HC Deb 26 February 1957 vol 565 cc1043-5

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

71. Sir R. BOOTHBY

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about further assistance for the herring industry.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

I will, with permission, Sir, answer Question No. 71.

The Government have considered proposals by the Herring Industry Board and the fishermen's associations for additional financial assistance for the herring industry. In the last two years the herring fleet and catch have each fallen by about 30 per cent. partly because of the attraction of vessels to the white fish industry.

The Government propose that, pending the further development by the Board of measures to make the industry self-supporting, herring fishermen should receive a direct subsidy broadly similar in method, amount and duration to the white fish subsidy for comparable boats; and that the present indirect assistance through the herring oil and meal scheme should cease.

These changes would involve substantially greater assistance in total, but the actual rates of subsidy would be determined by a statutory scheme after further consultation with the Board and the fishermen's associations.

Legislation would be required and for this purpose we propose to ask the House to agree to amending the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill to provide for the payment of the herring subsidy, the moneys for which will be found within the financial limits of the Bill.

Sir R. Boothby

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him how soon he expects to introduce the Bill and, secondly, whether, in the meantime, in conjunction with the Herring Industry Board, he will give every encouragement to the development of new methods of fishing for herring, which is very important?

Mr. Maclay

In answer to the first question, the answer is as soon as the Bill and the statutory scheme can be prepared. I hope that it will be early in the next financial year.

The answer to the second part of the question is, "Yes."

Mr. Grimond

Will the Minister tell us a little more about the effect which this may have on meal processing? Will it affect the amount of herring sent to processing, or the plans for new fish meal factories?

Mr. Maclay

It is very difficult to judge at the moment what the effects will be on meal. If it means that more boats go herring fishing and perhaps some come back from white fish fishing to herring fishing, the meal supplies might even be increased, but it is extremely difficult to estimate in advance what will happen.

Mr. Woodburn

I am not quite sure whether this will affect the price arrangements for payments as between herring for consumption and herring for meal. Will the Minister explain? Are any of the meal factories to be closed down, or are the same price conditions to continue as exist now, and the differential rates?

Mr. Maclay

No, Sir. The subsidy on meal will be stopped and that means some adjustment in meal prices, obviously. It is difficult to forecast accurately what the ultimate price for meal will be, but the removal of subsidy must alter the price downwards, I expect.

As to the effect, I see no reason to believe that there will be any alteration to the present factories.

Mr. Woodburn

Has there been any consideration in conjunction with the herring trade, or are these negotiations to take place after the Minister has framed his scheme?

Mr. Maclay

There have been no consultations about the statement which I have made, but as I said in my Answer, there will be consultations with the Herring Board and with the fishing associtions as a result of my statement.

Mr. John MacLeod

Is the Minister aware that many fishermen resent being treated as seasonal workers and that there are many anomalies in unemployment benefit? Will he look into that factor, since many men are leaving the industry because of it? Will he draw the attention of the Herring Industry Board to the harsh way in which they treat loans for fishermen under which, where they have failed, they find difficulty in repaying the loan?

Mr. Maclay

I have noted what my hon. Friend said in the first part of his question, but it does not arise directly out of the statement which I have made.

I do not think that I can accept the implications of the second part of the question, but I have carefully noted the first part of what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Duthie

Will my right hon. Friend consult the Leader of the House with a view to a day being set aside for the discussion of this very important industry? The only time which has been given to it has been by means of short debates on Motions.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the subsidies which are to be paid under the forthcoming legislation will be given only to those who need them, on the principle enunciated for housing subsidies?

Mr. Maclay

I assume that the hon. Member is as interested as I am in the future of the herring industry in Scotland.