French Fishermen (Attacks)

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1993.

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Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South 12:00 am, 25th March 1993

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with the French authorities to protect consignments of British fish from attacks by French fishermen; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

Both the French Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers gave my right hon. Friend and myself undertakings in Brussels last week about the safety of British agriculture and fish products. We may need to update those shortly.

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South

Given the obvious frustration among both the French and British fishing communities, not least because of the massive downturn in fish prices at the quayside which they are having to put up with, why do prices in the shops remain at a high level? Given that fact, will the Minister instigate an inquiry?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Gentleman has to distinguish between fish arriving in frozen blocks for processing—the largest part—and fresh fish that is landed. There is no great surplus of certain types of fish. The heart of the problem is the large-scale landing, both of cod into Humberside and of small fish into the Scottish and other ports, which are pulling down the market. There is a similar problem in France. The answer lies in tackling any abuses of imports, which the Community has acted to do, and in addressing how to manage fisheries better within the United Kingdom and France, including control.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there are many more people employed in the fish processing industry than in fishing and that it is important that there are adequate supplies of fish for the industry to process and for the consumer to eat?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

That is exactly the case. The largest part of fish is sold not on the fresh market but in the processed market. It goes into fish fingers and fish and chip shops. That market depends heavily on imported products. The last thing that would help the long-term future of the industry would be to drive the consumer away through shortage when there are readily available competing proteins at low prices.

Mr. Robert Hughes:

Although it is clear that compensation for British fishermen and imports must be tackled, does the Minister accept that we shall not solve the crisis in the fishing industry as long as the traditional distrust between those who catch and those who process persists? Therefore, will the Minister get together with both sides of the industry and look at ways to regulate the market better and, perhaps even more important, at ways in which the market for fish can be expanded, so that this wholesome food becomes a regular part of people's diet rather than an occasional product that they have when they can afford it?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I have tried to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggested. Yesterday, I met fishing industry representatives from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the processors. I suggested to each side that they might like to meet the other, either under my chairmanship or simply in my office. The processors were agreeable, but the fishing industry refused to do so.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

As the Minister has acknowledged that imports are part of the problem in both the French and the British markets, was not it unhelpful, to say the least, for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to say earlier this week that prime responsibility for the problems facing the British industry lies with British fishermen? As the Council of Fisheries Ministers has accepted that the minimum import price arrangements have not been working, are not we entitled to attach a great deal of store to its proposals for more effective control of direct landings by ships of third countries, which the Minister announced that the Commission was to make public earlier today?

Following what the Minister said about the processing and catching sides of the industry, does he agree that there is a strong case for having a summit of all the interests to see whether they can come up with more effective collective action to stop a repetition of these problems?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The Commission proposal on making sure that landings from third-country vessels observe the same standards as we require came from me, so I am very pleased that, as I understand it, that is to be carried forward by the Commission. My right hon. Friend was stating the obvious. There are various strands in this crisis. One of them is imported fish, but it has been very much exaggerated. There have also been very large landings on Humberside of fish from north Norway. Some estimates put this at double the amount landed by this time last year. There is also a lot of very small fish on the market. It is true that the Government have responsibility, but the industry, too, must look at how it can manage its fisheries more effectively. That is why we are consulting on certain measures that might address the problem of small fish on the market.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

I wonder whether my hon. Friend has heard the reports from Weymouth. Despite the fishing disputes all round France and Britain, our port has been open to all fishermen. We gave a warm welcome to French fishermen who wanted to unload their catches there. Will he ask his colleagues in the European Community if they would like to be as communautaire as Weymouth fishermen and Weymouth fish docks and perhaps follow the example that we are setting in Dorset?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The fishermen in my hon. Friend's constituency are behaving in the long-term interests of their industry. We have had some 89 requests now for safe passage of our products through France according to the system that we set up. They have been responded to and trade is now flowing much more normally. We should give credit for the fact that, after a period of delays, we are now getting free access to the French market, as we demanded, and the promises are being observed.