HC Deb 25 July 1955 vol 544 cc881-901

6.20 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th July, be approved. This Scheme is exactly the same as the previous Scheme, which runs out at the end of this month. It has a duration until 31st December this year.

It has been found impossible to prepare a scheme to take account of the recent coal price increase and to bring it before the House before the Recess. The business of considering just how to deal with these substantial price increases, to draft the necessary Statutory Instrument, and to have the fairly lengthy consultations we usually have with the industry before we bring a Scheme before the House, has been physically impossible in the limited time.

We have, therefore, taken the only alternative of bringing before the House a scheme to renew the present one. We have already undertaken to bring another scheme before the House after the Recess, when we will take account of the coal prices increase and of any other changes that have taken place in the industry in the past twelve months. In the meantime, the House will probably be interested to have a very brief account of how the scheme has worked during the past year.

A year ago we made an amendment to the subsidy scheme and added approximately £250,000 to the total possible charge on the Exchequer. That brought the total possible charge on the Exchequer up to £2½ million. I recollect that some hon. Members felt doubt whether that would be sufficient to keep the industry going in a reasonable way for the twelve months. I am glad to be able to say that in the out-turn the industry has done even better than we expected and that the total charge on the Exchequer for the past twelve months is estimated to run out at about £2.13 million, which is significantly less than we expected.

The main item of charge which varies here, apart from stowage charges, is the voyage-payment subsidy, which is a sort of insurance payment which ensures that vessels which go to sea will not earn less than a certain sum. It works on a sliding scale, so that for a better catch on the part of a particular vessel a lower amount is paid, and when the vessel does well nothing is paid at all. The substantially lower charge on the Exchequer is due to the fact that we had rather lower voyage-payments than were expected. That is a reliable sign that the near and middle-water vessels have done better, and is distinctly encouraging.

I am told that the general trend has been very much on the lines of what we hoped for—apart from the recent coal price increases—when we put the 1953 Act on the Statute Book. Hon. Members will recollect that the subsidy was temporary, to keep the industry going over the few years necessary for the rebuilding of the old and out-dated fleet. We combined that with a loan scheme which would help the industry to bring about that rebuilding. Before the recent increases in costs there seemed to be a reasonable prospect that we were moving in the direction we wanted. It is too early to see the practical and economic results of the fishery conservation methods that have been followed so successfully in the past eighteen months, but we may hope to see results beginning in the next year or so.

The fund that will be made available under the 1953 Act totals £7½ million, with an additional £2½ million that can be approved by affirmative Resolution. Up to 31st May this year we had spent just over £4 million. That indicates, considering the balance that is to last us over the next two and three quarter years before the Act runs out in March, 1958, that, if this section of the industry is to fulfil the wishes and the hopes of Parliament to be independent of Government subsidy by then, there is still some way for it to go.

Our hope that we would be replacing the old, ageing and uneconomical fleet with sound economical and new vessels seems to have a prospect of being fulfilled. It is early days for us to say with certainty how the new vessels are doing because most of them have only been in operation for a few months, or at the most a year or so. Such returns as we have had indicate that these new vessels, which are mostly diesel-engined, have a greatly increased catching capacity with a lower run of costs, and there is every prospect that they will be a profitable proposition for owners, skippers and crews.

Despite all the difficulties, we have very much in mind the problem of dealing with the increased coal costs. The new vessels, which are either oil-burning or diesel-engined vessels, seem to have a prospect of being able to assure to us a good fish supply at reasonable prices, and to owners, skippers and crews a reasonable living and a reasonable measure of comfort in the hazardous calling they follow for the benefit of us all. Despite anxieties on the horizon, there are great hopes. I therefore feel pleasure in commending this Scheme to the House.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I rise on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends to support the Motion. I am happy to be able to congratulate the Government on following so assiduously the pattern of the schemes laid own by the Labour Government when they introduced these subsidies, which have a most beneficial effect on near-shore and inshore fishing. My own port of Lowestoft, which several hon. Members recognise as the premier fishing port, at any rate in regard to quality, has benefited by more than £600,000. That has had a great effect in revitalising the port and giving it a character which is unique, while providing all housewives with prime fish at a reasonable price.

We were favoured with a Scheme about a year ago. I went very carefully into it and compared it with the present Scheme. So far as I can make out there is not the slightest difference between them, except in the date. I noticed from the Minister's statement that the present Scheme will operate only until the end of 1955. I thought it was a characteristic piece of timidity by the Tory Party, which could not see any further than the end of the year. I am satisfied, after the Minister's explanation, that this Scheme is a generous gesture to meet the rising cost of coal, which will hit the middle-water and near-water fishing very badly indeed.

Although there has been a great conversion from steam to diesel engines in the case of trawlers and drifter trawlers, the fact remains that the majority of vessels fishing in the near and middle waters are motivated by steam. I have figures which show that the increased price of coal will be a very heavy burden indeed on some of the smaller men. It is true that the big firms with a mixed fleet will divide their costs accordingly, but there is a danger that small people—and I should like to say more on that when we come to the two succeeding schemes—with a long tradition of service in this business, may be crowded out by the bigger enterprises. In this modern age that may be inevitable, but I am sure that most hon. Members who know anything about the sea, or who have contacts with it, will regret that tendency. Unless measures are taken to alleviate the distress that is bound to be caused to the trawler fleet by the increased price of coal, there will be very disastrous consequences on vessels leaving the port of Lowestoft.

You may recall, Mr. Speaker, that this afternoon I failed lamentably to get round your Ruling when I tried to raise, during Question time, the matter of the provision of relief for the drifter fleet. We were very encouraged the other day to hear the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food tell us that these new grants were to operate in respect of white fish, and I put down a Question to him as to what was to happen to the herring fishers. Before the House rises on Thursday, I hope that we shall have a statement to satisfy our friends in the herring industry, because—more so than the trawler fleet—the herring drifters depend on steam—certainly those operating on the East Coast.

The subsidies that have been worked out by the Government are on precisely the same level as those in the preceding Scheme—1024, I think. I have meticulously compared them. The Minister's explanation has been that the Government are, quite properly, to bring a new Scheme before the House at the end of the year which will take account of the increased cost of coal, but there are other costs which are rising also. In the whole range of fishing, I know of no item that has decreased in price during the last 12 months. If there is one, I should be glad to hear of it. If these fleets are to operate "in the clear," as we say, without running very badly into the red, we must have regard not only to the increased price of coal but of almost every other commodity the fisherman uses.

We must remember, too, that though the oil companies can pass on increased costs to the catcher, the catcher is in a very highly competitive market and cannot pass on that increased cost to the consumer. In fact, one of the gravest anxieties of the industry in the disposal of both herring and of white fish is how to maintain the markets so that they operate to give a fair return—and that is the whole object of the subsidy. That is why we have a subsidy.

Between now and when next the Minister is proposing to present a Scheme to the House, I hope that he will have regard to all the increased costs of commodities and also to the return to the actual working fishermen. It was interesting to note that the subsidy, which is of great value to our working fishermen, is to be maintained at least until the whole fleet has been converted—so far as I understood the hon. Gentleman—to oil-burning vessels. But I warn the Government that the fact that a vessel is burning oil does not mean that it is working at a profit. All these considerations must be borne in mind, but I think there is enough money in the kitty to last four years, and no doubt by then the complexion of the benches opposite will have changed considerably—and materially for the better. At least we hope so.

We on this side would not wish to embarrass the Government by dividing against them on this occasion. We have our cohorts elsewhere and could muster them if the necessity arose. It will not arise in this case, so I have pleasure in supporting the Scheme moved by the hon. Gentleman.

6.36 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

Except for one or two of the more colourful passages, I agree with what the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) has said. The first of the two points I wish to make relates to paragraph 15 and to paragraph 17 (a), which refer to the skinning of dogfish. From time to time I have referred to the fact that in other seas dogfish find their way into cans under other names which the Minister of Food has always refused to recognise with our dogfish. As the Minister of Agriculture now also holds the office of Minister of Food, I should like him to look at that again.

With reference to what the hon. Member for Lowestoft said about the quality of Lowestoft fish, I am quite sure that he may be right, but there are other ports that have fish of equal quality, and as he has mentioned the support given to the industry by the Socialist Government, I would remind him and the House that that Government at that time recognised that the pilchard had the highest protein value of all white fish.

6.38 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Like the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), I believe that we miss a very considerable source of income from dogfish. I would urge the Minister to see if we cannot make money out of it as do other countries. I, too, was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) say that Lowestoft fish was the best for quality. I have never heard of such a suggestion. It is notorious that the best fish come from the North of Scotland, and all connoisseurs are agreed that the very best comes from Shetland. I take it that that is accepted.

Turning to costs, I agree that there is a danger that the very steep increase in the price of coal may obscure the general increases in costs which all fishermen now have to face. I know that this is a temporary scheme, but I hope that before parting with it we shall have an assurance that the general scale of costs will be taken into account before a new scheme is put forward. In the North of Scotland we face peculiar difficulties which I shall not now go into—they are well known to the Scottish Office—and I am sure that the Minister will agree that there are many costs which take away from the profits of the industry. Suggestions have been made that some boats—in the white fish industry mainly—are making good profits, but I do not think those suggestions take full account of the increased costs, the risks and the lean years. In any case, I know of no industry where those engaged in it have to give harder work to get their returns.

6.40 p.m.

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

As I understand it, the Minister is going to bring in another Measure at the end of the year. When he does so, I hope that what has been said about costs will be borne in mind and that he will not close his mind to the wishes of the shell fishermen. I know that I have pressed this matter over and over again, and some people may take the view that this is a luxury form of fish. But so is the turbot and the sole, and they get a subsidy while the shell fishermen do not get a subsidy. Yet they have the same costs to bear.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I want to do what is unusual for me—to make a non-controversial speech. I want to say a word in praise of the White Fish Authority and of this Statutory Instrument, because they both do very good work.

This Scheme, which very properly comes before the House, is a product of that series of statutes which were begun by the Labour Government and which have been continued ever since. Under them the White Fish Authority has been doing excellent work for the fishing industry, which is diverse and complicated and needs the assistance of a body such as the Authority. I was a member of the committee which considered the first of these Acts, and I remember that the committee was anxious about the powers that were being given to the White Fish Authority and the amount of money which was being placed at its disposal, but it is only fair to say that the Authority has justified the powers which were given to it and has spent well the money that was placed at its disposal.

Looking back on years of experience, I go further and say that the scope, powers and finances of the White Fish Authority should be greatly extended to enable it to cope with and solve the many problems which confront the fishing industry today. I shall name some of the things that the White Fish Authority has done and might do in a more extensive way if it had more power and more money. It is common knowledge that we need more and better fishing fleets to enable Britain to compete with foreign fishing fleets. Old fleets are very much in need of renovation, extension and modernisation—

Mr. Speaker

I think the hon. and learned Member is now referring to the next Scheme, dealing with grants for fishing vessels and engines.

Mr. Hughes

The object of this Statutory Instrument, Mr. Speaker, if I may mention the Explanatory Note at the end, is to provide a scheme … of grants to persons engaged or proposing to become engaged in the white fish industry in respect of expenditure incurred in the acquisition of new fishing vessels and engines.

Mr. Speaker

That confirms me in my suspicion. The hon. and learned Member is now dealing with the second Scheme on the Order Paper, and not the first.

Mr. Hughes

I was under the impression that we were taking the first two Schemes together, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

No. I understand that there is a suggestion—and if the House agrees to it I am prepared to fall in with the suggestion—that the second and third Schemes should be taken together, but the first is entirely distinct. In those circumstances, would the hon. and learned Member prefer to preserve his speech until we come to the second Scheme?

Mr. Hughes

I understood that we were taking the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1955.

Mr. Speaker

No, that is not before the House yet. The one which is before the House is The White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1955. The hon. and learned Member has got hold of the wrong one.

Mr. Hughes

Perhaps when the other Scheme comes before the House I may be fortunate enough to catch your eye then, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

I think that would be the most convenient course.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

I should like to make a few remarks on the effect of this Scheme on inshore fishing, the type of fishing which I have the honour to represent in this House. I must say at the outset that I deplore the parochialism which has been in evidence in the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) and of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Everyone knows that not only does the best fish in our home waters but, indeed, the best fish in the world come from the Moray Firth. That is a statement that has stood unchallenged for generations.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not true that this Scheme considers all fish to be equal?

Mr. Speaker

I do not know about that. What I do know is that that is not a point of order.

Mr. Duthie

I welcome this Scheme with some reservations. The fact that inshore fishing is successful today is due entirely to the beneficial circumstances of having had very good catches in recent years. But there is one factor to be borne in mind, and this is a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), with which I agree entirely. The costs are mounting all the time, and in many cases the members of a boat's crew may be getting £10 a week while the owner fisherman or fishermen—for these inshore vessels are all operated by the owners—may be losing money on account of mounting costs.

I should have liked to see a more generous view taken of these costs in perhaps upgrading the subsidy. The owner has to find the gear, and he may lose his nets and ropes which are very costly indeed. His crew may be earning quite a good wage while he may be going astern.

I think there is room for experiment. Vessels over 70 ft. long obtain a lump sum daily in respect of subsidy. It would be much better for the country—and here I have the support of many practical fishermen—if the subsidy were made the same all round. It would be better for the industry as a whole if this discrimination were removed and if a flat rate per stone were allowed for fish that had been landed.

While I support the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) in his encomium of the White Fish Authority, I feel that there is still a great deal for the Authority to do. There are far too many cases where too much fish remains unsold at the quayside. Co-ordination on the part of the officers of the White Fish Authority might rid us of that nuisance and disability. In the nature of things, the White Fish Authority should be au fait with the conditions of markets throughout the country and should be able to have unsold fish channelled through the various points where it will obtain a remunerative price.

Generally speaking, I think that this Scheme is a good one. So long as the present catches are maintained it is adequate, but it is only just adequate to provide the necessary assistance for inshore fishermen. I hope that if there is any falling off in catching generally the Government will at once appreciate the situation and ask permission from the House to increase the subsidy.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

I represent a third of the old Grimsby Parliamentary division and, therefore, I have an interest in this Scheme. I should like to ask my hon. Friend one or two questions that may not sound so pleasant to his ears as some of the things that he has heard before. First, I think he said that the general subsidy would come to an end about 1958. As a general principle, I dislike subsidies because they tend to hide the real economic position both of the producer and the consumer.

Subsidies are like drugs: the more one has them, the more one has to have them. I am always glad to hear that subsidies are likely to come to an end, but if there are subsidies going, then, like other hon. Members, I want to put out my hands and see what I can get for my constituents. Although I say that, I still think that in principle subsidies are bad.

Mr. Edward Evans

Does the hon. Member apply that to agriculture?

Mr. Osborne

They are not subsidies. If agriculturists were allowed to sell food at low prices—[Interruption.] However, I shall not pursue that matter because it would be out of order, but I would be prepared to do so. I should like to ask my hon. Friend these practical questions. I believe that the White Fish Authority gets its main income from a levy. Seventy per cent. or a figure like that, of the fish landed in this country are landed at Hull and Grimsby, and, therefore, about 70 per cent. of the total income of the Authority comes from those two ports. I think that I am right in that supposition. I understand that these two ports, in so far as they are mainly concerned with deep sea fishing get nothing out of these subsidies. What are these ports getting out of this Authority which they are paying so much to maintain? Can my hon. Friend tell me that?

What interests me, as an Englishman, is how much the Scottish people are getting out of these subsidies, and how much they are contributing towards them. I have a feeling that, generally, the Scots do very well out of the subsidies which the poor English taxpayer in one way or another has to provide.

Mr. Edward Evans

I think that the hon. Member is under a misapprehension as to where the subsidies come from. They are not coming from the White Fish Authority, which has nothing to do with distribution, nor has it the means to distribute these subsidies.

Mr. Osborne

That is quite true. It is a part of the work of the White Fish Authority.

Mr. Evans


Mr. Osborne

Oh, yes.

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing about the White Fish Authority in the scheme.

Mr. Osborne

What I want to know is what benefit we can get in the two mains ports, or do we get nothing at all?

Finally—I hope I am allowed to say this, Mr. Speaker—this money is coming as a direct grant from the Exchequer. Of that grant, nine-tenths is subscribed by the English taxpayer. I should like to know how much of that nine-tenths comes back to the English industry, how much goes to the Scottish industry, and how much the taxpayers themselves pay towards what they are getting. I have a feeling that the English are getting a very raw deal over this proposal.

6.54 p.m.

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

As my hon. Friend the Joint-Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, this is a stop-gap measure. All that we are doing is to ask the House to agree that the present subsidy system should go on till the end of the year, so that, in the meantime, we can address ourselves to the new situation which has arisen largely on account of the increase in the price of coal. That is all that we are really discussing now.

Of course, there are other items in the fishermen's bill which have risen in price. We quite understand that, and I gladly give the assurance to hon. Members that all these matters will be examined when we are revising the situation. We obviously cannot alter the Act in the process of discussing this new Scheme. We would have to alter the Act to bring in dog-fish and shell-fish, and, while I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), because my constituents also catch lobsters and shellfish, it is scarcely possible to deal with that matter now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) suggested that there may be an experiment by which we may try to introduce into the subsidy paid to inshore fishermen the sort of dual system which is applied to the men fishing further out. I do not think that would be possible for the reason, which my hon. Friend will well understand, that we do not get accounts from these little fishermen. There are so many men with small boats that we cannot follow what they do, as we can the trawler owners who have to submit all their accounts. So I am afraid that this would not work.

I was glad to hear the compliments paid to the White Fish Authority by various hon. Members, and, while I would gladly join in discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), I am afraid that it would be out of order for me to do so. I remember with great pride that the daughters of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth have been attending a famous school in my constituency. I should not like to ask who is the gainer—I think that it must be St. Andrew's—that two such distinguished young ladies should be with us. It is in that generous spirit that I should like the hon. Member to contemplate this Measure.

Mr. D. Marshall

Dog-fish are included in this Scheme, in paragraph 17. I think my hon. Friend said that they were not.

Mr. Stewart

No. We are discussing the subsidy, and the subsidy is paid only on white fish. The reference which my hon. Friend made to the matter referred to the gross catch when we are adding up the figures; but payment on dog-fish is distinctly prohibited.

Mr. Edward Evans

Would the hon. Gentleman answer a question which I put to him particularly, as he represents the Scottish Office responsible for herring fishing? Can he tell us anything about the suggested coal subsidy for herring drifters? It is important that some clarification of this issue should be made before the House rises, as the whole of the East Anglian and East Coast fishing is well under way.

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that that arises here. We have to consider many things before we come to the revised scheme which we shall place before the House.

Mr. Evans

This is a matter which should be made known.

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing here about herring; this is all white fish.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th July, be approved.

6.59 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, That the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th June, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that it is desirable to take these next two Schemes together and I agree if that is the wish of the House.

Mr. Nugent

These two Schemes for grants for vessels and engines apply one to near, middle and inshore vessels and the other to herring vessels. They are both made under the 1953 Act, the same as the Scheme which the House has now approved. The Schemes before the House make three amendments of some significance and one very minor one, to which I will call the attention of the House in detail in a moment.

It may interest right hon. and hon. Members to have a brief account of how these Schemes have been working in the past 12 months. These Schemes provide grants for building new fishing vessels at the rate of some 25 per cent. maximum for near and middle water vessels up to a limit of £25,000 total grant, and for herring boats up to a limit of £12,000. For inshore vessels there is no limit. The grant is increased to 30 per cent. For vessels in the hands of the working owner and for engines up to 30 per cent. and a total amount of £1,250.

Taking the broad picture, the grants have been working well. We have an encouraging increase in the number of applications, in particular for near-and middle-water vessels. As I told the House last year, for near-and middle-water vessels we had 40 applications. To date this year we have had an additional 63, so that the rate of application has shown a significant increase. The number of applications for inshore vessels which I reported last year was 81, and that has risen by an additional 109 during the past 12 months. The figures for new engines are 88 this year against 72 last year. The picture is, I think, encouraging; the fishing industry is not only making use of these grants but is making use of them in increasing measure.

Turning to the amendments in the Schemes, experience has shown that in the main the Schemes are working satisfactorily and are doing what we hoped they would do. They are administered by the White Fish Authority. I welcome the kind remarks which have been made about the Authority, which has a most difficult job to do. Its problems are of extraordinary complexity but it has been tackling them in a workmanlike manner, and although no very spectacular results can be expected, I think we can look forward to steady progress. I am sure the House wishes the new chairman, Sir Louis Chick, all the good things in his difficult job. He has already shown signs of tackling it in the most resolute manner.

Turning to the first Scheme, it was intended that the White Fish Authority should have complete discretion, in considering an application, to approve or reject it. This was to ensure that in the rebuilding of the fleet there was a proper balance between one type of vessel and another, so that the size of vessel, its range and catching capacity were in balance with the fishing grounds available to us.

Some doubts have been raised whether that intention was fulfilled in the original Scheme and in order to remove them we have made the amendment to Paragraph 11 (1) which removes the doubt in this respect. It simply ensures that the Authority has complete discretion in all cases to use its judgment whether any application shall be approved. The same provision has been made in Paragraph 8 of the Herring Scheme.

The second amendment occurs in paragraph 12 (1, e). It gives the Authority power to waive repayments of grant. The old scheme allowed no discretion in that respect. Where a grant-aided vessel was disposed of by the original applicant, the full rate of grant had to be repaid according to the period of time which had passed since the original payment of the grant.

Mr. Edward Evans

Does that mean than an owner who has had a grant and has operated his vessel for three years before disposing of it gets no rebate for the three years during which he has been operating it?

Mr. Nugent

Under the original Scheme he has at first to repay the full amount and, after that, an amount proportionate to the unexpired period. Under the amendment before the House the Authority will have full discretion as to how it deals with repayments. We find that in practice hardship may occur where an owner falls ill and has to sell his vessel. There has been hardship because of these obligations to repay. The White Fish Authority proposes to use this discretion to allow the obligation to repay to pass to the purchaser of the vessel. Provided the purchaser of the vessel undertakes the obligations to repay, the previous owner will be completely discharged. That is an entirely practical amendment which I think can do nothing but good. There is a similar amendment in the Herring Scheme, paragraph 13 (e).

The third amendment is in paragraph 12 (2). This extends from 10 to 20 years the period of control under the grant for vessels exceeding 115:9 feet in length and under 140 feet. Vessels of that size are capable of fishing in distant waters and we made a provision in the parent Act that they should be allowed two voyages a year to distant waters to give them a balance of economy in their fishing. We have found in practice that rather a large number of vessels have been built of the maximum size and it therefore seemed wise to extend from 10 to 20 years the control period during which the conditions attach to the vessels so that these vessels, which are capable of fishing in distant waters, should be limited to two voyages a year, with a possible discretion in the Authority of an additional one making three voyages, for 20 years. I think that is a reasonable thing to do because these vessels are substantially grant-aided and if they were allowed to fish freely in distant waters in competition with the distant water fleet, which is not grant-aided, it would lead to unfair competition.

Those are the three main amendments in the Schemes. There have been detailed discussions between the Authority and the industry—the B.T.F.—to hammer out these matters. I think the Authority has reached sensible recommendations in the proposals which it put to us and which we have put in the Scheme.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

My right hon. Friend for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) authorises me to say that we welcome the continuance of a Scheme which was introduced under a Labour Government and which is now being altered in certain respects. I can go further and say that, speaking of the only fishing industry of which I have some knowledge, the inshore ring-net fishermen round the mouth of the Clyde, I am sure that the provision about repayments is not only wise but, in view of the difficulties of that industry, prudent and sensible.

I should like to ask one or two very simple questions. First of all, the practical difficulty which many of these fishermen are finding at present is rather smaller in one sense than that of vessels or engines, but is one which none the less weighs very heavily upon them. In the conditions in which they are fishing at present they have to put their nets at risk very often, and the price of nets mounts and mounts. Under the provision of the Scheme they have also to carry—and one understands it—insurance burdens. With the insurance burden and the increasing expense of any of these voyages, the loss of a net becomes a very serious matter, and I wonder whether, when further consideration is given to the Scheme, some assistance might also be considered in the matter of new nets.

Secondly, this Scheme limits the grant for new engines to 30 per cent. in the case of working fishermen. There was a time not so very long ago when engines of the type they desired were hard to come by. Many of them, naturally enough, wishing to get on with the job, bought what engines they could get. Often they were quite good engines in their proper use, but they required a degree of skilled maintenance that one does not usually find in these small share fishermen's boats.

It seems to me that on a replacement of that sort, in a proper case, 30 per cent. may really be too little. Would it be possible to consider some increase of the percentage in proper cases? After all, sometimes no doubt it may simply be a case of old age in the engine. Even then, one feels that 30 per cent. is rather little, but in this instance there has, to my personal knowledge, been very great difficulty. I should like to follow the Army precept, no names, no pack drill —not even about engines—but I dare say that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary or his Scottish colleague will have in mind the kind of engines I know of.

Those are two small points. I should like to say one more word before concluding. The herring Scheme gives the herring fishermen a discretion about repayment which—I think I saw the Minister agree—is really needed by the circumstances of the case. I think that the Herring Industry Board which has to administer the herring Scheme has been kindly and sensible and has tempered a due regard for public funds with a necessary realisation that things are pretty difficult among those fishing for herring on the Clyde Coast now.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Or anywhere else.

Mr. Mitchison

I have no doubt that things are as hard in Aberdeen, but I do not know of them at first hand. I earnestly hope that that kindness and discretion will be continued. It is more needed than ever. One cannot get blood out of a stone, and there are many instances where one cannot get money out of a West Highland inshore fisherman at present, and for the same reason—the stone has no blood; he has no money. Yet, in the interests of the nation and in the interests of food supplies, the Scheme itself is a sign that we realise the vital importance of the work these men are doing, work that is hard, risky and skilled. We realise, too, that if the food supply of this and other countries is to be kept up, herring, and no doubt white fish, will play an important part, and would play an even more important part if people had the patience to take out the bones and get some very good food as a result.

7.15 p.m.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

I welcome very much these two Schemes and I should like to associate myself with what has been said on behalf of the Opposition by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I think that, on the whole, these two grant-loan Schemes for the inshore white fish industry and the herring industry have worked very well. I should like to associate myself with the tribute paid by the hon. and learned Gentleman to the Herring Industry Board. I think that it has worked the Scheme with sympathy and understanding and, on the whole, with conspicuous success.

I should also like to say—I am seldom so laudatory in this House—that the amendments proposed by the Government are extremely good and greatly improve the Scheme; so it is a question of "hear, hear" all round so far as I am concerned.

There are only three points which I wish to put to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland about the herring industry. The first relates to the present operation of the share system. On one or two occasions recently I have asked my hon. Friend Questions about this, and he has given me an assurance that he has asked the Board to inquire into the working of the share system in the herring fleet. All I ask of him now is an assurance that that examination is taking place and that he will communicate the result to the House in due course.

The second point concerns the home market. We must keep this up, but I feel very strongly that the future of this market lies very largely in the process of quick-freezing. I should like to hear something from him of what is being done about that. It will take some time to persuade the public and the processers of the supreme value of this method of treating herring, but I am certain that it is the only method by which really good quality herring can be guaranteed to the public all the year round. There is no other way in which it can be done, and I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of this process to the home market. I should like to know from my hon. Friend what is being done in the matter by the Board and by the Government.

My final point relates to the question of foreign markets. I have never been one to underestimate their importance to the herring fishing industry. Israel is important. I should like my hon. Friend to say something about it. There are credit difficulties, and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend can comment. The Mediterranean is important, but there is one market which is more important than all the rest, more important than anything else in the whole world to the herring fishing industry and its future, and that is the Russian market.

I should like my hon. Friend to tell us something about a subject which has been the cause of very great anxiety during recent weeks to all of us who have the interests of industry at heart. What has happened about the Russian contract? That is absolutely vital to the industry. It is of more importance than any other single consideration.

Mr. Speaker

I ought to remark that the last part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was completely out of order. I do not think there is anything about the Russian contract in the Schemes, which have to do with vessels and engines. We must keep as near as we can to the Scheme.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans

I am glad that you uttered that word of warning, Mr. Speaker, because I was proposing to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) on the plea that he made about extended markets. I do not think that we can entirely divorce the problem of setting up the herring industry —and that is surely one of the objects of the Scheme—without considering the market problem. I was wondering, in view of what you have said, how far one dare follow the hon. Gentleman, not only about the herring industry but about the regulation of our markets in connection with white fish as well, and especially in the control of foreign landings.

It is no use whatever encouraging the catching element in the industry unless we bear in mind the disposal of the catches. The basic problem in the herring industry is that of unregulated quotas. One appreciates what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East about quick-freezing and the disposal of these large quantities, and recalls the traditional markets which have been wantonly destroyed in the past on political grounds. It is about time we set our minds to bringing these markets back, especially in view of the favourable atmosphere that now prevails in foreign relations.

I have been asked to put before the House the position of the working fisherman, and I have done so before when we have discussed these matters. The working fisherman is rather a nebulous character. He is a man who goes to sea, but he is also the man who has been to sea, and I want—as I did in the debate on the previous Motion, to make a plea for the small undertaking—the man who has a trawler, or a trawler-drifter or a drifter or two, who is able to benefit by this scheme only to a limited extent, although he may have spent the whole of his life at sea as a working fisherman.

I hope that the regulations will be very widely drawn and that sympathy will be given to these people, because, otherwise, they will be faced with the problem that they will receive a grant and then will have to borrow. I have here the notice which the White Fish Authority has issued giving the revised rates of interest on loans, and I find that for a loan of no more than five years' duration, the rate is raised to 3⅜ per cent. For a loan for more than five but not more than fifteen years, the rate is 4 per cent., and for periods beyond that it is 4¼ per cent.

I should like to know what is to happen, in view of the Chancellor's statement this afternoon on the restriction of credit. People will never be able to buy these vessels if they are unable to negotiate loans and if the rates of interest on those loans are so high as to preclude the ordinary working fisherman, for whom the schemes are designed, from taking advantage of this provision, but, instead, to price him out of the market.

There is one point that I should like to make on the question of marketing, particularly herring. I wrote to the Herring Industry Board a few weeks ago and put the case of a person who was trying a new development in the marketing of herring, which is the development of herring bars, one of which is operating not very far from here. I think that the experiment in this kind of fish restaurant, which supplies every type of herring from marinated herring, kippers, bloaters to bucklings and all the other delicious varieties, is inhibited through lack of capital. I put a question to the Board whether any other marketing scheme might provide a reasonable loan or grant, but it was turned down.

We on this side of the House welcome these Schemes. We had a great deal to do with the original schemes for both the Herring Industry Board and the White Fish Authority, and we realise once again what a vital part this industry plays. We are also very glad to see the emendations which the Ministry has made in the provisions of the schemes.

Finally, I want to stress that there is a tendency in the fishing industry, or in the near-water section of the industry, for the big boys to collar the markets, but we want to see that the small man has his proper share. These small men have a long tradition of the sea, because most of them have worked at sea and they know the industry thoroughly. The difficulty of obtaining the initial capital is so great and the burdens upon them, particularly in view of what the Chancellor said today, are so heavy, that their prospects are not as rosy as they ought to be today. However, we on this side will not divide against the Schemes, and we wish the Minister well in their implementation.