I first thank Madam Speaker. I am extremely grateful that she called this debate tonight. I also compliment her on assisting me last week to raise the issue of 23 February and for giving me the chance to highlight the matter with the Prime Minister. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for being here to reply tonight. We are talking not only about fishing or agriculture, both of which are involved, but about a serious disruption to trade with France and with the rest of Europe.
There has been serious interference with our road hauliers. They have tight schedules, and they depend on high rates of vehicle utilisation. That has been disrupted. Our electronic, pharmaceutical and mechanical engineering industries have made late deliveries, and there has been serious disruption. Orders have been lost. That is why it is fitting that the Minister responsible for Scottish industry is here to respond to the debate. He has a good reputation as a great champion of talking up Scottish causes. I hope that he will enhance that reputation tonight.
We are not talking only about Scottish interests. Every producer and every distributor in the United Kingdom who exports and who wishes to take up the European challenge is affected by what has been happening in France in recent years.
The specific incident that brings about the debate is one in which £10,000-worth of Clyde-caught fish was destroyed in a French market. The fish was not for sale in France, but was in transit to German markets. Diesel was spread over it, and it was thrown around the French marketplace. That is disgraceful.
For the company in my constituency, Scotprime Sea Foods, it meant a considerable loss of cash. It also meant that the company failed to meet a customer's order. Perhaps in cash terms that will be made up by their insurers, but the company's reputation will be damaged if it fails to fulfil the customer's requirements.
There is now a fear of repetition, and that leads to another problem. The insurers now refuse to insure that company's produce in transit. That is shameful. How can a small company such as this self-insure? It is enough to wipe it out if there is no cash compensation and no protection from the insurer.
What does it mean to that company? Can it stop trading? It cannot really do so, because the produce keeps coming in. Its suppliers, the Ayrshire fishermen and others, still bring in their catches. That story is common, from the salmon and scallop exporters in the Orkneys to the lobster fishermen and exporters in Cornwall, right through the United Kingdom.
What are the other consequences? Scotprime lost three clients in particular in short order. On 26 February, it was informed by a customer in south-west France that its daily requirement was cancelled for six days. The cost of the loss of exports was £1,500 to £2,000 per day on that contract. That is not a lot perhaps in national terms, but it is a lot to a small firm such as Scotprime.
A southern German client, too, cancelled the weekly delivery; some £10,000 a week was lost. Client No. 3, a Boulogne customer, cancelled an £8,000 order for Saturday 27 February. That was very serious indeed for a small company. This cannot be allowed to be ignored.
Spanish orders were under threat, but, to its credit, the company rescheduled and re-routed. It cost more, but it fulfilled the order.
This is not the first time that Scotprime has suffered in this way. At the end of June or the beginning of July last year, during the lorry drivers' dispute, the company had a lorry trapped for over a week. The cost to it was £30,000. It sought compensation with Euro-Commission assistance. It was informed that it was the responsibility of the Government of France. I wrote to the Prime Minister, and my right hon. Friend replied:
The French Government does not intend to pay compensation";
no violence was done to lorries or loads. That is absolutely shameful. There was further advice for hauliers to claim through the French courts. That would have taken years to accomplish, and was totally impracticable.
Last week in the House, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, when I raised the problems, that officials had already protested. He expected the French Government to pay compensation and safeguard free trade and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I welcomed that statement, but what happened thereafter? Five fishermen were arrested; 500 protested. The five were released and, to my knowledge, they remain uncharged. There was £2·5 million-worth of damage at Rungis market, and no charges have been laid. The Euro-Commissioner has been approached. I have letters from the MEP for the south of Scotland, Alex Smith, demanding redress. What has been the response to date?
There have been promises from the Euro-Commission that minimum price support will be increased and paid to the French fishermen. Vandalism and violence are rewarded, not penalised, in France, it would appear—and with the European Commission's approval. That, once again, is shameful.
There have been other instances. Last week, a ferry was diverted and Brittany Ferries' Roscoff service was cancelled for two days for fear of attack by French fishermen.