HC Deb 23 July 1953 vol 518 cc723-45

10.25 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)

I beg to move: That the Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1953, dated 1st July, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that, as this Scheme and the next one are similar in content, they might be taken together though, of course, the House would be perfectly at liberty to divide separately on each if necessary.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

I take it that although we have the Scottish Scheme before us now the discussion will range also over the English Scheme?

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that that would be a convenient course.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

As the House will recall, Section 1 of the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1953, which we passed into law quite recently, enables the White Fish Authority to make grants towards the cost of new fishing boats and engines but lays down that the arrangements for giving grants shall be in accordance with statutory Schemes which themselves require the approval of Parliament. It is those statutory Schemes that we are now about to examine.

Section 6 of the Act gives similar powers to the Herring Industry Board. The two schemes contained in these two Statutory Instruments embody the arrangements which the Government propose, and they have obtained the approval of both the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. I will deal first with the White Fish Scheme and then with the special matters that distinguish the Herring Industry Scheme. As we have been over most of the ground before in the debates on the Bill, the House will not expect me to do more than pick out the salient points. Looking first at the rate of grants under the White Fish Scheme, broadly speaking two distinct rates are provided for. One applies principally to the near and middle water boats, and the other to inshore vessels. The distinction corresponds to that which is set out in Section 2 of the Act.

Section 2 limits the amount of grant which may be made in respect of any one vessel to 25 per cent. of its total cost or, where the cost does not exceed £20,000 and the owner is what is called a "working owner," to 30 per cent. of the cost or £5,000, whichever is the less. Under the same Section 2, grants for new engines may not exceed 30 per cent. of the total cost or £1,250 whichever is the less. In all cases, these grants for engines are restricted to "working owners." These are the maximum rates of grant that may be made.

In Committee the question was raised: should the rate of grant made now at the beginning of the Scheme be at the maximum level or at some lower level? We were all agreed that it should be at the maximum level, and that in fact represents the choice which the Government have made.

So far I have been dealing with the Act. If hon. Members will look at the Scheme——

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on the definition of "working owner"? This has always been a source of anxiety to me. The definition of the words "working owner" refers to one who, "regularly goes to sea." The word "regularly" might be interpreted in many ways. I have in my constituency people who are owners and who go to sea but leave most of the actual fishing to paid skippers and others who make that their lifework. But these fellows very often are part of a company or a small corporation of people who actually do not go regularly to sea.

Mr. Stewart

The answer probably is that the distinction is that set out in the Scheme, namely: 'working owner' means a person who, being the owner or one of the owners of a vessel, regularly goes to sea in it when it is used for the purpose of fishing. This Scheme was been approved by the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. It is they who will administer it and they think they understand what that definition means. I think I understand also. The only suggestion I can make is that if the hon. Member is still in difficulties he should visit the White Fish Authority and ask them what they mean by it.

Mr. G. Brown

The hon. Gentleman does not understand it.

Mr. Stewart

Oh, yes, we understand quite well, but it is another thing to explain it to hon. Members opposite.

Hon. Members will see that in paragraph 8 of the Scheme it is provided that in the case of larger boats the grant, if approved, must be at the full rate of 25 per cent. In the case of smaller boats it must again be at the full permitted rate of 30 per cent., or £5,000, whichever is the less. The grants for engines are similarly required to be at the full permitted rate of 30 per cent. or £1,250, whichever is the less.

The general effect of this decision is, subject to the overall limits, that the Scheme requires all grants which the Authority decide to make to be at the maximum rate allowed by the Act. The purpose of this provision is of course to make the Scheme as attractive in its early stages as we can, so as to encourage as many applicants as possible to come forward.

I do not need to trouble the House with another account of the economic circumstances in the industry which make these grants necessary. We have been over that ground again and again. It is enough to say that we want to encourage owners to start right away with the rebuilding particularly of the near and middle water fleets, and for that purpose we are providing the maximum incentive from the start. If we find that too many boats are being built, we can always amend the Scheme. The Scheme fixes the overall maximum grant of £25,000 for any one vessel. This will give the full 25 per cent. grant to the boat costing £100,000 to build. Any expenditure above that figure, of course, will have to be met by the owners of the boat.

The House, I think, will agree that there must be a maximum figure of some sort, if only to put some check upon wasteful, uneconomical and extravagant building. The only question is whether £25,000 is the right figure. We believe, after careful reflection, that it is. A sum of £100,000 will build a modern diesel trawler of about 120 ft. in length. This should be enough to provide for the needs of heavy boats capable of fishing the Faroes, Rockall and the hake grounds of the South-West Approaches, and it will be a good deal more than will be needed to build a boat for the North Sea.

These estimates are confirmed by the trend of recent building. The House may be interested to know that of the 66 near and middle water trawlers built since the war, 48 would, on present prices, have cost £100,000 or less to build and would have qualified for the full rate. In this matter, therefore, the policy objective and the natural trend of developments both point in the same direction. I should add that of the 16 applications for near and middle water boats which have already been made to the White Fish Authority in anticipation of the Scheme, all but one would, on this figure, have obtained the full 25 per cent. grant.

May I say a word about conditions? The conditions, as distinct from the rates, call for comparatively little comment. They are mostly concerned with matters of detail, as is usual in schemes of this kind. I should draw attention to paragraph 5 of the Scheme under which applicants for grants must satisfy the Authority that they can operate a fishing vessel successfully. This is, of course, fundamental, and gives effect to an undertaking which we made in Committee.

Paragraph 6 of the Scheme, under which the Authority may require applicants to make a full statement of their financial position and lay their books and records open to inspection by the Authority's accountants, is part and parcel of the same conception. It is only reasonable that before making substantial grants from public funds, the Authority should be reasonably sure that that money is going to be in safe hands. Hon. Members will also note paragraph 9 (3), which deals with the crew accommodation, a subject which raised a good deal of interest in the earlier proceedings. This requires accommodation to conform to Ministry of Transport standards; and imposes on the Authority the duty to ensure that the vessels are in conformity with the best modern practice.

I should like to say a word about the fishing areas. Paragraph 12 (a) provides for certain requirements in the actual process of fishing. Perhaps the main point of interest is that there shall be given an undertaking that the vessel shall be used within the inshore, near, and middle waters, but allowing for trips to distant waters, with certain prescribed limitations. This provision is intended to ensure that the grant is used to restore the near and middle waters and inshore fleets. A grant which, in practice, enabled boats to go in for regular and extensive distant water fishing would obviously be misapplied; that was not the intention behind the Act, and, indeed, does not commend itself on merits at the present time.

The distant water fleets in recent years have sometimes produced more than the market could absorb, and have, consequently, had to restrict their operations, by voluntary agreement, in the spring and summer fishing. The British Trawler Owners Federation would have liked to see the new boats excluded altogether from distant water fishing, but we do not want to go so far as that. Indeed, it is already the practice for some of the near and middle water boats to make occasional trips to the distant waters, and the Government think it wrong to interfere with an action which is, for these boats—and particularly in Aberdeen—the normal pattern of fishing. The provision in paragraph 12 (a) enables the boats in question to make two voyages during the spring and summer in distant waters, and also gives the Authority discretion to increase that number of voyages to three. It is intended to provide that amount of latitude which is necessary in order to avoid the risk of injuring the competitive power of this part of the near and middle water fleets.

Mr. Edward Evans

On what basis has this figure been fixed? Why is it not five or six, or seven or eight? Why this arbitrary figure of two to three?

Mr. Stewart

Because that is what has been happening in Aberdeen, to which this chiefly applies. In Aberdeen, up to 1951, about 40 trawlers of less than 140 feet visited Icelandic waters seasonally, but the number has dropped considerably since then, no doubt because of the Icelandic fishing limitations, and in 1953, only 11 trawlers, making 26 trips, went to Icelandic waters, and on this basis of history and fact, we have arrived at this figure.

Mr. Evans


Mr. Stewart

If the hon. Member went to Aberdeen, he would not say "Nonsense." If he did, I can assure him that he would not get a very friendly reception.

Mr. Evans

Is it not a fact that the very condition the hon. Member mentions is purely fortuitous—that the Icelandic landings have been barred here?

Mr. Stewart

This has been the practice of the Aberdeen boats for a great many years. Today, on account of the Icelandic action, not so many boats are going as went before.

May I now turn to the Herring Industry Scheme. This, as hon. Members will see, is very similar to the White Fish Scheme. It governs the payments of grants by the Herring Industry Board for the provision of new boats and engines, and lays down the amounts of such grants, and the conditions under which they will be made. I need only mention the two points on which it differs from the White Fish Scheme.

In the first place, it does not contain any restriction about fishing in distant waters—I am sure that the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) will be glad to hear that—because it is neither necessary nor appropriate in the case of herrings. In the second place, the overall maximum grant in respect of any one vessel is £12,000, instead of £25,000. That is because the boats designed primarily for herring are usually much smaller than the trawlers. The maximum of £12,000 will enable the full rate of grant to be paid on boats costing up to £48,000 to build; and I am advised that this should cover all existing types of boats wholly or mainly intended for herring fishing; but it will, of course, discourage any unduly large and expensive boats.

My hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the North of Scotland will, perhaps, say that dual-purpose boats for herrings and white fish may, therefore, be excluded. The answer is that they will not be excluded. Dual-purpose drifter-trawlers might well exceed £48,000 in cost, but the owner of such a boat could apply to the White Fish Authority for a grant within the higher £25,000 limit laid down in the White Fish Scheme.

The Scheme has been made with the full assent of the Herring Industry Board, and I hope that the House will give it its approval. For the sake of brevity I have tried to concentrate upon the salient features of the two Instruments. I hope that they will be well received. As I have explained, the terms have deliberately been made generous, because we take the view that the rebuilding of the fleet is urgent. I feel confident, therefore, that the House will share the Government's view both of the objective of the Schemes and of the need for determined measures to achieve it.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon Friends on this side of the House, I welcome the introduction of this Scheme. We intend to facilitate its early passage, as we did the Bill. The Scheme, of course, is very much better than it would have been but for the vigorous efforts which we made on this side of the House, more or less supported by one or two Members on the other side, to put the Bill into better shape. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) reminds me, had it not been for our efforts, there would not have been a scheme at all. We insisted on it.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

So did we.

Mr. Brown

As I said, we were more or less supported by one or two Members opposite, and in some way, I suppose, the hon. Member comes within that category.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland referred to the generous nature of the grants. It is not unfair to say that some of us on this side—the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) associated himself with us—are entitled to take credit rather than the Government Front Bench for the grants being as they are. They would have been a good deal less but for the vigorous action we took, and we were right to do it.

But a number of us doubted whether, even now, we were "spreading the jam"—that was a phrase that came into currency during the passage of the Bill—thickly enough around to attract sufficient applicants. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies, will he say whether there is any evidence as to whether applications are coming in in anything like the numbers we need?

The Explanatory Note makes it clear that the contract for the boat or the engine must have been placed after 31st July, 1952. Clearly, there may not have been many contracts for new boats placed after that date, but I should have thought that quite a number of engines would have been fitted; and one way or another we ought by now to have some indication of the attractiveness of the grants at this level. We cannot say whether we have been generous unless we know whether the grants are proving attractive.

There are one or two points about which I am still a little concerned. The Joint Under-Secretary drew attention to paragraph 9 (3), which deals with crew accommodation. At the time, I was anxious to have that in the Act rather than in the Scheme. I still wish it were there, but I think that this does what we had hoped to have done in securing Ministry of Transport standards and that, in addition, the Authority has to satisfy itself that the conditions are up to the best modern practice. Thus, if it happened that the Ministry's standards were lagging and that modern standards were ahead, it would be the modern standards and not the out of date requirements of the Ministry which would have effect. The presence of the words, "in the opinion of the Authority" may mean a weakness, but I hope one is right in thinking that the Authority will always be ready to listen to the recommendations of, for instance, the trade unions.

We were told, when the Bill went through, of the run-down of the fleet which had occurred. Could we have tonight any figures showing what has happened since it became known that this kind of assistance was to be made available? That would help us to assess the value of this Scheme.

Regarding paragraph 12, I still do not understand what the hon. Gentleman was trying to put forward as defence. Here I am with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) in the view that, since it has been the practice of these boats from Aberdeen on occasions to go out into distant waters, it would be wrong so to draw this Scheme as arbitrarily to prevent that happening again, although there is common agreement. I do not understand why it is thought necessary to write into the Scheme the figure of two voyages in any one year, subject to the discretion of the Authority to make it three. The hon. Gentleman produced an extraordinary argument on this. He said that the boats going out had now been reduced to 11, and that they made 26 voyages, which was about two a year. Actually it is as near three; but the question is, can we say that no boat went out more than twice.

Sir R. Boothby

What does it matter?

Mr. Brown

It matters because it means that as we are writing in this not strictly average figure a boat which happened to go out four or five times to make up for one which had not gone out, or had gone only once, is now going to be prevented from doing that again.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

This only applies to new boats.

Mr. Brown

I have frequently been told from that bench that I have not understood something, but I wish some hon. Members over there would try to get things properly and would not be in such a hurry to teach. Let us have a little more humility. [Interruption.] I was not suggesting that I ought to have more humility. Therefore, the boat that is replacing one that used to go four or five times is limited to twice. Am I right? Who has not got it right? Is that not so? Of course it is. Would it not have been much better, in the interests of some of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, to have drafted this provision in the simpler way of leaving it to the discretion of the Authority? I just do not see why we force in two years, why we limit the discretion. I think that is a sort of bureaucratic provision that is not really required, and I think that the hon. Gentleman has given us no defence of it at all.

Anyhow, the Joint Under-Secretary of State, when he has got over teaching—and I hope he will have better luck than he had last time and than his hon. Friend—when he has got that off his chest, will, I hope, undertake to give a little thought to this. I am quite sure one of us is going to get a letter at some stage saying someone has been hurt by this. I think it is bureaucratic and unnecessary, and I hope that it will be readjusted.

Those are the general points. There is nothing much new at this stage to say about this. We had a long debate on the Bill, and a good long Committee stage. The Government were extremely forthcoming and were willing to listen, and a lot of Amendments were made with which many hon. Members in all quarters had something to do, and so the Bill emerged from Committee as a pretty general representation of the concensus of opinion of us all. Subject to the one point I have already mentioned, and the figures I asked for, I would say the Scheme is in the form in which we wanted it to be, so that I think we can only say we wish it well.

We really do hope that the grants will be generous enough and on loose enough conditions to enable the modernisation of our near and middle fleets to be carried out, and we hope, above all, that the Authority and the Government will still recognise that even when they have made grants they have not cleared up the problems that beset the British fishing industry. Moreover, the modernised near and middle waters fleets could themselves become 20 years hence the out of date fleets that those we have now are; which are themselves 20 years out of date. That would be a sad thing to happen, and so I hope we shall go on giving a good deal of attention to the problems of the industry.

10.53 p.m.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) had a few good words to say for us towards the conclusion of his remarks. At the beginning of his speech I thought him niggardly and ungenerous. He knows just as well as I do that he received full support from our side of the House when we were in Committee on the Measure, and the Government were speedily convinced by the cogency of our arguments in favour of the replacement Scheme, and yet he had the effrontery to say he had had occasionally half-hearted support from our side in the suggestions for that. He went on to talk about "spreading the jam." I would point out that I was the man who talked about "spreading the jam."

Mr. G. Brown

I knew it was somebody over there.

Sir R. Boothby

Did he give me any credit for this vivid and illustrative phrase? Not at all. He said "somebody" spoke about spreading the jam. He knew perfectly well who that somebody was.

Mr. Brown

Is not the hon. Gentleman somebody? Why, he is even more somebody now.

Sir R. Boothby

Lastly, he seemed concerned about the principle of application. I should like to take up that point. There are quite a lot of applications pending in my constituency, and a good many—I shall not say granted—but proceeded with in recent weeks and months on the assumption that this Scheme would be passed, perhaps, sooner than it is going to be. All I want to do is to press my hon. Friend to get it into operation as quickly as possible. I gather that 14 days after the passage of the Scheme through both Houses it will come into operation, and I want him to give us an assurance that he will take every possible step to get it through another place as fast as possible. I am satisfied that this is the best grant scheme which has yet been evolved for the herring industry, and I think hon. Members on both sides will agree with me on that.

I see the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) looking a bit restive. I think I can satisfy him on the definition of "working owner" which seems to worry him. It is quite clear that a "working owner" is something which applies to my constituents who fish from boats and not to his constituents who fish from the shore. That roughly is the definition, which I think is a good one, of a "working owner."

I have only one other point to make, and that concerns the White Fish Industry Scheme. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary said that under that Scheme there was a requirement that the fishermen should operate their fishing vessels successfully. I utter this as a word of warning. Let him take care that the Government are not going to do something to prevent the near water fishermen from being able possibly to operate any fishing vessel successfully. This is something which wants looking into. I think there has been a mistake made about the mesh that has been agreed under the international agreement.

According to the tests that have recently been made in my constituency and elsewhere, it is quite clear that all the fish in the near waters swim quite easily through the meshes of the standard design which is by the way of being applied next year with the result that the fishermen catch nothing at all. The fishermen could not possibly operate any vessel successfully if they have to fish with a net in which none of the fish stay. That is a quite impossible proposition. I think there has been a mess up on this; perhaps I should have said a "mesh" up. However, the Spaniards, the Norwegians and others are not happy about this, and I dare say it will be put right. I ask the Under-Secretary to look into this aspect of the matter, because it would be a great pity if this House passed such a good scheme for grants for fishermen, and the near water white fishing industry was prevented from enjoying the benefits of it.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I would not have intervened in this debate had not the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) provoked me. I have a most vivid recollection of the Committee stage of the Act under which this Scheme is produced. He claims that he supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he was piloting that Bill through, but all that he did was to have a violent row with the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who, during recent years, has emerged as one of the great authorities of the fishing industry, much to the chagrin of the hon. Member.

I was rather surprised at the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire making the jibe he did at the fishermen of Lowestoft, and I want to take up that point. I do not think he really meant it. We remember that during the night of the floods a Lowestoft boat was one of the few that put to sea that night, and it never returned. There was a loss of 11 gallant fishermen.

Sir R. Boothby

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to say that, of course, I was not jibing at the Lowestoft fishermen. I was talking about the position which applied to my constituency and did not apply to his. The fishermen in my constituency own their own boats, whereas a large number of boats in his constituency are owned by people ashore. That is the difference.

Mr. Evans

I accept the hon. Member's assurance, but it allows me to deal with the point I wanted to make, when I was asking the Under-Secretary what exactly he meant by a working owner. The hon. Gentleman stated that most of the fishing is done from Lowestoft by companies. Are we going to be deprived of the benefits of these grants? This applies to most of the firms operating in the near water fisheries. Is the near water fishing industry to be debarred because they are a company of people who want to take advantage of grants under this Scheme? I sincerely hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us a firm assurance on that point.

It was a very good "crack" of the hon. Gentleman to talk about the size of the mesh. He and I have been in this fight for the conservation of the fishing grounds ever since I have been in this House. If he is going now to deplore the only positive action which has been taken to preserve our fisheries, what is he going to say tomorrow afternoon when he is talking about the conservation of the fishery grounds in the Moray Firth? What arguments are we to expect against the Overfishing Commission now established if it sets standards which he is the first to deplore? The hon. Gentleman is expected to be the custodian of the fishing interests. [Interruption.] I do not know that the hon. Gentleman can assume he is such an authority as to over-ride the considerable weight of evidence.

I am very pleased and proud that the Government has followed up the policy of the Labour Government in making grants and loans available, and I wish them every success in this measure. I am rather hopeful that, in connection with the development of the grants and loans system, we are going to see the withdrawal from the fleets of these vessels which we know to be unseaworthy and a real menace to the industry. It is no good mincing words. There are vessels going to sea today in which I, and I do not profess to be the most courageous man in this House, would not like to sail in confidence.

Families in my constituency are extraordinarily anxious on this situation. We have to encourage the withdrawal of obsolescent boats from the fleets. I am not sure, however, what is the definition of "working fisherman." The hon. Gentleman has referred to the position in my constituency. It is a matter which will have to be treated with the greatest consideration and understanding. If one is to define a working fisherman in too close terms, it means a great many opportunities for building new boats will not be able to be taken up. I am an easily provoked man, but, under a repulsive exterior, I have a heart of gold, and I do wish the scheme every success.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I want to make three short points in particular and three more in general. Paragraph 3 (1, b) deals with the question of the working owner which has just been referred to by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans). I hope this will not be drawn too closely and that the grant will be available to the man who has been a fisherman for many years but has retired and whose son is fishing in some sort of partnership with him.

Paragraph 5 says that applicants for grants must satisfy the Authority with regard to the prospect of their being able to operate fishing vessel successfully. We know that the White Fish Authority have local people who will possibly carry out this work, but I hope they will be sufficiently local to know the right men, so that they will get these facilities.

Paragraph 9 says that the boats must be built in the United Kingdom. That would seem obvious, but there is an important point here. There are many small yards round our country which it is essential for us from a defence point of view to keep in being. If this work can be given to those small yards, it will be valuable. The standard of vessels is dealt with in paragraph 9 (3). I join with the hon. Member for Lowestoft in hoping that the best facilities will be afforded to the larger vessels, but I also hope that these standards will not be drawn in such a way that, where they apply in the case of the inshore man, the Authority will not insist on a standard which they cannot possibly, and do not need, to maintain because of the time they are at sea.

Now for my three general points. I am sure that most hon. Members will welcome this Measure, but we want to be sure that there will be no undue inter- ference. Calling for books and all those things may be necessary safeguards, but let us hope that they will not be carried too far. We do not want the small fisherman, who perhaps is not very expert at keeping books, to be interfered with unnecessarily. I hope that any measures envisaged will not cause unnecessary delay in the provision of these facilities.

Lastly, and most important, is the point that we know the needs for the bigger fishermen, the near middle water men, but I hope that the Government and the White Fish Authority will see that the inshore fishermen get their fair share because there is only a limited amount of money available. Today the inshore men of England, as I said last week, are in a worse position than those of Scotland, and I hope that will be borne in mind so that they will get what is due to them. Thereby the Government and the Authority will be helping the class of man who is essential to us, not only in peace but also in war.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I sympathise very much with the words which have fallen from the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard). He will remember that the topics which he has discussed tonight were discussed very sympathetically in Committee. There was then an Amendment to the Bill designed to bring within the Bill not only those who were then already in the industry, but those who had been in it and had gone into the Navy and come back, and those who, for one reason or another, had temporarily left the industry and come back to it. I am happy to say the Act, and now this Scheme, include both types of people.

It would not be unfair to say that the two debates we have had during the last couple of hours are a meal in themselves. It is a rather succulent meal, too, because we have discussed agricultural produce, herrings and white fish. I am glad to be able to say a friendly word about this Scheme because, about a week ago, when the White Fish Subsidy Scheme was before the House, I found it necessary to be critical of it.

This Scheme is a very useful one, and it is exactly the kind of thing which was envisaged by the Act, especially having regard to the amendments proposed and the undertakings given in Committee. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) said that the Scheme is largely due to the Amendments which were made to the Bill in Committee at the instance of the Opposition. However, I do not want to make a party matter of this. There are, however, some comments I should like to make, and some questions I wish to put that I hope the Minister will answer.

Under paragraph 3 of the Scheme an applicant in order to be within the Scheme must base his application on a contract for the building of a vessel, or the supply of an engine, made after 31st July, 1952. Why is that date arbitrarily fixed? It will shut out contracts made earlier. People who made contracts after the passage of the Bill and before this date may be prejudiced. They are entitled to know why they are to be excluded from the benefits of the Act and the Scheme.

Under paragraph 5 of the Scheme applicants for grants must satisfy the Authority that they can operate a fishing vessel satisfactorily. From any point of view this is an entirely proper condition, because it would be wrong if grants were made to incompetents or landlubbers. But what is the definition of this expression? Does it mean physical fitness, youth or age, technical ability, or is it financial qualification? Whatever be the meaning, it is an entirely proper thing to have in the Scheme, but applicants for benefit are entitled to know what kind of evidence they will have to give to show they can operate a fishing vessel satisfactorily.

Paragraphs 6 and 7 relate to applicants' finances. Paragraph 6 requires an applicant to make a full statement of his financial position including his assets, debts, and obligations. That paragraph is almost as elaborate as a statement of claim or an affidavit in litigation. It says: The Authority may require applicants to make a full statement of their financial position, including their assets, debts, and obligations, and to make available for inspection by the Authority, or their duly authorised agents, such books of account and other records and documents as the Authority may reasonably require. That is not only a very wide paragraph, and a very elaborate one, but it is somewhat intricate, and I submit that applicants are entitled to know what it means, and what kind of evidence they are expected to adduce in order to conform to that paragraph. Paragraph 7 covers the case where expenditure is shared by two persons. I will not trouble the House by reading it. It speaks for itself; but it certainly requires some explanation from the Minister. I hope that he will give it.

Both paragraphs taken together seem to imply some kind of means test. It is right and proper that applicants for financial benefit out of State funds such as these should be the subject of some kind of test. But, again, I ask the Minister for a definition. What exactly do these paragraphs taken together mean? What have the applicants to face and what are to be the limits imposed on them by these two paragraphs?

I ask these questions not destructively, because I support the Scheme, but to enable the Minister to make a statement of a constructive and explanatory nature to guide applicants for benefit. There are many good points in the Scheme. One is that it is limited to British subjects resident in Britain and to corporations incorporated in Britain. That is designed to prevent money going to foreigners out of the country. Another very important and beneficial feature is one which results from an Amendment which was proposed by the Opposition in Committee and accepted by the Minister. It is paragraph 9 (3) which makes provision for the accommodation of officers and crew. That is in redemption of a very proper pledge which was exacted from the Minister in Committee. I welcome the Scheme which will, I hope, do something to restore prosperity to the industry.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

I am glad to have an opportunity to make a few comments on this Scheme. I should like to apply my remarks in the short time that I can reasonably claim to the inshore fishing industry and the herring industry. First I should like to mention the point made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) in controversy with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) about the new mesh that has been suggested by the International Commission. I think that it is true that that mesh errs on the wide side. There was an experiment carried out in the North of Scotland recently when I was there, and the results were such as to indicate that at all events that mesh is too big and will probably have to be contracted.

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will forgive me if I touch on one or two of the points he made.

Mr. Edward Evans

Does the hon. Gentleman consider that it is within the competence of the House to discuss the decisions of the International Commission? What is the good of setting up an International Commission?

Mr. Duthie

Since the point had been raised I thought that I might tender the little knowledge I had on the subject. I would refer to what the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North said about paragraph 5 which deals with the selection of suitable applicants for assistance under the Scheme. The grave weakness of the inshore fishing legislation and the Herring Industries Act, so far as they gave assistance for procuring new boats, was that there was no real vetting of applications. I have pleaded on a number of occasions in this House for local vetting committees to be set up to consider whether or not applicants were suitable men to be given assistance.

Unless we have the right men in the wheelhouses these boats will fail. All the failures we have had under the inshore fishing Measures—and we have had a number—and under the Herring Industries Act have been due to the fact that entirely the wrong type of man has been skipper. That point cannot be too strongly emphasised. I hope that the Minister will take due note of it.

There is an inherent means test in paragraph 6. A similar provision was made in the two Acts to which I have referred and in many instances these tests were far too rigorously applied. If a group of fishermen wish to get a new herring boat at present, they have first of all to put down 15 per cent. of the cost, and the probability is that it will cost £10,000, so that they have to find £1,500. They have also to find gear for the vessel. They have to find 200 nets if they are to be able to carry out herring fishing during the herring seasons round our coasts. That will cost between £2,000 and £3,000. They also have to get a large quantity of ropes, buoys &c., and these cost a considerable amount of money. A man requiring a vessel of this kind and applying for assistance must have behind him a considerable amount of liquid capital. I hope that will be borne in mind when paragraph 6 is applied.

My next point relates to paragraph 12. I deprecate the laying down of the law concerning the type of venture that a man getting one of these vessels should undertake. There is no doubt that these must be dual-purpose vessels. A vessel acquired under the auspices of the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board must be able to interchange her fishing methods as the seasons demand. A vessel may be a successful herring fishing vessel along the North Sea coast of Scotland during the summer months, and should also be capable of making a successful venture for white fish during the winter, and so on. There must be no hard and fast rule.

As to the distance these vessels are permitted to travel, I will venture a prophecy. In due course they will be proceeding into mid-Atlantic fishing with floating trawls, and I am sure that the White Fish Authority will come to this House within a comparatively short number of years and ask for powers to enable their boats to go across the Atlantic.

I am glad that this Scheme is before the House. It is long overdue. The fishing industry has been moribund for over a year, and assistance of this kind is eagerly awaited. I wish the Scheme well.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I should like briefly to support what the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has said about the expense to which inshore fishermen are put in the provision of gear, which is one of the most heavy outlays they have to meet. More particularly, I should like also to add to his plea that we should have some information about paragraph 12. Certainly in my constituency all the boats except one are dual-purpose vessels.

I take it that this paragraph is not intended to mean that in future either the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board will seek to limit the purpose to which vessels are put. The general tendency all round the coast is towards the dual-purpose boat. I know there is no intention in the Scheme to limit a boat, but there is some doubt about what is really meant. I want to be sure that in the future, if fishermen come forward for grants or loans, they will not be limited to one purpose or another.

11.24 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

May I briefly reply to the points which have been raised during this interesting debate, and say on behalf of the Government how much we welcome the general support that the Scheme has received in all quarters of the House.

The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) asked whether I could give him some evidence of the response of the fishing industry to this provision of grants for building new vessels. The response that we have had up till 17th July, in the form of applications made to the White Fish Authority for near and middle water vessels, has been for 16 new vessels—10 at Lowestoft, three at Grimsby, two at Fleetwood, and one in Scotland. This response is said to be no more than a beginning. The House will recall that during the Committee stage of the Bill we discussed the rate at which the fleet was running down; and the fact is that that running down is approximately at the same rate as last year. Then there was a loss of about 55 vessels, and up to the end of June the figure was 30; so that, over the whole year, it should be about the same.

Sir R. Boothby

Can my hon. Friend give any idea of the applications from the herring fleet?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, I will deal with the herring and inshore fleets.

But to return to the near and middle water boats, it is among those that the most serious position exists, and it is there that we are most urgently concerned with getting large-scale rebuilding. We are aiming at rebuilding something like 500 vessels over the next 10 years, so we must hope for something in the region of 50 new boats a year, and I hope, therefore, that we shall see the response doubled in the not-distant future.

With regard to the inshore vessels, we have had 16 applications from various ports in England and Wales, and six from Scotland, including Aberdeen; and for new engines, we have received a large number of applications—some 250 or so for inshore vessels. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has particular anxiety about fishermen not going ahead with fitting the wrong type of engines, but waiting for the type most suitable for the vessel, and I promise him that I will particularly call the attention of the White Fish Authority to this point.

A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), made comments about the restrictions under paragraph 12 of the Scheme; but what we have done there is merely to try to make a reasonable provision which will allow of a certain amount of fishing by these grant-aided vessels in distant waters, thereby trying to avoid exacerbating the problems already confronting the distant water vessels. Hon. Members will know that the distant water vessels are already in considerable difficulties because the demand for their catches seems to continue to fall, and this is the time of the year when, even with vessels laid up, they are still landing more than they can sell. We must try to find a proper balance, allowing the grant-aided vessels to make a number of trips to distant waters, but not to catch more cod, for example, and thereby aggravate the difficulties of the distant water boats.

I think that we have the right compromise. Most vessels in the near and middle water classes do not make more than two trips at present; that is the practice. From the Scottish ports, they may make three, but hon. Members will appreciate that this is a first scheme. We can quite well vary it in the light of experience if it is found that it unduly restricts operations. But I think we have a fair balance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) asked whether we would expedite the passage of this Scheme through another place; I can tell him that I think the members there are well seized of the necessity to see it passed as soon as possible. It will not be long, I think, before it is in operation.

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) raised again the point about the working owner. I cannot help him beyond the definition in the Act. In Section 2 (5) it is defined that: In this section 'working owner', in relation to a vessel, means a person who, being the owner or one of the owners of the vessel, regularly goes to sea in it when it is used for the purpose of fishing. I agree that that is in very general terms, but it is difficult to be more precise. The exact interpretation in this context must be left to the Authority to interpret in a reasonable way.

Mr. Edward Evans

In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) and the statistics of the applications, which show that Lowestoft ranks highest in the list, I hope the Minister will give very special consideration to this point.

Mr. Nugent

I assure the hon. Member that we will watch this point with great care to see that it operates in a reasonable and practical fashion. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) had a similar anxiety, and my assurance, naturally, is extended to him also.

On the question of crew accommodation, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives inquired whether the standards applied to inshore vessels would be unreasonably high. The answer is that they will not be. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Authority would insist on the best current practice, even if it was higher than the standards of the Ministry of Transport. The answer is, of course, "Yes," because the existing Ministry of Transport standards are long out of date. A new code is in preparation, but it takes a long time to complete. That is why we put in these words, to ensure that vessels are built to a reasonably high standard.

The clauses which we have included to ensure that applicants are capable fishermen and have the necessary financial substance behind them are, in our opinion, the minimum that can be put in to justify the expenditure of very large sums of public money. We are making a provision of some £9 million in total, and it is only reasonable that we should ensure that the men to whom these large sums are given are capable of making good use of them.

Mr. Edward Evans

Hear, hear.

Mr. Nugent

As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff has rightly said, it is quite useless for a man to set out in this hazardous and difficult trade unless he is really competent and has a certain amount of money behind him to withstand the setbacks that are bound to arise from time to time. But the Authority will interpret these clauses in a reasonable way and certainly will see that there is no unreasonable interference in their application.

I assure the House that the Scheme is drawn in a workable way and that the Authority will operate it with sympathy and understanding. I hope that it will greatly facilitate the rebuilding of the fleet, which we so much need.

Resolved, That the Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1953, dated 1st July 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved. White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1953, dated 14th July, 1953—[copy presented 15th July] approved.—[Mr. Nugent.]