HC Deb 26 March 1953 vol 513 cc879-87

  1. (1) Subject to the provisions of this section, any power to make a scheme under this Act shall include power to vary or revoke that scheme by a subsequent scheme.
  2. (2) A scheme under this Act shall not be so varied or revoked as to affect the payment of grant in pursuance of an application approved under the scheme before the coming into operation of the subsequent scheme; and a scheme under section five of this Act shall not be varied by extension of the period prescribed for the purposes of subsection (2) of that section.
  3. (3) Any power of the Ministers to make a scheme under this Act or an order under section five of this Act, shall be exercisable by statutory instrument.
  4. (4) A scheme under this Act shall be of no effect until it is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament; and an order under section five of this Act shall be of no effect 880 until it is approved by a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament.—[Sir T. Dugdale.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.0 p.m.

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

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This new Clause gives effect to the undertakings which we gave during the Committee stage to meet various Amendments which were then put forward. Combined with certain smaller Amendments to Clauses 1, 5 and 6,1 think it will give full effect to the undertakings which we then gave.

Broadly there were two undertakings. One was that the grants towards the cost of building would be made by means of a scheme receiving the approval, by affirmative Resolution, of both Houses of Parliament. The other was that [the provision of] the white fish subsidy, which hitherto had been paid on rates which were set out in what were called arrangements made by Ministers in consultation with the Treasury, should in future be paid on rates incorporated in the scheme, again having the approval, by affirmative Resolution, of both Houses of Parliament. Those, I think, were the two main undertakings which we gave.

There are one or two small points of detail to which I should allude. First, with respect to the scheme for rebuilding grants, during the Committee stage we discussed what should be the duration of such a scheme. I indicated then that in our opinion we should not put a limit on the duration of the scheme but should undertake that if the scheme was to be amended we would then go forward with a fresh scheme which would have to receive the assent which I have indicated. The point that I am making is that the scheme, which will first be brought in, setting out the rates of grant, will run on until such time as we consider it necessary to amend it, when we must come forward with a new scheme.

The second point of some substance on the scheme for grants, as indeed on the scheme for the subsidy, is that we have drawn the new Clause so that the schemes will be made by Ministers in consultation with the White Fish Authority and not by the White Fish Authority in consultation with Ministers. We gave a good deal of thought to that point and we felt that, as Ministers had the responsibility to come here and see the scheme through this House and the other place, the right procedure was for Ministers to be responsible for the scheme and to draw it up in the closest consultation with the White Fish Authority.

On the other point relating to schemes for the subsidies, we gave an undertaking that the duration of schemes for subsidies should be limited to two years, and that then, if we wished to continue with the same subsidy structure, we should come forward with a second scheme. It will have been noticed that as they are drafted, the provisions will be for a scheme to run for two years in the first place and then for one more scheme only for the duration of the Bill.

The practical effect of this would be that the first scheme would run for a two-year maximum and the second scheme would run for about two and three-quarter years. The Bill expires in March, 1958, and the earliest date at which we can get our first scheme will be about July this year; so that there will only be about four and three-quarter years for the provisions of the Bill to run. We felt that in the circumstances it was hardly reasonable to ask for a third scheme for possibly three-quarters of a year.

I hope that hon. Members opposite will feel that that arrangement is within the spirit of our undertaking that we would limit these schemes to two years. In the same way, we feel that these schemes should be drafted by Ministers in consultation with the White Fish Authority, as Ministers have the responsibility to Parliament. Those are the main points to which I wish to call attention, and I think that the new Clause gives effect to the undertakings which we gave.

Mr. Hector McNeil (Greenock)

I am sure that we are all indebted to the Parliamentary Secretary for embodying in the new Clause and certain Amendments to which he referred the undertakings given in Committee. We are also indebted to him for the very brief but to-the-point explanation that he has given. It is not the general experience of hon. Members on this side of the House to see such a reasonable attitude prevailing in the Government, to be able to look at the four pages of the Amendment Paper and to realise that the Amendments have resulted from the thought and experience of my hon. Friends and the entirely reasonable attitude which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has displayed throughout these proceedings.

Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the experience of his hon. Friends. What about my experience and the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie)? We had a lot to do with this.

Mr. McNeil

I frequently regret that the Government seem to be incapable of appreciating the value of the hon. Gentleman's experience. But I am bound, in fairness to the Government—goodness knows, they often need protection—to point out that in this instance the hon. Gentleman did not honour the Committee with a single Amendment, if my recollection is correct.

Mr. Boothby

I made lots of speeches.

Mr. McNeil

If the hon. Gentleman will always confine his speeches to supporting the Amendments proposed by my hon. Friends, he will never go far wrong. In that respect he did excellently in the Committee.

I want to assure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that we accept his reasons for the drafting of the schemes in the form which he has proposed. It is eminently preferable that the Government, whichever Government is in power, should be saddled with the responsibility for drafting the various schemes in consultation with the two authorities. We agree that since the schemes involve public moneys, the House should have access to responsible persons, in this case the Ministers specified. As for the hon. Gentleman's remarks relating to the duration of the subsidy scheme, I am not entitled to speak for everyone on this side of the House, but I should have thought that that was a commonsense way of tackling the matter, and I think it will be agreeable to the House.

We have noted that, in the case of grant, the scheme runs until a further scheme is submitted by the Ministers concerned. If, as we all hope will prove to be wrong, the scheme is not satisfactory for the purpose of rebuilding the fleets, then I have no doubt there will be Parliamentary pressure from both sides of the House, and certainly from these benches. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be, as he has proved himself to be, susceptible to responsible and informed Parliamentary pressure.

We are indebted to the Government, and I am sure that they will agree that they are slightly indebted to us, for producing a most excellent Bill. If the Minister of Transport had shown himself to be as susceptible, reasonable and responsible as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, how much better would be the outlook for the country.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) I should like to say, "Thank you" to the Government for giving way on this issue. I am not so sure that I want to go so far as my right hon. Friend, and say I am greatly indebted to them. They introduced the Bill, and they will agree that it was a very poor thing then. Then they listened to our arguments and also looked at the cohorts we had behind us in the Committee stage.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary found himself in a difficulty. Either he had to retire gracefully or lose his Bill. Things being as they are, he decided to retire gracefully. He gave way to us on every point, and whilst we are always pleased when a Minister takes this line. I am quite sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary recognises his much greater indebtedness to us for having made the Bill a much better instrument. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) claims some share of the credit for this

Mr. Boothby

Hear, hear.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman say's "Hear, hear." I can only regret that he does not listen to his own speeches as well as make them. I have armed myself with a copy of his speech in Committee on the subject now before us, and I have noticed the hon. Gentleman's considerable contribution. We waged a vigorous battle about this question, but all he can say about it is: I do not feel passionately about it on either side."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 10th February, 1953; c. 14.] I must say that a Member who goes into a great battle which was fought with great vigour in the interests of the industry and announces that he does not feel passionately either way is going a little far when he subsequently claims credit for the way the battle went.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not support us on this matter. If it had been left to him, who did not feel passionately either way, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would have stood his ground. Despite the lack of support from the hon. Gentleman, we put up a great fight for these improvements, and we now have a Bill in much better Parliamentary shape and one which will be of greater benefit to the industry. I agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that it is very much better that the Ministers concerned should be responsible and should tell us what they are going to do with the money and get our authority at the beginning or at intervals, rather than that Parliament should vote £9 million to some authority to deal with or not to deal with as circumstances might seem to them to ordain.

Some of us were concerned earlier about the way in which this money was to be used to improve the boats. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary did give an undertaking that in the scheme there would be included some wording about the crews' accommodation. The Amendment that I put down on that subject would have included some provision in the Bill. I still wish it had been there, but we accepted the hon. Gentleman's plea not to do that. I hope he will emphasise here that the scheme will, in fact, include that particular provision. It is worrying a good many people, and I hope it will not be forgotten afterwards. The reports of Committee stages are not so often read or so easily available as the reports of what happens in this House.

I should like to congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on having listened to what we had to say on this point, as indeed on almost every other issue that we had to raise in Committee. We had the weight of argument on our side. The only good thing in the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's favour is that he, unlike some of his colleagues, can sometimes see on which side the weight of argument lies, and, having seen it, can give effect to it. I hope he will have the grace to say that he is indebted to us for having improved the Bill by our work in Committee.

Mr. Boothby

I have seldom heard such a shoddy, irresponsible and biased speech as that of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). He grossly misled the House as to the facts of the case. He said that I stated that I did not feel passionately on one side or the other about this issue. He did not say that I went on to say that on balance I thought there was a formidable argument to be made in favour of the scheme being subject to the approval of this House.

Mr. G. Brown

Can the hon. Gentleman quote to me in which column of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate in Committee he said that?

Mr. Boothby

Why does the right hon. Gentleman not read my speeches? It is in the first or second speech. I have said it at every stage, and my hon. Friends on this side of the House will remember it.

Mr. Brown

Will the hon. Gentleman quote it to me?

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Boothby

I have not got the Report. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman. It is there, for I said it. I said that on balance I was in favour of a scheme being produced by the Government which would have to be submitted for the approval of this House. It is within my recollection that I am right, and the right hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Mr. Brown

You cannot quote it.

Mr. Boothby

Because I have not got the Report in my hand. You read it. You have got it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Hon. Members must address the Chair, not each other.

Mr. Boothby

I am sorry, but I felt a little heated on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman has been guilty of a great injustice to the Government. Every time the Government are in a reasonable attitude of mind, and ready to consider arguments on their merits and to make Amendments accordingly, they are accused by the right hon. Gentleman of giving way or running away. They are taunted and abused in this fashion; and, if that is the attitude of the Opposition to concessions by the Government, we are not going to get very good legislation in the future.

I think that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has shown great discretion, common sense and reasonableness. He listened to the arguments that were adduced on both sides of the Committee, and he accepted those that were reasonable. He has improved the Bill as a result and all he gets from the Opposition are taunts. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, all he gets is derision. I think it is an absolute outrage; and I should only like to say in conclusion that I most warmly welcome the Amendments made by the Minister.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

I do not propose to put myself between the two contestants, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby). As my right hon. Friend said, HANSARD will answer the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Boothby

So it will.

Mr. Gibson

I wish to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary if he will rise to the bait offered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. In Committee the hon. Gentleman did give something more than an assurance on this question of the condition of the crew accommodation as part of the scheme. At the end of the discussion on the Amendment which I moved, the hon. Gentleman said that he undertook to include some provision in the scheme. It is very important from the point of view of the fishermen and the trade unions which represent them that that undertaking should be fully carried out in the terms of the scheme which are to be published in connection with the distribution of these moneys. I hope the Minister will confirm the complete assurance that he gave in Committee upstairs, and that it will be fully implemented in the terms of the scheme when it is published.

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

It is a pleasure that the proposed new Clause has been accepted so readily on all sides of the House. Of course we are indebted to the Opposition, to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), and to other Members of the Committee, who are all indebted to each other. That is the right way to put it. If my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) did not feel passionately about it, I would be very glad. I would not be very near him when he felt passionately about anything. It is in that spirit that we should approach this matter.

On the matter of crew accommodation I give the specific pledge that it is our intention that adequate provision to meet that point should be included in the scheme. That is all that one need say.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.