HC Deb 21 March 1957 vol 567 cc640-4

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans

I beg to move, in page 4, line 4, after "matter", to insert: "including the provision of fishing gear".

I am delighted that the Long Title of the Bill enables me to move this Amendment. The argument is plain to every hon. Member who knows anything of the fishing industry or who is interested in it. The provision of grants for conversion covers only a part of the necessary adjuncts to an effective fishing vessel. We all know that they are onerous enough. In fact, in comparison with pre-war times they are dreadful. One of the most disquieting features of the industry today is the alarming growth in the cost of gear of all kinds. Added to that, we are to have another increase in the price of oil. So, as a capital expenditure in the running of a fishing vessel, the cost of gear is just as important as the cost of conversion from steam to oil.

I move this Amendment with diffidence because I know that the Minister had not envisaged that gear could come into the Bill. I am encouraged, however, by reading the Long Title, which states that the Bill seeks … to provide a subsidy in respect of … and for purposes connected with… an effective fishing industry.

I hope that the Minister will examine this matter. He has an ingenious mind and perhaps he can introduce a provision to allow grants for the conversion from steam to oil to cover, also, a grant for the increased cost of gear. The issue is plain. There is no need to elaborate it. We all know that the cost of gear has gone up by 800 per cent. since pre-war days. We are faced now not only with the increase of 40 per cent. in the cost of oil on 30th December last, but also, which is the purpose of the Bill, with a rise of another £1 a ton—for what reason I fail to see —in the price of oil for the fishing fleet. That is disastrous. We know very well that there will be a considerable lay-up in the fishing fleets when this new charge comes in.

For those reasons, I hope that the Minister will consider whether he can accommodate us in this matter.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I support the Amendment. I think that these words should be included and that they are necessary for the intelligent administration of the Clause, which makes provision for the payment of grants. … for the purpose of catching such fish and landing them in the United Kingdom or any such other matter… The words, "any such other matter" are so wide as to give no guide to the authority whatsoever. The words which it is sought to insert by this Amendment will give a necessary guide. They indicate that the words "such other matter" are to include the provision of fishing gear.

As my hon. Friend said, the cost of fishing gear and other things that fishermen use has gone up enormously. We live in a period of inflation. The cost of living keeps rising steadily and so does the cost of oil and fishing gear. It is right that the owners should have that fact taken into account in this Clause.

On the other hand, it is wrong that there should be put into this Clause words so wide in character as the words, "such other matter." They give no guide to the administering authority and it would find great difficulty in administering the Clause. It might ask, "What are these matters? If we give a grant for this, we may be at fault and if we give a grant for that we may be at fault."

Now we are proposing to insert these words, which are clear, concise and expressive, to include the price of fishing gear. They give a necessary guide and they improve both the Clause and the Bill.

Mr. Godber

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) described the words of the Amendment as clear, concise and expressive. I think that those words may also be applied to the speeches which he makes on this subject.

There is, however, a danger in inserting words such as these into the Clause. To do so would seem to give undue emphasis to a particular thing and might throw doubt on some other matters which one might wish to draw within the ambit of those words. In any case, it is an academic point, because the Clause as it reads at present would give power for payments in respect of fishing gear. There is no doubt about that and I give that assurance. The point is covered in the words of the Bill. Therefore, were it decided to make a grant for gear, there would be no difficulty in that respect.

This Clause is dealing not so much with grants but the method of payment of subsidies both for white fish and herring. So far, the subsidy for white fish has been limited to payments in respect of landings of fish or voyages made for the purpose of catching fish. A particular form has not yet been decided for herring, but the suggestions of the Herring Industry Board and the producers associations favour a subsidy payment per day at sea, like the white fish subsidy paid to near and middle water vessels; but no suggestion of a subsidy on fishing gear has been made.

The total sum to be paid out would not be increased by doing this. It is a matter of finding the most equitable and the fairest way of paying out the subsidy. If this suggestion is put forward, it would be possible to do it in this way, but, so far, consideration has been directed to doing it in the same way as in the case of white fish which appears to be working satisfactorily. I should have thought, therefore, that that is the most likely way for this to happen. I realise the importance of the point which the hon. Member raised, but in view of the assurance I have given may I ask that the Amendment be withdrawn.

Mr. Willey

The Parliamentary Secretary will realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) is not a Parliamentary draftsman, but allowing for that, I should like to congratulate him on his ingenuity in seeking the only opportunity that he had for raising this matter. He has elicited an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary which is not unwelcome.

My hon. Friend was seeking to emphasise the importance of the burden of the increased cost of gear by including it in the Bill. It does not look as though the Parliamentary Secretary will assist him in that endeavour, but the hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he appreciates the point which my hon. Friend has emphasised.

Sir James Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

May I ask whether my hon. Friend would assist me, because I do not quite understand what he said? This Clause deals with the method of assessing the amount of the subsidy to be paid for the landing of white fish. There is also a similar Clause, dealing with the amount to be paid for the landing of herring. Until now the white fish subsidy, taking into account not only the inshore but the other boats as well, has been based partly on the consideration of the length of the voyage made and partly on the consideration of how much fish was landed. As I understand, the purpose of including in the Bill the words or any such other matter was because we thought that the two fishing boards might wish to incorporate a third consideration. If I understood my hon. Friend aright, he did not say that there was a third consideration. It was only to be a matter of the days at sea. I would be grateful if he would explain this matter.

Mr. Hoy

I do not think that there will be any misapprehension. The whole case of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) was that it was essential for the boats to be equipped with gear but that the cost of the gear was prohibitive, and that that might prevent fishing being done in the way we want it to be done. I understood the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say that this matter was fully provided for in the drafting of the Clause. That is the sole reason why the Joint Parliamentary Secretary asked us not to press the Amendment.

Mr. Godber

That is correct. Gear would be covered by the Clause, if it is desired to cover it. There is only a certain amount of money and we have to decide the best and fairest way of portioning it out. White fish is paid for in respect of the time spent at sea and the amount of fish landed. No decision has yet been reached about herring. We are not excluding any other method if it is felt desirable, but we expect that the plan for herring will be much the same as for white fish. There is provision which covers any third, fourth or other method, including payment for gear.

Mr. Edward Evans

In view of the assurances given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, although I am disappointed with his reply.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.