HC Deb 25 July 1955 vol 544 cc903-48

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), in the final phase of his speech, stressed the importance of schemes of this nature because of the help they give to the little man. I must say that in these days, when the tendency is for everything to become larger and larger and for the small private enterprises to disappear, I find myself in complete agreement with what the hon. Gentleman said.

It is very important that we should give every possible incentive to those who are trying to build a livelihood for themselves, particularly in such an industry as this, upon which the nation relies so much when it comes to a matter of defending ourselves against foreign countries.

I want to ask my hon. Friend a question about paragraph 8 of this Scheme, which is a new paragraph. It states: In the payment of grants in pursuance of this scheme, the Board shall have regard to the needs and interests of the herring industry or that section thereof to which the applicants belong; I find it rather difficult to understand his explanation, though I am sure that it is because I have not quite followed him. I wonder whether he could let me know whether there are any other reasons for this provision.

I understood the Minister to say that it was because he wanted to keep the size of the boat in balance in relation to various ports, but I should have thought that under the old Scheme there was every possible safeguard, as indeed there is in the new Scheme, for the Board to ensure that the right type of boat was used. It will be seen from paragraph 10 (2) of the new Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme that The plans and specifications of the vessel or engine, the tender for the expenditure incurred or to be incurred and the form of contract entered into or to be entered into by the applications with the builder, seller or contractor shall be subject to the approval of the Board. If that is so, why is it necessary to incorporate an additional paragraph in the Scheme?

I fear that it is possible for the new paragraph to be misinterpreted by those who have to put the Scheme into effect. It could be interpreted in such a way as to harm certain ports for some reason of which we might not be fully cognisant at the moment. I am not satisfied from what I have heard so far—perhaps because I have misunderstood the matter —that there is a really sound reason for incorporating the extra paragraph in the Scheme. There are also about six alterations to paragraph 13 of the Scheme compared with the old Scheme. I should like an assurance that all the alterations relate to the one subject that has been mentioned by the Minister.

Lastly, I hope that I shall not be out of order in referring to what was said by the hon. Member for Lowestoft about the other Scheme which we have just debated, and the question of some compensation to the coal-using part of the herring fleet. I hope that we shall have some sort of assurance from the Minister that this matter will be considered in the same way as the assistance for coal-burning ships in the white fish industry.

7.33 p.m.

Mr. Grimond

When we are considering the size of the fleet and we are complimenting the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board on their work, it is relevant to bear in mind that they have still a great deal to do in the matter of transporting, processing—particularly deep-freezing—and marketing. These Schemes have done a great deal of good to the fishing industry. I like them particularly because they provide some capital to an industry which, on the whole, is short of capital, especially in its inshore fishing section. Assistance to the industry should be regarded by the country as an investment, not only as a safeguard in time of war and as keeping up a highly important industry, but also as enabling the consumer to obtain a supply of good fish.

I welcome the amendments to this Scheme by which the obligations undertaken by the original builder of the boat can be passed on to his successor, but I am a little more doubtful about the thinking behind some of the other amendments. Most of the boats built in my part of the world are dual-purpose boats and I do not think that on the whole our fishing fleet is over-expanded. I am not at all sure that the thought behind the Scheme is that the fleet, or some part of it, should be restricted. We should know the Government's views on that point.

It is extremely important to consider the new skipper and crew to which loans are to be made. That is the prime business of the White Fish Authority. We have had a very good white fish season and better herring fishing this year in Shetland. I think that it is generally agreed that we still want more boats and more re-engined boats. The only parts of Shetland which retain their population are those parts where there are fishing communities. I believe that, quite apart from traditional methods of fishing, there is considerable room for expansion in new districts, in new waters and by new methods.

I am not at all sure that we have done enough in experimenting with new methods of fishing. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has mentioned on previous occasions new methods of herring fishing. I ask the Government whether they would not consult with the Authority about the scope of experiments and about the size of boats. Many of the old, small boats which we used to see are finished. It is difficult to make a good living with them, but the bigger boats can earn a good living because they can change about and move to new waters.

We are told that the number of new boats now being built is increasing, but the total number is 180 to 190. When one looks at the whole coastline of Britain I do not think that that is such a very large number. Nor do I think that the number of new engines is by any means excessive. I agree that when good engines were scarce, less satisfactory engines were installed in some boats and that it might be more economical if those boats were now re-engined.

Grants might also be given in respect of good quality secondhand boats. I notice a tendency among fishermen to buy such boats. As they are rather shrewd people, there may be something to be said for that practice. The Government should consider whether there is not a case for giving some assistance in the buying of really good secondhand boats. There were adequate safeguards in the old Schemes under which a local authority could investigate matters very carefully before giving a loan.

The whole fishing industry depends a great deal on advice given by fishery officers and the White Fish Authority and the Department. It is very important, with a Scheme of this kind, that the Ministry should keep up-to-date with new catching methods not only in this country but elsewhere and make all possible information available to the industry. It is an industry of small, scattered units. It needs encouragement, advice and, to some extent, organisation. Having said that, I welcome the Schemes. I think that in the past they have enabled a good job to be done not only for the industry but for the country as a whole.

7.39 p.m.

Major Sir Duncan McCallum (Argyll)

I also welcome the Schemes. I particularly welcome the Amendment which has been referred to by the Minister to the instructions to the Herring Industry Board on the different attitude which it is to take towards applications for grants or loans. In passing, I would say to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that the idea of making grants in respect of secondhand boats might lead to a certain amount of trouble, in that in the Clyde fishing area, to which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred, owing to distressed circumstances and other factors a number of grant-aided boats have already been sold secondhand. I take it that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland would not advocate that boats which had already been grant-aided should qualify for further grants when resold to persons who intended to use them for fishing.

What I am coming to is this question of the Clyde fishing fleet and the ring net fishing referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering. I would deprecate what he said just now about the impossibility of getting enough money to pay for his share of a boat from a West Highland fisherman. He must know in his own village that four or five new boats are being acquired by fishermen, and I understand that they are being paid for. I think his forecast was a little bit severe on the fishermen of Carradale.

I know what the hon. and learned Gentleman was referring to, and it is a question which I have already taken up with my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary. It concerns loans and grants under previous orders, and it is this very amendment now proposed which refers to the point he was making, the insistence by the Herring Industry Board on the strict letter of the law for the repayment of loans given for the purchase and building of boats, particularly to ex-Service men coming out of the Services after the war.

As is well known, herring fishing on the west coast, particularly off South-West Scotland, is probably the worst herring fishing around the coast of Scotland, and it has been so for years past. The recent forecasts by scientists do not seem to give any hope of improvement in the herring fishing for some years to come. Whether that is because of over-fishing or trawling damage to the spawning beds is not for me to say. It is a fact that that particular section of the west coast is in difficulties.

Therefore it is my hope that the instructions contained in this new Scheme to the Herring Industry Board will be interpreted to the letter, particularly where it says: The Board shall have regard to the needs and interests of the herring industry or that section to which the applicant belongs. That is most important, because while the fishing on the east coast, the Orkney and Shetland fishing, and even the Minch fishing, has been quite good recently, the standard on the west coast has been poor and is going to remain poor. I would agree with what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said—that he hoped these boats being built—and I give this to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering—are going to be the larger-sized vessels which can be used as dual-purpose boats.

I was told by the Campbeltown fishermen about the difficulty of conversion of the smaller boats to dual-purpose boats. I asked why did they not convert their boats in that way and go in for white fishing when the herring fishing was bad. It was pointed out that the boats, paid for with the aid of grants, were too small to be turned into dual-purpose vessels, and even if they could enlarge them the conversion costs would be as much as £800 as a minimum, which is quite a large sum of money for these share owners to find in addition to the money they have already put up for the purchase of the boat itself.

In conclusion, I would say to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary that I sincerely trust that this new instruction to the Herring Industry Board will be carried out most sympathetically, particularly in regard to those who are known as the ring-net herring fishermen.

7.44 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I want to touch on the one aspect of the problem which has not adequately been dealt with, that of renewing and maintaining the fishing fleets. The Scheme, as it is laid before us, is good, and the White Fish Authority is able and willing, but I understand that the difficulty facing the Authority is unwillingness to take advantage of the Scheme by persons entitled to benefit by it. They fall into two classes, the large man and the small man. Some of the larger owners seem to be unwilling to take advantage of the benefits conferred by this and the preceding Schemes, and some of the smaller men do not seem able to do it.

The problem is, how is the Scheme to be implemented, how it is to be made more constructive? Is it to be made more constructive by offering terms better than those in this and the preceding Scheme to the people entitled to avail themselves of it? This is the real problem to be solved, because the Schemes cannot fully benefit the people for whom they are intended, unless those people will come in in large numbers and seek the advantages which are offered to them. Happily I am in a position to talk in a constructive way about this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am not saying this in any invidious way. Other hon. Members have spoken in a constructive way and, if anyone feels he has not, let him wear the cap if he thinks it fits.

I have been perturbed by this problem, and I approached Sir Louis Chick and Captain Allan, who are respectively, as everyone knows, the Chairman of the White Fish Authority and the Chairman of the Committee for Scotland and Northern Ireland of the White Fish Authority. Furthermore, on 17th August last year the Scottish Committee met the trawler owners of Aberdeen with a view to discussing this very problem. They arrived at a satisfactory understanding, of which these are the main features. First, the White Fish Authority would assist in every possible way if the trawler owners would take steps to build, renovate and extend the fishing fleet; second, the large trawler owners, who could afford to act alone if they so wished, should embark on a building programme, either as single owners, dual owners or treble owners; third, provision had to be made for the smaller owners, and it was suggested that they could group themselves for reasons of economy, in that way finance the rebuilding, and then put up a certain amount of the capital, asking the White Fish Authority under this and the preceding Scheme for the assistance which the Schemes provided.

Here the White Fish Authority presents a beneficient opportunity to owners large and small to do what this series of Schemes and the legislation on which they are based envisaged. Captain Allan gave as an example of one scheme somewhat larger than that envisaged here. He pointed out that if a new trawler costs £100,000, the White Fish Authority would make a grant of £25,000 and would give a loan of £60,000, making £85,000, which deducted from £100,000 would leave £15,000 to be found by the owners. One single rich owner could do that. He could have put up the £15,000 and apply to the White Fish Authority for the balance.

Poor owners and the smaller owners could group together, Captain Allan pointed out. Any group of them could put up £15,000 at £1,500 each. Such a syndicate would, of course, share both the profits and the liabilities of the transaction. Such liabilities would include the liability for the repayment of the loan. Some earlier speakers referred to the rate of interest. At the time the meeting was held in Aberdeen rates of interest were lower than they are today. At that time 2½ per cent. was the rate for loans for not more than five years; now it is 3 per cent. At that time 3½ per cent, was the rate for loans of from five years to fifteen years; now it is 4 per cent. At that time 4 per cent. was the rate for loans from fifteen years to twenty years; now I understand it is 4½ per cent.

The Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority assures me that it will give enthusiastic support to any such scheme. It will help the industry by expert guidance and advice in drafting and formulating plans for rebuilding or renovating fleets. I have received a letter from Captain Allan indicating the willingness of the White Fish Authority to assist in any way. It is a long letter, and I shall not trouble the House with more than a paragraph of it. He states: …the White Fish Authority are considering ways and means of stimulating the rebuilding of the fleet in Aberdeen and considered that if the single trawler owners could group themselves into larger units they would be in a better position to finance the building of new vessels on a scrap and build policy. It is difficult at this stage to give any further detailed information but Sir Louis Chick and myself in consultation with Departments are doing all we can to put forward ideas that would be acceptable to the trawler owners in Aberdeen in the rebuilding of their fleet. You may be interested to know that up to date applications for 16 new trawlers have been received from Aberdeen, 9 of which will be built during the next 9 years. Although that is a beginning, it does not meet the critical situation… This certainly does go some way to meet the critical situation. This Scheme is a tiny step further towards meeting the great problem of the rebuilding and renovating of fleets, not only at Aberdeen, but at Milford Haven and elsewhere.

This Scheme thoroughly recommends itself to the House on these grounds. The quotation which I have made from Captain Allan's letter shows two things; the commendable good will of the White Fish Authority and the fact that it is necessary to make haste in the rebuilding of the fleets. Captain Allan says that of sixteen applications nine will be built in the next nine years. That is far too slow to save the industry, and one naturally asks what will happen in the meantime? What is to happen to the ageing fleet? What is to happen to the crews? What is to happen to the families dependent on them? I submit, as I said earlier, that the White Fish Authority is doing extremely good work, but it is handicapped because it has not sufficient powers or enough money at its disposal.

This is a small Scheme, and I should be strongly in favour of a bigger scheme. I should favour giving the White Fish Authority bigger and better powers in order to do more and better work. I said earlier, about the other Scheme, that when I was on the committee which considered the first Statute dealing with this legislation we were, at that time, concerned about whether we were giving the White Fish Authority too much power. I say now, with the experience of the years which have passed, and the work of the White Fish Authority as contained in the reports which it has presented to this House, that the Authority has justified itself and should be given larger powers and more money to enable it—

Mr. Duthie rose

Mr. Hughes

—just a moment—to do more work in renovating the fleets, not only in Aberdeen, but elsewhere.

Mr. Duthie

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman indicate what extra powers he would give to the White Fish Authority?

Mr. Hughes

What powers?

Mr. Duthie

Yes, what powers additional to the powers they already have?

Mr. Hughes

I know perfectly well what extra powers they should have, but I think that Mr. Deputy-Speaker would rule me out of order were I to embark on a discussion about them. Surely, with his wide and long experience, the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) who interrupted me so courteously must know what are the needs of the situation and the kind of powers which the White Fish Authority should have.

I strongly support this Scheme, as is evident by what I have said, and I commend it to the House.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. D. Marshall

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his discourse on powers for the White Fish Authority. There is one point which I wish to put to the Minister about this Scheme. He will have observed and, no doubt, realised, that under this Scheme there are two things which stand out: one is the help for the catchers in the industry when they wish to build a vessel and the other is the question of new engines.

These Schemes flow mainly from the Bill, conceived in 1944, and introduced into the House in 1945. At that time there was not as much concentration on certain inventions for helping to catch fish at sea. I trust that I may have the attention of the Minister when I put this point. Under this Scheme, so far as I can observe, there is no allowance made for the owner who wishes to modernise his vessel. If the owner wishes to place an echo-sounding device, or any other contrivance, in his vessel in order to make it more efficient, I cannot see that under this Scheme he can obtain any assistance. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will pay attention to that point, and also refer to the question of dog-fish.

Hon. Members will agree that the major principle underlying these Schemes is to have up-to-date and modern vessels catching at their maximum efficiency. It would be far better to have a certain amount of flexibility and elasticity within the Schemes to allow these vessels, which may be modern, to be fully equipped with all the modern devices, and that provision should be made for it in the same way as for new engines.

7.58 p.m.

Mr. Duthie

I welcome with little qualification the Scheme dealing with the provision of boats for the white fish industry. I think that a magnificent opportunity is provided for the fishermen, and that the way is clear to a progressive and successful future for the good fisherman who means to work hard.

But when it comes to boats to be provided under the Herring Industry Board I approach the problem with some caution. The herring industry is experiencing a difficult period at present, and I am surprised that the difficulties which are besetting the industry have not been emphasised more in this debate. I trust that I shall not be ruled out of order if I attempt to examine some of these problems, because their solution, or attempted solution, is necessary before I can wholeheartedly recommend to my constituents who are herring fishermen that they avail themselves of the facilities offered by this Scheme.

I refer, in particular, to what is happening on the east coast of Scotland at the present time. These glut conditions are being repeated year after year and have become chronic. We have now to accept them as a continuous problem, and as one that must be solved because each year more and more fishermen are, on account of them, leaving the herring industry and are concentrating on white fishing.

The Herring Industry Board has done a very fine job in many of the facets of its activities, but no one can gainsay the fact that there is at present a most lamentable lack of adequate facilities for dealing with glut conditions. It may be argued that no one can cope with such conditions, but I submit that they can be coped with, and that provision for coping with them should have been made long before this.

More herrings are being landed than can be coped with. At the inception of the Herring Industry Board and its attendant schemes it was hoped that the oil and meal factory would, in a large measure, take up the slack engendered by glut conditions. These are all considerations which must be carefully weighed in deciding on the usefulness or otherwise of this Scheme.

I make so bold as to say that the present factory provision for oil and meal is simply playing with the problem in relation to the conditions with which we are faced at the moment. We may be told that if the factory at Peterhead were in working order that would resolve the difficulty. I know that the Herring Industry Board is not to blame for the fact that the factory is not in working order; I know that there are great mechanical difficulties and difficulties in getting the necessary components, but even if that factory and the one at Avoch were in working order the result would only be a fleabite.

Thousands of crans a day of magnificent herring in the finest nutritional condition are going to waste. These glut conditions must be taken care of by providing storage for the herrings so that they can be utilised throughout the year by the reduction plant, for kippering and for sale as frozen herring. That can only be done by the introduction of an elaborate and ambitious freezing scheme. Without a freezing scheme of far greater proportions than have hitherto been visualised either by the Herring Industry Board or by the industry itself, we shall continue only to play with the matter, as we are doing now, so far as the reduction plants are concerned.

I have discussed the present situation in the east of Scotland with the people concerned, who inform me that frozen herring would be admirable for producing kippers and for processed herring throughout the winter and also for the production of oil and meal. It must be borne in mind that the herring which is going to waste at the present time contains anything from 16 to 25 per cent. of oil. The winter herring contains anything from 6 to 8 per cent. of oil. This proves the oil potential which we are losing because we have not adequate facilities for keeping the herring in good condition during the weeks and months that lie ahead.

If we really wish to save the herring industry and not only retain the men already in it, but induce others to enter it, we must provide the necessary auxiliary to our reduction plants by way of a comprehensive freezing plant at every herring port throughout the country. Indeed, such plants need not be confined only to herring. They could be erected in centres where they could freeze other things than fish, but in which sufficient space would be devoted to the freezing of herring during glut conditions.

The tragedy of the present situation on the east coast is that the present weeks, when the shoals are at their heaviest, is the very time which the herring fisherman regards as his harvest. This is being denied to him at present, and I am practically sure that unless some assurance is given that a comprehensive freezing scheme is coming along more people will leave the industry. This lamentable situation on the east coast happens at the time when the herring should have been at their very best. Recently, the boats have not been permitted to put to sea because there is such an accumulation of fish that the curers and reduction plants cannot cope with it.

Sir R. Boothby

My hon. Friend must not say that the herring have been at their very best in recent weeks, because that is to mislead the House. He knows as well as I do that the herring have been very soft and could not be cured. Therefore, he is not right in saying that during this period, and especially during these last two or three days, the herring have been at their best. They have, in fact been at their worst.

Mr. Duthie

I said that these were the weeks in the year when the fishermen on the east coast looked forward to making the bulk of their money. It is quite true that the ports have been closed, and it may be that the fishermen themselves have been a contributory factor in the herring not reaching port in the best condition. The fact remains, however, that had we had sufficient freezing accommodation for the fish, all the oil that they contained would have been saved for the country.

Mr. Edward Evans

What worries me about this great scheme for freezing herring is what we are going to do with them when they have been frozen. We cannot sell them when they are in prime condition, so is it likely that they would get a market throughout the year if they were frozen?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

This discussion appears to be very interesting, but, as I understand, it goes beyond the Scheme.

Mr. Duthie

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it appears to me that the considerations which I am now raising are very germane to the problem of the provision of new boats. I could not possibly recommend any constituents of mine to invest in new vessels unless they know what is to happen to their catches when they are brought ashore.

I suggest that there should be an all-out drive for the sale of herring in this country. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) suggested that we might produce a machine which would remove the bones from herring. I believe that one such machine has already been produced. A great deal remains to be done to make the herring popular, and not enough is being done to emphasise the food value of pickled herring. A great deal remains to be done there.

Mr. Evans

What about the herring bars?

Mr. Duthie

It is a very good thing if these herring bars have started. Let us hope that they multiply themselves ad lib throughout the country.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

Would not the hon. Member agree that the fact that herrings are so regularly sold outwith conditions—and that the quality of herrings is so various—has played a large part in lessening the demand?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This argument goes beyond the scope of the Schemes, which deal with new ships and insurance.

Mr. Duthie

I suggest that the Herring Board should be asked to consider the application of one price only for herring landings. It should be up to the Board to channel the herrings to whichever avenue of disposal may require them—freezing, kippering, oil and meal, and so forth.

I submit that the potential herring catch is nearly sufficient, given adequate facilities, for extraction, to meet our need for edible oil. The party opposite has preened itself on the fact that it was the Bill of 1945 which launched the scheme. If one tithe of the money wasted on East African groundnuts had been channelled into the herring industry—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker


Mr. Duthie

If the provisions of the Herring Industry Scheme are to be wholeheartedly taken up by our fishermen, the marketing policy of the Board will require drastic overhaul. I sincerely trust that my hon. Friend will take that fact to heart and do what he can to have it put into effect. If it requires more legislation, let us have the legislation as speedily as possible.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Howard

I wonder if it is by chance that some of us have detected a slight whiff of fish in the air-conditioning system? Some of us have noticed that delectable aroma in various parts of the House, doubtless through some fault in the system.

Many hon. Members will have had the experience I had recently of seeing new boats. I saw one last week in a place where fishing has gone down a great deal. The fact that I saw a new boat there was said to be the result of Schemes such as the ones we are discussing tonight. Within the last week or so, in another part of my constituency, I saw another new and good boat. Many people in this industry are hoping that they will be able to carry on their job and be, as we so often say in this House, of vital assistance to us in peace and in war, but what is the use of providing the facilities for these men to go to sea if, at certain times of the year—even when they catch good fish—their fish is not readily saleable?

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) will remember that when we went to Iceland together we saw between 75 and 100 quick-freezing factories. I have a photograph of one in my hand. If Iceland can do this, why cannot we? If we are to spend money upon these boats, it is essential for the Government to remember the necessity for the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board to make adequate provision for quick-freezing of the catches in time of glut so that this useful and necessary food may be made available more often in times of shortage. If that is to be done, it is absolutely essential to popularise this fish.

If we are to have more new boats, the Government must consider whether we have enough fishery protection vessels. I do not think that we have. We could do with some more, especially as we know that some of our neighbours are apt to place a different interpretation upon the fishing limits. It is necessary to have as many fishery protection vessels as we can to protect the men who are going out to sea in these boats.

Again, can we really be justified in confining the spending of money to boats and engines alone? It was suggested earlier that nets might be included. That would be a very good idea, because we all know the cost of gear. It was also suggested that echo sounders should be included, because they provide the modern way of detecting shoals of fish, and it would be a great help if new fishing vessels could be fitted with them.

It is not much good encouraging men to come into this industry if, when they bring their catches back, they find that they cannot sell them. I beseech the Government, before the end of the year, to look closely into the question of spending money on freezing plant. We seem to be able to give the coal industry all the money it wants, but in this case, in respect of an amount which appears to be very small in comparison with that concerned with the coal industry—but which might be of vital interest to this great industry—

Mr. Edward Evans

What money is given to the coal industry?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We cannot pursue the question of money which is given to the coal industry.

Mr. Howard

I am sorry. I mean to say that, in addition to the money spent in the coal industry, we might well expend some more money on going ahead with research into freezing—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That, too, goes beyond the scope of the Schemes.

Mr. Howard

We must take such steps as will make this very necessary Scheme a useful one, not only in providing the boats, but in providing facilities for the men to sell their catches when they bring them in.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)

I had no intention of participating in this debate, but I am bewildered by the statements which have been made by some of the speakers. In the first place, we are asking for public money to be provided in order to assist this fishing industry, and yet I observe that many hon. Members opposite who are usually noted for their advocacy of economy in public expenditure are demonstrating great alacrity in pressing that public money should be made available for private owners in the fishing industry.

One hon. Member opposite was pointing out that already far too many fish are being provided and that, in consequence, we must build up elaborate machinery for refrigeration, build refineries, and so on, in order to make use of the catches. If we are supplying too much fish, on what ground is it claimed that additional assistance should be given to place more fish on the market? I suspect that this marketing board is very much like other marketing boards: the organisation has been created and it produces the fish, but owing to a defect in its organisation the fish is not made available to consumers. I have not heard people complain that fish is too cheap. On the other hand, I have heard many complaints that fish is far too dear.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member cannot discuss the price of fish on this Motion.

Mr. Coldrick

The price enters materially into the matter. We are asked to provide public money to pay for the boats, but why cannot sufficient money be recovered from the market to pay for them?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member can refer to the matter by way of illustration as a reason why money should not be granted, but he cannot go any further.

Mr. Coldrick

I seek elucidation on one or two points. If we have not sufficient fish for the market, why is so much fish converted into meal and fertiliser? Are the people who are providing the fish securing a price equal to that which they get from the consumers of fresh fish? If not, and they are supplying fish cheaply to be used as fertiliser, is this not an indirect method of getting the public's money to build trawlers and catch fish in order to subsidise those who use the fish as fertilisers? We want an investigation into that aspect of the matter before we can feel happy about according public assistance to these people.

8.23 p.m.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

The constituency which I represent is not notable for the size of its fishing fleet, nor do we benefit directly from the Scheme. I hope it will benefit indirectly, because it contains a number of consumers of fish. My excuse for intervening in this debate is that I have spent some time in the fishing industry, in the greatest port in the country, Grimsby. When I was at Grimsby, some of the other places which have been mentioned in the debate as being the home of the best fish were regarded in Grimsby as being seaside resorts and having no greater claim than that. I do not want to enter into a debate on the quality of fish, but there are aspects of the Scheme which interest me a little.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) spoke of the types of boat which might be provided and wondered whether we were building the right kind for fishing in the future. That is a very profitable line of investigation. I notice that the Scheme gives considerable grants to owners who are to build boats up to 140 feet in length. It states in paragraph 9 (2) (2) The plans and specifications of the vessels or engine, the tender for expenditure incurred or to be incurred and the form of contract entered into or to be entered into by the applicant with the builder, seller or contractor shall be subject to the approval of the Authority. I wonder what that means. Has the Authority in mind some new kind of vessel, a modern type of fishing vessel, a departure from the old, conventional type? Does this indicate something more, that the Authority will co-operate with the Admiralty in ensuring that the new vessels are capable of rapid conversion for use in war? Have they to have special keels or specially reinforced decks for gun platforms? Is the owner to incur a great additional expense in this direction which would more than swallow up the grant he might get from the Authority?

I go a little further. There has been discussion in the industry whether we are developing the right type of vessel for near- and middle-water fishing. The North Sea trawlers have not changed a great deal for many years, and it is a question whether we should not build much smaller vessels to accompany a factory vessel. They could stay at sea and be supplied and victualled by the factory vessel. Such small fishing vessels would be much cheaper to construct and cheaper in operation, and they would not have to go back to port every 10 days or so as they do now.

Mr. Edward Evans

What about the dual-purpose trawler?

Mr. Hall

That is another type of vessel, the catching-and-processing vessel, which both catches and processes the fish. There have been many experiments with that kind of vessel, which requires to be at least 140 feet long. There is the question how far processing can be done on a trawler. It is possible, for example, to extract cod livers and to extract the oil on the boats before the cod livers are landed.

Mr. G. R. Howard

The Scheme does not cover ships of that size.

Mr. Hall

I had that point in mind. We cannot carry out experiments of the factory kind with the type of vessel covered by the Scheme, which relates to vessels below 140 feet long. These are confined almost entirely to the near and middle waters and are not normally suitable for the dual purpose of catching and factory operations. It would be possible to develop fleets of small vessels under the Scheme to surround a factory ship. That may be a line of investigation for the Authority to follow with even more energy than in the past.

I hope it will be in order for me to refer to some of the duties of the Authority, as they have a direct bearing on the grants to be given to shipowners or trawler owners who want to build new ships. I want to take up some of the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), who praised the White Fish Commission for the work it had done. I am not sure that I can join wholeheartedly in his praise of the Authority, because I rather doubt whether it has carried out its investigations with the vigour which might have been expected of it. I would like to list some of these matters, which have a direct bearing on the Scheme.

There is the question of our fishing methods. There has been a lot of controversy for a long time about trawling. There is no doubt that with the trawl now used, much of the food on which the plankton feed—and on which the fish feed—is destroyed. If the White Fish Authority is to give grants of this kind to fishing vessels, it should make sure that the methods of fishing are not such as will destroy the sea bed growths on which the plankton lives—and without the plankton the fish would not be there. [An HON. MEMBER: "Conservancy."] Yes, this is a problem which concerns many countries other than our own, and we seem to be having a lot of difficulty in arriving at some international agreement on a form of conservancy.

There is another form of conservancy which I doubt very much whether the White Fish Authority has considered to any great extent. That is whether or not we can fertilise the sea bed. We are accustomed to fertilising the land on which we grow crops, but we have not got used to the possibility of fertilising the sea bed and so encouraging an increase in the growth on which the plankton lives. If the growth of considerable quantities of the food on which plankton lives is encouraged, one encourages a greater yield of fish. It is a line of approach which the Authority should consider.

Sir D. McCallum

Perhaps my hon. Friend is not aware that there is an experiment in fertilising the sea for plankton at present proceeding on the west coast of Scotland.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This, too, seems to be going beyond the scope of the Scheme.

Mr. Hall

With respect, it is extremely difficult to come to any proper conclusions on this Scheme—which will result in giving large grants to people wanting to build new trawlers—without considering whether or not those trawlers will be able to fish successfully, will have areas in which to find fish, and will be able to market the fish they catch.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think those matters can be touched upon in so far as they affect the grants under the Scheme but in regard to those issues and those issues alone. Otherwise, I think it will be out of order.

Mr. Hall

With respect to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, perhaps I can develop another line of research which the Authority may also consider if the grants are to be used profitably and well. Several hon. Members have stressed the importance of deep-freezing facilities; and most of them have referred to that process in connection with the herring industry. There is just as much demand and need for deep freezing in the white fish industry. From my personal experience in Grimsby, I would say that for a long time they have been well aware of, and very alive to the necessity of developing deep-freezing facilities. When I first had an association with those in the Grimsby fishing industry ten years ago, they were considering quite ambitious schemes for developing deep-freezing plants. If the Authority is not to see its money wasted, it should have a chain of deep-freezing plants, not only at every fishing port throughout the country, but also at inland centres into which they can feed from one deep freezer to another.

Following on that we need far better transport facilities for fish than we have at present. The insulated railway vans are an absolute disgrace to British Railways. At Grimsby port there is a monopoly. Fish can only be taken from the port in rail conveyors. Road transport cannot be used at all. But I see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are intimating that I should leave this line of argument—but I think that I have made the point.

There are other lines of investigation which the Authority should consider if it is really to be certain that these trawlers are to serve the nation profitably from the time they are built. One such investigation should be to see how best the fish can be marketed and distributed. The trawler which is to be built with these grants will often find that it has to land its cargo in ports which are, generally speaking, rather out of date, and where the facilities for handling fish are by no means as good as they should be. The fish is then fed through the transport distribution to inland wholesale markets which in many cases are a disgrace. It then goes to the retail shops which are very old fashioned in their outlook and in their presentation of the fish. I used to tell those in the fishing industry that they had never attempted to sell fish. They had merely distributed it to the customer. One of the reasons why herring does not sell as well as it should is that it is not presented—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This certainly does not arise on the Scheme.

Mr. Hall

It is extremely difficult, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to consider this fully and profitably, and to decide whether or not to vote for the possible expenditure in advance of considerable sums of money if we are not to consider what is to happen to the end product, because if we have faulty methods at the port—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It may be difficult, but, within the scope of the Scheme, we cannot discuss every problem related to the industry.

Mr. Hall

Naturally I must bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and refrain from attempting to carry this matter any further. But I hope that I have said enough to show that I feel that the White Fish Authority could do rather more than it has done to help the trawler fishing industry and, indeed, the herring fishing industry not only in the building of boats, which in itself is an important matter, but in the eventual marketing of the products which they catch.

Let me make one last reference to the number of boats built. It has been suggested that it is wrong to limit the number of boats and that more could be equipped. One of the duties of the White Fish Authority is to make certain that too many boats are not equipped, because it is easy to over-catch and cause a glut which could not be absorbed by the fishmeal factories or in any other way and would result in a loss to the fishermen. One way to prevent this is to restrict the number of catching units. That is a very important feature of the White Fish Authority's work, to ensure that the fishing units we have fulfil the consumer needs of the country.

Sir D. McCallum

My hon. Friend has referred to the dual-purpose boat. I think he was referring to another kind of dual purpose. I think the fishermen in my part of the country have in mind a boat which catches herring and which can be turned over to catching white fish. I think my hon. Friend had in mind a trawler which could be turned over to processing.

Mr. Hall

That is true. I had in mind the white fish industry rather than the herring industry. I accept that one can have a dual-purpose boat of the kind to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred, which can be used for catching herring and white fish.

I was discussing the limitation of the size of the catching units. If we allow too large a fleet to be built, there will be intensive competition on the fishing grounds, and that, more than anything else, will lead to the destruction of those grounds. I know fishermen very well. They are very independent and very fine men. When I listen to questions at Question time and in debates, about the price of fish, I feel that if people only realised the difficulties with which fishermen have to contend, especially those who go into the middle and distant waters, and the appalling conditons under which they work, people would not be so critical about the price of fish.

The fact that fishermen have to face these dangers makes the average fisherman a person of independence of mind who has an unconventional attitude towards the law as a rule. Therefore, if we have too big a fleet and too many catching units, a great deal of intensive competition will develop within the various fishing areas, and certain rules and regulations designed to protect the fishing industry will be flouted. The consequent destruction of the fishing grounds will take many years to put right.

Having said that, I join with other hon. Members in all quarters of the House in welcoming this Scheme as a useful step to help the fishing industry to retain its prosperity.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I had not intended to speak in this debate, as two of my hon. Friends and neighbours in Cornwall have already spoken, namely, my hon. Friends the Members for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) and for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall).

We in Cornwall are not concerned with herring, but we are concerned with pilchards, white fish and shell fish. In Mevagissey, in my division, fishing for white fish exists on an extensive scale, mostly in comparatively small boats by the method known as the long line. I hope that these Schemes will be of value to the small fishermen as well as to those who use the bigger boats. In so far as the grant that can be obtained under these Schemes will be of benefit to them, I am sure that we all welcome the Schemes. It will also help the boat building industry of which there are a number of small units in Cornwall, including my own division.

Mr. G. R. Howard

Some of the finest.

Mr. Wilson

My hon. Friend said, "some of the finest." That is quite true, because the small units have been commissioned by the Admiralty on many occasions to assist in the building of boats for the Admiralty.

I think that these Schemes will be welcomed in so far as they assist the industry. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick), who has now left the Chamber, apparently objected to these Schemes and the granting of public money to the industry on the ground that the price of fish was excessive; and he also questioned whether the grant should be made because there appeared to be over-fishing and more fish were being caught than were being consumed.

That is not really the principle on which food production has been assisted by the Government. I would point out that this Scheme should be thought of as being of a similar type to many Orders which we have passed to assist the agricultural industry, because fishing and agriculture are the two primary sources of our food supply, and this Scheme, in so far as it helps in the building of fishing boats, encourages the fishing industry and helps to provide food which we can produce ourselves rather than import food from abroad.

In so far as it does that, it helps us in our balance of payments problem, because the more food we can produce for ourselves without importing it the better. So far as this Scheme encourages that to happen, it is undoubtedly a very good thing. If more food can be produced by our fishing boats and we can have more fishing boats and all the other facilities referred to in this debate for freezing, the distribution of fish, and so on, this will encourage the market. Incidentally, I notice that no one has said anything about canning. I do not think that white fish are canned to any extent, but it is quite possible to can herring.

I think that all of us in this House welcome these two Schemes as one further step in assisting the fishing industry.

8.44 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I have listened to a large part of the debate and it has been borne in upon me that it will be very difficult for me to make the speech which I should like to make. I fully realise that I shall have to tread very carefully to keep within the rules of order.

May I start by saying that, like everybody else, I welcome these Schemes? The discussion which has developed has shown that it is very important that the Schemes should be followed subsequently by a full discussion of the needs and the future of the fishing industry.

The problem arises, how are we to find the time to discuss what is implicit in the Schemes? My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) was ruled out of order when he began to discuss the quality and the price of fish. Should I be in order in pointing out that the fish which will be caught by these new boats, when they are built, will eventually be sold to the public? Incidentally, I think that Cornwall has done very well today. Hon. Members from Cornwall have been called to speak in considerable numbers. On the other hand, although grants have been made for the building of fishing vessels, only two orders have been placed in the port of North Shields.

If I understand the situation correctly, we have now a subsidy for the building of ships. We have even heard that the Government are prepared to consider the increased cost to the fishing industry as a result of the action of the National Coal Board and that we are to have a subsidy for coal. The trawler owners who fish from the port of North Shields say they cannot find berths in which to build the vessels. In my opinion, the whole picture of the fishing industry needs very serious discussion. Perhaps I may get back to the question of the quality and price of fish which will be caught when these boats are built.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Lady has already pointed out the difficulty she is in, and perhaps she had better get back to the Scheme.

Dame Irene Ward

I am getting back to the Scheme, because when these boats are built, as a result of the Scheme, they will be sailing in the near and middle waters catching fish. I am interested in what happens to the fish after it has been landed. It is a very short distance from the boat to the quayside and that must surely come within the rules of order. The fish arrive in fine condition. Eating fish straight from a trawler which has been built as a result of this Scheme is quite a different matter from eating fish when it has reached the distant markets.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Lady is very ingenious about keeping in order, but merely connecting an argument with the boats mentioned in the Scheme does not bring the argument within the rules of order.

Dame Irene Ward

I am sorry that I cannot demonstrate in the Dining Room of the House of Commons the advantage of eating freshly-caught halibut compared with halibut which has been brought from the north-east coast by train or lorry to the kitchens here. I will not develop that point, because I fully realise that there is no need for me to say any more except to return to the point which I wish to make.

Those of us who are interested in the future of the fishing industry ought not to be hamstrung in the discussion of the fishing industry by the presentation of Schemes which give subsidies for the building of vessels. I notice that one of the Schemes is operated under the White Fish and Herring Industries Act. I think it is important that the White Fish Authority—and to some extent the Herring Board—in putting forward these Schemes should tell us what other advice it has given to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The Minister has such a difficult time with the Treasury that he has very little time to argue over the question of our fishing problems. I hope I am in order in saying that I have listened to the contribution made by hon. Gentlemen opposite and that I have no doubt that we shall have a winding-up speech from the Opposition Front Bench. However, I should like to point out that in "Challenge to Britain" the Opposition never mentioned the fishing industry at all—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Lady has covered a fairly wide scope, but she is certainly well beyond the Schemes now.

Dame Irene Ward

I made that point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I was very anxious to get it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Lady should choose a more regular moment to do that.

Dame Irene Ward

I am seeking your wise guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as to the appropriate moment for talking about the fishing industry in general. Everybody who has taken part in the debate has managed to make one little point which was out of order. I have managed to make perhaps four points which were out of order. In welcoming the Schemes, what I want to know is when we will be able to do more than merely welcome Schemes. Everybody has been allowed to say it, so I suppose that I will be in order in saying that we depend on a virile, live, fishing fleet.

It is so difficult to keep in order that one would think that we were discussing a nationalised industry. I know that I must not stray to the question of coal, and I will not make any attempt to do so, but I feel that we might have one day set aside so that all of us can say something—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. That, too, does not arise on the Schemes.

Mr. John Hall

On a point of order. Is not it possible to go fairly wide on the white fish Scheme? The Explanatory Note says that this Scheme: … differs from the previous scheme in that it requires the White Fish Authority in considering applications to have regard to the needs and interests of the white fish industry or the section thereof to which the applicant belongs. If we are to consider the needs and interests of the industry, surely we must consider all these other matters as well.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We have certainly gone very wide off the Scheme already but, however wide we can go, we cannot discuss a timetable for a discussion of objects other than those mentioned in the Scheme.

Dame Irene Ward

I should be in order, of course, in arguing whether the money to be spent is wise expenditure or not. I think that I am on very firm ground if I base my argument on that. We are all very anxious to have an up-to-date, modern, fishing fleet. Indeed, it is absolutely essential that we should maintain such a fleet. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to argue whether we are spending in the best possible way the money which is available from the Treasury.

It seems to me that the White Fish Authority and those who control the herring industry have their minds fixed entirely on the building of vessels. It may be that that is because they have managed to make a little dent, through the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland, on the Treasury. Vessels mean something to the Treasury whereas marketing, deep-freezing and progressive modern industry on the shore are considerations probably beyond its ken.

If we look out to the far horizon, we are apt to forget about this little island, and it seems to me that in the proposal to spend almost unlimited money on subsidies and grants for building modern vessels, we have forgotten to consider whether it would not be better to limit our expenditure and ensure that the products of the vessels that are built are used in the best possible way, from the point of view of the people of this country and that of the money expended.

We have managed, in very difficult circumstances to make all the points we wanted to make. I only hope that when my hon. Friend replies, as most of the debate appears to have been out of order, he will, in fact, have a speech to make. The object of a Minister in winding up a debate is to answer the bouquets in proper phraseology, to deal with the criticisms and to encourage the people who produce what is needed as a result of the money we are proposing to spend.

By the way, if the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to wind up this debate, shall I be in order in discussing why I, representing a port which is south of the Border, must have all the criticisms made by those who live south of the Border answered by someone who lives, as I prefer to think, on the wrong side of the Border? That does not seem to me to be a very good idea.

Nevertheless, I think the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is very interested in the fishing industry, because, as happened at the weekend, our fishing vessels and trawlers from North Shields are prohibited from going to sea because of the situation in Scotland. That is another matter in relation to fishing vessels which really does come within the terms of this Scheme.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that that comes within the terms of this Scheme, either.

Dame Irene Ward

Oh, yes, it does, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because it is a question of a balanced fishing fleet, and the balance of the fishing fleet—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This Scheme has nothing to do with the balance of the fishing fleet. It makes provision for the building of it.

Dame Irene Ward

Yes, but it is important to understand that, in the interests of the economy, we should have as many vessels built in England as are built in Scotland. If we can have unlimited money spent in this way, it is really a very important and cogent point. My hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate was very helpful over our problem on the north-east coast, and I like to give Ministers a pat on the back when they deserve it. He really was very helpful. What I want to know is whether he can hold out to those of us on this side who are really interested in the future of the fishing industry any possibility that we shall have a day on which to discuss all the matters arising out of this very important industry.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Osborne

I should like to make one or two observations, which I trust you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will feel are quite in order. Page 3 of the Scheme sets out the conditions for the payment of this money.

There are three conditions in the Scheme about which I should like to ask some questions. As custodians of the public purse, we are entitled to know whether public money is being wisely spent. It is our duty to see that it is not wasted. We have no right to sign blank cheques for any industry unless we are satisfied that the money is being well spent and that we are getting good value on behalf of the taxpayer.

The first condition is that Applications shall be entertained only in respect of vessels or engines built or to be built in the United Kingdom. Before a grant is made, is any comparison made between the cost of building in this country and the cost of building abroad? Is there any check on the amount of money that is spent on these vessels? I ask that because, as many hon. Members will remember, in recent weeks we have lost quite good orders to foreign shipyards because they could build much cheaper than we could build.

It seems reasonable, therefore, before agreeing to the spending of this money, to ask, on behalf of the taxpayer, whether any check is made of the value we obtain for the money and whether the same kind of vessel can be bought cheaper abroad. If it can be bought cheaper, what is the margin between production costs in this country and costs overseas which causes the Authority to say that the boat must be purchased and built here at home?

I know that in ordering this work to be done at home we guarantee work and full employment, but there is a point beyond which public money should not be spent even for that very legitimate purpose. Has the Authority the right to spend money indiscriminately and buy as, when and where it likes, or is there any real check on the way the money is spent?

Paragraph 9 (3) contains perhaps the most important condition of all, for it provides that the vessel must be built so as to conform with modern ideas of comfort and security for the crew. Men who go out even in the new boats do a very hazardous and difficult job. In the old days many of them lived in the most abominable conditions. No matter how cheaply food might be produced, the catching of fish in such conditions should not be allowed in the future.

This paragraph refers to … provision for the accommodation of officers and crew as the Authority may require … This is very important to those of us who represent constituencies where fishermen live. What scheme of inspection by the White Fish Authority does the Minister insist upon? How does the Minister know that the Authority is doing its work in this respect? How far is he sure that the new vessels which we are now authorising to be built shall be of such specifications as to provide the men who work them with decent conditions? Even vessels limited to 140 feet in length can be used for long-distance fishing and men are away on these trips for anything from ten to twenty-one days. If men are to go out fishing in difficult seas at the risk of their lives they should have decent conditions in which to live and work.

This is a very important point. No one has yet touched on it, but it goes to the heart of the matter. If we cannot show that public money is spent to provide the most decent conditions, we cannot expect money to be spent by private individuals to provide better standards. I should like to hear from my hon. Friend exactly what is done. It is laid down that the Authority shall insist that the accommodation shall conform to the best modern practices appropriate to the class of vessel concerned. What exactly does that mean? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the Authority has insisted that the new vessels we are helping to build are in conformity with the spirit of this Scheme?

Paragraph 10 (4) states that Any person authorised in writing by the Board shall have the right to inspect a vessel … How often is that right exercised? In the last two years we have spent a lot of public money on such schemes as this. Who inspects the vessels as they are being built? How often does someone go to see what is being done? Who inspects the vessels after they have been built to ensure that what is required under paragraph 3 has been achieved? Who issues the authority? Is he satisfied that this inspection work is properly carried out?

Without wishing to offend hon. Friends of mine who represent Scottish constituencies, may I say that the White Fish Authority was established to cover the whole industry, 70 per cent. of which is located in the two great ports of the Humber? Since a good deal of the finance, other than that provided by these grants, comes from the trade at the Humber ports, to what extent have those ports received orders from the Authority under this Scheme for the building of this type of vessel in the last two years?

To what extent have they been given grants? It seems unreasonable that the English taxpayer, who has to pay nine-tenths of the money under this Scheme, should have only a small proportion of the money spent in his country. I do not know, but it may be that the Scottish taxpayers who provide one-tenth of the money are getting nine-tenths of the benefit. I wish to know to what extent that is true and how far the two Humber ports, the real mainstay of the industry, are getting a fair crack of the whip under this Scheme.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for not having ruled me out of order. I have tried to keep within the bounds of order and I trust that I have succeeded in putting some of the practical questions which, I think, should be asked when we are spending public money. I feel that the back benchers on both sides of the House acquiesce too freely in the spending of public money. We squeal about it only once a year, at the time of the Budget. We should insist that the money we are granting is spent wisely and well and that the taxpayers we represent get good value for it.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I want to say a word or two in support of the hon. Lady for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), and I am sorry she has left the Chamber. The point on which I wish to comment was her plea for additional assistance for North Sea owners. While this Scheme is very good, we feel that it certainly does not do nearly sufficient to help the port of North Shields, and I will explain why. North Shields is probably the major fishing port in the north-east of England, and unless some additional financial assistance is given to the building of fishing vessels, a port of this kind will pass out of existence altogether.

In 1939, 59 fishing vessels fished from North Shields. A very large number of these were requisitioned during the war, and when the war was over only 39 returned to North Shields. Since the end of the war these 39 vessels have diminished to 26. All the vessels using the port at present were built between 1914 and 1918.

It must be appreciated that as the years go by these old vessels will disappear and it will leave the port of North Shields entirely dependent for fish on what comes overland from other places to auctioned there. In fact, if it were not for the fish brought from other places overland, very often no fish would be on sale today at North Shields at all. It is an important centre for the buying of fish. No fewer than 450 fishmongers use the port from day to day and, in addition to that, 30 wholesale merchants go there. Fish is bought for the London market and also supplied throughout the northern counties.

The people in the four northern counties have been educated over the years to eat North Shields fish, which is of a high quality. As I have said, the greater part of it will be auctioned, and it means that when supplies are short—and they often are because of the shortage of vessels—the price in the north-east increases considerably. This is a matter which has been reported to the White Fish Authority, but while that Authority can give to trawler vessels and potential buyers of boats grants and loans at cheap rates of interest, and while it can do everything possible to encourage the purchase of new vessels, it cannot, of course, force owners to build new ships.

The White Fish Authority gives loans at the rate of 4 per cent. as well as grants to potential builders, but such a builder is faced with the biggest single item, the deposit, and also with a very big obstacle, the insurance. We know the high cost of a modern vessel, and I will in a minute give an example of the burden of insurance on the purchase of a new vessel. In fact, some buyers actually pay more in insurance than they do in repayment of the loan. Of course, it is a stipulation that the applicant for a grant or loan for assistance must keep his vessel insured, but the vessels that would normally attract the young fisherman, who had saved sufficient to pay the deposit, have risen considerably in price since the Authority's grant and loan scheme came into operation.

Let me give one example. A vessel for seine net fishing which cost in 1950 £5,500, today, only five years later, costs £7,500. In those five years there has been an increase of £2,000, but the earning power of such a vessel has not increased appreciably in that period. Running costs are also very much higher, so that that extra £2,000 at 8 per cent.—that is, 4 per cent. for insurance and 4 per cent. for the loan—presents a tremendous additional burden to any young fisherman who is trying to start on his own. That is a burden which many young men are quite unable to bear today.

It would appear that the insurance companies have received a great deal of benefit as a result of the grant and loan scheme. I believe that as much as a quarter of all the money spent on new building since the war has gone to the insurance companies. I am sure it will be appreciated that today the cost of building is very high indeed. In addition to the deposit, the young fisherman starting up on his own has to provide perhaps £500 worth of gear. If, of course, he is the potential buyer of a modern steam or diesel trawler, then the costs are really tremendous. Such a vessel costs today round about £100,000, and, in addition, an owner has to find anything from £1,000 to £2,000 for gear. That applies to North Shields, and, I understand, to Milford Haven and to many other ports as well.

I propose to make one or two concrete suggestions because, as I said in my opening remarks, I and many of my hon. Friends feel that this Scheme does not go far enough. Something must be done to help the old fishing ports which are serving a big industrial area with dilapidated old boats. Could not the Government cover the insurance so far as the grant and loan scheme is concerned because the 4 per cent. insurance is really a tremendous burden on young men desiring to start up in fishing? Will not the Government see if they can cover that?

Mr. Osborne


Mr. Short

If not permanently, at any rate for the time being. Could not there be something like the Highland Fund Limited in Scotland which gives assistance to fishermen by providing the initial 15 per cent., or could not the Government get the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to try, perhaps, to interest owners of vessels in Hull and Grimsby to transfer some of their boats to North Shields? As the representative not of North Shields, but of an adjoining constituency, I say that unless the Government do something to assist this old fishing port it will in a few years time quite certainly die as a fishing port.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

This debate has covered a somewhat longer period than some of us imagined it would. It has given a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House an opportunity to introduce a lot of interesting topics with, perhaps, a little difficulty, but, nevertheless, with ultimate success. I must endeavour as best I can to answer the questions put to me, and, at the same time, to remain within reasonable bounds of order.

The debate began with an interesting speech by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), whose personal interest is, of course, that he happens to have a house in Argyllshire. He asked me about the condition of the men and the boats in his area, a matter which was also raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Sir D. McCallum), who brought to the subject an acute personal knowledge gained over a long period of experience.

Quite naturally, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering drew attention to the increasing costs that the fishermen have to meet, not only in respect of the boats but also the nets and gear. He asked whether it would not be possible to incorporate into this or a similar scheme a provision for grants for the purchase of nets. As he knows, we make available to fishermen loans for the purchase of nets, but it has always been thought that, nets being perishable goods in the sense that they are used tonight, this month and this year and wear out—after which new nets have to be found—they should be regarded as part of the working expenses of the boats; and grants were never intended for that purpose. I do not think that either the Authority or the Board has changed its mind upon that matter.

The hon. and learned Member asked whether we could do something to give greater assistance in providing new engines for boats. As he knows, under Section 2 (2) of the 1953 Act the White Fish Authority—and the same applies to the Herring Industry Board—is limited in the proportion of the total cost of engines which it can provide. The subsection reads as follows: … the amount of the grant which may be made in respect of any such expenditure shall not exceed three-tenths of that expenditure or one thousand two hundred and fifty pounds, whichever is the less. That is in respect of the acquisition of new engines. I do not think that that can be said to be a niggling or cheese-paring grant. It is a rather substantial one.

I was glad to find that the hon. and learned Member, after his first slightly critical remarks, concluded by paying a tribute to the sympathy with which the Herring Industry Board, in particular, is doing its job among fishermen in the Campbeltown district. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll has more than once approached me about the lot of these ring net fishermen in Campbeltown. The trouble with the west coast of Scotland and the Campbeltown district is that whereas in the past herring fishermen made good livings by ring net fishing, in recent years the herring have disappeared from that area.

For the last few years the fishermen have been having a rather thin time. It is a very odd thing that these herring leave certain areas. In the 1930s, in my area—the Firth of Forth—the winter herring fishing was of enormous importance and value to people all round the east coast. Hering have now completely vanished from that part of the sea. The same thing appears to have happened in the area represented by my hon. and gallant Friend. In his case the herring have not entirely disappeared, but their numbers have been very considerably reduced.

As a result, some of my hon. and gallant Friend's constituents are finding that the old ring net method of herring fishing is no longer as profitable as it used to be, and they are gradually turning over to seine net white fishing. The financial problem facing them is of taking the step from the purchase of the ring net boat to the purchase of the white fish boat, or the adaptation of one from the other. I have taken up this problem with the Board and the Authority. I have written to my hon. and gallant Friend about the matter, and have invited him to send me particulars of cases of hardship which may come to his notice. Like the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, I believe that the Board and the Authority are showing considerable sympathy for the case of men situated as are some of my hon. and gallant Friend's constituents, and I hope that such sympathy will always be shown.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) asked me one or two questions which I must endeavour to answer. He referred me to the share system, particularly in the herring industry, and asked me whether I thought it was still a good one to operate. He put that question to me some time ago, and I informed him in the House that we had invited the Herring Industry Board to examine that point and one or two other points. I assure my hon. Friend that the Herring Board is examining it. As soon as it has views to convey to us I will take an opportunity to convey them to the House and to my hon. Friend. I spent a long afternoon with the full Herring Industry Board last Friday, and this matter was one of those which were considered.

I will come back to the point about quick freezing in a moment. My hon. Friend asked me whether we had succeeded in making a deal with Russia for the sale of herring. Perhaps I may be allowed to say just two or three words in answer to my hon. Friend. The Herring Industry Board tell me that terms have now been agreed for the sale of 135,000 barrels of cured herring with the Soviet Union, and that a contract is to be signed in the next few days.

Sir R. Boothby


Mr. Stewart

I hope that not only my hon. Friend but other hon. Members will be pleased about that.

The question of dealing with gluts was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie). I confess that I am in some difficulty. I would very much like to deal in detail with the question of oil and meal factories and quick freezing. I will try to answer some of the points which have been made. I will come back to them when I deal with the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff.

The small man and the rate of interest on loans was referred to by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans). That point was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short). I do not know. I can only say that the rates of interest for the loans that are given to fishermen have not yet been brought to my notice as a matter of complaint. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary showed at the beginning of the debate that a large number of boats had been built as the result of these loans and grants, and that a considerable number were still being built. Orders are still coming along and new boats are still being put upon the stocks. I can only think that the fishermen or groups of fishermen who build these boats think they are a worthwhile proposition. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous in saying that I am not greatly impressed with the strength of that particular criticism.

Mr. Short

The Joint Under-Secretary of State knows a good deal about this matter. Does he not agree that the rate of replacement of boats is not nearly quick enough, and that the large deposit, plus the interest rate, plus the 4 per cent., act as a considerable deterrent to the replacement of ageing fishing vessels?

Mr. Stewart

I agree. We want to replace ageing fishing vessels more quickly than before. I am very sorry that North Shields has not taken advantage of the scheme. It is at their disposal, as it has been at all other ports, and if some of us in the North and South have adopted and taken advantage of the plan it should be an example to the hon. Member's friends. I would warmly recommend them to take that advantage of it; it is well worth while.

Sir R. Boothby

Too slow.

Mr. Stewart

I did not want to say "too slow," but my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East always hits the nail on the head.

I shall pass on the suggestion for herring bars, which was made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft, to the Herring Industry Board. The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) was concerned to know the meaning of paragraph 8 of the Scheme. As he says, paragraph 8 puts a duty upon the Herring Industry Board to take account of the general circumstances of the herring industry or of that part of it which an applicant represents, but he wanted fuller explanation as to the meaning of the paragraph.

If I may revert to the case of herring, surely it is right that the Herring Industry Board should consider not only the individual applicant—should consider whether he is a good man, a good skipper and not just a man of straw—but should also consider the state of the industry as a whole, and the state of that section of the industry. Is it wise for instance, to continue giving more grants for ring net boats? I ask that in view of the somewhat parlous condition of the ring net fishing industry in the west of Scotland. It is that kind of consideration which the paragraph suggests should be in the minds of the Herring Industry Board. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth may feel that that is the explanation he sought.

Mr. Fell

That is not quite a satisfactory answer, because, paragraph 5 says: Applicants for grants as aforesaid shall be required to satisfy the Board with regard to the prospect of their being able to operate a fishing vessel successfully. I really do not think that what my hon. Friend has said is the answer at all. It was because I did not think my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary had given the complete answer that I asked my hon. Friend, and, quite honestly, I think that his answer now is, once again, quite wrong.

Mr. Stewart

Then I am sure it is my fault. The paragraph reads as my hon. Friend has said. A few moments ago I said that one of the considerations was whether the applicant was a man of straw, or a good fisherman—a good skipper. That is one of the considerations. But I also said that that should not be the only consideration. The Board must take into account the general state of the industry. For example, one hon. Member asked the very proper question, "Are you sure that you are not building too many new boats?" In any particular section of the industry we might one day reach a point when there were too many boats in it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East and I remember very well the position in the 'thirties, when the Duncan Commission was set up and found that there were too many boats, and that they could not all make a living. Such a position would be one of great difficulty and one which would bring great hardship to the whole industry. I hope that I have allayed the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth on that particular matter.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) took the rather different view that—as I understood him—there should not be any restriction on the number of boats. This does not suggest a distinction, but I have tried to say that each application should be regarded not as just one boat but as part of the whole. If there is a case in the Shetland area for the substitution of more old boats by new boats, as the hon. Gentleman says, that is exactly what the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board want to do. Of course, they could experiment with new types of boats, as the hon. Member said.

The White Fish Authority has recently set up a committee, in conjunction with the industry and Government research departments, to inquire into this matter of new types of boats, and no doubt in due course the Authority will tell us the result of these experiments. I should like the House to recognise that the Authority is very much alive to the need to keep abreast of new methods in boat building.

I think it was the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland who raised the question of second-hand boats. I appreciate his point, but we are in a difficulty here. This Scheme was originally and still is intended to substitute old out-of-date boats with new boats, and if we start playing about with the problem and saying, "We will do away with that old boat and substitute another boat, not quite so old but still old," that would avoid the purpose of this Scheme. This Scheme is intended to produce new, up-to-date, modern, efficient, economically-run boats.

Mr. Osborne

Is the policy of scrapping and building insisted upon?

Mr. Stewart

No, there is no such scheme, but by and large, as my hon. Friend knows and as the figures demonstrate, more and more old boats are going out of commission every year and more and more new boats are being brought in. While there is no scrap-and-build scheme as such, in effect we are getting something like that.

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) raised a number of interesting points. Unfortunately, he is not now in the Chamber. He told us about an interesting correspondence which he had had with the Chairman of the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority, Captain Allan. I was glad that the hon. and learned Member paid a tribute to Captain Allan, because he and his Committee deserve the thanks of all Scottish Members for the splendid work that they have done in the last year or two.

I entirely agree with Captain Allan that we are all disappointed that the trawler owners in Aberdeen have not taken more advantage of this Scheme. While nobody wants to lecture anybody, I would say to my friends the trawler owners there that they really ought to think again about this matter. They have the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority very much at their disposal, anxious to help them and advise them, and they have also this very generous financial scheme. On the other hand, they have an ageing fleet in Aberdeen, far too large and far too old, and I should like my friends there to consider carefully whether they are wise to ignore the prospects which are held out to them.

I must make an apology to my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall). Earlier in the debate I made a mistake, and I must now say in public, and with all the authority that I can, that dog fish are, in fact, white fish. My hon. Friend said that he wanted grants for remodernising old vessels. There are loans available for that purpose, by which an oil engine can be substituted for a steam engine or something of that sort.

Mr. D. Marshall

What about an echo-sounder?

Mr. Stewart

No, an echo-sounder is generally part of the equipment of a new boat, and, therefore, a grant is available. The case of providing an echo-sounder in an old boat is like the case of the nets; loans are available. I would recommend people in that position who want many improvements to buy a new boat.

Mr. Grimond

Is that not rather an expensive way of going about it?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff made a characteristically well-informed and passionate speech about the lot of his friends in the North. His real trouble—and here I am in great difficulty—was that he criticised the provision of the Herring Industry Board for dealing with gluts. There have been two gluts in Scotland in the last months, and two occasions when the fleet has had to be held in. It is quite natural that my hon. Friend and many of us should have said to ourselves, "Has the Board the right provision for dealing with gluts? Are there enough meal and oil factories, and should there not be more freezing plants set up?" I cannot say much about this, but, briefly, let me say that I would welcome the opportunity to give a full explanation. I saw the Board on this matter on Friday, and we went into it with the greatest care.

The truth is that in this kind of glut, with this particular type of herring, produced in that hot weather, it is not possible for a man or any organisation fully to cope with it. One of the real difficulties is that the scientists have not yet made available to us a chemical which will preserve herrings for a period of days, and maybe weeks, when they are landed in vast numbers. If we can get the scientists to help us by producing a preservative, it would be the greatest single boon to the Herring Industry Board.

As to quick freezing I would only say that my hon. Friend should know that the difficulty about quick freezing—and the hon. Member for Lowestoft put his finger upon it—is this. It is no good having all kinds of quick-freezing plant if we cannot sell the article when we have frozen it. The Herring Board finds that it is not getting a market for its quick frozen herring, nor is there any big firm in this country willing to buy it. The main task of the Board is to persuade the public and, in particular, the merchants to buy more frozen herring. When that is done we shall see a considerable advance. I am sorry that I cannot say more about this, as I should like to do, for reasons which my hon. Friend will understand.

Mr. Duthie

Will my hon. Friend agree that frozen herring could be used for the extraction of oil and meal in times when no herrings are landed? They could also be used for kippering, canning and other processes.

Mr. Stewart

I am well aware of that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East will know, the merchants of Fraserburgh came to the Board only a week or two ago with a scheme for a quick-freezing plant there. They met me when I was up there, and I thought that the scheme had some possibilities.

I should like to put it to the House—and I think that hon. Members will agree—that the trade must co-operate with the Board in this matter. It is not right to leave the Herring Board to do everything for this great industry. Private enterprise, if it has any guts at all, ought to do something about it. I am sure that will please the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and I am also sure that we should all get on a great deal better if the merchants, the fishermen, the public, the shopkeepers and those in processing would all feel that they had a part to play. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) also raised the question of quick freezing, but I must leave the matter there.

As to fishery protection boats in that part of the world, I shall have to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about that. I do not know whether there are fishery protection boats at St. Ives or not, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will know all about it. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives wants more.

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) dealt with the oil and meal subsidy. He seems to be under a misapprehension. The oil and meal subsidy and the factory building programme of the Board are so arranged that we expect that in two years' time the need for that subsidy will completely disappear and the oil and meal processing system will pay for itself and stand on its own feet.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) made some very interesting remarks about the kind of boat needed. We have taken careful note of what he said and I assure him that we will examine it.

I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said about the boat building industry and I rather agree with his views, My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) made a magnificent speech in circumstances of great difficulty. I know she was in difficulty over the week-end because the port in which she is interested was closed, like some other ports in the north, but it was open on Saturday morning and I hope that she does not feel too unhappy about the situation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) was strictly in order all through the debate, which was a remarkable achievement. He asked me a number of questions about paragraph 9 of the White Fish Scheme. First, he asked about the cost of building and wanted me to tell him whether the White Fish Authority check the cost of a new boat, as built in Holland, say, with that of a boat built in this country. I think the answer is, "No." This is a Scheme to enable boats to be built for British fishermen in British yards. I am sure that the White Fish Authority and the Herring Board take every reasonable precaution to see that the prices are reasonable, but I do not think we can say more about it than that.

Mr. Osborne

This is rather important, because we are authorising the expenditure of public money. It is a very important principle for the House of Commons. My hon. Friend says there is no check. Surely there must be a limit to the extent to which boats can be built in this country at a price exceeding that at which they could be built abroad. Surely my hon. Friend is not telling the House that he gives the White Fish Authority power to spend what it likes in building boats in this country merely because hey are built in this country.

Mr. Stewart

There is a limit which fixed by the common sense of the members of the White Fish Authority. I have no doubt that the wise remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth will be noted by the Authority.

Sir R. Boothby

I hope not.

Mr. Stewart

The White Fish Authority will keep its eyes on this matter and if prices for British boats are, on the whole, much too high it will be able to do something about it.

I was asked how we checked the work of the Authority. The Authority is given certain duties; how do we know that it is performing its duties? I do not think it is right that I should have to go snooping around to see that the Authority is doing its duty. I do not think that is the job of a Government Department. We have faith in the Authority and in the Herring Board, and we must leave it there.

My hon. Friend asked who inspects the vessels. The officials of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Board inspect the vessels during building to see whether they are in accordance with the plans. After they have been built they are inspected in order to see that they are being properly used.

I do not know whether sufficient vessels are being built in the Humber ports. Perhaps my hon. Friend knows and there are not sufficient he will perhaps get them busy to see that more boats are built there.

I think I have covered almost all the speeches except that of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, who talked about North Shields and asked a number of very interesting questions, particularly about the cost of insurance. I do not know whether lie is right about the large amount of money which has gone to insurance, but I think he will agree that a Government Department or an authority like the White Fish Authority must have its vessels insured by the men who get them. If a vessel is lost or something goes wrong and an accident takes place, the Authority has to be reasonably sure of getting back the money which it has lent for the building of the boat.

Insurance is really a very necessary condition. It is arguable, I suppose, that the cost of insurance is dearer than it should be, but on the principle of insurance I do not think that the hon. Member would wish to quarrel with us. As to whether there should be a Highland fund round about North Shields, I do not know.

Dame Irene Ward

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I make it clear that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) does not speak for North Shields, that I have already made my speech, and that the hon. Member just came in because he wanted to do a little tit-for-tat when I said that the Labour Party did not mention fishing at all in "Challenge to Britain." That is the whole answer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central.

Mr. Short

We have listened to a great deal of nonsense from the hon. Lady. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, to impute motives in that sort of way?

Dame Irene Ward

The hon. Gentleman does not speak for North Shields.

Mr. Speaker

I did not gather that the hon. Lady was more abusive than usual.

Mr. Short

The hon. Lady does not speak for most of North Shields, either.

Dame Irene Ward

Yes, I do.

Mr. Stewart

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for North Shields is well able to look after herself.

Dame Irene Ward

I am not the Member for North Shields.

Mr. Stewart

I hope that the House may feel that it has spent a useful few hours upon these very important measures. I ask all Members to believe that these Schemes, intended to extend the grants and loans for the building of fishing vessels, are really Schemes of very great importance to this national industry. The proof is the work that has already been achieved, and the assurance I give on behalf of the Government is that we will do our utmost to speed up the work by making more efficient, and therefore more profitable, the work of the fishermen.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, 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.

Resolved, That the Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th June, be approved.—[Mr. Henderson Stewart.]