Fishing Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 14th February 1991.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 7:12 pm, 14th February 1991

I beg to move. That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for presiding over a crisis in the fishing industry which threatens the economic and social fabric of fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom; condemns in particular the compulsory tie up scheme and the Government's continuing refusal to promote structural support through the implementation of a well targeted decommissioning scheme; and calls upon the Government to pursue, with greater vigour, measures to combat industrial fishing and technical conservation measures including the adoption of square mesh panels, and to enter into discussions with representatives of the fishing industry for the purpose of devising a decommissioning scheme which will lead to a managed reduction in fleet capacity. Those who take an interest in the fishing industry will have little doubt about the serious crisis of confidence in the industry. The eight-day tie-up may have given fishermen and their representatives a focus for their wrath and frustration, but even if the Minister were to surprise us greatly and announce this evening that he intended to renounce the scheme, I am sure that he would agree that the fishing industry's problems would not go away. This debate provides us with an important opportunity to discuss the serious issues that face the industry.

No fishing industry debate has taken place since the vital Council of Ministers meeting in December. The industry is vital in economic terms to many coastal communities, particularly in those areas where other opportunities for employment are in short supply. Therefore, my right hon. and hon. Friends thought it appropriate to bring on to the Floor of the House our great concern about the future health of the fishing industry. We are conscious of the damage that could be done to the social and economic fabric of fishing communities if the malaise is not adequately dealt with. We do so, too, in the hope that Ministers, who have it in their power to improve matters, will listen to the debate and respond to it.

The Minister will no doubt draw attention to the fact that at the Council of Ministers meeting in December he managed to obtain continued recognition of the United Kingdom's claims under the Hague preference and improved flexibility with regard to taking our western mackerel quota east of the 4 deg W line. The Government ought to be congratulated. I have no quarrel with those aspects which are referred to in the Government amendment.

I suspect that we shall also hear from the Minister, as we did from Fisheries Ministers throughout 1990, that although catch opportunities and total allowable catches have been reduced, the price of fish landed has increased and fishermen's income has not necessarily declined. That ought to be put in its proper context. Even in 1990, in absolute terms fishermen's incomes were below those in 1987. In real terms, they were even further below those in 1987.

The price that a fisherman gets for his landings is only one very small part of the tale. We should also consider the return that he is or is not getting on his capital and the high rates of interest he has to pay on his borrowings, due to the Government's failed economic policies. In recent months, he has also had to face the increased cost of fuel, after oil prices rose so sharply following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In Fishing News of 1 February there was a report that already there are signs of landings prices beginning to fall. I hope that the Government will not take refuge behind the wafer-thin excuse that they parroted throughout 1990—that prices are being maintained, or are even higher, and that therefore incomes are not falling.

We do not believe that the eight-day rule should be the be all and end all of the debate. Had it been called, I should have welcomed the amendment tabled by the Scottish National party. I hope that the debate will not be seen as a substitute for a very full debate of the statutory instrument and the prayer against it dealing with the eight-day tie-up, which will have to be amended in the light of yesterday's announcement.

Considerable wrath and ill feeling have been generated throughout the industry by the tie-up. According to recent. editions of Fishing News, in my constituency Mr. John Goodlad, the secretary of the Shetland Fishermen's Federation, has described the proposals as "unjust and unfair". On 8 February, skipper Tom Watson of Fleetwood said in Fishing News that it was the last nail in the coffin and that This Government doesn't want a fishing industry, that's for sure. Skipper David Hunt of Lowestoft was reported in Fishing News of 25 January as saying: Many more will be forced out until there are only a few left, who will then be disregarded, and Mr. Gummer will receive an accolade from his colleagues for a job well done. Skipper Jim Vanko of Eyemouth said: I wonder how MPs and officials would like their salaries to be reduced and the resultant financial savings squandered? This government has prided itself on encouraging initiative and private investment, yet every way the industry turns our feet are knocked from beneath us. That is a selection of comments from different parts of the country which demonstrate the outrage that the proposal has caused.