HC Deb 17 February 1983 vol 37 cc451-2
1. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will consider making assistance available through the Sea Fish Industry Authority for the promotion and development of fishing co-operatives.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

The Sea Fish Industry Authority already gives such assistance.

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Minister aware that the White Fish Authority used to give fishing co-operatives 60 per cent. grants without an upper limit and that now the grants are only 50 per cent. with an upper limit of £5,000, with a total sum available of only £25,000? As that is a paltry sum compared with the millions of pounds that are available to farming co-operatives, will the Minister reconsider his reply and make more money available to fishing co-operatives, which are now catching over 40 per cent. of the fish in Scotland?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the administration of the grants is at the discretion of the Sea Fish Industry Authority. As has been explained to him in correspondence, there is a difference between agriculture and fishing in that respect. The hon. Gentleman was unfair in his comparison between the White Fish Authority and the SFIA. Between 1977 and 1981, the average grants of the White Fish Authority were £5,000 a year, whereas since October 1981 the SFIA has paid £46,000 to 14 co-operatives, including one in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I hope that he is grateful for it.

Mr. Donald Stewart

As white fish money comes from an industrial levy, and as the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation is 100 per cent. funded by the Government, why should not the fishing industry have equality with the agriculture industry?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

There is a difference. In agriculture, the grants are paid to joint marketing co-operatives that operate on a collective basis, whereas in fishing, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows from the fishing operation in his constituency, most of the co-operatives sell on behalf of individual members and do not operate on a collective basis. The situation is not comparable.

Mr. Myles

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is no diminution of the valuable promotional work of the SFIA through the recent resignation of the chief executive?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The SFIA has another important role in marketing. I hope that before long it will submit to my right hon. Friend and to me its proposals in this important matter.

Mr. Mark Hughes

There is an imbalance. Does the Minister accept that, after the successful launch of Food from Britain yesterday, and despite the undertakings that were given by the Minister in Committee and at other stages of the Agricultural Marketing Bill, the sea fish industry is not being dealt with adequately in terns of the remuneration available for the development of co-operatives onshore and offshore?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about Food from Britain. There is no doubt that in international and national terms its launch yesterday was an enormous success. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in co-operatives, but the basis today is no different from what it was at the time of the White Fish Authority. It is significant that we had only one debate on the matter, initiated by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). We have not changed the basis since then. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make fresh suggestions, I shall be happy to hear them.