I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), first, on obtaining this Adjournment debate and, secondly, on what the House will agree was an excellent speech. He has raised an issue of particular importance in his constituency, but, as the attendance of hon. Members on both sides attests, it is a matter of great concern to other areas, including the south coast of England. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), in relation to Northern Ireland, have emphasised that, and I see that my hon. Friend is supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) and for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch). I shall not waste the time of the House by remarking on the absence of the Scottish National party—indeed, I am reminded of the Liberal Democrats—from this debate.
This is a matter of great concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr is right when he says that it is not limited to the fishing industry but is a matter of grave concern on more general grounds.
My hon. Friend first raised the matter with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 23 February. My right hon. Friend confirmed that we were leaving the French Government in absolutely no doubt that we expect them to act to safeguard free trade, to pay compensation when losses have occurred and to bring the perpetrators to book.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the vandalism that has taken place, first in Roscoff and then in Paris, is totally unacceptable. We have made this plain to the French Government, who have recognised their duty to ensure freedom to trade within the single market. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, that is the fundamental factor which underlines the purpose of having a single market.
I give my hon. Friend the assurance that the United Kingdom Government have been in touch with the French authorities since these difficulties started. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs spoke to the French Foreign Minister on 24 February to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation and to ask the French authorities to restore public order and allow the resumption of free trade in fish and fish products. My hon. Friend the Fisheries Minister has similarly been in touch with his ministerial counterpart.
Our Paris embassy has been in regular touch with the appropriate authorities in France. Our own Fisheries Department officials, including the Scottish Office's fisheries secretary, met their French opposite numbers today in London, and again made very clear to the French Government how seriously we view recent developments
Our officials made it clear, in particular, that they were carefully monitoring continuing incidents perpetrated by French fishermen and, as my hon. Friend has told the House, that these are quite unacceptable. They made the point that the cost to the British fishing industry is not restricted to particular cargoes of fish which have been damaged or denied access to the French market, but extends also to all those other fishermen and fish merchants who are unable to send fish to France because they are afraid of the consequences, or because their insurers will not cover them, or for other reasons related to the present disorder among French fishermen.
The French Fisheries Ministry has taken on board these complaints, and noted in particular that further instability in the British fish market—which is a clear and likely consequence of the French actions—is itself likely further to damage the market and prices in France.
In particular, we have asked the French Government to establish, without delay, arrangements to assure the safety of lorries and cargoes from the United Kingdom, where notice of their arrival is given. I can tell the House that the initial response of the French Government to this request has been encouraging, and I very much hope that such arrangements can be put in place quickly.