does not, we are prepared to extend our areas and divide the wealth of the seas in them, with the agreement of the EEC. We shall except the exclusive areas, I presume. That will be much easier said than done, but it is essential for our industry.

I should now like to say something about my visit to Iceland. It is clear that mistakes of attitude to negotiation were made on both sides. It is also clear that public opinion has been inflamed not only here but especially in Iceland to an extent which makes it difficult for politicians to reach agreement.

The argument regarding stocks around Iceland has been accepted in our negotiations. The Foreign Secretary, in his statement on 4th February, made it clear that we accepted that Iceland had the right in principle to determine the total allowable catch and that preferential right was embodied in that principle. The 28 per cent. figure tied it to a historical right which was bound to be offensive to Iceland. Clearly, Iceland took the view that stocks had reached a dangerously low level. It is not easy to argue with accuracy whether the figure is 230,000 tons or 290,000 tons. However, we agree that, in view of the catches we have taken from the area, stocks are being seriously depleted.

Iceland holds the view that its essential resource, upon which much of its economy depends, is in danger. That has led to an instransigent attitude in the first stage of the negotiations. Iceland felt that vital interest was not recognised in the rejection of the figure of 65,000 tons.

When we were still negotiating and the provocative cutting of warps began, I felt that to send in the Royal Navy could only inflame and make the situation more difficult. One can argue whether sending in the Royal Navy was right or wrong, but we cannot dispute that it inflamed the situation. That did not make negotiations easier. I disagreed with that judgment at the time, and I understand that the unions representing the men also took that view. It is essential for us to take a completely radical and different approach in our attitude to the negotiations.

Mr. McNamara

Does my hon. Friend accept that if the Navy had not gone in and the warps had not been cut, the trawlers would have been withdrawn? If so, would that not have given the Icelanders their case anyway?

Mr. Prescott

I shall come to that later. The Germans took their trawlers out and then negotiated a two-year agreement. We have difficulty in getting a three-month agreement.

Mr. McNamara rose—

Mr. Prescott

Perhaps I may be allowed to develop my argument. My hon. Friend will accept or reject it.

In my discussions in Iceland I made clear how my constituents felt about the situation. About 300 people were made redundant in one yard in one week because of the lack of trawler work. In the negotiations reported to the House by the Foreign Secretary it was made clear that he had suggested a limit of 65,000 tons, which is equivalent to 28 per cent. of the total allowable catch by the coastal State. We had a short-term agreement. The Prime Minister talked of months, not years, as the first stage to getting a cooling of the temperature in those negotiations.

My trip to Iceland was to assess whether the NATO card was creating more difficulties. I think that the Icelanders paid too much attention to the NATO card being used to pressure Britain to reach agreement. It was a mistake to believe that when NATO could not pressure the Icelanders to agree. There is now a new realism about that situation. There are some in Iceland who want the disagreement with Britain to continue so that the German agreement may fall.

Clearly, I cannot reveal all the details of my talks, but I have informed the Government of my views of the attitudes and opinions in Iceland on which I base my judgment that it is possible to reach agreement. I believe that we can have further extensive talks with every party concerned in this dispute in Iceland. I would like to record my appreciation to all those in Iceland who were kind enough to discuss with me and show a willingness to seek agreement.

If we are to reach agreement, certain essential steps are required. These are almost a prerequisite to any agreement. They do not create a precedent. However, they represent a prerequisite to any negotiations which may take place in the present climate of opinion.

First, the Royal Navy must come out. However, that poses the problem of trawlers having their warps cut and facing dangerous conditions. As a politician representing a fishing constituency, I can readily appreciate that. I do not see why we cannot adopt the German formula of asking the trawlers to come out of the area for a limited period. The Germans withdrew their trawlers for 14 days. They had the problem of freezers. We have no freezers there, because, under the terms of the 1973 agreement, they were withdrawn from fishing in that area. If the trawlers were brought out, we should get rid of another sensitive difficulty.

I understand the argument about Iceland's unilateral extension of limits in conservation areas where we are now fishing. It is clear from the 1973 agreement, a copy of which I have here, that some of those areas were recognised by us as conservation areas. If we withdrew from those areas, we should be withdrawing from the very areas now inflaming opinion in Iceland. To that extent we would remove a highly sensitive matter out of public discussion. Such action on our part would be a declaration of good faith and show that we desire agreement.

The suggestion has been made that if we withdraw, we concede the case. There is no ground for believing that. Channels of communication are open through which agreement can be achieved. The last negotiated position took the Navy outside the 200-mile limit, even though the Government do not recognise that limit. The Government said to the industry "We will pay you if you do not fish." They accept the principle of compensating the industry. Let us compensate the trawlers so that they do not lose money. We are paying nearly£4 million a year to the tug owners to protect the trawler fleet. Let us use a fraction of that money to compensate the trawlers for staying out of the area for a certain period in order to renegotiate with the Icelandic Government.

This is a difficult situation. My judgment—I may be wrong—after extensive talks with the people who oppose any agreement is that it is possible to reach agreement within the terms laid down by the two Prime Ministers when they met. I do not want to go into the details, because the discussions were confidential. However, I have communicated my views to the Government.

I apologise to the House for taking up so much time, but I want to develop this theme. This is not the easiest theme for me to develop as I represent a constituency with fishing interests. In the context of these arguments, it is essential to bear in mind the consequences of the decline of the fishing industry in areas such as Hull. When there is a reduction in fish catches, there is reduction in ships. When there is a reduction in ships, there is less work for the shipyards and related industries, particularly the inshore industries where whole communities depend on that work. That affects Hull in particular. In my area 15,000 men are currently unemployed. If we extend the 200-mile limit, which covers 90 per cent. of the freezer catch, a lot of which comes to Hull, we shall be in dire economic difficulties.

The Government must develop and sustain a viable and economic fishing policy for the industry, particularly the deep-sea and inshore industries. It is essential that we have exclusive limits. British United Trawlers has stated that an exclusive limit of 50 miles or 100 miles would give us 2½ million tons of fish. We take only 1 million tons at the moment. It is therefore possible to have a sustained development. However, we shall have a different type of industry which will require coastal control according to the principles embodied in the law of the sea.

The EEC has an estimated 6½ million tons of fish around its coasts. It captures only 4½ million tons. It is possible—even with exclusive zones—with proper management to have sufficient fish for the various nations' fishing industries. That must be a priority. Our ships are over 15 years old. Many trawler owners are hanging on to ships. When the Law of the Sea Conference decides the preferential catch for the fishing industries of each country, those trawler owners can point to ships that are redundant and making losses and thus keep the total allowable catch high, with less for third parties. It would be better to invest in the industry so that it can develop those ships. We could invest in the yards and develop them. The Government would then have the opportunity to assist a particular region, for example, Hull.

If we developed our fishing policy the Government could invest money in an area like Hull and thus help to develop Hull's economy with its thousands of unemployed where Government-built empty factories stand idle. There is an urgent need for a fishing policy. We must renegotiate the CFP. We must identify, as America has done, a desire to declare exclusive zones and unilateral exceptions, if necessary, if the Law of the Sea Conference cannot agree. In summary we must give financial assistance to our industry to adjust to developments.

We must withdraw the Royal Navy from Icelandic waters, together with the trawlers. We should compensate the trawlers for a limited period and restart negotiations. Finally, we should call for a conference of all EEC member States, plus Norway and Iceland, to discuss the various swap arrangements and difficulties that arise in relation to the establishment of exclusive zones within those areas. We must call for such a conference now, take the initiative and develop a policy. If we are to prevent the deaths of our fishermen in the North Sea, the decline of our local industry and high unemployment in the fishing industry and Hull itself, it is time that we developed a management of the sea policy based upon the principle of coastal State preferential rights. A Socialist approach is needed to solve this problem.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) gave a good summary of the current problems of the fishing industry. He spoke for the industry as a whole and not for the Scottish industry. I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to this debate. I intend to devote my remarks wholly to the situation in Cornwall and the South-West.

Although the problems in the South-West are caused mainly by one or two Scottish vessels, we recognise that we cannot discriminate against Scottish vessels in South-Western waters, and any proposals that we may make to conserve stocks off the South-West coast must have universal application to Cornish, Scottish, French and Belgian boats. Although our problems are, to some extent, caused at present by Scottish boats, we do not seek to discriminate against them.

I represent the largest inshore fishery in the South of England. The landings at the port of Newlyn are in excess of those at other leading ports in the South, such as Brixham, Plymouth and Milford Haven. Unless sensible and firm producer-organisation discipline is maintained, unless new customers to the southwestern shores respect our markets, and unless some prudence is shown in terms of the volume of mackerel landed for fishmeal or dumped at sea, resentment and antagonism will grow to the ultimate disadvantage of all concerned.

I ask the House to understand the high degree of frustration and despair that exists in the South-West. Over the past few years the Cornish fishing industry has built up a satisfactory market for the human consumption of mackerel, particularly on the Continent. Until a relatively short time ago the balance of demand and supply in this market was well maintained. Over 1,000 families are directly dependent on the mackerel fishery. Many hundreds of other families are employed in back-up industries. The mackerel fishery has prospered well. It has called for no Government subsidy, because the boats are below the size that qualifies for a subsidy, and it has provided a steady source of employment and income in an area that has a far higher rate of unemployment than almost anywhere in Scotland except the outer isles—more than one-eighth of the total working population of the area is out of work.

Mackerel fishing is an indigenous Cornish industry, about which we feel strongly. At present the health and security of the industry is being undermined. We have made many representations to the Ministry on the mackerel situation. I have met the Minister on three occasions. I have written endlessly to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about our problem but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) said, nothing happens.

I do not seek to be critical about civil servants as such, but having had 10 years' experience of trying to help the fishing industry in my constituency I know of no more feeble department in Whitehall than the fisheries side of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. However hard one tries, one experiences difficulty in getting positive and constructive action out of that department. I do not know why that is. I am at a loss to understand why we cannot get sensible conservation measures out of the Ministry, because they would be widely supported by the industry. We have only to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and that of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) to realise that they were not asking for conservation measures to be applied to one section of the industry or one part of the country; they were asking for something that will benefit the whole fishing industry.

I turn now to the situation in the South-West fishery. Following a healthy period of two or three years and a situation of marketing balance, there is now a threat of an ever-increasing growth of industrial fishing in our area. One or two Hull freezers have come to the area and have frozen stock. I do not know the tonnage that they have caught, but reports indicate that one haul is five times as much as that of the whole of the Cornish industry put together. Only today a Scottish purse seine took 110 tons of mackerel to land at its home port. A boat—I shall not mention it by name—has been purse seining in our area and has on many occasions taken over 100 tons of mackerel, several times a week, and landed its catch at South-West ports. That tonnage is almost equivalent to all the landings of the Cornish industry put together. We are frightened when we see one of our most important indigenous industries faced with that sort of situation. It is most worrying.

The beaches of the Lizard peninsula—the southernmost tip of the country—are strewn with dead, pulverised and stinking mackerel. I received a letter from a sensible, practising full-time fisher-man who represents the Cadgwith District Fishermen's Society. Cadgwith is a small cove. In the letter the fisherman describes what is being found all round the Land's End peninsula. He says that dead, stinking mackerel are being washed ashore.

Of course our trawlers—we have trawlers in Newlyn—dump fish at sea. We all know that trawling fleets dump certain fish at sea. However, the escalation in the numbers of dead and stinking fish washed up on our shores along the Lizard and Land's End peninsulas has been enormous in recent months. The Secretary of State knows more about the techniques used by the Cornish purse seines than I do, but I am told that probably more than half the fish released from a purse seine net die.

Sir Frederic Bennett

It is much more.

Mr. Nott

My hon. Friend says that it is much more. I am told that the figure is about half. Mackerel is being washed ashore all around the coast. This is not only causing great distress to the fisher-men; it is causing enormous distress to the people in my constituency.

I speak for the people with the smaller boats, although I have trawler interests in my constituency as well. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said some things that would have offended some of his constituents. No doubt I shall say things that will offend one or two of my trawlermen. However, I must speak as I consider the interests of the industry generally require.

The smaller boats catch high-quality mackerel, which has been going for human consumption. This is the kind of mackerel we all wish to supply. However, what has been happening recently is that more and more fish has tended to go for fish meal. I know that at present the figures do not indicate that the amount of fish that is going for fish meal in, say, November and December—the latest months for which I have figures—is a great deal more than went under the withdrawal system a year ago. However, because the market for human consumption, notwithstanding, has been spoilt, it means that fewer boats have been putting to sea.

When the EEC withdrawal scheme was introduced it was against the wishes of the fishermen in Newlyn. They did not want a withdrawal system at that time. They thought that it would be abused, but they were assured by the Ministry that it would be very closely watched. The fishermen thought that too many boats would come in and fish for fish meal purposes. Now, more and more boats show evidence of seeking to fish only for fish meal purposes—that is, purely industrial fishing. There are boats fishing in my area, including one or two Cornish boats, which are expressly designed and equipped to fish for fish meal purposes and not for human consumption.

People say to me—it will be said to me by the owners of these particular boats—"Are you against modern methods? Is it not retrograde to try to retard new techniques?" Someone may say "You old-fashioned reactionary. Would you ban the combine harvester in agriculture?" All these ludicrous analogies are used. However, a combine harvester does not consume the seed corn. That is what we are concerned about here—the basic stock that we feel should be conserved. We have tried to bring the position home to the Minister but have made no progress whatsoever.

I have sought the permission of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) to quote from an answer that he received on Monday from the Minister of State, which stated that My right hon. Friend and I have no plans at present to restrict the access of either numbers or classes of vessels, or to outlaw particular types of fishing gear in the mackerel fishery off the coasts of Cornwall and Devon. The Government's powers to act in this way are limited to cases where there is a conservation need, and the available scientific advice suggests that the stocks in question are capable of withstanding the present level of fishing effort."—[Official Report, 16th February 1976; Vol. 905, c. 491.] We have all heard this before. Of course the Ministry has to listen to its scientific advisers, but we cannot wait for the scientists. There are numerous examples showing where they have been wrong in the past. Herring was a prime example. Sprats in the Wash is another, and off the rich coast of New England in the United States, mackerel stocks are being severely depleted by over-fishing. We simply cannot wait for the scientists, or what is, evidently, called the Mackerel Working Group. The whole thing is just one delay after another.

Let me say just what it is that we want. First, we think it is essential to apply the provisions of Section 6 of the Sea Fish Conservation Act to ban purse seining for mackerel in inshore waters within our 12-mile limit. There are only one or two boats doing this. We all know what purse seining has done to herring in the Atlantic. Every Scottish fisherman knows what it has done to stocks of fish in his area. It is a recognised fact. The Minister says that he has limited powers to act. However, the Minister has acted. He has done so in the southern Irish Sea, where there is in existence today a ban on purse seining for herring. If there can be a ban on purse seining for herring in the Irish Sea today, why can we not get some response to our request for a ban on purse seining, for the time being, for mackerel in other waters?

Second, as the hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham mentioned—there may be some minor disagreement about what I say on this point—we tried hard to get beam trawling regulated when we were in office. Now it is coming back again. Beam trawling in our inshore waters will not help to preserve stocks at all. This matter needs to be examined again.

Third, we need to look at catch sizes in connection with industrial fishing. I believe that the Ministry is doing that.

Fourth, the Ministry must abide by its undertakings to regulate the amount of mackerel going for withdrawal. I entirely understand the difficulty of putting limits on the amount of fish in a catch that goes for fish meal. It is a very difficult thing to do. However, we must place some regulation on the amount, because we should all seek to fish for human consumption.

Finally, it is important that we should be realistic about the extent of our limits beyond 12 miles. We want the limits extended and our own zone extended beyond 12 miles. Personally, I think that this will mean an early renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. I think it will have to mean that between 12 miles and 25 miles, and between 25 and 50 miles, there will have to be some kind of regulation on the size of fishing vessels. We shall have to get down to some kind of regulation about the size of vessels beyond the 12-mile limit. The fact is that the Russians and the East European countries are fishing out there now. We cannot do anything about that at present, but we can do something about the conservation of stocks within 12 miles. That is the area on which we have repeatedly asked the Ministry to take action but have repeatedly had no response.

Therefore, I make my final appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland, although he cannot answer the point this evening. We are desperately serious about this matter. We are not asking for anything too dramatic. Only one or two boats are involved. At present there are two Scottish purse seiners in our area—or rather one, the "Gallic Rose", and there has been another one that has come in and out. There has also been one Hull freezer. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East mentioned it, and understood our problem.

We are not asking for the world. We have probably the only healthy inshore fishery that is left in the United Kingdom. It is worth preserving for everyone—for the Scots, the Cornish and everyone else. Let us preserve it and not just watch it being destroyed while the scientists do their sums.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

First, I should like to apologise to those hon. Members whose speeches I have not heard. I was present to hear the opening speech of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), but unfortunately I was elsewhere thereafter, in a Standing Committee, where I was trying to preserve jobs on Humberside, as I am trying to preserve jobs now by speaking in this debate. I trust that hon. Members will forgive me for my apparent discourtesy.

I agree with many of the things said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), with the exception, perhaps, of his attitude to Iceland. However, there is one thing which the present slump in the fishing industry displays more than anything. and that is the very difficult situation in which the crews of the trawlers find themselves.

My right hon. and hon. Friends should be aware that over the past few months my trade union, the T and GWU, has been waging a campaign to bring fishermen within the terms of employment that are enjoyed by other working men in Britain—such as contracts of employment, redundancy payments and wage-related benefits. However, one of the serious problems that my members face is the fact that because they are on articles, the length of time for which they are employed is such that they never have an employer long enough to enable them to benefit from the various social security advantages that the remainder of the working population possess. This becomes evident and important when it is remembered that on Humberside, on both banks, we have nearly 1,000 fishermen unemployed. That situation is reflected in the other ports in which my union has members, and especially those in England, such as Fleetwood and Lowestoft.

In whatever policy we are discussing for the future of the fishing industry, it is important that we think not only about the number of fish that we land and the price of certain qualities of fish but about the employment of our constituents. It is important that we remember that they are losing out by having been exempted from so many of the social security measures that have passed through the House, which have sought to improve the condition of the ordinary working man when faced with unemployment.

It is imperative that when the Government consider a fishing policy they think not only about new types of vessel but about the sort of industry we shall have and what we shall do for the people now employed in it. We must think about providing proper compensation and proper retraining. Those will be some of the most important facets of any fishing policy that we consider.

When we introduce a fishing policy—I hope that one day we shall have one—we must do something positive for the men now employed in the industry. We have had no fishing policy, except for the derogation that came from the Treaty of Accession.

Of course, the owners have their tales of woe. As I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did not think that those tales were deserved. All I can do is to point out the trawlers that have been laid up and to a thousand of my union members who are unemployed. It may not be a tale of woe for the trawler owners, but it is for the fishermen and the 290 men who are threatened with unemployment at the Humber St. Andrews British United Trawlers subsidiary. Those are some of the people unemployed in the spin-off from the industry. There is the multiplier of one fisherman to every six land-based workers who will be unemployed. It is of paramount importance that we have some sort of fishing policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and I have discussed these matters on many occasions. We have considered the type of policy that we need. We must go for an exclusive zone. We must have a 100-mile limit for our fishermen. We have to go for that limit partly to ensure the livelihoods of our constituents and to conserve stocks. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) spoke of graduated limits from 12 miles to 20 miles, 20 miles to 30 miles and 30 miles to 50 miles, and to whatever may be the outer limit. He spoke of allowing only vessels of a certain size to be within certain areas in order to conserve stock and to ensure the livelihood of fishermen. He said that such a policy should be adopted to protect the seed corn and to keep out the combine harvesters.

When we think of reaching an agreement and establishing quotas it is important that we do not think only in terms of the amount of fish that we agree any country can have. We know only too well that that sort of agreement can be broken. We have recently had example after example of that. We also know that although we have a good record, some of our fishermen have broken mesh size regulations, and things of that sort. It would be more effective to prevent over-fishing and to ensure that some sort of "quota" is arrived at by limiting the number and size of vessels that can fish in an area and the time that they can fish in it. In that way we shall be able to estimate the catch that they will get within the time allowed. One can limit much more effectively in that manner than by merely fixing a quota that can be completely ignored.

Despite replies that I have had to the contrary from my right hon. Friend, I hope that we shall see a White Paper published quite soon. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is going firm on a 100-mile limit, and we are noting what the Commissioners have said rather than accepting their pronouncements, we need to spell out in a White Paper what the Government envisage for the future of the British fishing industry. Apart from the paper that has been produced by BUT—and all credit to it—there has been no drawing together of the available information, of the options that are open and the possibilities for the future.

As a Socialist, I think it regrettable that the first thoughts on these matters have come from one of the largest private firms. No action of that sort has been taken by the Government. BUT has published its preliminary thinking, but we want to know where the Government see the main centres of commercial fishing. By "commercial fishing" I mean fishing in the frozen catch development sense.

There are small communities around our scattered islands in which the fishing industry plays a tremendously important part in the livelihood of the people. But what will be the centres of the fishing industry? What sort of development are we to see? What arrangements shall we have for determining the type of vessels that are used? If it comes off, there is an agreement with Newfoundland to take some of our trawlers, but it will not last for long. When it comes to an end we shall be back in the same difficulties.

What provision are we to make for the training and retraining of our fishermen and the proper availability of employment? How do we see the frozen section of the fishing industry continuing as part of the core of the frozen food industry? How many people do we see employed in the industry in future? The Government should be producing answers to those questions for the benefit and information of society. The answers will be examined critically, but we are not getting them. I should be prepared to accept a Green Paper, but let us have some thoughts on the matter from the Government.

It is undoubtedly true that no one seems to know in which direction we are going in establishing a fishing policy. The result is that fishing communities are in decay. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said, a positive fishing policy would be a tremendous boost for fishing communities. It would be an extremely effective regional policy. I shall not rehearse my hon. Friend's arguments, save to say that male unemployment on Humberside is greater than the average male unemployment in any of the development and special development areas. That is the situation that prevails in the Hull travel-to-work area.

There are people on Humberside who say that Hull must lose its "cod image". However, fishing is a prime employer of human beings in Hull. We should not underestimate the part being played by the fishing industry in our community. It employs many people in many ways. It is essential that the Government should give us their thoughts on how they see fishing policy.

My disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East on Icelandic policy does not arise from any argument dealing with the source of Iceland's wealth. I accept that the Icelandic economy depends a great deal on fish. My criticism concerns the way in which the Icelanders have dealt with the situation. I question their selfish attitude to the repercussions caused by their policies in respect of other people employed in the fishing industry in the United Kingdom and to the degree of unemployment, which is far higher in the United Kingdom that it is in Iceland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said that some people in Iceland did not want the agreement with Germany. They hope that as a result of failure to agree with us the other arrangements will be "scuppered". That may be the case, but it is a significant fact that as we reduce our catch from the waters round Iceland, so the jobs on Humberside will be reduced, to a multiple of six jobs to one fisherman. That matter must be carefully considered, and should provide an added impetus to the Government to give help to the fishing industry and the people affected by its operations, and to prepare a policy for discussion.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. John Corrie (Bute and North Ayrshire)

We appear to have chosen the right day on which to discuss the subject of fishing in the House. We see front page headlines in the Daily Telegraph such as "Iceland to break with Britain", "Frigate rammed by gunboat", "EEC plans 200-mile fishing zone", and "Fishing industry 'near to collapse'".

In the next few months the Government have to take a simple decision. They must decide whether they are to continue on their present course and to sound the death knell of the British fishing industry, or wake up to the fact that the industry is in serious financial trouble, that danger point has been reached and that some positive action must be taken if the industry is to be saved. It may be a simple decision, but it will have mammoth consequences.

There are many different aspects to the problem. The obvious one is Iceland. I was very sorry to see today's news of Iceland's decision to break off diplomatic relations. It is very sad that at a time when our boats are being harassed, fishermen in the North of Scotland will soon have to sit on the jetties to watch while Scottish herring are being scooped from the sea by Icelandic boats simply because they now have an illegal 200-mile limit and as yet Britain has done nothing to protect our own fish stocks.

However, we should not take action unless it is within the law. I am a Scot and I dissociate myself from the remarks made by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) who appeared to support the Icelandic Government's move. I am sure that there are many others in Scotland who wish to dissociate themselves from the hon. Gentleman's views.

One of the important matters to be considered is the cost of surveys under the new safety rules. Perhaps I may say a few words on that matter since it has caused much agitation among fishermen. The complaints are related to the cost of the surveys and the remedy lies in securing a proper return for fishermen's catches. We should not have heard much about this issue if the rules had been introduced two years ago when the boom was in progress, but things are now different and some sections of the inshore fleet are in serious financial trouble. Indeed some fleets are finding it difficult if not impossible, to meet costs.

When the deep-water fleets faced extra charges and when the consequences of the Holland Martin Committee Report were considered, the Government met the full cost of stabilising tests where such tests were undertaken to comply with the committee's recommendations. This was announced by the Minister of Agriculture in a Written Answer on 3rd August, 1971, although the Department of Trade and Industry met the costs.

It seems only fair to provide some balancing aid to inshore vessels, which is the majority of our fishing fleet. I suggest that the Government should meet the cost of the first survey only on vessels currently in the fleet. According to my figures, this appears to involve a fairly small amount of money spread out over the next five years. From figures in my possession it appears that in 1975 there were 20 boats at a cost of £12,000; in 1976, 250 boats at a cost of £111,000; running on through to 1980, with a total of 1,910 boats at a total cost of £865,000. This is surely one way for some help to be given to an industry that is under pressure in terms of inshore fleet costs in the present difficult period. I hope that the Minister will say a few words about this important topic.

The serious plight of the industry in Scotland is reflected in the fact that 54 vessels have been withdrawn from service in the past year. However, 19 boats were built and they have now joined the fleet, but severe problems are being encountered in paying for these boats because they have come into the industry at a time of severe recession.

The problems facing the fleet are many. First, there has been a rapid decline in fish prices in the last year. Secondly, boats have to fish longer and longer hours to bring home the same number of fish because of severe over-fishing in most of the waters around our coasts. Therefore, we see the drastic situation of more and more fishermen having to stop fishing, more and more boats having to be tied up, more and more factories closing, more and more ancillary industries having to pay off employees, and more and more boatyards going into liquidation. There seems to have been a chain reaction.

At the same time, fishing grounds around our coasts are being raped by third country boats, equipped with highly sophisticated sonar equipment that is so accurate that it can pick up one fish of six kilos. In this way seas which are, or should be Community waters—and exclusively British waters—are being vacuum-cleaned of all stocks. Although limits may come in the near future, there will by then be no fish left in those waters.

Many Scottish fishermen and fishermen from the North-East of England who have been badly affected by restrictions on herring fishing had hoped to move into the sprat market. The best grounds for sprat are just off the South-East of Scotland. However, Norway saw the prospects in that area and organised new catch quota systems under a new formula, making Norway the principal beneficiary. It worked to Britain's disadvantage, because, instead of quotas having been fixed by reference to relative catches of the countries concerned over the past 10 years—the usual approach to quota determination—they were set as the best catch in the years 1964 to 1974, or on a catch of the first 11 months of this year reduced by 40 per cent. for the quantity above 50,000 tons. That has given Norway a very large share of the sprat market and the United Kingdom has had a relatively low share. What were our negotiators doing when they were supposed to be looking after these quotas?

The herring fleet has been hit extremely badly. In the first six months of 1976 the total allocation in the North Sea will be 87,000 tons of herring. Of that figure the United Kingdom's share is over 5,000 tons, which could be fished out in a few weeks. Therefore, we have the terrible sight of British fishermen sitting on the quay watching other countries scooping up the larger quotas and, to add insult to injury, the prospect of Iceland obtaining an almost equal share of those herring.

We must accept that at present too many boats are chasing too few fish for too little money. Although a guide price was set with an average increase of 11.7 per cent. for 1976, that guide price is so low that one would almost hope that it had never come into being. Therefore, this is a negative step and does not help the income of fishermen, unless the situation gets even worse. The Commissioner responsible for these matters went so far as to say in Strasbourg that this would not push up the prices to consumers as the figure was set so far below present consumer prices. Fishermen do not understand these tactics. They want cash and they need it to survive. I hope that the Government will do something about the situation Fishermen work long hours and their income has fallen by between 20 and 40 per cent in the past year

I have been a member of the European Parliament for 10 months and I believe that we must accept the restructuring of the industry which has been suggested by Europe, though it must be done in a humane way. If men have to be taken out of the industry, there must be sufficient funds to ensure they are properly looked after. If regional development schemes are to be set up by member States, there must be Community funds to help and they must not come from the present Regional Fund, which is already stretched The problem is that we have no overall Community fishing policy to look after the industry and we must look for it urgently There are far too many problems running along at the same time

It is universally accepted that we shall go for a 200-mile limit with an exclusive zone inside that, which I hope will be 100 miles I have not heard anybody in the debate agree with the suggestion of a 12-mile exclusive zone There is probably no one in this House who is more pro-European than I, but I have no hesitation in being parochial on our fishing industry, just as many other European countries are in their own interests—for example, France with wine and Italy with olives. Great Britain must stand up for the rights of our fishing industry.

At question time in the European Parliament last month Mr. Nyborg suggested that although we had a 200-miles zone, all Community boats should have free access inside the zone. I think that we must do away with any of the old historic fishing rights that we have had for so long and, in the interests of our own fishing fleet, have exclusive rights round our coasts for our own fishermen. Only in this way can we conserve, control and police properly and swap quotas with other nations.

All the countries involved in the northern waters must get together with the NEAFC countries and Community countries who are not in NEAFC. Until this happens, we will get nowhere and I sincerely hope that this country will take a lead on fishing within the Community. After all, last year we gave Norway—a country outside the Community—the right to trawler-free zones to conserve her fish stock. Surely it is time we had this sort of arrangement around our own shores to allow our herring stocks to build up once again.

A major problem which must be looked at in the very near future is the policing of factory ships at sea, because it is quite obvious from various articles and reports from abroad that many of the countries do not hold to their quotas. We have even had one country in the last few weeks admitting that it had caught over 50 per cent. above its quota limit. It is impossible to tell how much fish is being caught by a fleet which is supplying factory ships at sea. It is equally impossible to tell what sort of fish have been caught for industrial use in some of the countries which fish our seas in this way. We must find a better way of policing these ships.

One of the major changes within the industry could come with the restructure proposals put forward by the Commission to the Council of Ministers. I think Britain has to watch this very carefully as our fishing fleet is generally much younger and better equipped than many of the fleets in Europe. For this reason restructuring will help many other nations much more than Britain. It is interesting to note, for instance, that a country like Italy has nearly 17,000 small boats under 12 metres whereas Britain has only 4,000. Equally, in the 18- to 24-metre group Italy has 1,740 boats as opposed to the United Kingdom's 560. There are 41,000 boats in the European countries fishing in northern European waters at the present time.

The restructuring of the small-scale inshore fishing industry is about to take place. Two types of measures are provided to achieve this object. The first is modernisation of the fleets and other means of production and the second is the withdrawal from service of old uneconomic vessels and encouragement of fishermen aged between 55 to 65 to leave the industry. In both cases the proposals provide for financial aid from the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund. The total cost to the Fund in the first five years of the programme is estimated to be £60 million.

Aid has strings attached, because, although the fund provided for in the proposals takes the form of capital grants of up to 25 per cent., it is on condition that the beneficiaries themselves provide 50 per cent. and the member States contribute at least 40 per cent. of the sum granted by the EAGGF. Aid will be granted only to producers who have been fishing for at least five years with vessels whose length does not exceed 24 metres. We know what has happened in the past when member States have had to contribute.

It is not all that clear what the Commission means by the "non-industrial inshore industry". It has been suggested that the phrase means vessels which are family owned and not owned by companies. In the United Kingdom inshore vessels are mainly but not exclusively in fishermen ownership, but there is frequently part ownership by companies, which often provides a very useful support to the fishermen. I hope that I have misinterpreted the phrase, since restructuring a certain section of the fleet should not become confused with the nature of the method of ownership. The proposals seem to assume that all inshore fleet are largely old and run-down and inefficient. The British fleet certainly is not.

The total sum of money earmarked, when spread among the fishing nations of the EEC, seems completely inadequate for the objectives. This appears to be particularly the case in respect of the suggested rates for scrapping grants. We must accept that FEOGA grants for new vessels cannot match the number granted by member States, but I should like to know more from the Minister about the basis on which the Commission will decide who are to be the lucky few who get grants. The element of luck is what we should all like to avoid, and it would certainly seem that the member State should have some say in the process of selection.

Views have been expressed about the wisdom of restricting such aid to producers who have been fishing for at least five years, since promising young beginners are often given a small share in a vessel in order to encourage them. The proposals to support research and training are warmly welcomed, but the allocation of funds is far too small. The sums for fishermen who agree to give up fishing between the ages of 55 and 65 also seem small. Married men will get £450 a year and unmarried men £300 a year. The grant in respect of vessels being broken up to encourage owners to leave the industry appears to be about £100 per gross ton, which is a very small incentive at today's values.

When ministerial discussions take place, Britain must push very hard to see that we get at least our fair share in any restructuring. More than 130,000 people are directly or indirectly dependent on fishermen and the fish they bring back from the sea. The Government must ensure that the industry remains strong and viable through this difficult time.

At present, our fisherment bring in 85 per cent. of all the fish consumed here. I hope that the Government are not simply allowing this industry to die so that those who are left can survive the present economic struggle. I also hope that in the near future the Government will help with a direct cash subsidy to keep the industry going until better times return.

It will be a tough battle to get what we want for our fishermen. We have the longest coastline in Europe, the best fleet of ships and they are probably crewed by the best fishermen in Europe. We have the most to gain or lose from what we get out of negotiations. I hope that the Government will fight all the way to get what we need.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Before calling the next speaker, I should tell the House that I have the names of 11 hon. Members who still wish to address the House and the winding-up speeches start in just about one hour.

8.10 p.m.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

I cannot speak with the authority of hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies, and I pay tribute to the expertise of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I speak as a consumer, and I am worried about a joke which I saw in a newspaper recently. A couple out for a meal were looking at the menu. The wife said to the husband "Let us be daring tonight; never mind the steak, let us splash out on fish and chips." If the situation develops as it threatens to develop, there is a danger that what was once a humble but very good meal will become a meal which people can no longer afford.

I am extremely sorry and sad that Iceland has broken off diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. I have a great deal of sympathy with Iceland, but it does not necessarily follow that only small nations have rights. Large nations also have rights. A small nation which depends largely on the fishing industry cannot take the law into its own hands and do exactly as it likes. Unilateral action by one side is not the best way to solve any dispute.

I deprecate the rather smug advice given to the Government by some newspapers. They tell the Government to give in because the Government will eventually have to give in anyway. How dare they usurp the function of the court and bring in a verdict? That is entirely wrong. The newspapers may say that Britain's dependence on the fishing industry is not great, but neither is our dependence on a large number of other industries. We are being advised to give up this industry and that industry and and to retrain men out of shipbuilding, engineering and textiles, and now we are being asked to retrain them out of the fishing industry. Where do we stop? I am reminded of the Scottish expression, Mony a mickle mak's a muckle. If we add up the industries on which we do not depend to a great extent, the result is a substantial loss of jobs.

I pay tribute to the fishermen who have been subjected to difficult and dangerous circumstances. One of my hon. Friends mentioned how short a time a man would live if he happened to fall into the water. It is no more than 15 minutes, although my hon. Friend said nine or 10 minutes. A debt is due to those fishermen, as it is to the officers and men of the Royal Navy.

I like fish and I should hate to see the emasculation of the fishing industry. As a youth I remember going on a Lowestoft drifter out of Stornoway. I even remember the number of the drifter, which was LT10. I spent two nights aboard the drifter going out to the fishing grounds, coming back the following morning, selling the fish and going back out again. From inshore fishing the fish had to be sold on the day it was caught. It was not fresh if it was kept for more than a day. From that experience I realise the rigours faced by the men in the fishing industry. Although it was summer time the weather was cold and the waters in the North of Scotland were rough.

It ill-behoves any of us to pontificate about short-term measures to solve the problems of the fishing industry. It is sufficient for me to say that the people of this country want to keep the industry going so that we can arrive at a short-term solution and perhaps even look at the longer term.

Fishing boats cannot in these days put to sea and roam the seas as they used to, just as we no longer roam the plains to hunt our meat. Fish is a protein of very great value, and we must look to the active conservation of the fishing grounds and to the development of a new system. Fish can be encouraged to develop in almost any area. We should turn our minds, with scientific advice, to the breeding and conservation of fish within our waters and not roam the seas in the way in which the ancient buffalo hunters used to roam the plains of the United States to get their meat.

Hon. Members who produce short-term solutions are not doing justice to the problem. We should give encouragement to the Government to get talks going again with the Icelandic authorities. I hope that the diplomatic break between Iceland and the United Kingdom will be short, and that before long the two countries will be sitting down together to arrive at a short-term solution while longer-term solutions are being worked out.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. Ian Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

. Representing as I do the port of Aberdeen, one sees so many aspects of the fishing crisis that I hardly know where to begin. There are Iceland, conservation, quotas, evasion of quotas, the Law of the Sea Conference, the common fisheries policy, imported foreign fish, and the size and sort of fleet that the Government want to see. I ask the Minister who is to wind up the debate to give the fishing industry some idea at least of how the Government see the future. The lack of proposals, concrete or otherwise, from the Government contributes massively to the lack of confidence felt inside the industry. When will the Government make proposals?

The House will have enjoyed a hollow laugh in listening to the speech made by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt). He referred to the Scottish National Party kicking up a fuss about fishing. The noise made by the SNP about fishing in the last week is comparable to a snowflake falling on the North Sea. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) did not even appear during the fishing debate in the European Parliament. The SNP did not even give an official reception to the delegation from the Scottish Trawlers Federation which came to the House yesterday in a state of desperate crisis. I hope that the people of Scotland will recognise that.

Mr. Watt

The hon. Gentleman ought to recognise that SNP Members do not have trawlers in their constituencies. He must recognise also that the Scottish trawling fleet is going down while the inshore fleet is going up.

Mr. Sproat

I am only too well aware of that, but the House will note that the fact that they do not have a single trawler in Iceland does not stop them from pontificating there about British trawlers. I want to concentrate on the very serious situation facing the Scottish trawling fleet, and particularly in the port of Aberdeen.

I shall not go into too many details, because the catalogue of crisis is only too well known to many hon. Members. We are now facing the possibility of 8,000 jobs being lost to the industry in Aberdeen alone, at a time when there are over 160,000 unemployed in Scotland. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)—I agreed with much of his speech—said that we shall be facing this situation within six weeks. I do not think it will be as soon as that, but within six weeks we shall face a situation in which may be another 25 per cent. of the fleet will be tied up if nothing further is done, and then probably the rest over a year. To wipe out the Scottish trawling fleet in a year is an absolute catastrophe for Aberdeen, for Scotland, and for the United Kingdom.

The reason is very simple. It is that on average each vessel in the Scottish fleet, including subsidy and depreciation, is losing £25,000 per year, and there is no way in which the fleet can continue to bear that burden. That was last year, and inflation is still rising. Since that figure was given there has been an extra £15 per ton on fuel. That will add another £700,000 per year to the bill of the STF. I know that the Ministers are aware of these facts but I do not think they have really grasped the gravity of them. They still think it is a case of crying "Wolf." It is not a case of crying "Wolf."

In Aberdeen last week another five vessels were scrapped. Admittedly they had been tied up, but it was decided to scrap them completely. Last year about 280 men went out of the industry. They will not return. It is a different problem from that on Humberside, where there is very severe unemployment. If men leave the industry in Aberdeen they will be snapped up in oil-related work and will never come back, and we shall lose the capacity to provide our own food.

The stark situation is that, if we do not get financial help from the Government, we shall see approximately another 25 per cent. of the fleet tied up by the end of next month, in addition to the 25 per cent. tied up last year. That will mean 50 per cent. wiped out in a year and a half. If there is no help we face a real prospect of the death of the industry within a year. One result of that would be very wide-spread unemployment—8,000 jobs in Aberdeen alone.

Another result would be an unbalancing of the economy. Oil will last only 20 to 30 years. If we husband our fish resources properly, they will be there for very much longer. It is part of the Government's economic policy to assist in maintaining areas of the economy which are in danger. The Government believe that, given encouragement now, these areas will flourish in the future. This is all the fishing industry is asking.

Another result would be the loss of our ability to feed ourselves. Since one of the major problems of the last quarter of the century will be the ability of people to feed themselves, not only in this country but world-wide, we must not throw away lightly this source of food.

Another result would be a huge increase in balance of payments problems. As the Minister of State will appreciate, if we allow our fleet to decrease we shall be decreasing our weight at international conference tables. This is very serious. It is difficult enough at the moment, but if we allow our fleet to be reduced even more we shall carry less and less weight at the Law of the Sea Conference and at the EEC negotiating table.

The Government have said that this can be solved by the industry buoying itself up by increases in prices. If this could be so, nobody would be happier than the industry, but the fact is that it is no use saying, as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland said last week, in a very sympathetic hearing that, I understand, he gave to the industry, to men who are to lose 25 per cent. of their fleet in six weeks, that the prices in the market will save them. There is no time, particularly when we note that last year prices rose on average by only 2 per cent. while inflation was running at 25 per cent. There is no way in which a margin can be made out of that.

When he opened the debate today, in a speech which many of us thought excellent, particularly the part about Iceland, the Minister talked about the margins firming up, but 2 per cent. is not a firming up. Indeed, in Aberdeen prices were actually down last month compared with the same time last year. There is no question of the market firming up, and no way in which prices in the foreseeable future will rectify the appalling losses the industry is suffering.

If the Government truly think that the rise in prices will provide the finance to buoy up the industry, let the Government come forward with a scheme which will not be operable if prices bring profits up to a reasonable level. Then, if what the Government say is correct, they will lose no money. On the other hand, if what the industry says is correct—that prices will not rise enough—the industry will be saved by the subsidy. I hope that the Government will consider some sort of scheme of this sort. We desperately need a restoration of financial aid.

The sum needed is a minimum of £4 million. That would just cover the cash lost in the industry which we predict for 1976. It does not even cover increases due to inflation and so on. It is a source of some bitterness to the fishing industry that a sum far less than 5 per cent. of what was splashed out in the Chrysler affair—I am not going into the rights and wrongs of Chrysler—cannot be made available to the fishing industry, particularly when the Norwegian industry, with which we are supposed to compete on equal terms, is subsidised to the tune of £60 million a year by the Norwegian Government.

I very much hope that when the right hon. Gentleman winds up he will give—not the details of the scheme—at least a commitment in principle to financial help. That is all we want at this stage. The details can be worked out later, may be on the sort of ground I have suggested, so that if prices rise the Government do not have to pay out the aid. We want now a commitment in principle from the Government to financial aid for the industry over the short-term period in which it is in very serious financial difficulties.

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman should not overlook that, in the current year's Estimates for the fishing industry, there is about £34 million of aid to the industry to help it towards meeting its liability. This is apart from the fact that last year, included in that amount, there was a temporary subsidy of £10 million. I remind the hon. Gentleman of my right hon. Friend's opening speech, in which he said that if a case of overwhelming need can be established and documented, we are prepared to consider it. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor the industry should overlook the substantial support we are giving to the industry at the present time.

Mr. Sproat

That is a fair point, which the hon. Gentleman has made before. I was aware of the figure of £34 million, but, even after that was given and the subsidy was included, each vessel was still losing £25,000, and most people see an increased projection for this year.

Is it possible to continue the scheme that we had last year, with whatever minor alterations may be necessary, under EEC regulations, or are we prevented from doing that? Alternatively, if we are prevented directly from using the same scheme, is there a variation of the criteria which we could manipulate so as to bring in financial aid to the industry?

I was glad to hear the Minister say that there was "an overwhelming case". I believe that there is an audited overwhelming case, and I hope that we shall be told that the Minister of State will agree to receive an all-party delegation within the next week because of the pressing urgency of the situation facing our trawlers.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

It is very interesting that on a day when we have had a Government White Paper announcing massive public expenditure cuts over a broad spectrum of activities in the social services and the rest, the Opposition are now pleading for increased public expenditure, no doubt for very good reasons from their point of view. But I wish that they would be consistent in these matters. There does not seem to be much consistency from hour to hour, let alone from day to day.

The Opposition are never more eloquent than when they are pleading for more public money for fishermen or for farmers, and when they are damning the nationalised industries and their extravagant expenditure.

I have not a great constituency interest in this matter. I have very few fishermen. But a prominent Labour Party supporter and worker in West Fife happens to own a fish-and-chip shop, and he is getting the worst of all possible worlds with both his fish and his chips. It is from that point of view that I approach this problem. As I say, I cannot be accused of scrambling around for votes, because there are not many fishermen in my constituency, but my constituents all like fish suppers and, therefore, they all have a vested interest in how fishermen catch the fish and how farmers produce the potatoes to make the chips.

All of us in the House want to see fishermen treated in such a way that they get a good standard of living from their calling. The figures show that the fishing industry is more dangerous even than coal mining. That is not generally recognised, and it is not reflected in the returns which they get on the services that they render the nation.

I speak as a Member representing a Scottish constituency. It is right that a number of Scottish Members should have taken part in the debate, because the Scottish stake in the United Kingdom fishing industry is extremely important. I need not weary the House too much with figures. I merely remind right hon. and hon. Members that the 1973 total of white fish landings in the United Kingdom was 130 million tons or thereabouts. Of that, more than a third was produced by Scottish vessels, mostly inshore. In this connection, the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) was right when he said that Scotland was not terribly interested in the far distant waters. Nearly all the herrings landed in Scotland are from inshore boats. The same applies to landings of shellfish.

In terms of employment, the Scottish fishing industry is not significant. There are just over 8,000 men fully employed and 1,500 partially employed. Taking a multiplier of three in order to arrive at the total number directly and indirectly employed in the industry, it throws up a figure of about 30,000. However, the fishing industry in Scotland is concentrated in certain parts of Scotland where alternative employment is not easy to obtain. From our point of view, it is very important that we should preserve the industry.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to the danger of industrial fishing. One of our problems today is that technological developments have gone at such a pace that we are extracting fish at a faster rate than they can reproduce themselves. We are cleaning out the oceans faster than the fish can reproduce, and the common agricultural policy which allows our waters, which we had carefully preserved, to be poached unremittingly has to be stopped and dramatically changed. The extension of the fishing limits is not only in our national interest but in international interest. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) agreed with the view of the Icelandic Government, suppoting the Icelandic action.

Anybody who looks at the international scene must understand that nobody can support unilateral action in such an important field as this. The international conferenece on the law of the sea may come to the same conclusion as has been unilaterally reached by the Icelanders, but that is no good reason at this time for saying, "We unilaterally draw a line 200 miles off our shores", even though the Icelanders, from their point of view, have a very good case in saying that virtually their whole economy depends on this commodity and that therefore they are entitled to take unilateral action. That is not an argument that can easily be sustained.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that about four years ago, when the limits were increased to 12 miles, there was no agreement about the law of the sea, but broad agreement that the limits were going out? Everybody then acted unilaterally, although it was not then international law.

Mr. Hamilton

That does not justify it. I shall develop the point later in an international context. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is more conversant with these matters than I am, will have read the Report of the Herring Industry Board for 1973. I suspect that the recommendations that the Board made then were something like what will come out of the international conference later this year. As the hon. Gentleman will notice, the Board said that the United Kingdom limits should go to 200 miles or to the median line between countries nearer to one another than that distance; that the first 12 miles should be exclusive to United Kingdom fishermen, and that between 12 and 200 miles the United Kingdom Government should have jurisdiction over all fishing, subject to reciprocal arrangements with other countries. That seems to me to be a sensible way to tackle what is an international problem.

This is not by its nature a national problem, and if anything like that emerges from the conference it will inevitably mean fundamental alterations in Community policy. This policy was debated in Strasbourg last Thursday. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) was not there. I say this more in sorrow than in anger, because she has repeated several times——

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member who has not sat through the debate to take up the time of the House making a point that has already been made? This is gutter politics.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Hamilton

I am sorry that it is not, because I have attended the debate longer than the hon. Lady has. She has been notable by her absence from this debate for a long period.

Mrs. Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must be protected. I have been in this debate almost consistently, except for——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady may be assured that she will have my protection when the need arises.

Mr. Hamilton

She will need it.

Mrs. Ewing

This is just silly.

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Lady knew that that debate in Strasbourg was due to take place. An hour before it took place she was speaking in that same Assembly, defending her own legal profession, so when she goes to Moray and Nairn, she must not say that she is protecting the fishermen. She is protecting the lawyers. That is what she is in Strasbourg for.

Mrs. Ewing

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Hamilton

No. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will give the hon. Lady all the protection she needs, but I want to get these facts on the record. To make sure that they were on the record, I sent a letter about them to the hon. Lady's local paper.

I want to deal with the problems of the fishing industry as I see them. One of the great problems is that the fisherman, if anything, is a great individualist who does not believe in co-operation or co-operatives. The record of the establishment of co-operatives among fishermen is very poor. In a period of inflation, when all industries are vulnerable, those which are individualistic are more vulnerable than are big concerns like ICI or BP. Fishermen are very suspicious of any attempt at co-operation, of whatever kind.

Nevertheless, I think that they understand, even as individualists, the vital need to work within the EEC context. That is why I hope that the fishermen noted that the SNP came out against our continued membership of the EEC. The main Scottish herring market is in the EEC. About £8.6 million-worth—88 per cent. by weight—of fresh Scottish herring went to the EEC in 1973.

As has been said many times, the other worries of the industry are rising costs and problems other than those associated with the common fisheries policy. Figures have been quoted, certainly in Europe, about substantial EEC help to the Scottish fishing industry in the building of boats. I think that £250,000 was given for the building of boats at Peterhead, Whalsay, Shetland and Fraserburgh. There are arguments about the criteria used in giving this assistance. I should like my right hon. Friend to stop chattering for a while and listen.

Mr. Peart

Who, me?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, the Minister.

Mr. Peart

I am listening.

Mr. Hamilton

I am asking him a very serious question. Financial aid has been given by the Common Market to the fishing boat industry in Scotland, but no one seems to know on what criteria it is given. I cannot find out, either in this country or on the Continent.

The problems of the fishing industry were summed up in the White Fish Authority's Report of 1974. Which said: Extended limits for the EEC countries in general will necessarily entail substantial modification of the common fisheries policy. The opportunity for change would be welcomed by us"— that is the White Fish Authority— for we have recorded in the past our opposition to the conception of fishing up to each other's beaches and to the unduly complex marketing and grading principles embodied in the policy. What is amiss should be set to rights as soon as there is a new framework of agreed international law within which the EEC countries can work. In my view that sums up the present situation.

My right hon. Friend said that when he fights in Europe he does so not only for the interests of the United Kingdom but for a more scientific use of the resources of the seas of the world. When he or his right hon. Friend goes to Europe or to the Law of the Sea Conference these matters must be seen in that context. Whatever justification there may be for temporary aid to the fishing industry, the long-term aims of our country, the Europeans and the international community must be to ensure that the reserves—whether they be food or raw materials—in the international oceans are used scientifically. In other words, we must plan.

Opposition Members must understand that the concept of the planned use of resources means intervention at national and international level. The relentless laws of the market—the laws of the jungle—can no longer prevail. Indeed, some of the fishing industry's problems spring directly from what might be termed the piratical nature of the fishing industry. At present there is almost piracy. The industry is unordered and uncontrolled. It is a question of every man for himself.

Unless Governments and international organisations intervene, plan and control we shall denude the oceans quicker than the resources can be renewed. That is the essence of the problem. It is no good thinking that by putting £4 million or £5 million into the industry over the next two or three years the problems will be solved. They will not be solved—they will be deferred. The problems must be solved, but they will be solved only in the international context.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Very little time remains. I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to make their speeches as brief as possible.

8.48 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)

This debate could not have come at a more appropriate time from the point of view of the inshore fishing industry of Devon and Cornwall. Indeed, it is on that section of the industry, especially in connection with the catching of mackerel that I wish to concentrate my remarks.

The specific problem is the over-fishing of mackerel. This situation has arisen largely, but not exclusively, as a result of the intrusion in to West Country waters of large vessels from Scotland and Humberside. The reasons for this trend are quite straightforward. There is pressure on our deep-sea fishing fleet. As a consequence, there has been a squeezing of the fishing grounds all the way along the line. Therefore the South West inshore waters are now attracting vessels, especially mid-water trawlers, which would not normally fish off the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. Furthermore, at present there are good supplies of mackerel. But the key question which worries us all is how long these shoals can last. This is a matter of grave concern to local line fishermen.

The fundamental problem confronting the fishing industry—this point has been made time and time again during the debate—is that as a nation our catching capacity exceeds the availability of markets. Few would disagree with that analysis. The differences will arise over the means of solving the problem. We hope that in the medium and long term the difficulties will be resolved within certain international constraints. The United Nations Law of the Sea Conference, on the one hand, will consider the 200-mile zone and within this context there will be a future modification of the EEC common fisheries policy. At this stage, however, I hope that there will be a coastal band exclusively fished by the coastal State up to a minimum distance of 50 miles.

Perhaps I may deal with the current situation in the South-West. In the county of Cornwall there are more than 200 boats, and about 180 of those are less than 40 feet in length. They did not therefore qualify for the operating subsidy. They fish primarily for mackerel, but also for certain prime fish like plaice and sole. The vessels provide direct employment for more than a thousand men. The county is a full development area, and unemployment is running at 11.9 per cent. In my constituency there are about 40 vessels based on Looe, Polperro, Downderry and Kingsand. In addition to the 1,000 men employed on Cornish vessels there are four to five times that number working in ancillary and subsidiary trades ashore.

This is an area where the alternative employment opportunities are limited and where average incomes are 12 per cent. below the national average. Obviously, therefore, fishing makes a significant contribution, both directly and indirectly, to the local economy. At present, however, our inshore fishermen are fearful for the future.

In addition to the local line fishermen and the midwater vessels which come from other ports in Devon and Cornwall, large trawlers from elsewhere are fishing for mackerel. Until recently catching and marketing were approximately in balance. That situation has changed now because the larger vessels fish quite indescriminately both in terms of the volume of the catch and the individual size and quality of the mackerel they land. Also there has been the advent of one purse seiner in recent months. This vessel can catch more in a day than can all the local fishermen can catch in a week.

It is wrong to condemn efficiency outright, but it must be balanced with the local employment factor. There is also the conservation aspect. Fishing on the present scale cannot continue ad infinitum. I am not being sensationalist when I remind hon. Members of what has happened before. The older people in my constituency remember when the herring was of paramount importance. It is no longer so. It was then the turn of the pilchard, and that, too, is no longer the case. The people there are concerned that the same thing will happen to the mackerel.

I believe, therefore, that action is urgently required. That is why on the Monday 16th February I asked the Minister of Agriculture if he would initiate an immediate official inquiry into the problems relating to the catching and disposing mackerel off the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. Pending the outcome of these inquiries, I asked him whether he would ban purse seine netting and whether he would ban fishing from all vessels in excess of 50 ft. within our 12-mile fishing limits. That would affect those that come from outside as well as inside the county.

The Minister's reply was disappointing. It seems to me that the advice the Minister is getting is inadequate and that there is absolutely no understanding of the current feeling of neglect and apprehension about the future. I therefore repeat my request for the Minister to institute an immediate inquiry into the whole problem which is causing great concern.

We in the South West—and I say this not only to the Government but to my own Front Bench—are getting sick and tired of being taken for granted. We are sick and tired of areas such as Scotland and Merseyside obtaining a political response in the House and economic bounties far in excess of those that we obtain. The action that I am seeking the Minister to take will cost the Treasury nothing and the Labour Party not one vote. We can take this action unilaterally without offending any of our Common Market colleagues or breaking international law. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to our requests.

8.57 p.m.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

I am pleased to be able to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) and to agree with his concluding remarks, although I do not necessarily agree with his earlier comments about the restriction in the size of vessels in the South-West, because Brixham is in my constituency. In tonnage, if not in numbers, Brixham has the largest inshore trawling fleet in Britain. The views of its fishermen would not necessarily tally with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin. But I agree with my hon. Friend about the need for an inquiry.

I have acquired my experience not from fishing figures or from reading memoranda, but by going out with the trawlers off Brixham on many a Sunday and spending from 5 o'clock in the morning until late at night experiencing conditions. I found the experience not a chore but thoroughly enjoyable.

It is no good preaching conservation to the fishermen of the South-West or, I suspect, elsewhere in the Kingdom, if they are aware that foreign vessels are not taking the slightest notice of the regulations that we introduce. We do not have the resources to enforce regulations on foreign vessels fishing off the South-West coast. We have hardly enough vessels to keep off poachers, and they are usually slower than those that they are trying to overtake. We certainly do not have enough ships to find out their methods of fishing or the size of their catches unless they bring them back to Britain.

The inshore fishermen of the South-West will not rest content with the introduction of a whole series of regulations to control their catches and methods of fishing if they are aware that foreigners, whether from within or outside the EEC, are always getting away with it. I have seen what is happening. To talk of conservation when it is enforceable only against the English will not in the long term be acceptable to those concerned. That covers both quotas and methods of fishing.

It is all very well to talk about abolishing beam trawling, but the only people affected would be British fishermen, because 13 miles out Russian vessels are beam trawling for all they are worth. They have more modern equipment than our beam trawlers and they catch more fish than we do. We shall never sell to Brixham fishermen the idea that it is a sin within the 12-mile limit but all right just outside.

That brings me to my main point. We must press on with a change in our fishing sovereignty limits. I do not know when the Law of the Sea Conference will produce its results or whether, when it does, they will be acceptable to us. Whether they are or not, soonor later this country—if possible, in conjunction with the Common Market—must extend its present limits. I think that the Minister accepted that would have to come about one way or the other. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I am not satisfied that the sovereignty limit should be kept to 12 miles. I believe that that must be an opening gambit by the Common Market. We should go for the 200-mile limit and then suggest something in the nature of 50 miles or a median line as the absolute minimum we are able to accept.

Whether the Law of the Sea Conference makes a pronouncement of an agreed nature or not, we cannot go on indefinitely believing that subsidies and other techniques will save our fishing industry. No one will take any notice of conservation measures unless it is generally believed that our foreign competitors as well as ourselves observe them.

I am about to make a statement that may not be popular locally. I do not believe that the answer to our problems is to say that the situation is unacceptable and that therefore we must go on subsidising the unacceptable. Brixham trawlermen want fair competition with those who can fish within our 12-mile limit—fishermen from Belgium, France, and so on. They do not want those fishermen to be in a better position than themselves. They do not want hand-outs. They want to carry out their task on the basis of fair competition with those who have the right to land their catches in this country for our markets. If markets across the Channel are open to us, we should be able to compete on fair terms. Therefore, I press the Foreign Secretary above all to concentrate on getting an extension of our limits along the lines which he outlined and certainly on better terms than the 12-mile limit.

In view of what has been said about Iceland, I should not fairly be representing either my own view or that of my constituents if I said that the present policy receives unanimous approval in this country. It does not. It certainly does not in the South-West. It is not a matter of arguing that the Government are not legally correct. They are. In every possible respect we have obeyed and are obeying the law, and we expect the Icelanders to obey the law.

We had a debate a few days ago on the subject of morality and foreign politics. Even when one is legally in the right—and we are—there are moments when one has to weigh one factor against another. Some hon. Members have referred to Iceland as having only one industry on which it can depend. That is important, but it is not the most important aspect. An enormous number of people who have made their views known through letters to the Press, in the other place and elsewhere, find it difficult to condemn out of hand a country that has taken a step that we all know this country and the rest of the Common Market will take in the not too distant future unless agreement is reached at the Law of the Sea Conference. We could find ourselves in the ridiculous position of condemning out of hand the Icelanders for doing what we all know in our hearts we shall press Ministers to do in a foreseeable period unless agreement is reached at the Law of the Sea Conference.

Iceland is a small country. Some people wonder whether, if it was a question of Russia illegally extending its limits, we should send frigates to protect our fishing boats off her coasts. Some people believe that Britain insists on its rights with Iceland because Iceland is small enough for us to get away with it. That view is widely held in this country. The other day the Senate of the United States passed a measure stating that it would unilaterally extend its limits to 200 miles. No one believes that we would interfere with America if America chose to exert that authority.

Today we have been told that diplomatic relations with Iceland have been broken. I happen to believe that the continued existence of NATO in its present form, at a time of the gravest menace—now—is even more important than the matters we have discussed today.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make the briefest intervention in this debate, particularly as a Grimsby trawlerman has been the first casualty of the cod war, as reported by the Minister today.

Now that the Icelanders have broken off diplomatic relations with this country, I hope that the Minister will ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to get the French Ambassador in Reykjavik to make the strongest possible representations to the Icelandic Government for the act of piracy on the high seas that they have committed today. This was a British trawler going about its lawful occasions in international waters, and it was an act of pure piracy.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to express the anxiety of the fishermen of Northern Ireland whose industry is in danger. Hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom have spoken in this debate. I wish to protest about Northern Ireland being treated in this way. I am sure that the fishermen——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is entirely a matter for the discretion of the Chair.

9.9 p.m.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

I do not think that anyone listening to this debate—and I have sat through all of it except for a short interlude of 10 minutes—could be in any doubt about the gravity of the position in which the fishing industry at all levels is today. Many hon. Members have expressed concern about the state of deep uncertainty that exists in the fishing industry.

This has been a constructive debate, which I shall seek to sum up. It is fair to say that in his opening remarks the Minister must have been unaware, to some extent, of the cascade of anxiety about the industry that would flow down upon him and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Clearly, he has a tremendous task ahead of him. It will be uphill all the way. We have heard the strength of the representations that many hon. Members have made to the Minister and they have all said that nothing has happened. There is this feeling of stagnation in the industry.

The causes of the present crisis are numerous. It would be misleading to imply that the solutions will be easy, but solutions there will have to be. What is absolutely clear is that the existing situation, as described by hon. Members, is unacceptable, untenable and intolerable. A vigorous and sustained diplomatic effort must be made if we are to secure and to maintain a prosperous fisheries industry, not only for the benefit of that industry, but to the benefit of every family in the land and every consumer and, of course, the national economy itself.

However, we can agree at least on the objective of policy. No one has suggested—with the exception of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt)—that we should take unilateral action as did Iceland. But something akin to a state of anarchy now exists in the industry, as described by right hon. and hon. Members. Agreed limits are not being observed. Quotas are being exceeded. The seas are being ruthlessly over-fished. Foreign imports are being dumped on our markets.

These and many other aspects of our problems have been aired in this debate, which was, indeed, the purpose of it. The same anxieties have been expressed on both sides of the House and there is nothing new about them. There is broad agreement about the problems, and the heart of the matter is how the Government are setting about the task of establishing the best obtainable basis and the best conditions upon which the industry can operate.

We do not have at present something that can genuinely be described as a fishing policy. I know that negotiations are in hand and a policy will result from those negotiations, but as of today I do not think that it is possible to say that we have a fishing policy, although clearly the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has objectives that he wishes to reach.

A view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was that a healthy and self-sufficient fishing industry was a very substantial national interest. The House is obviously extremely worried not only, or even mainly, about the immediate problems facing the industry, serious and worrying though they are, but about the handling of international negotiations to obtain satisfactory foundations upon which our fishermen can work.

I do not wish to dwell at any length on the Iceland aspect of this matter, because I think that we are unanimous in regretting that an accommodation has not been reached. We are extremely disappointed and sad about what the Icelandic Government have decided to do. Certainly taking a unilateral decision on a 200-mile limit has had very grave effects with far-reaching implications. I think it fair to say that Her Majesty's Government have been doing their best to come to a new arrangement. They acknowledged Iceland's special interests in water around her own land. The Government have made reasonable and positive proposals. I have doubt that after what has been said today, either tomorrow or on Monday the Government will make a statement about the consequences, and that would be the moment to take account of the kind of remarks made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East.

I certainly endorse what the Minister said about Dr. Luns, and the whole House is appreciative of what the Royal Navy has done in support of our fishermen going about their lawful business. There is no question but that harassment is very dangerous, and the men on our trawlers command our adminiration—and let us not forget their wives and their families.

The fact of the matter is that in negotiating with Iceland Her Majesty's Government took into account the very important aspect of conservation around Iceland. Britain has always set a very good example in conservation, and it is quite impossible to exaggerate either the obvious long-term importance of preserving adequate and proper fish stocks or the degree to which they are threatened today by the improvement in fishing techniques which we have heard about. The increased size of some countries' fishing fleets, together with the ever-growing demand for fish for human consumption and other uses, have all contributed to the exploitation of existing stocks.

It has reached a point where stocks such as herring and mackerel, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), are in jeopardy. We have a situation in which the larger vessels, British and foreign, are denied the fishing grounds for which they were designed. They have turned to other grounds where they play havoc with the livelihood of others and with fishing stocks, stocks that are important to their brother fishermen who normally fish those grounds. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) admitted that most forcefully, and he did so as an interested party.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) spoke about resentment and antagonism towards industrial fishing. He used strong language and his words were well received. Once one sector of the industry is thrown out of gear, there is a general reaction that affects the whole industry. That reaction brings casualties, and undoubtedly the most severe consequence is the disregard of good husbandry and the conservation of stocks.

I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) about the need to proceed on a scientific basis. I was concerned when the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) spoke of the possibility of extinguishment. Although I am not an expert on these matters, I have a nasty feeling that if we are not careful, that could happen. It must be obvious to everyone that it must not be allowed to happen.

I now turn to fishing methods. With the industry out of gear, it is inevitable that questions are raised about fishing methods. Should methods that are suitable for large boats be applied in waters used normally by smaller boats? This matter was referred to in strong terms by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce). My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives spoke about purse seining. It is too efficient and too effective for the task that it was set to perform around Cornwall. The effect has been so devastating on the local fishermen that some sort of control must be examined mostly urgently. In some waters there must be an absolute ban.

If we can secure an adequate exclusive zone, the control of certain methods of fishing will become a domestic matter. The Government and the industry will then be able to decide how controls are effected. It is not right that a cod war in the North Atlantic should bring about the potential ruin of the livelihood of fishermen who work in a completely different area. Some areas should be considered for closure to purse seiners on conservation grounds if no others, but there are also employment considerations.

For the same reason there is concern about beam trawling and net sizes. This concern was mentioned in an intervention by my hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) and Shoreham. There is a widespread belief that the limit is not being observed by foreign vessels within the 12-mile limit. Have the Government examined, are they examining or will they examine, the re-imposition of the ban which was imposed and subsequently lifted? Have they considered a limited ban with exceptions for a stated number of boats at each port where the method has been used? I say that in deference to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett). Have the Government considered a ban on certain boat sizes in certain areas?

It seems clear that following this debate some restrictions will be necessary until better order is restored. It is true to say that no beaming might be acceptable if there were no foreign boats about. If we were able to negotiate a genuine exclusive zone for a much greater distance than 12 miles, that might be an acceptable proposition.

The truth lies that the present quota system is not working. The industry is adamant that quota limits are being disregarded by other countries, and in some cases by as much as 50 per cent. That was the figure mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie).

The result is that confidence in the system is drained away. My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) said that the system was unenforceable, and my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham said that the quotas were not observed by foreign boats. We must face the fact that the policing of the system is very difficult and in present circumstances is largely ineffectual. No policing system works effectively unless the majority of those who are to be policed accept the need for it as well as the reasons and the advantages. Unfortunately, now that the transgressing of the system appears to be on such a scale, existing resources for policing cannot cope with the situation.

I felt that the Minister sounded a little complacent on this point, although I am sure that he did not intend to give that impression. All the evidence we have had in the last five or six hours is over-whelming—namely, that the job of policing in terms of responsibilities is too great. Policing will be required in respect of quotas and also in respect of beam trawling. It will require a larger number of boats. Therefore, I wish to emphasis that the policing capacity is not adequate for the present task.

What line have the Government been taking in Europe on this matter? The Minister said at one stage that he was "pressing quotas". I wonder whether he was right to do that. Certainly the Commission appears to be placing all its faith and hope upon quotas. I quote from the debate in the European Parliament on 12th February this year when Sir Christopher Soames said: The Commission has fully supported the idea of catch quotas in the cause of conservation. Then, in col. 487 of the report Sir Christopher is reported as saying that the Community was aiming to manage the stocks…taking account of special economic and social needs in coastal regions largely dependent upon fishing… That is a very important matter for the Minister to consider. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Member for St. Ives referred to the social damage that would result if adequate steps were not taken. That is a very important matter, and I am glad that it was emphasised by Sir Christopher Soames.

We then come to the question of limits. This state of semi-anarchy has led the industry to take a new view of limits—certainly "new" in relation to what was common a few years ago. There is widespread agreement on a 200-mile limit to be negotiated at the Law of the Sea Conference. But within that outer limit, in the context of the European Community, it is the range reserved for each country's exclusive use that is under close scrutiny. The industry wants a 100-mile limit and makes no bones about it. The Commission has proposed a figure of 12 miles. That is an enormous gap, but a good case can be made out for a 100-mile figure on conservation grounds.

Once we had a figure of 100 miles that was exclusively our own territory, the control and conservation would be in our own hands. In that event we shall be happy to organise the matter. Furthermore, it would be much easier to police. Any foreign body fishing within that range would be out of order. It would also be easier to stop poachers and the task would be altogether less formidable. The industry could organise itself as efficiently as possible in the knowledge that for 100 miles, or whatever was the distance, the responsibility for looking after the area would be Britain's and would belong to us and to us alone.

We all agree that there cannot be a change of limits without international agreement. Because these changes have to be negotiated internationally, the diplomatic effort of the Government is critically important. I regret having to express disquiet at what the Minister had to say and I think the House was somewhat uneasy about the situation. It appears—this may be a little unfair, but that is how the situation now looks—that the Government have not prepared the ground with nearly enough resolution. Certainly the size and importance of the industry are plainly not issues between us.

I shall not go through the figures, but the size of the industry in terms of vessels and men and the size of catches and their value must be borne in mind when we consider that 80 per cent. of our catch is for human consumption and is used as food on a much greater scale than is the case in any other country—and that certainly applies in relation to Denmark which was mentioned earlier in the debate. An important point to be borne in mind is that within the 200-mile European limit 64 per cent. of the fishery interests belong to the United Kingdom—in other words no less than two-thirds of those interests. We must add to that the fact that of all the EEC countries, the United Kingdom has the greatest consumption, produces the most food out of the sea, and has the greatest stocks of fish.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman is making a valid point, but I have raised these matters myself. I took the initiative and I have stressed that we are the most important fishing nation in Europe. That is why I regard this as an urgent matter on which there must be a Community solution.

Mr. Pym

That is fine. We are agreed on that.

I summarise these essential facts about the importance of the industry because they represent the negotiating strength of the United Kingdom. The question is whether this strength is being used to the best advantage. We have the biggest interest and we must exercise our proper rôle as the major fisheries country. That strength and interest are of critical importance in the renegotiation of the policy.

No one can deny that since the policy was first negotiated circumstances have changed dramatically in a way that no one could have predicted. They have changed so much that a revised policy should have been in operation already. It is in train, but it is late. The Minister says that he initiated the renegotiations, so I presume he was involved in the discussions and preparations behind the present proposals. Yet he says that he is disappointed with what has emerged. The House would have wished that his initiative and influence in the preparatory stages had resulted in a more satisfactory outcome.

The Minister talked about the commercial negotiating strength of the Community as a whole, but the problem is intra-Community and the 12-mile limit which has emerged in the proposals is not nearly good enough. We were pleased to hear the Minister say that he would not be weak. We want him to be strong and firm and to get on with negotiations quickly. There is no policy until the negotiations have been completed and from what he said today it sounds as if the Minister still has a lot of work to do. We are fully behind him in his attempts to secure a satisfactory deal.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) spoke in a helpful way about the problems of the inshore fishermen and the structural proposals which will affect them. On top of the contraction of the British fleet which has already taken place, the Commission now proposes a reduction of the inshore fleet. This is unacceptable to the inshore fishermen and surely it is premature anyway. Matters of limits, conservation and access should be considered before any proposals for restructuring the industry. How can we restructure before we know what the new policy is to be?

I hope that we shall hear something from the Secretary of State for Scotland about the aid and subsidies given to the fishing industries in other countries. I suspect that much of it is given with an eye on our fishing grounds and our markets. This is certainly a grievance in our own industry. What possible justification can there be for any European nation increasing the size of its fleet when we already have grossly excessive capa- city? Our industry has responded splendidly and has recognised reality. It has paid attention to conservation and reduced its size. However, unless our fishermen are treated with fairness in relation to the scale of their interest and what happens in other countries, and unless their livelihood is safeguarded, the Government will be in default of their responsibility.

I come to the markets, imports and reference prices, which form part of the negotiations that the Minister has on his plate. The fall in quayside prices and import figures have been mentioned by many hon. Members. Fish-exporting countries have not found it nearly difficult enough to enter our market. Frozen cod fillet imports have soared. They were up 300 per cent. last year, and an increase of 21 per cent. on that high increase took place last November and December.

Much of that fish is caught by subsidised fleets, those of our friends like Norway and those of Communist countries. Sometimes these imports are landed at commercial docks and bypass the fish markets. That places an intolerable squeeze on our industry, and there is an imbalance between the amount of fish landed and the amount that our market will stand. I have a letter representing this very strongly from a large firm operating in Hull. It reads as follows: The official withdrawal prices, guide prices and reference prices for imports are wholly unrealistic and irrelevant so far as the United Kingdom fishing industry is concerned. What is even more perturbing is that it appears to everybody in the United Kingdom industry that, although we are the largest fish producer for home consumption in the Common Market, we do not seem to have any influence what-soever on the fishery decisions that are made. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will put that last point right.

I come now to the question of costs, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire. He referred to the heavy increase in the price of oil, which is five times higher than it was four years ago, and the increase in wages. Any talk of profit at the moment is wholly misplaced. So many boats are losing so much money that the very survival of a healthy British fishing industry is at stake.

But there is no need to think in terms of a long-term let alone a permanent subsidy, nor, indeed, has any hon. Member asked for that. The essential condition is that the industry is given the right circumstances in which to operate. There was a temporary subsidy last year, which was helpful. We hoped that during the time it was in operation the Government were negotiating new arrangements and establishing a proper basis for us at the Law of the Sea Conference in due course and meanwhile within Europe. But that has not yet happened, although it is in the process of happening.

Faced with rocketing costs and inadequate prices, the Government will have to do something to help the industry again in the immediate future. Otherwise we may not have an industry. If it had been possible to renegotiate the fisheries policy and to establish limits on a sound basis, that would not be necessary, but in the absence of that the Government will have to consider what the Minister called an overwhelming case. How overwhelming is "overwhelming" remains to be seen, but all the facts and figures we have seen from the British Trawlers Federation and the Scottish Trawlers Federation and the evidence that has been collected by hon. Members show a powerful case.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he went into the Common Market without having attended to the matters for which he is blaming the Government Front Bench?

Mr. Pym

Time will not allow me to be diverted.

Mr. William Ross

The right hon. Gentleman is lucky.

Mr. Pym

I am not sure that I am lucky. I should like to deal with that comment. However, the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) has been dealt with sharply for her absence from another place, so I shall let it go by.

In the meantime what size of fishing industry and scale of activity in the industry do the Government visualise? Where are the Government leading the industry? The industry does not know where it is being led. There is no policy in existence, and that must be put right. We have the appalling prospect of the loss of thousands of jobs in Scotland and elsewhere.

We have had the most powerful representations put before the House by the industry. The industry is asking that the Government should provide adequate fishing grounds and adequate limits which we ourselves can police and protect. It is asking for fair prices in the markets and no dumping. It is asking for the acknowledgment of its inescapable costs and the scale of its current losses.

There are considerations of employment, of food production, of national economic advantage. It is inconceivable that a situation should be permitted to develop in which we do not have a flourishing, self-sufficient, fishing industry.

I am sure that it will be agreed that the situation as described in the debate today is extremely serious. The whole House will be behind the Minister and the Government in their work in Europe to secure a satisfactory and a proper arrangement. The urgency can hardly be overestimated. We trust that the Minister will be able to come back soon with a new policy that will be acceptable to the industry and set it on a footing that will enable it to prosper for years to come.

9.37 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

This has been an excellent and very well-informed debate. Hon. Members have reflected the concern of their constituencies in a manner that has impressed me. We have heard little of the kind of flannelling speeches that we often have on occasions like this. That cannot fail to impress those on whom the responsibility rests on the Government Benches.

It was evident, too, from the speech just delivered by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), that the Opposition appreciate the difficulty of the task before us. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it would have been very much easier if we had full freedom to do what we liked in finding a solution to the various uncertainties. I can say that because of certain views I have taken in the past.

Mr. McNamara

So can we.

Mr. Ross

The House has to recognise that, whether we like it or not, we are subject to a common fisheries policy, and that the basis and principle of that policy is freedom of access for the Community countries into all waters.

Mr. Nott


Mr. Ross

Oh, yes. The hon. Gentleman should read the regulations, subject to certain derogations, until 1982.

The Law of the Sea Conference is not concluded, and we hope that it will be able to reach some agreement concerning a 200-miles exclusive economic zone for coastal countries. After that there will be the question of what happens within the common fisheries policy. There are, therefore, greater uncertainties than the fishing industry has ever faced before.

Fishermen do not know where they will be able to fish in the future. It is not just Iceland; there are other parts of the world to which our fleets go which, if the Law of the Sea Conference regularises it, will equally be in a position to say "No" to us. Then once again we shall have a loss of fishing grounds and a loss of fish. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there will be a chain reaction.

Part of the trouble in the South-West is that people are looking for new places to fish. I appreciate and sympathise with what was said by the hon. Members for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), St. Ives (Mr. Nott), Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) and, in his very brief intervention, the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton). The fishermen in the South-West had a comfortable, quality market. Incidentally, those who came in were by no means all Scots. There has been a little too much Scots-bashing for my liking. I believe that some of those who came in are London based, and may not even be English-financed.

The point is that this problem arises in that area. However, it may arise in many other areas as well unless we can get proper solutions. Those solutions will require to be international solutions. We cannot do it alone. That is why the advice of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) was so wrong, in my view.

Mr. Watt

It would make a very welcome change in this House if, for once, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that I was right.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman must not ask for the impossible. I know him as a farmer. I shall not say how he is on fishing.

One Opposition Member asked about the Russians. If we declared unilaterally—and broke the present law by so doing—a 200-mile exclusive zone, would the Russians go away? The Russians have admitted already that they are in favour of the Law of the Sea Conference coming to an agreement in relation to 200 miles. Surely the thing to do is to strive as hard as we can to achieve that by international agreement. Our fishing industry has thrived on the basis of international agreement. That is why we must continue to rely on it.

One of my hon. Friends asked what would happen if the Law of the Sea Conference was not successful. If we move away from that, will we not be as culpable as Iceland? The situation is entirely different. The Law of the Sea Conference is still going on, and Iceland has opted out unilaterally. There may be other countries which it would suit to do the same. But they recognise that in the long run, from the point of view of conservation and the prosperity of all concerned we must have international agreement. I should have thought that deep-sea fishermen who travelled the world in pursuit of their trade would be the first people to recognise this.

I was sorry to hear the suggestion by one Member that we were wrong in what we were doing. He was almost agreeing with the hon. Member for Banff. However, what counts is the end result—whether we get international agreement and maintain international standards.

We all regret the announcement that came from Iceland today. I do not want to say any more about it. Sooner or later I want to see negotiations. I want to see a settlement between two countries who have been friendly for centuries. I do not want to see this trouble divide us when I hope we can come to a useful agreement that suits us all.

I have been asked, so often that it is only fair to deal with it now, about mackerel. As I said, the basic problem is that this was a good market, delightful for the folk involved in it. However, mackerel stocks have been under-utilised. The question arises now whether mackerel are being over-fished. In the past four years, the take from this area has been quadrupled; indeed, it has doubled in the past two years. I have not the slightest doubt that that will continue.

It is wrong to say that we are doing nothing about it. There was a meeting last week, there will be further discussions, and the people responsible, internationally, for the exploitation of the sea are to have another look at the question. I have noted all the valuable points that have been made and I am certain we shall not let up in our examination of this matter. It is not fair to blame the purse seiners for dumping fish. The fish released are more likely to survive than trawled fish but that has been happening. There has been dumping of fish back into the sea and from a conservation point of view this could have an effect upon the actual fishing ground. This is something that has been scientifically proved and is of concern to us.

Officials from the fisheries departments have held three meetings with representatives of the fish producers' associations concerned with mackerel fishing off the coasts of Cornwall and Devon, the last one last week. There has been more co-operation, and we all welcome the coming together of the Scottish and South-West producers' organisations. The market for mackerel is far too small at the present time, and we have to examine ways and means of widening it for the benefit of all concerned in relation to what is presently being landed.

I now turn to the question of the economics of the industry. The Government are keenly aware of the difficulties. I had a meeting on Friday last with a very impressive delegation from the North-East of Scotland, consisting not only of fishermen but of representatives of the Chamber of Industry, local authorities and practically everybody concerned with the well-being of that area. It is an area that has not the same employment problems as we have on the Humber, or that exist in the constituencies of the hon. Members from Hull, but it is part of the whole tradition of the Aberdeen area and right round the whole Grampian area.

Fishing means so much there that it is a social and virtually a cultural asset, and we do not want to see it disappear. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend was exaggerating in saying that he saw the possibility of the whole of the trawler fleet disappearing in the month of March. It does not do much good to exaggerate. I was impressed, as we all were, by the amount of information that he gave us.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I can only say that I was not exaggerating. This was put to me very strongly by the Scottish Trawler Federation.

Mr. Ross

It was put very strongly to me, but we should bear in mind that prices have turned up. The question also arises whether the type of boat being used was the most economic one. There are things that the industry can do but, as my hon. Friend has said, I am in no mood to be generous. A Treasury representative is not sitting here but everyone in the House should be concerned, as I gather hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench are concerned, about public expenditure. So from that point of view we have to examine all these things—[Interruption.]

Mrs. Winifred Ewing rose—

Mr. Ross

I think that hon. Members lose more time by shouted interruptions than by anything else—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I believe that shouting from a sedentary position is unworthy of the dignity of the House.

Mr. Ross

As I said, the Government are keenly aware of the difficulties of the industry, but the picture is being painted far too black. However, we are prepared to consider what has been said.

The EEC Commission has said that it will produce fresh proposals on reference prices and we have made our comments well known——

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ross

Not in the middle of a sentence, anyway.

This is something in which the EEC can benefit us, even if it does not go as far as the industry would like. The industry would like imports automatically prohibited. I have already asked whether action follows speedily enough. There is a feeling that it is fairly speedy, but we shall have another look at it. The Commission has the right to recommend action if it thinks it appropirate, and at the moment I think that that is the right approach.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the use of two words which may turn out to be important in relation to the Commission's decisions? The first is the word "reappraisal"—something which we were promised by his right hon. Friend in an answer to me on 15th April last year and on other occasions since. The second is the word "renegotiation". On 15th January, Commissioner Lardinois said, in answer to me, that he did not believe in it. That is something that we must get straightened out.

Mr. Ross rose—

Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)


Mr. Ross

The manners of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) are disgraceful for a son of the manse. We can do without too much concentration on semantics. I gather that the SNP is getting into trouble over the meaning of the word "independence". Perhaps we should refer this to the MacCormick Committee on Semantics. I am coming to the point about the EEC because it is important. I shall get back to it straight away, while I have time.

Until we get all these major issues clear, we cannot achieve the kind of structural policy that we should like, but in the meantime, on specific issues, it is essential to plan ahead in consultation with the industry. For example, a small working group has been set up by the Scottish industry to discuss the EEC proposals for the inshore industry and allied matters. It is to meet next week.

The common fisheries policy argument is a crucial issue. The Community must appreciate and adequately recognise the importance for our economic and social livelihood of the stocks off our shores. It is unfair of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire to say that we have done nothing about it. My right hon. Friend raised this matter with the Comissioners and got them to agree to a reappraisal of their policy and to produce a working paper containing an analysis of the situation. That was the situation until about the beginning of this week.

That paper was a splendid analysis, but we want to go further. Now the Commissioners have produced this other paper. It is wrong to call them proposals. They come not from Governments or the Council of Ministers but from the Commission. They are only the starting point.

All Community fishing fleets are pressing for a system to safeguard their future, but the situation is different in degree in this country. There is first, the question of the distant-water losses which we expect to occur as limits are extended—a problem shared by Germany and other countries. Then there is the question of the resources that we contribute. We have not been able to study all the details yet, but they consist broadly of an exclusive coastal belt of 12 miles and, after a quantity for coastal fishing has been deducted from the total resources, the remainder will mostly be divided by quotas.

I mention to hon. Members who are concerned about the limits, that the working paper points out that the traditional fishing rights must be phased out. That is an important matter for the inshore fishermen. The quotas will be in proportion to past catches, because limits are not enough. We must decide whether to conserve or fish the other fish.

This debate has illustrated how inadequate these proposals appear to our industry, which is asking for a 100-mile exclusive zone. The industry supports its case by pointing out the vast stocks of fish that would come under British control with the full 200-mile limit. It also says, rightly, that the United Kingdom is the biggest producer of fish for the human consumption market in the EEC. This is exactly what we have emphasised and will continue to emphasise in the EEC Council.

We want a solution which takes account of the fact that nearly 60 per cent. of the fish in the EEC area will be in British waters. We want the right arrangements for the regions where fishing is particularly important.

I turn to the Law of the Sea Conference. The need for the amendment of the common fisheries policy arises from the changing world situation on limits. As has been said, the Government are supporting the move at the Law of the Sea Conference, which reconvenes next month. We hope we shall be able to achieve 200-mile zones by international agreement, with safeguards for navigation and overflight.

The Law of the Sea Conference is not dealing only with fishery limits. There are other aspects of this which are equally important to us. However, from the point of view of the fishing industry the 200 miles is all important.

The Government fully accept that agreement may not be reached at the forthcoming session at New York. We must take that into account. Should there then be unilateral moves by other countries which further threaten our fishing industry, measures must be taken by us to protect it.

A regional conference of countries fishing in the North-East Atlantic to agree on an extension of limits—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) suggested that we bring them all together—is a possibility that we shall bear in mind. However, let us face the fact that when there is a diversity or clash of interests, it is not always easy to get the right solution for everyone, or to get it in time. This is also true of the EEC. I hope that a Scottish Minister as well as a Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will represent us in these matters.

The hon. Member for Shoreham suggested that we should ban beam trawling. He also said that we were doing nothing about it. The Government are not convinced that beam trawling, as such, is a threat to fish stocks. However, they are concerned about the risk of overfishing

by all methods. Quotas have received a bit of a bashing today, but there is no doubt that at present they are the best way we have for dividing up the stocks. Suggestions have been made about policing. My right hon. Friend said that we were looking into this matter. Inevitably it is fairly early days in relation to the quota system, but we have benefited from it. If we had had it in operation earlier in connection with the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission we would not be in our present position in respect of herrings. We must learn from the neglects of the past and strengthen international relations in all these matters. I have taken note of all the points which have been raised.

Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)

May I, Mr. Speaker, move the Closure?

Mr. Speaker

There is a half a minute left. Is the Minister about to conclude?

Mr. Ross

I am not about to sit down.

Mr. Speaker

I have promised to put the Question.

Mr. Ross rose—

Mr. Speaker

I will accept the Closure now.

Mr. Henderson rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 13, Noes 99.

Division No. 66.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Penhaligon, David Carson, John Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Reid, George Crawford, Douglas
Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Thompson, George Kilfedder, James Mrs. Margaret Bain and
Watt, Hamish MacCormick, Iain Mr. Douglas Henderson.
Welsh, Andrew Paisley, Rev Ian
Archer, Peter Carmichael, Neil Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)
Armstrong, Ernest Clemitson, Ivor Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Atkinson, Norman Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Deakins, Eric
Bates, Alf Cohen, Stanley de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Bishop, E. S. Coleman, Donald Dell, Rt Hon Edmund
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Concannon, J. D. Dormand, J. D.
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Corbett, Robin Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Dunnett, Jack
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Cronin, John Eadie, Alex
Buchan, Norman Cryer, Bob Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Davidson, Arthur Faulds. Andrew
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McCartney, Hugh Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) McElhone, Frank Small, William
Freeson, Reginald Maclennan, Robert Snape, Peter
Ginsburg, David McNamara, Kevin Stallard, A. W.
Golding, John Madden, Max Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Maynard, Miss Joan Stoddart, David
Grant, John (Islington C) Meacher, Michael Strang, Gavin
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mendelson, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fite) Millan, Bruce Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Harper, Joseph Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Molloy, William Tomlinson, John
Hayman, Mrs Helene Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Urwin, T. W.
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Palmer, Arthur Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Hunter, Adam Park, George Watkinson, John
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Pavitt, Laurie Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
John, Brynmor Peart, Rt Hon Fred Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Pendry, Tom Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Prescott, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Kerr, Russell Radice, Giles
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) TELLER FOR THE NOES:
Lamond, James Rooker, J. W. Mr. Thomas Cox and
Leadbitter, Ted Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Mr. James A. Dunn.
Lee, John

Question accordingly negatived.

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