HC Deb 25 July 1957 vol 574 cc739-76

9.55 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)

I bee to move, That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom)Scheme, 1957, dated 12th July 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th July, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

Would it be convenient to both sides of the House to take this and the Herring Subsidy Scheme together?

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

It would be convenient to discuss them together.

Mr. Speaker

Of course, they will be separate Questions and can be divided on.

Mr. Amory

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I think that that course will prove to be for the convenience of the House, because in some respects the two Schemes are closely related.

As the hour is rather late, and as I know that a number of hon. Members wish to raise points on these Schemes, I shall be very brief indeed in my introductory remarks. I want to begin with the White Fish subsidy to the near-and middle-water fleet. This year, after reviewing all the facts and figures, we have decided to leave the rates unchanged for the coming year. The industry put forward a case to us for a substantial increase because there have been significant increases in costs during the year, but we concluded that it would not be right to make an increase in subsidies this year for two reasons. The first is that the cost of operations and the proceeds of sales must be looked at together, and after looking at them both together we think that the balance should prove to be better than the industry fears.

I do not dispute that operating results for the country as a whole are likely to be less satisfactory this year than in 1956, but we have to look at this matter in the light of our long-term policy for the industry. Once more, I want to remind the House—I have done so on a number of occasions—that these subsidies are intended to tide the near and middle water fleets over a difficult period of adjustment while the old coal-burning vessels are being replaced by a smaller fleet of much more efficient modern boats.

We are greatly assisting the modernisation programme by grants and loans for building new vessels and grants for the conversion of coal-burning vessels to oil burning. Taking the country as a whole, that policy in general is going well. In the past four years about half the coal burners have been withdrawn and new vessels have been built as fast as the yards have been able to turn them out. The exact figure of coal burners now remaining in the fleet is 333, and if the present rate of scrapping continues the coal-burning vessels will be virtually eliminated within the next four years. The new oil-burning or diesel vessels should be able to operate without subsidy within a few years.

I emphasise that that is the assumption behind the Act that we passed earlier this year. Our view is that the subsidy ought to be progressively reduced and eventually removed altogether. We recognise that that process will bear hardly on some ports. and particularly on some ports in Scotland, but even in Scotland the proceeds of sales this year are considerably up on those for last year.

On this basis we felt that we simply could not contemplate an increase in the subsidy this year for the near and middle water fleet. If the coal burners should be scrapped at an accelerated rate in consequence of our not having increased the subsidy, we do not believe that it will result in harm being done to the real interests of the industry as a whole or to those of the country.

While, in general, the policy has been working well, the modernisation programme has gone ahead more rapidly in England than in Scotland. Even in England it has gone considerably faster in some ports than in others. The greatest difficulty in the coming period is likely to occur in Scotland. It is sad that the results so far, from the first few diesel vessels operating in Scotland last year, have been disappointing, but it is too early to judge the real prospects from the first season's fishing.

We hope that the Scottish owners will find that diesel trawlers can be as profitably operated from Scottish ports as from English ports. If not, we may have to see some part of the Scottish trawling fleet replaced by other kinds of fishing vessels; but that is the sort of point that we are anxious that the committee of inquiry, on which I wish to say a word in a moment, should go into.

I would mention one change in the details of the scheme. At the request of the trawler owners we have decided to remove the limit of 300 days at sea, which was the maximum for which a vessel could receive subsidy in one year. The purpose is to avoid discouraging all-out fishing.

The Inshore Fishermen's Associations for England and Wales have not asked for an increase this year. The Scottish inshore fishermen's prospects seem rather less favourable this year than last year but, I am advised, inshore fishing has expanded considerably in the past two years, and the number of Scottish seiners has increased by one-sixth and their catch by one-third.

So, overall, and considering the prospect very carefully from all the evidence we have been able to collect, in the case of inshore fishermen we have had to conclude that the position did not justify any increase in the subsidy this year. In fact, if we were to raise the subsidy we should be largely defeating the object of the subsidy which was given to the herring boats recently. That object was to reverse the drift from herring fishing to white fish catching.

In the herring fleet, costs have gone up, and we cannot safely assume that the proceeds of sales during this year or in the near future are likely to increase. The present subsidy, which the House will remember was instituted a few months ago, does not seem, on present evidence, to be likely to attract vessels back to herring fishing from white fishing.

So here we are proposing to increase the existing daily rates by £1 a day for all motor vessels up to 80 feet in length, by £2 a day for those vessels over 80 feet. and by £1 a day in the case of steam vessels. The rate per stone in the case of vessels under 40 feet is to be increased from 3d. to 3½d. At these new rates the herring subsidy which last year cost about £125,000, is estimated to cost £350,000.

We do not intend to restore the oil and and meal subsidy which was terminated when the new subsidy on the fish landed was introduced a few months ago, because we want to place the emphasis so far as we possibly can on the incentive to catch fish that are suitable for the more remunerative home and export markets.

These are our proposals for the coming year formulated in the light of our general policy. I believe that experience to date has shown that the policy is a sound one and meeting with considerable success. At the same time, as I have said, progress in some ports has been disappointingly slow and not all the new vessels are doing quite as well as was hoped and expected. So we have come to the conclusion that the time is right for a full re-assessment of the position and prospects of the fishing industry.

We have decided, as I told the House last week, to appoint an independent committee of inquiry. We want that committee to make an assessment of the size and the pattern of an economic fishing industry and to study the implications of the present trends and technical developments. I should like to emphasise that that inquiry will cover the United Kingdom as a whole and not only those sections of the industry which receive grants, loans and subsidies. It will also cover the unsubsidised distant water fleet. After all, the fishing industry must be considered basically as a single whole because that is what it is.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

Will it cover lobsters and crabs?

Mr. Amory

Yes, I think that it will cover the whole of the fishing industry. We believe that an independent committee will be of great help to us in making an objective appreciation of the present situation and of the situation that is developing if present trends continue. It will study, for instance, the implication of present trends on particular ports. I want to make it clear beyond any question whatever that the appointment of this committee implies no lack of confidence in either the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board. The Authority and the Board are, of course, executive bodies with important tasks on their hands. They have done and are doing most valuable work, and they need to be free to devote their main energies to continuing that work.

This committee will be considering the whole of the fishing industry and will assess the economic and social implications of its judgment of future developments. The Authority and the Board, on the other hand, are each concerned only with sections of the industry. Therefore, we believe that the right course is that the Authority and the Board should be able to give the committee their first hand knowledge and experience of the industry, and I believe that will be of the greatest value to it.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that this committee is to be completely representative of the whole industry as against the two bodies to which he has referred? Will he indicate what representatives of the various phases of the fishing industry are to be upon it?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

The right hon. Gentleman will not go too far in explaining the position of the committee as the committee is not included in the Scheme.

Mr. Amory

I shall not be following that matter of the committee any further, because later on I shall be announcing the composition and terms of reference of the committee. It will not be a representative committee—

Mr. Hector Hughes

Not representative?

Mr. Amory

Not representative of the different sections. If I pursued that question, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should get into trouble with your. Both the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board will do everythng in their power to help when the committee is appointed.

This Scheme deals with the white fish industry. The House will be interested to know that the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have asked Sir Louis Chick to continue as Chairman of the White Fish Authority for a further two years. The House will be glad to know that Sir Louis Chick has accepted that further appointment.

Once again I should like to pay tribute, in which I am certain the whole House will join, to all who earn their livelihood in our fishing industry. In these debates we do not forget the hazards our fishermen inevitably face in pursuing their calling and the resolute and cheerful spirit in which they face them. They serve the nation well, and we on our part are resolved that our proper obligations to the industry shall be faithfully performed.

I hope the House will agree that, against the background of the general policy, I have described the subsidy rates that we are now fixing for the coming year are such as will sustain the welfare and vigour of this essential national industry.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I cannot help feeling that the Minister has been a little less courteous than he usually is to this side of the House. I am rather surprised that tonight he did not advise us he intended to ask Mr. Speaker to allow these two Schemes to be discussed together.

Mr. Amory

I was asked whether it would be for the convenience of the House to do so. I said that in my opinion it might be, and I should have thought that it was.

Mr. Champion

I beg the pardon of the right hon. Gentleman. I thought this must have been an arrangement about which we had not been advised. Usually, we are advised when Mr. Speaker is to be asked that two Schemes be discussed together. Obviously, that has not happened in this case.

Mr. Amory

I, too, beg the pardon of the hon. Member if there has been any discourtesy. I was of opinion from the beginning that it would be for the convenience of the House to discuss these two Schemes together.

Mr. Champion

I am not protesting against discussing the two together, but, at the same time, it is better that the Opposition should be informed of such an arrangement. I propose to start my speech by referring to the White Fish Authority and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn)will address himself to the herring industry subsidy.

This White Fish Authority subsidy was started under the Labour Government on a six-monthly basis and it continued until 1953 when the present Administration extended it to give the industry five years to put itself in order; to apply modern methods to the task of catching fish and to modernise the fishing fleet. As was said last year by the Minister, it was to encourage the development of a modern self-sufficient fishing fleet. The subsidy has been extended until 1961, and I should like to know on what the Minister bases his hopes that in that period it will be possible to end the subsidy and make the industry completely self-sufficient. Hon. Members on this side of the House are anxious to see a fleet which is self-sufficient. That is the object behind these Schemes.

I hope that tonight we shall hear some estimate of the cost of the Schemes. I am not sure whether the Minister gave that information. If he did, I did not hear it. The Government must bear in mind the unsettling effect of continuing increases in interest rates. This is holding back modernisation. The 1956 Report of the Authority refers to the unsettling effect and that, with Government Departments, it was considering the possibility of modifying present arrangements so as to remove that uncertainty. We have not the Report for this year, so do not know what has been done. But we should like to know whether anything has been done as a result of the discussions between the White Fish Authority and Government Departments. Unless something, is done, I doubt whether we shall see the end of this subsidy in 1961, which is the hope of the Minister.

Part of the subsidy is undoubtedly made necessary by wasteful handling of the fish at the ports and the methods of distribution throughout the country. I believe that these are factors which must add to the eventual cost of the fish, the difficulty of selling it and, to some extent, the prices which are paid to the fishermen themselves. We are told by a member of a work study unit of the British Productivity Council, after a study of the handling of fish at the Aberdeen Fish Market, that it was "frankly appalling," and that from the time the fish came out of the ship's hold until it went into the railway wagon, it was a disgrace to 1957. He said: I have never seen more handling of a commodity in a small area even in the fish industry. What is to be done about these conditions? What can we do to stop this business, which he called "appalling," because I am absolutely positive that this is not unique to Aberdeen? Conditions which exist there in the fishing industry exist, I am sure, elsewhere; very much the same sort of thing exists in other of our fishing ports.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

Did that report make reference to hygienic conditions, or was it concerned only with the multiplicity of handling?

Mr. Champion

He was there interested in the multiplicity of handling, which was the point he was making there. He was not there to look at hygiene, but was there for the specific purpose of studying productivity. He was, as I have said a member of the Productivity Council's unit.

I now wish to ask the Minister what is being done in Britain by means of research into the use of antibiotics in fish preservation. This is an important point for the economy of the industry as a whole. To be able to market a catch in good condition is essential. A study, published in 1950, into the cost of distribution of consumer goods in the United Kingdom put the cost of distribution of fish higher than that of any other commodity with which it was sold in conjunction. A recently published report of an inquiry held into the white fish industry and the distribution of white fish corroborates that and shows that the expense ratio rose in proportion to the total of white fish in the total purchase.

Some research has gone on into this matter. It was started in Canada. I wonder what was done on this side, because, undoubtedly, it does hold out some promise, and I think that the Minister himself ought to stimulate research into the use of antibiotics in the preservation of fish. Apparently, it is something which will enable us to get over some of the distribution difficulties.

Mr. Hector Hughes

As my hon. Friend has made adverse comment upon Aberdeen fish markets and the handling of fish there, and then passes on to the scientific side, may I ask him whether he would think it fair to say a word about the work which is being done by the Torry Research Station in Aberdeen?

Mr. Champion

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). The criticism of Aberdeen was not made by me. It happened to be that of someone who had conducted an investigation into the methods used at Aberdeen on behalf of an authority, and I merely quoted his words. I also pointed out, as my hon. and learned Friend will remember, that I am of opinion that it would apply not only to Aberdeen.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the point he made about the Torry Research Station. I hope it will be stimulated into an investigation into the use of antibiotics, if it has not already begun. If it has, I should be glad to hear about it from the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate.

We welcome the fact that the Minister has set up an independent inquiry. We wish well to those appointed to it. We wish them well in what is undoubtedly a great task, but we feel that an inquiry of this sort cannot be a substitute for wise Government action. There are some things that the Government can do at once and particularly in the matter of the interest rates charged to those who set out to modernise their craft.

This is a great industry, vital to the British people and employing, as the right hon. Gentleman said, some of the pick of our countrymen. We must make it sufficiently prosperous to keep men employed in it, and at a good standard of living. At the same time, it is the job of this House and of the Government to help the industry to stand completely on its own feet. We welcome the Schemes and will assist their passage through the House tonight.

10.26 p.m.

Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)

It is with real regret that I find myself unable to support the White Fish Subsidy Scheme. If there were to be a vote tonight, I should have to abstain. I should not vote against it, because some subsidy is better than none. This is a matter of deep concern not only to Aberdeen, as the largest fishing port in Scotland, but to all the white fish industry in Scotland as a whole.

I realise only too well my right hon. Friend's difficulty, and that he is asked to economise, although I could not help noticing that an extra £100 million was announced this week for transport. Of course, I realise the extreme difficulty of getting the right balance in a subsidy to ensure an economic fishing fleet. We are, however, asked now to consider exactly the same interest rates as were current last year, with only one alteration—

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Subsidy rates, not interest rates.

Lady Tweedsmuir

—namely, that the limit on the number of days at sea to qualify for the subsidy has been removed. I thank the hon. Member for his correction.

I realise that the Minister has expressed the concern of the Government as a whole for the future of the industry by announcing the appointment of an inquiry, but such an inquiry is likely to take at least two years to report, whereas we are faced with immediate and pressing problems which have to be met.

Everybody would prefer a fishing industry that could carry on without Exchequer assistance. What, then, is the object of this subsidy, which the House has approved in the past? The Minister has just said that its object was to tide the industry over a difficult period while the near-, middle-water and inshore fishing fleet is placed in a sound economic position with the help of grants and loans for new building to replace the old coal-burning vessels. That is the object of the subsidy, as my right hon. Friend has repeated tonight.

Surely, the £19 million which is payable for all purposes up to 1961, and possibly 1963, can be apportioned by the Minister as he thinks fit. My quarrel is that the subsidy rates have not been adjusted for the white fish industry to meet its current problems, as has been done for the herring industry.

My right hon. Friend said tonight that he could not increase the rates and remain consistent with his policy of ending Exchequer assistance by—I say 1963, because that is the limit to which at present it can go; and yet it has been done in the case of the herring industry. In my view, these increases have been made to stop the drift from herring fishing to seine netting. It is precisely to stop the drift in capital from white fishing to other industries that some of us have urged action long before these Schemes were drafted.

As the House knows only too well, Aberdeen has the largest number of coal-burning trawlers in the United Kingdom. Indeed, three-quarters of the Scottish white fishing is done with coal-burning vessels. The fishing and ancillary trades in Aberdeen give employment to one-third of our people. Therefore, it will be seen why there is a great deal of concern about the level of these subsidy rates.

Of course, everyone who knows this industry wants to see a modern fishing fleet. I only support paying a subsidy for old coal-burning vessels for a limited time in order that the scrapping programme should not be too swift for the capital available for new boats and the capacity of the yards. There would, I suppose, be a certain logic in being ruthless by operating the present subsidies for coal-burning boats to force their rapid breaking up, because of their hopelessly uneconomic operating costs. The Minister said, earlier, that he envisaged that the whole coal-burning fleet would go in four years. Our yards are already full as it is. How are we to keep up the fishing capacity of the port of Aberdeen?

If we are to follow a ruthless policy of scrapping the coal-burning vessels we ought to give substantial encouragement to both the oil burners and the diesel burners north of the Border, because, without doubt, the trading accounts at the moment are showing disturbing losses. Indeed, these figures have been accepted by the Department. I stress this, because the Minister mentioned that there were somewhat gloomy forecasts of the trading accounts for this coming year. I certainly recognise that there is some element of depreciation, but, taking all that into account, the estimate of loss in the year 1957 to 1958 shows nothing but a heavy loss. It is not much good asking the fishing industry to submit figures to the Department if no action is then taken upon them.

The total fleet fishing from Aberdeen is 158 boats. We have 134 coal-burning vessels. The loss per boat last year was £1,600 and it is estimated that in the current subsidy year it will be £3,484. We have six oil-burning boats, of which one is not receiving subsidy. The estimated loss is £2,987; the loss last year was £1,223. Now there are 12 diesel boats. The estimated loss for the coming year is £4,121 and the operating loss last year—for only two boats, I admit—was £2,153.

I realise that the diesel boats have not been operating long enough to enable us to draw a true picture, but, nevertheless, I submit to the House that the purpose of the subsidy is to tide over the interval until the new boats are established in operation and in sufficient numbers for the industry of these ports. I know that the British Trawlers' Federation has asked for a 50 per cent. overall increase and that Aberdeen itself has asked for a good deal more, but the point is that it is perfectly evident that even if we take a figure far below 50 per cent. we shall still need some increase merely to break even. Unlike other industries, the fishing industry does not pass costs on to the consumers—except by scarcity—because fish is auctioned in a public market.

The Minister has acknowledged this evening the very disquieting effect of the difference in costs and losses between England and Wales and those in Scotland. Although it is well-known that we are 24 hours steaming nearer the main fishing grounds this geographical advantage is far outweighed by other geographical disadvantages—long distance from the markets, heavy freight charges for the transport of coal, and so on. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion)has said, no doubt much could be done in improving handling and distribution, but it becomes a vicious circle because people will not put a good deal of capital into improving distribution and handling unless there is some confidence about the future of the industry as a whole.

I readily appreciate that it is to try to reach the root of these problems that the Government intend to have an inquiry into the United Kingdom industry as a whole. That is very welcome indeed. I hope that the terms of reference will not preclude consideration of the possibility of Exchequer assistance after 1963. I certainly do not advocate a permanent subsidy now without knowing the facts. If, for any reason, it is discovered that the geographical disadvantages to which I have referred are so great that it is not possible economically to operate a sound fishing industry from our main port of Aberdeen, there is justification for a subsidy on one point only, and that is for a strategic reason. To ensure our supply of food and to maintain a recruiting ground for the Navy, which has done so much for us in the past.

It has been said that fishing cannot be compared with agriculture because it does not face foreign competition. I submit that there is fierce foreign competition in two respects: first, that of over-fishing, hence the necessity of enforcing the International Over-Fishing Convention; secondly, if the Scottish fleet were reduced at too drastic a rate, foreign landings would increase despite a 10 per cent. duty. Fish caught by foreigners comes into our ports because there is no market in the fishermen's home country. It has to be dumped, and a 10 per cent. duty is no discouragement in such circumstances.

If the object of the inquiry is to determine the size and pattern of an economic fishing fleet in the United Kingdom, no doubt it will examine the level of grants and loans available for new boats under the White Fish and Herring Industry Act. Whilst I agree that they are generous, I support the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South East in saying that the interest rates should be re-examined, because the White Fish Authority's Report for the year ended March, 1956. states quite clearly that At present, the rate chargeable to borrowers is the rate in force at the time loan instalments are drawn and consequently prospective borrowers have no certainty as to their future commitments for interest when applying for a loan. This has had an unsettling effect … Would it not be possible, when we debate these subsidies in future, to have a report from the White Fish Authority for the year which is supposed to end in March, 1957? If we adjourn next week for the Recess it means that we shall not have an opportunity of discussing the Report until late autumn or winter this year. If the Report could be produced two or three weeks earlier it would be a great advantage.

As to the amount available from this grant and loan scheme, if we are really serious about getting swifter investment in new building there is a case for review, because conversion grants for conversion from coal burning to oil burning do not apply to the majority of boats in Aberdeen. Therefore, our fishermen cannot take advantage of the scheme.

Vessels in Aberdeen today are from 115 to 120 feet long, and cost roughly £1,000 per foot. While I acknowledge that one can obtain grants of £30,000 and loans of up to 60 per cent. of the cost and that all the individual has to find is 15 per cent. of the original capital, nevertheless, £120,000 for a boat is a hefty cost.

In view of all that has happened, I am very concerned about what is to be done in this coming subsidy year. Aberdeen is the largest port in Scotland and is fully representative of the problems of the Scottish white fish industry as a whole. The fundamental issue at the moment is one of confidence. Attracting capital to the fishing industry since the war has been a long and difficult business. It may well be that much more could have been done in the past by putting capital back into fishing, but that is now history. Our concern at a time of competing claims on our resources is that the Government should show an earnest of the country's recognition that the fishing industry is as vital in peace as it certainly always is in war.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

I shall deal later with some of the issues raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). I agreed with a great deal of what she said, and I was very glad to hear her say that she could not go into the Lobby in support of the Scheme and that if it comes to a vote—as perhaps it will—she will find herself unable to support the Government.

The very nature of the Minister's speech made it almost impossible for any Scottish Member to go into the Lobby tonight in support of the Government's proposals. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that while there might have been a general improvement in the white fish industry, that could not be said for the near- and middle-water fleets of the Scottish ports. He admitted that there was a case for making a difference in the subsidies for Scottish ports.

In that case, it is very difficult for those of us who represent Scottish constituencies to understand why the Secretary of State for Scotland did not insist on the grants being sufficient to meet the need which the right hon. Gentleman proved tonight. I can only believe that the Scottish Office does not have sufficient interest in the case.

I know that the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary were not ignorant of the facts, because I took a deputation to the Scottish Office and met the Joint Under-Secretary. He and his advisers did not dispute the facts and figures which were put before them. As the hon. Lady said, these facts have been submitted by the Scottish industry as a whole. The hon. Lady asked a pertinent question when she asked what was the use of supplying figures if attention was not paid to them.

The Scheme is an improvement on the previous plan. It has removed harmful anomalies and there is a better understanding of how it works. But despite increases, subsidies have not kept pace with rising costs. To that extent, Scottish fishing ports now find themselves in a much worse position.

One of the things which the Minister must take into account, even if his Scottish colleagues will not, is that a great deal of the Scottish catch has to be exported from the ports for sale. In my constituency, 70 per cent. of the catch is sold outside the constituency. That entails tremendous costs for boxing and freightage. I am glad to notice that I have the approval of the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart). He appreciated this problem when he was at the Scottish Office, certainly as it affected the port of Granton, where the tremendous on-costs of the fleet was recognised. I would not seek to compare in size that place with Aberdeen, but there are 40 trawlers fishing from the port and it makes a substantial contribution to the economy. It affects not only the people who man the trawlers, but also the ancillary trades connected with the port.

I am told that when the Minister agreed with these subsidies, he made it perfectly clear that he would not take account of the interest on the money borrowed to provide the now trawlers. I am certain that he does not take into account the interest on the initial sum which is laid down. As has been said, if it is proposed to build a modern diesel-engined vessel of 120 feet the cost is about £120,000 or £130,000, and on the date that the order is placed 15 per cent. of the money has to be laid down. Interest charges have to be paid on that money, and it is a heavy drain on the industry.

I have raised this matter time and again with the Minister and with the Scottish Office. If the Minister is proposing to ignore these things, it seems to me that he is not meeting the just claims of the people in the fishing industry. I will not quote the figures again, but I will content myself with saying that in one case, which I have already brought to the notice of the Minister, on the day the vessel was ordered interest rates were 3½ per cent.; but before the vessel was completed that figure had increased to 5½ per cent. Surely the Minister must take account of that.

It is very glib for the Minister to say that we have to get rid of the coal-burning vessels by 1961 and that the Government cannot go on paying subsidies. I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman gets his courage when it comes to dealing with the fishing industry. He does not speak with the same voice when dealing with agricultural matters. Recently, he demanded a supplementary estimate of £24 million to meet the deficit on eggs and apparently he had no trouble in collecting the money. But when the fishing industry asks for a little money to meet the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman agrees exist, he cannot find any.

What is the use of the right hon. Gentleman saying that we have to get rid of the coal-burning vessels when, at the same time, the Government restrict credit and increase interest charges? The Minister must know that it is nonsense to do these things and also ask for the abolition of the coal-burning vessels and their replacement by a new fleet of dieselengined vessels.

I defy the Minister to say that my constituency has not done its best to modernise its fleet. It has been remarkably progressive. Let me take three examples—the figures have been submitted to the Scottish Office—of modern vessels which show losses, one of £5,000 for a year's fishing, another of £2,125 for 291 days, and the third of £1,801 for 327 days. These are actual losses on modern vessels. The Minister says, "Despite all that we shall not give you a penny more. We hope that you will be able to get money somewhere to modernise the rest of your fleet." What encouragement is that to people, who get such bad results and get no assistance from the Government, and certainly not from the Scottish Office?

As a consequence, one firm in my constituency has advertised for sale a new boat of which it took delivery only in March this year, and is advertising its willingness to sell another which is due for delivery in September—to sell it before it is delivered. One of the most go-ahead trawler owners has decided that the new boat of which he is to get delivery in a month or six weeks' time will not be fished from the port of Granton, but will be taken further south. It seems that this will go on and on.

Unless the Minister does something about it, this will be the death-knell of of my area. It is no use having an inquiry if we have first to exhume a corpse to find out what went wrong with it. It is much better to prevent the death from taking place. The Minister could do that by bringing in a subsidy.

It is sheer nonsense to say that the industry in our part of the country does not have to meet foreign competition; of course it does. The middle-distance boats which I have been discussing have to meet the competition of the Icelandic fleet, which is most heavily subsidised. I am told that the subsidy in Iceland runs to as much as £50,000 per boat every year. They are in the farming class in subsidies. The Minister expects our boats to compete with that type of subsidy. He must realise that it is impossible.

If the Minister who is to reply cannot make a better speech than did the Minister who presented these schemes, he will not get away with it with the Scottish fishing industry, which will always have the feeling that it has been let down completely. I hope I will not have to say that to the industry when I return to Scotland. I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of the position of the Scottish fishing fleet and will give it a better promise than was given by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

Had my right hon. Friend, in announcing these subsidy schemes on 15th June, not mentioned that a committee of inquiry was to be set up to look at the problems of the fishing industry, those whom I represent and I would have viewed these subsidies with the gravest misgiving and concern. The committee is overdue and I hope that no time will be lost in announcing its terms of reference and composition.

Every effort should be made by the committee to get out its report as soon as possible. Indeed, there should be an interim report, dealing with two main considerations. One of those is the question of the near-water trawlers, which has been so eloquently dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir)and the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy). The other question concerns the problem which confronts the ring net fishermen in the West of Scotland and particularly on the Clyde. Those two matters are crying out for immediate examination and redress.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Sir D. McCallum)is ill in hospital and has asked me to say certain things for him about the plight of the ring net men on the Clyde. I have the honour to represent the inshore white fishing industry and the herring industry. The herring fishing is practised by drift net fishermen, and not ring net men.

It is extremely important for Scottish hon. Members to bear in mind that not one Scottish catching body has agreed with these schemes we are discussing. The Scottish Office has produced a summary of earnings of fishing vessels for 1956 both for white fish and herring. I would draw particular attention to the wages that are earned by crews because, when all is said and done, one of the gravest concerns we have in the industry today is the manning of the vessels. The drift from herring fishing to seine netting and from seine netting to shore jobs is caused by the difference in remuneration and working conditions.

According to the summary of the Scottish Office, fishermen in vessels up to 40 ft. in length earn £9.31 per week, and in vessels of 40 ft. to 70 ft., £11.79 a week. The Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association, which is the body representing seine net fishermen in Scotland, has also made an analysis. Its figures show that for vessels up to 40 ft. the wage has been £8.52 per week and, for a vessel 40 ft. to 70 ft., £10.56 a week. That works out, in the case of the smaller vessel, at 2s. 4d. an hour and, for the larger vessel, at 2s. 1¼d. an hour. It must be borne in mind that is for an 80-hour week. The average manual worker on shore skilled—the fisherman is skilled—gets an average £24 7s. a week for the same hours of work.

When one is considering the earnings of fishermen it is absolutely essential to realise the hours put in together with the hazardous conditions which have to be faced. In addition, the Association showed that there have been unavoidable increases in running costs since August, 1956. On ropes alone the increase has been £51 in the year. On manila for halyards, it has been £2; for fuel oil, an average of £94; lubricating oil, £8, seine net twine, £1; wire ropes, £2; and Burjac, etc. floats, £6. That does not take nets into account. It is a total of £154, but the subsidy is unchanged.

Our fishermen are progressive; they must be, because they have competition from fishermen of other countries. Consequently, they have to install scientific equipment as it becomes available. Practically all our go-ahead fishermen have been installing the Decca navigator, which is another item, amounting to £395. The grand total, on average, is £559 increase in costs for equipment alone last year.

The average net profit has also been worked out by this survey. The survey shows that on vessels up to 40 ft. it has been 6.73 per cent. on the capital invested; 40 to 70 ft., 10.23 per cent.; 70 to 80 ft., 2.87 per cent. These are not large returns on investment, and when one considers the hazardous conditions of the work to be undertaken it is clear that they are pitifully small. When one takes into account the fact that expenditure on nets is not included as a capital outlay, the computation is blown sky high.

We need a subsidy to retain men in the industry. We need a subsidy to make the industry pay. It is all very well to express a pious hope that the need for the subsidy will expire in 1961. I assure hon. Members that the subsidy will be necessary until an equitable price for fish is forthcoming from the public. No one can put a time limit on the need for this subsidy.

The Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association has shown the case for a subsidy of 1s. a stone, and I think that that rate is warranted, but we must accept the present figure because if we reject these schemes the subsidy on white fish will terminate at the end of the month and the subsidy on herring will terminate on 31st August.

Let us look at the herring fishing situation. Our drift net men are to have a small increase in subsidy but the standard of values in the herring industry is pathetic. The values are all hinged on the Russian contract. The Russian contract has set the standard of values in the herring industry. That is all wrong. We are faced with the fact that for two years we have had a failure in the herring industry. We can only hope that this year the shoals will be abundant; there are indications that they have been obtained at Shetland. The fishing season should at present be in full swing on the north-east coast of Scotland, but the fish are very patchy and we shall have to wait for the East Anglian campaign. It may well be that this subsidy will be totally inadequate. It would be reasonable adequate in fair fishing but certainly not if the conditions of the last two years are repeated.

Unfortunately, the Herring Industry Board has entirely lost the confidence of the herring fisherman. We cannot deny that. Something will have to be done about reorganisation, and I sincerely hope that one of the problems which the committee will consider is the need for a central authority for the whole of the fishing industry. We should do away with the White Fish Authority and with the Herring Industry Board and have one central authority, adequately manned to do the job.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll has asked me to speak about the ring net fishermen in the Clyde, and I should like to say what I believe he would have said had he been here. The position of these ring net fishermen in the Clyde is disastrous. They are catching largely for oil and meal. The price for oil and meal at the "A" ports is 40s. per cran. But in the Clyde the price is 20s. per cran. Thus there is an absence of equity, because the owners of the ring net vessels in the Clyde have the same liabilities to meet as those getting 40s. per cran for their herring.

It is a fallacy for anyone to say that the subsidy makes up the difference. The subsidy is uniform. The man getting 40s. for herring is also getting the subsidy. Since two vessels together—as there would be in ring net fishing—are getting £6 10s. per day, per voyage, this means that between the two vessels they are getting the difference between 20s. and 40s. a cran for 13 crans of herring, and that anything caught over that shows a loss to those fishermen in comparison with those fishing at "A" ports. In fair fishing conditions, these men are at a great disadvantage.

I say that even now there should be a reconsideration of the position of the ring net men in the Clyde and on the west coast of Scotland. If that is not done, this section of the industry is finished; and we cannot spare seamen of this quality in Britain today.

There are many facets of the industry to which the committee of inquiry can, with advantage, pay immediate attention. I sincerely hope that the outcome of these investigations will be a realistic approach to the problems of the industry, and that we will get clear of all this Civil Service guesswork which is befuddling us at present.

11.7 p.m.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

To me, there is something unreal about this debate. The Minister has said that the Scottish boats are not doing so well as the English boats. Although no one will challenge the ability of the fishermen, or skippers, I think I can tell the Minister where the difference lies.

The cost of freight from Aberdeen and ports to the North is double that to the markets of crafts fishing into the Humber or Fleetwood. That in itself is a tremendous item. It would account probably for the whole of the difference between the small profitability of the English boats and the losses of the Scottish boats. When one adds the cost of oil, considerably more in the north of Scotland than in Fleetwood, Grimsby and Hull, these are additional costs.

If all the other costs were equal, there would be a just case for a greater subsidy for Scottish craft than English. No one could challenge that. Yet we are asked tonight to pass a flat rate subsidy.

The Minister talked a great deal about the committee, and in his closing words Mr. Deputy-Speaker suggested that he was out of order. I want to say something about that committee, too. I think it is wholly unnecessary. All the problems of the industry must be known to the Ministers concerned and to their officials in London and throughout England, and in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland. These able men are the inheritors of work done by others. It has been a constant study and fishing has been under constant supervision. In addition, we have the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board.

I remember the days when all we had was a small Fishery Department in Scotland and a small office in Whitehall. If the fishing industry wanted assistance, it went there and got it. That was a small and compact organisation. Now we have great Ministries in London and Edinburgh and offices at ports up and down the country. Tonight, we are told that we must have another committee comprising probably people who know nothing about the industry—to come in and tell the Minister what the problems are. Could there be anything more ridiculous than that?

I see, Mr. Speaker, that you do not want me to talk about the committee, but we must bring this debate back to a realistic basis; and there is nothing more unrealistic than a proposal of that kind at this hour of great peril to the industry, when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir)said in her very able speech, it is action now that is wanted. We do not want another committee to report in a year or two's time to tell us what has to be done. I will say no more, Mr. Speaker, about the committee.

The main problem of the industry is the lack of catches. Thirty or forty years ago, all the trawlers operating from British ports fished in the North Sea, the Irish Channel, the English Channel and round about our coasts. There were practically no distant water trawlers. The home trawler owners, however, because of the lack of catches and because of over-fishing on the Dogger Bank and all the other well-known banks and in the inshore waters, tackled the speculative task of building very large craft to go to the Arctic. They did that solely because they could not make voyages pay. In 1913, we had over-fishing around our coasts and catches were going down and down. The seas had a rest during the First World War because of the calling-up of the men and trawlers and drifters and the existence of mines, and for a few years afterwards there were abundant catches. Then we got back to a period of over-fishing.

The sole reason that the Aberdonians carry on with their decrepit old craft, which have served the nation so well for a long period—many of them are forty years old—is that in many cases they have no capital value in their books and no depreciation charges to wipe off. They stand at no value or at a token value of, say, £1. In contrast, the modern craft, a 120-footer costing £130,000, requires a large sum per month for depreciation over and above all the operating costs.

The reason that the Aberdeen trawler-owner is unwilling to take the generous grants and loans from the Government, leaving him to find only 15 per cent., is that he cannot see that if he builds the asset it will be profitable. No greater proof is needed than the speech of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), who said that trawler owners with ships on order and coming off the stocks now and in a few months' time were selling them. That, surely, is all the evidence that Ministers require of the need for something to be done now.

My concluding words are these. If my right hon. Friends would devote a little attention to making the Over-Fishing Convention work, and would protect cod and haddock in the same way as they protect salmon, trout and grouse, we would be on the way back to prosperity: but we will not be until then.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)

I feel rather an interloper in this debate, because so far it is only Scottish Members who have spoken. I am very sorry for them, because it is quite obvious that fishing in Scotland is in a bad way, but it is likely that once again England will come to the rescue, because we produce about 90 per cent. of the catches.

Whilst I sympathise with Scottish Members in their difficulties, particularly concerning freight charges, about which everyone is sympathetic, they must remember that there are ports in England to which the boats have to steam an extra long way back to get round Scotland to land their fish. The Scots must not think that they are the only people who suffer great hardships.

I join other hon. Members, however, in saying that I am disappointed with the Scheme. My right hon. Friend certainly has not been at all generous. He appears rather to try to overcome any criticism by saying that he is setting up a new inquiry. Surely we have all had enough inquiries. The only lucky thing about this is that there is not to be a Royal Commission. That would take five years instead of two, but could I ask my right hon. Friend to request the inquiry to be as quick as possible? The uncertainty of saying that subsidies are to stop in 1961 is most unsettling, and I ask that the trawlermen should be given more hope for the future by the inquiry getting out its results with all possible speed. It will make a lot of difference to these men.

We have heard that the distant water ports, such as Hull, say that they do not want subsidies; but none except the distant water people believe that it is possible to go on without subsidy. We cannot be so silly as to put our heads in the sand in this fashion, especially when we know that all the other countries are getting subsidies. I say that the Minister has been mean. For one thing, he has apparently left out of consideration the terrific rise in the price of coal and other materials. We have been talking today of inflation, and we all know that everything has gone up in price—except the price of fish; and as everyone with whom we are concerned tonight depends on the price of fish to earn his living, this seems to be the wrong way round. Indeed, the price of fish has been going down in the last few months.

My right hon. Friend really has two Ministries and he must find himself to be something of a fairy godmother or a devil. At the moment, with fish, he is the devil. He has been the fairy godmother to the egg scheme; whereas people used to go out for fish and chips for a cheap dinner they now have egg and chips. I do not necessarily complain, because I have a lot of egg farmers in my constituency, but it does mean that that good old meal of fish and chips is outdone by egg and chips.

If the Minister is going to have any alteration to his Scheme, I hope that he will not give way to the clamour of all the right hon. and hon. Members from Scotland. I am sure to be somewhat unpopular, because there are practically only Scottish Members here, but last time they achieved one of the greatest Scottish victories ever. I hope that this time he will stand up for England and let us have some of the "plums" which are going. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby)is not here. He is unfortunately ill, and we hope he will soon be better, but he was always very loud in his pleading for Scotland. Perhaps they were a bit frightened of him, but now that he is absent I hope that my hon. Friend will stand up for England and see us all go along together.

The Minister ought to remember something which has not been said tonight; that is, the terrific expansion of the Russian fishing fleet. It is multiplying in an amazing way, so that in four or five years' time there will be an enormous number of distant water trawlers, as well as supply ships in order to keep them at sea. That will mean, first, a flood on the market; then, over-fishing, and next, I suggest, a territorial waters limitation so that we cannot go beyond three miles from our shore. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind. I imagine that the Russian fleet is completely subsidised and owned by the nation, which we do not want here. I hope that he will remember these things and give our people a chance.

11.20 p.m.

Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife, East)

Hon. Members may recall that towards the end of the debate in which we last examined the herring industry subsidy scheme I said—and I think I was expressing the view of hon. Members in all parts of the House—that it was very necessary to make a thorough examination of the situation in the coming months and that if the Government were persuaded by the figures they collected that a change in the subsidy was necessary they should not hesitate to make it. It is clear that the Government have done that, and they now propose tonight an increase in the subsidy for the herring fishers. I think we ought to congratulate the Government upon that sensible step.

However, I share the anxiety which has been expressed all round about the proposals for the white fish side of the industry. I am sorry my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson)was critical of the idea of having an inquiry. My hon. Friend and I had the greatest possible respect for Sir Andrew Duncan, and Sir Andrew Duncan it was who conducted the first great inquiry into the fishing industry in the nineteen-thirties. I remember that very well, because I played a small part in engaging the attention of the House for that matter and in that way in getting the inquiry established. Sir Andrew Duncan did not know any more about the herring industry than anybody else, but he was a brilliant man, and the fact that he came fresh to the subject added to the strength of the report which was made. If an inquiry was needed then I am quite certain an inquiry is needed just as much now.

May I draw attention to one or two matters which need investigation. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion)said, the assumption we have worked upon so far has been that if we subsidise landings and assist the building of new boats, then by 1963 the industry should be able to stand upon its own feet, and that we shall then no longer need subsidies. I wonder if that assumption is now right? It seems to me that that assumption needs investigation. If it were shown by investigation that it would be absurd to think any longer that we could put the industry right by 1963 we should consider our new plans now. That is the first matter needing investigation.

Here is another. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie)has told us that the inshore fishermen generally have protested against the scales offered as being inadequate, and have Raid they will lose money. That may be true, but I must tell the House that just the other day I made it my business to find out what was happening in the inshore fishing in the Forth, and that I did not find distress there. In fact they are doing very well at this present time. Why is that? I do not know, but that sort of variation is to be found all round the country and even within individual ports. That ought to be examined.

Granton is another example on a larger scale. I agree with the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy)that there we find highly efficient fishermen and trawler owners. He knows I have the greatest respect for some of them. It is a very strange thing that a man like Mr. Crone should not be making a success of his boats. I do not understand it. That needs investigation.

As a result of a proper investigation it may be found that the subsidies have themselves got to be varied from one part of the country to another. It may be that in Scotland—shall we say, in Aberdeen in particular?—a different rate of subsidy is needed from that at Grimsby. I do not say it is, but it is possible that it may be.

We certainly have to contemplate that that may be so, if the facts given by my right hon. Friend tonight are true. If Aberdeen looks like going out of business—and that was what my right hon. Friend was saying and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen. South (Lady Tweedsmuir)was confirming in her extremely well-informed speech—it is a very serious matter for Aberdeen. Either the fishermen must change their style of business, or they must get some other kind of support from the Exchequer. I agree that we would be much better off without subsidies, but this is the age when it seems that we must help great national industries.

All these are matters of enormous importance to our constituencies, and the Government have done right in deciding to have this whole subject investigated. Somebody said tonight that the investigation may take two years. It would be a calamity if we did not receive a report on these vital matters long before that. I agree, therefore, that we should press for an interim report on major matters long before that—I should say within a year. I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that those who support him and his colleagues view the situation with great concern. We welcome an inquiry, but we press that it should be conducted with the greatest urgency by a committee of outstanding authority.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

At this late hour I want to make only a few brief observations on these Schemes. It is a sad commentary on the way the Government regard the fishing industry that schemes of this kind should come up for discussion at this late hour of the night. It is well within the knowledge of the House that this happens. It is an utterly wrong way of dealing with this great fishing industry, which involves so many diverse phases, so many different problems and so much employment. Schemes of this kind should be brought before the House at a more reasonable hour when they could be properly discussed.

I intervened on the subject of the proposed inquiry into the industry when the Minister opened the debate. It is wrong that an inquiry of this kind should not be representative of all phases of the industry. When I questioned him, the Minister said bluntly that it will not be a representative inquiry. Why should it not be? How will it be an effective inquiry if every phase of the industry is not represented upon it? Ostensibly, the object of the inquiry will be to investigate the state of the industry. It should be in a position to adduce expert evidence on every aspect of the industry. Witnesses should be examined by members of an inquiry committee who know what they are talking about. But the Minister says that it will not be a representative inquiry. I submit that it should be.

The Minister has said today, and on previous occasions, that he wants self-sufficient fishing fleets. It is perfectly obvious that he cannot get them unless the present problems of the industry are investigated by experts who know every phase of it. The best way is to have an inquiry which would be thoroughly representative of the industry in every way.

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie)made an able and exhaustive speech. The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley)spoke of the competition from the Russian fishing fleets to which our fishing fleets have to submit. That is another aspect of the problems concerning the industry which should be thoroughly investigated. I ask the Minister to take all those into account before finally making up his mind about future policy.

11.30 p.m.

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

At this late hour I do not wish to detain the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am happy to hear that welcome to an Englishman who has had the temerity to enter a Scottish debate. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion)raised a matter of paramount importance to the fishing industry when he talked about the handling of fish at the ports. That is something about which we have to think very seriously in the next few years. If the industry is to become self-supporting, we have to have some forward-looking policies about that.

My first subject concerns the bringing of fish in the country as a high protein food in good condition. There has been a reference to the Russian fleet. Some time ago we pioneered a new kind of trawling with two ships known as the "Fairtry" class which combines the rôle of a trawler and factory ship. The Russians somehow acquired the plans and built twenty-two of these ships.

That kind of fishing will be a major problem for us in the future. There is a great future for our industry if we organise fishing in that way. I have eaten some of the "Fairtry" fish. It is absolutely first-class prime fish caught off Newfoundland and frozen and processed within half an hour of being caught. With the kind of fishing the Russians are now practising, with fleets staying at sea for weeks on end, with factory ships, store ships and so on, our industry will have some "headaches" in the future.

I hope that the inquiry to which my right hon. Friend referred will examine those matters and matters such as the quick freezing of the catch, adequate transportation in properly insulated rail vans, how far the explorator system will supply the needs of distributive districts, how far quick freezing is a help in remote rural areas such as mine in Cornwall.

Questions have recently been asked in the House about damage to our gear by the Russians. We must be sure that we have enough fishery protection vessels at sea. There are obvious reasons why we should have them to watch the Russians, but I do not want to dwell on that. Another point is that with the cutting down of the Royal Navy, the more fishery protection vessels we have the more sea-time naval officers will get.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

Order. The hon. Member is getting a bit far from the Scheme.

Mr. Howard

We need fishery protection vessels to do the job which their name implies.

Finally, I want the Minister seriously to consider the merging of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. It seems to me that if we are to bring down the costs in this industry it could be far better done if these two organisations were merged, with possibly a branch office in Edinburgh—dare I say that in what is mainly a Scottish debate?—and the main office in Petty France in London.

There are two authorities dealing with grants and loans, and there might be an occasion where a man who had been refused by one authority might go to the other and get a grant. That might be quite all right, I do not know. But it would lead to more efficiency were there at least closer co-operation between the two bodies, if not a complete merger.

The inshore fishing industry has not the same complaints as can be voiced by those hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies where there are fishing interests. But I hope that the inquiry will soon result in an early report, because it is important that all the members of this great industry should be made aware of their future and feel that all the difficulties are being examined thoroughly and dealt with efficiently.

11.36 p.m.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

The attitude and tone of voice of the Minister as he ended his speech gave me the impression that he had come to the conclusion that Aberdeen was to be left to perish. I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman had decided that Aberdeen was likely to be liquidated as an effective fishing port. That is a serious matter, because Aberdeen is a very important town. If things develop in the world as they are likely to do, Aberdeen may prove to be a vital place at which to have an efficient fishing industry.

It is one of the lifelines of this country in an emergency. An efficient fishing industry must be based on ports accustomed to deal with a fishing fleet. It is not only a question of what is to happen to the fishermen but of the survival of the nation, both as regards food and in times of emergency. These boats have saved the nation in two great wars. I hope it will never be necessary to use them for that purpose again, but it would be imprudent not to have them ready.

I sympathise with the desire of the Government to get rid of the old coal-burning vessels and replace them with modern vessels. But there is a danger that we shall fall between two stools in this matter. We may lose the coal-burning vessels before we have the new ones. If my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy)is correct, and I think he is, we have here the test of efficiency. But even efficiency with the present subsidies will not result in the survival of the industry unless something more is done. The Minister has to decide whether he will allow the new diesel engined vessels and the coal-burning vessels to go from Scotland and that before the matter is settled Scotland is to have no vessels at all. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to assure us that Scotland is not to be sacrificed by the postponement of a decision. It would appear better to have an inquiry to find out what should be done before we start doing the wrong thing. We must at least make sure that the fishing industry survives until the inquiry is completed.

We have been mentioning only Aberdeen, but there are a lot of people outside there round the coast who are necessary to our survival. I hope that nothing will be done to depopulate this part of Scotland. One of the other policies of the Government is to find some way to make it possible for people in that part of the country to survive.

Again, we are falling between two stools; we are not getting people back to the herring and are losing them to the white fish trade. As the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie)said, they are not coming back into the direction of herring but are apt to go on shore, even with the increased subsidy. I do not pretend to be a prophet; these things are largely a matter of trial and error. I gather that the Government are now having another try whether the increase in the herring subsidy will help the process that we proposed in the earlier legislation.

I felt there was a lack of confidence by the Minister in his own policy. He was very shaky about putting it forward, as though he felt that it was not going to succeed. It is a gamble with the existence of a town, with the prosperity of one of the most thrifty and well-managed towns in the country. It has never begged from anybody, and yet it might not survive, if this goes on.

I was interested to hear the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir)and the hon. Member for Banff talking about subsidies. This matter is usually treated with some opprobrium, as though subsidies were some form of charity. I hope hon. Members will realise that this kind of subsidy is not a charity at all but is part of a national policy. If we are to have a fishing fleet the nation must see that it can work.

There are two ways of doing it. We have heard that the Russians are trying a new method by treating fishing as a commercial enterprise managed by the State on an efficient basis. They are putting the latest scientific improvements, at whatever the cost, into the ships, and are now beginning to catch fish on the latest approved lines.

We are fumbling along. If we believe this is the proper way to do it, and if the fishers are to be the agents of the nation, we have to enable them to make a profit, or we have to provide the means and pay them a reasonable wage for doing the job. We cannot always go on chancing it, seeing whether it is a success, and then having another try. We have to find ways and means of having an efficient fleet and making it possible for the people in it to make a living, whether as employees of the community, as the Russians are doing, or by using them as farmers and paying them a commission. I wish we had a more comprehensive plan in which we could feel confidence.

We have been talking mostly of white fish, but some of the herring fishers are not feeling satisfied with their subsidy. On the Clyde they feel that they are getting rather a raw deal. They fish mainly for meal and are having different treatment from people in other ports. They feel that their interests are being sacrificed in this new deal. We want to keep the fishers in the Clyde ports in the winter; but is the Minister satisfied that they can make a living and that they will not disappear in this process of readjustment? The wind may have to be tempered to the shorn lambs and, as some hon. Members have suggested, we must have a variety of conditions to cope with the different conditions which people face in different parts of the country.

The herring fleet is suffering from the fact that the herring have disappeared. Many of the ways in which they could earn a living are no longer available. I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary will try to reassure hon. Members who have been seriously disturbed by the statement of the Minister about the future of Scottish fishing.

For instance, is the Minister to do something for special conditions, such as the boxing at Leith and Granton, which was arranged for on a previous occasion? Is he to make arrangements in different parts of Scotland, and is it part of the policy of the Government that the fishing industry in its different parts should be sustained and maintained? I agree that the Government have a right to insist on efficiency, and if the industry is not efficient, of course, it cannot expect the nation to subsidise inefficiency; but we have been assured tonight that even the most up-to-date and efficient trawlers are not making a profit but a loss. If that is the case, the industry cannot survive.

The question I put to the Government is, how is the industry to survive under this policy, and will it still be in existence to the necessary extent when the policy has to be reviewed at the end of the investigation by the Committee? Unless the Joint Under-Secretary can give the House those assurances there will be serious perturbation and very great alarm throughout Scotland?

11.46 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord John Hope)

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes)complained about the lateness of the debate. I am sorry about that, but it was inevitable. However, I would congratulate him that, despite his dislike of the occasion, he has dressed so suitably for it.

I do not want to repeat the background of these schemes which my right hon. Friend delineated, but I should remind the House that they must be looked at in the terms of our present policy, which is that the subsidies should be temporary. That has a bearing on what I should like to say to the owners. I think it reasonable to suggest that, in deciding whether to build a vessel with a life of 20 or 30 years, owners should not be unduly influenced by a subsidy which is going to be abolished in three or four years' time. I think that a fair way of putting it to them.

Several hon. Members, the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), in particular, asked me to say something about the interim measures to save the industry from collapse. Of course, we shall watch the position very anxiously and carefully, but I would ask hon. Members not to forget that the appointment of a committee of inquiry does not mean that we shall not have to have another scheme next year, because we shall.

I know that I must not go into the question of the inquiry at any length, but I want to emphasise that our decision to appoint the committee does not in any way mean that we as a Government have not complete confidence in both the Herring Board and the White Fish Authority. When we were debating the last Scheme, there was a great deal of criticism of the Herring Board. I rather regret that when I wound up the debate I did not then express the confidence of the Government in the Board. That was certainly an oversight on my part, and I think I have made it good by what I have said tonight.

The right hon. Member asked me to say something about the future. There is no reason at all to view the future with pessimism or gloom. There is no room whatever for complacency. There are disturbing figures and discrepancies, and that is why we are appointing the committee of inquiry. I was impressed, and the House must have been impressed, by the reasons given by so many hon. Members, sometimes deliberately in terms of the necessity for an inquiry and at other times not in those terms, all of which seemed to focus attention on the rightness of our decision to have this industry investigated. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson)rounded upon us, referring to the "ridiculous idea" of having an inquiry, but in almost the next sentence he referred to the industry as being in a state of peril. I do not think that it is in a state of peril, but if he thinks that it is, he must agree that it is not a bad moment to inquire into it.

I will answer as quickly as I can some of the specific questions put to me. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion)asked why the year 1961 had been chosen for the end of the subsidy. The answer is that that is the time by which it is estimated that the modern vessels will be on their feet and coal burners will virtually have disappeared. He asked for an estimate of the cost of these schemes, and the answer is £2,985,000. He and one or two other hon. Members referred to the question of interest rates. One question concerned the exclusion of interest on capital in costing. We have concluded that it would be wrong to discriminate between sources of capital, between the firm which borrows the capital required and the firm which finds the cost from its own capital resources. The discrimination is not easy to work or to justify.

Mr. Hoy

Will the hon. Member tell the House which firms are building fishing vessels from their own capital, without borrowing?

Lord John Hope

I cannot do so without notice, but I will inquire and let the hon. Member know.

Mr. Hoy

The hon. Member cannot find a firm which is building boats without subsidy. There may be firms which are interested in building for sale, not for fishing, but he cannot use that example when making a comparison with ordinary commercial fishing.

Lord John Hope

I will look into that. I entirely agree with the hon. Member that it is up to me to justify what I say to the House, and I am prepared to do so.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East asked whether experiments were being conducted with anti-biotics in fish preservation. When I visited Torry Institute recently I was given an excellent kipper which was six months old, and anti-biotics must have had something to do with that. I was unselfish enough to give it away and did not eat it myself, but I was told that it was delicious. The short answer to the question is that the possibilities of using anti-biotics are being carefully considered.

Now I come to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). I am sure the House would agree that she made a very well argued speech indeed. I fully understand the difficulties which she feels. She made out her case with great cogency. She referred to the length of time that the inquiry might have to last, and asked what would happen meanwhile. I have tried to deal with that important point earlier. She also asked why there has been an upward adjustment of the subsidies for herring, and none for the white fish. I think that she realises that we have done that to try to stop the drift from herring to white fish.

My hon. Friend asked, further, "Why not help diesels?" The answer is that, as she observed, they have had a very short experience so far, and we shall be very interested to see what happens in this current season. My hon. Friend hoped the inquiry would not exclude the possibility of recommending extention of the subsidy. I do not want to say any more about the terms of the inquiry. They will be extremely wide. She asked whether we could have the Report of the White Fish Authority next year in time for reasonable discussion. I will see whether we can do something about this difficult business of timing. It is not easy to put this right, but if it could be done, it would certainly be worth doing.

The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), although he did not mince his words in criticism of the Government's action, said that this Scheme is an improvement, at least, on the past because it removes certain anomolies. I am grateful to him for that observation. That is exactly what we have tried to do. The burden of his criticism was that, although we accepted the white fish industry's figures, having accepted them, we did nothing about them. The short answer is that, because we have been so impressed by the figures, we have decided that we must have the whole of the industry looked into. He outlined clearly the difficulties which face those people with whom he is most concerned. I know that they are very much up against it at present.

My hon. Friend, the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie)supported us in our decision to have an inquiry which, he said, was overdue. He then embarked on criticism of the Government on the ground that, although costs had gone up, nothing had been done to recognise that in coming to our decision about the new subsidies. That is not so. These increases have been taken into consideration, but so has the expectation that earnings will go up at the same time. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members on both sides felt strongly about whether there should be one or two authorities. We must wait and see. [Interruption.] Well, we shall get a helpful slant on that, as on other things, from the inquiry. I do not think anybody could say that it was prima facie obvious that one authority would be better than two. Further than that, one would not care to go.

My hon. Friend spoke of the ring net fishermen, to whose so-called plight other hon. Members also referred. I wish that the figures for this part of the industry could be put over. I do not dispute the figures given by my hon. Friend, but he did not give the end result that from 13th May to 6th July the ring net fishermen qualified for about £5,000 in direct subsidy. Had the oil and meal subsidy been retained, they would have got, at most, about £1,000. The answer, there- fore, is that the new arrangements have worked out very much to their advantage. I have already referred to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley)expressed various opinions, including the welcome one that Scotland had won a great victory last time, and he begged my right hon. Friend the Minister to stand up for England now. All I can say is that in this dilemma the Scottish fishermen think that the English have done best, and England considers that the Scots have done best. Therefore, with any luck, Her Majesty's Government have done about the right thing.

I will not go deeply into my hon. Friend's comparison of my right hon. Friend with a fairy godmother in the egg world, but no doubt there is something in that. His final point about the Russians is extremely important and I assure the House that the Government are well aware of the potential dangers on that front.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart)gave the most convincing reasons of all for the inquiry and I am grateful to him for the eloquence with which he put the case persuasively. He mentioned the need for urgency, with which I agree.

I have tried to cover the main points. If I have omitted answers to any specific questions, I will try to remedy the deficiency later. I want to leave the House with the feeling that although the situation is extremely serious, and in some ports an extremely anxious one, there is no reason whatever for undue despondency or gloom. We mean to get the better of it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom)Scheme, 1957, dated 12th July, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th July, be approved.

Herring Subsidy (United Kingdom)No. 2 Scheme, 1957, dated 12th July, 1957 [copy laid before the House, 15th July], approved.—[Ford John Hope.]