HC Deb 08 May 1957 vol 569 cc1109-37

10.12 p.m.

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

I beg to move,

That the Herring Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1957, dated 17th April, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th April, be approved.

This Scheme is the final stage in implementing the promise made by my right hon. Friend on 26th February that the Government would introduce a direct herring subsidy. The White Fish and Herring Industries Act which, among other things, gave authority for the payment of this subsidy, has been speedily passed into law, and I now ask the House to approve this Scheme so that we may start the payments. No doubt there will be some hon. Members who have questions to raise or criticism to make. But on one thing we are, I am sure, agreed, namely, that it is important and necessary for the herring fishermen to receive their subsidy as soon as possible. For that reason, I hope that we may count on the co-operation of the House over this Scheme just as we could count upon it when the parent Bill was debated.

The object of the Scheme is, of course. to carry out the Government's undertaking to give the herring fishermen a subsidy broadly equivalent to the White Fish Subsidy in amount, extent and duration. We cannot achieve this simply by applying the white fish subsidy rates, because the circumstances of herring fishing are somewhat different from those of white fish catching. We have, of course, to take into account the effect of stopping the oil and meal subsidy which has hitherto been paid, and, in particular, the incidence of that subsidy as between the various classes of boats.

The rates which we have fixed, which are set out in Article 9 of the Scheme, will, we believe, achieve this broad objective. We calculate that in a full year they would give the herring fishermen about £ 300,000, which is just about what the herring boats would have got in white fish subsidy had they been employed on white fish catching in 1956 at the white fish subsidy rates now in force. That shows the broad equivalence of our proposals. I should say that the total of £ 300,000 is about three times the benefit which herring fishermen have been getting from the oil and meal subsidy, which, in the last two years, has been running at the annual rate of about £ 100,000.

Before I comment on the actual subsidy rates themselves, I would like to say a word about the duration of the Scheme. lf, as I hope, it is approved by Parliament this week, the Scheme will come into operation next Monday, 13th May. Hon. Members will have noticed from Article 2 of the Scheme that it will come to an end on 1st September next. This does not, of course, mean that we are intending only to give a very short-lived benefit to the herring industry; it merely means that during the summer we shall be reviewing the operation of the scheme and we intend before the Summer Recess to lay a further scheme. coming into operation on 1st September.

The House will know that it is customary to review the white fish subsidy scheme at this time of year, and we shall lay a new white fish subsidy scheme during the summer to operate, if approved, for the twelve months beginning 1st August. Our plans for herring, therefore, provide for a similar review in the summer so that the two subsidies can be kept in step. That is the reason for the short duration of the present Scheme. There is, in fact, a month's difference between the termination dates, because 1st September is a more convenient date for the start of a new herring subsidy scheme than 1st August, which comes in the middle of the summer herring fishing season.

Now, may I turn to the actual rates which are set out in Article 9 of the Scheme. Four different rates of subsidy are set out for the four classes into which we have divided the boats; and for the reason I have already given, neither the classes nor the subsidy rates are exactly the same as for white fish.

As hon. Members will know, the subsidy for the smaller white fish boats, generally up to 70 ft. in length, consists of 8d. per stone of gutted fish landed and 6d. for ungutted fish: and for boats over 70 ft. the subsidy takes the form of a payment at a fixed rate for each day at sea. In general, the subsidy for herring boats will be of the latter form, for that is the form which the discussions with the fishermen's representatives showed would be most acceptable to the herring fishermen.

The only exception to that is for category "A", which consists of the very smallest boats under 40 ft. in length. There are few of those and they do not make very regular voyages. It seemed appropriate, therefore, that in their case the subsidy should be so much per stone of fish landed. The rate fixed is 3d. per stone and I am told that with normal results this would work out about £ 3 per day per boat, which is much the same as those boats get at white fish.

The next category— category "B"—consists of motor vessels between 40 and 80 ft. in length. This includes practically all the Scottish herring fleet, both the drifters and the ring-net boats. They are to receive £ 5 10s. per day at sea, and since, as in the case of white fish, both the day of departure on a voyage and the day of arrival count as a day at sea, provided that no day is counted twice, it will normally mean that each boat will receive six days' subsidy per week. This will still be so if they miss a night's fishing in mid-week owing to bad weather.

Some of the boats in this category, particularly the smaller ones, will get more subsidy than they would at white fish; others will get a bit less. For example, the white fish subsidy for boats up to 70 ft., at 8d. per stone of fish, works out at an average of between £ 4 and £ 5 per day, which is less than the £ 5 10s. we have fixed for herring; and the majority of seine net boats over 70 ft. at white fish get a daily payment of £ 6 10s. as against the £ 5 10s. we are proposing for herring.

However, after looking at the accounts which the fishermen have submitted for their operations in 1956, and bearing in mind that the smaller boats on the whole will feel the withdrawal of the oil and meal subsidy more than the larger boats, the Government consider that this is a fair arrangement. I am satisfied, as far as one can be satisfied on a subject of this kind, that for the Scottish boats the proposals will broadly achieve equality with white fish.

There is one special point I should mention. It is about the Isle of Man. The Act authorises the payment of subsidy only in respect of voyages made for the purpose of landing herring in the United Kingdom or in respect of herring landed in the United Kingdom. The Isle of Man is not, of course, part of the United Kingdom, and the scheme. therefore, does not authorise payment of subsidy there. We are, however, proposing to give the Board a grant of 5s. per cran on all surplus herring purchased by it in the Isle of Man on condition that it pays the fishermen 5s. more than it otherwise would. This is the sole exception to the decision to withdraw the oil and meal subsidy, and is justified simply because we cannot pay ordinary subsidy there.

The third category of vessel concerned in the herring subsidy, category "C," consists of motor vessels of over 80 ft. in length. They are to receive £ 6 a day, the rate payable to motor trawlers of between 80 ft. and 90 ft. engaged in white fish catching. It is less than the rate of £ 10 paid to motor trawlers between 90 ft. and 100 ft. This is, however, counter-balanced by the fact that all steam vessels engaged in herring fishing, category "D," are to receive £ 9 per day, whereas steam vessels of the relevant sizes engaged in white fish catching receive 10s. or £ 6 a day.

Thus again, while preserving broad equality with the white fish subsidy over the whole range of vessels over 80 ft., we have given some rather more and others rather less. The vessels concerned are practically all English, and my right hon. Friend who is responsible for the fishing industry south of the Border is satisfied that these proposals achieve a fair distribution of the subsidy having regard to the financial results of the different classes of vessel and those of comparable white fish vessels.

On the evidence available, the motor vessels should, despite their lower subsidy, make profits which, although small in relation to the capital employed, are materially better than the financial results of comparable white fish vessels. My right hon. Friend hopes that this assistance will encourage the development of modern motor vessels at East Anglia. At the same time, the higher rate to be paid to the steam vessels, which made considerable losses in 1956, should help to moderate the very sharp decline in their numbers in recent years and should give the owners sufficient confidence to stay in the industry and replace the old steam vessels with new motor vessels.

There are only a few other matters of explanation with which I need detain the House. Subsidy is payable only in respect of vessels not exceeding 140 ft. in length and for voyages to the near. middle and inshore waters. These limits are laid down in the Act, and I am advised that they should not in fact have a restrictive effect in the herring industry. since herring vessels do not normally exceed 100 ft. and do not fish the distant waters. In addition, no herring subsidy will be paid where a claim is made for white fish subsidy or where the proceeds from sale of herring amount to less than half the gross proceeds of the voyage. We clearly ought not to pay two subsidies for the same voyage.

With these explanations, I strongly commend this Scheme to the House. It will, I am sure, be of substantial benefit to the herring fishermen. At least herring fishermen will now be competing on fair and equal terms with their white fish brethren, and the fortunes of the two sections of the industry will be determined by consumer preference, which is as it should be. We have not been able to go as far as the herring fishermen and, perhaps, some hon. Members would wish. but if the question is asked, "Will things be better for the industry as a result of this Scheme being passed by Parliament?" the answer is, "Yes, much better."

10.24 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

We on this side of the House, of course, welcome this Scheme. It is a result of continued pressure by those of us on both sides of the House who have been interested in herring fishing and have watched its steady decline over the last few years. It is gratifying to find that at last the Government have taken cognisance of feeling in the herring industry and have brought this Scheme into being.

Before I heard the explanation by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, I was a little worried that the Scheme was of only six months' duration, because we remember that when we were discussing the Scheme for the White Fish Authority one of the criticisms made of it was that it was of only short duration and that that left a feeling of instability in the industry and militated against longterm planning.

I am very glad to know that the Minister will bring before the House again before 1st September another scheme in which, I hope, he will take heed of the lessons that are to be learned from this Scheme during its operation in the interval. We, and particularly those of us who represent East Anglian constituencies, have watched with dismay the decline of the herring industry on the East Coast. In the last debate, I quoted a prominent fisherman in my own constituency who said that the East Anglian herring season was finished. That was an outlook of sheer despair. Anything that will subscribe to the arrest of the retrogression is to be warmly welcomed.

Although we warmly welcome this proposal, we cannot wholly commend it. It is a rather timorous approach to the problem. One of the objects of the Scheme was to secure stability. It was to ensure that there was sufficient manpower and that the drift from the herring industry to the white fish industry, which is a very grave factor in the decline of the herring industry apart from the catches, should be prevented. The Scheme was designed to keep men in the herring industry. This drift was largely due to the poor rewards comparable with those of fishermen in the white fish fleets. It was also due to the fact that the rewards in the white fish fleets were associated with a very substantial subsidy granted to the near- and middle-water fleets. These rewards were shared among the working fishermen, and that naturally made a very strong appeal to them.

The poor catches, of course, were due to over-fishing. I was very glad to hear from the Minister not long ago that there was an attempt among the countries bordering the North Sea to stop that iniquitous fishing for immature herring. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us of the success of the negotiations.

There are other anomalies in this proposal. First, the Minister has excused the direct grant of 3d. a stone for catches on the rather poor ground that there are not many of them and that it affects only a few boats. It reminds one of the housemaid's baby which was only a little one. This affects the very smallest men of all, and when 8d. a stone is paid for the white fish in the smaller boats it is very anomalous that only 3d. a stone should be paid for the herring. The schedule to the white fish subsidy contained a more balanced and graduated scale of payments, rising to the fantastic figure, which I very much criticised, of £ 22 a day for the encouragement of the very vessels that we wanted to go out of business— the steam trawlers which were very much out-of-date.

The bulk of the herring vessels which operate from my constituency and neighbouring constituencies in the East Anglian herring season are of about the 70 ft. to 90 ft. mark. They are rather prejudicially treated in comparison with the Scottish vessels. One must always almost apologise in the House for being an Englishman when a debate on fishing is taking place.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth) indicated assent.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Member is nodding his head vigorously. The Scotsmen seem to go away from these debates with a great deal of satisfaction, and they seem to be very generously treated. It is anomalous that a vessel of up to 40 ft. should receive £ 5 10s. whilst a vessel up to 90 ft. receives only £ 6.

Let us look at what that means. These larger drifters as we know, very often they are double-purpose boats— employ a crew of about eleven men. If they are to get only £ 6 a day, then we may say that half of that will go to the crew, and if it is divided among the crew— it is not quite equally divided among them— how much will they get? There is nothing there to induce men to remain in the herring industry rather than go into the white fish industry. The rewards to the men are not adequate to our problem of retaining the men in the herring industry.

We welcome the subsidy. I hope the Minister will continue his negotiations with the men who are actually catching the fish. They are only just grateful to him; if they wanted to thank him they would say "Thank you" and not "Thanks". The feeling among them is that the Government felt that vis-à-vis the white fish industry they had to do something owing to the pressure brought to bear upon them, and the men feel that the Government could have gone a good deal further. If the Government had brought the daily grant up to £ 8, as the industry desired, it would not have been a great deal in relation to the global sum of £ 300,000, but it would have made a difference to the prosperity of the industry and its attractiveness to the fishermen.

I want to refer to the discontent among other sections of the industry, particularly the canners. There is very great disquiet among the processors and canners about the price structure. Time and time again the Minister has been approached to reexamine the subject, to obtain a much better understanding and to give a much more realistic figure to these people who perform one of the most necessary ancillary operations in the industry. I observe that Mr. Speaker is looking in my direction. I will not trespass on the generosity of the Chair by going into the structure of the herring price.

I conclude with a modified blessing for the Scheme. I hope that when it comes to be re-examined in five months' time the Minister will give a little more consideration to boats in the 70–90 ft. class. It would be a great encouragement to the catchers if that were to happen.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

When the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1957, was receiving its Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: The rates will be worked out after consultation with the Board and with the fishermen's associations in the same way as we do ordinarily and will be given effect to by a statutory scheme subject to the approval of both Houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1957; Vol. 566, c. 1001.] I have been in consultation with the Scottish Herring Producers Association and other associations, and they take the view that they have not been adequately consulted in connection with the framing of the Scheme.

I expected from the Minister's declaration that a scheme would be evolved which would be contributed to by all the interests concerned. We are told that the herring industry, from a subsidy point of view, is going to be put on the same basis as the seine netters. One would naturally have inferred that there had been a certain measure of equity introduced into the establishment of that common basis.

None of the proposals put forward by all associations engaged in the catching of herring has been accepted in so far as the figures are concerned. The Government's figures fall very far short of what was considered the essential minima by the catchers' associations. I will not go over them because they were gone over in detail in the Second Reading debate on the Bill, but there is a very grave disparity between them.

One naturally asks who decides on the figures and who determines the basis upon which this document is founded, because no one closely associated with the herring industry would agree that there is any measure of equity whatsoever in the figures which we are discussing tonight in relation to the herring industry. White fishing is reasonably successful at the present time, and it has been reasonably successful over a fairly long period, but the subsidy which it obtains is the major factor in achieving that measure of success.

The white fish industry has assured markets and all good quality fish that is landed commands a fairly good market price. Bad conditions do prevail on occasion, but, in the main, the white fish industry has a reasonably good prospect of instantaneous sale at reasonably good prices if the fish is good.

Certain factors must be borne in mind in achieving this measure of equity which, I insist, should have been given in these figures. Certain considerations apply to the herring industry which warrant very special treatment. The first is gear costs. The gear costs of the herring fishing vessel are infinitely greater than those of the seine net vessel. That gear is wearing out. The industry has had a long period of failure and there has been little or no replacement of gear— at least there have not been the funds to maintain that replacement.

I need not remind the House what happened when an attempt was made to depress the white fish subsidy for gutted fish from 10d. to 6d. a stone. The industry was up in arms about it and so were those hon. Members of the House who represented fishing constituencies, with the result that a middle course was accepted and 8d. was fixed which enabled the white fish industry to just get by.

I hope that my hon. Friend realises that the herring industry is on its beam ends. It is nearly down and out. Not only does it require sustenance; it needs revival. This is the time at which that help should have been given. The proposals of the practical men have been rejected, and one naturally wants to know how these figures were arrived at. Was it a case of some cheeseparing guesswork on the part of the Department or of the Herring Industry Board? They certainly did not come from the men who are completely au fait with conditions obtaining in the herring industry today.

There is another consideration. Is it generally realised that a vessel of 60 ft. length, for instance— which is about the average for an inshore vessel— will have a crew of from six to eight men if it is a seine net vessel, but ten if it is a herring fishing vessel? That is a consideration which should be borne in mind straight away. It shows that more generous treatment is needed for the herring fisher. Again, we must consider the inter-season rest periods, which are absolutely essential for the rehabilitation of gear— the change-over of gear and its repair— and during those periods the men are not at sea and not earning. That factor should also be taken into account in fixing this subsidy.

I understand that it would be out of order to talk about oil and meal, but 1 am comforted by the thought that this will be only a short-term Measure, and that it will be reviewed. But I want it to be reviewed not within six months but within six weeks, because it will be found that it will go no way to achieve the end which we had in view when the idea was first mooted.

I shall not vote against the proposals; I shall accept them with reluctance, knowing that they will not do the job which it was hoped they would do. I also sincerely hope that in the meantime there will not be a further secession from the ranks of the herring fishers. I will not say anything about the Herring Fishing Board because that would probably be out of order, but I hope that the opportunity will arise in the very near future when we can air some of our grievances in that matter.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister has received from The Scottish Herring Producers' Association strong representations against this Scheme. I do not intend to go over the arguments it put forward, but most hon. Members who represent constituencies whose members are engaged in herring fishing cannot feel that this Scheme, by itself, will attract many more men or boats into this industry, or make it a really lucrative life. It may equalise Government assistance between white fish and herring, on the face of it, but there is no doubt that the ultimate reward for herring fishing in my constituency will be too small to instil any optimism about the future of the industry.

The Minister probably knows the figures concerned with the various types of boat. He will have noticed how small are the net average earnings of the boats in my constituency— round about £ 2,300. Considering the very long hours and the exhausting type of work, the remuneration per man is very miserable. A herring fisherman going to sea at night in all sorts of weather and running considerable risk is not earning any more than a comparatively untrained clerk in an office. I do not think that the subsidy will be sufficient to make up for the poor reward.

As the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) said, the industry is caught between the poor returns and the ever-rising price of gear. Fewer and fewer boats are prepared to equip themselves with the necessary gear. The Minister mentioned that the subsidy was worth three times the oil and meal subsidy, which I think was about £ 100,000. That is an improvement, but it is not necessarily making the same reward to all boats. This is a very serious matter.

The Minister has said that he will keep this matter under review and that a new scheme will be brought in before 1st September. The effect of the reduction of oil and meal prices upon the price of fish is a factor which must be kept under very close review, because there is a great deal of anxiety about it.

One hon. Member on this side of the House spoke about the very small vessels. It is true that there are very few of them, but, as I see it, not only will they get a smaller reward— I think it is 3d. per stone— but if they are kept in port through bad weather they will get nothing at all. As the Minister said, the larger vessels can be kept in port by bad weather not only for one night a week— as he indicated— but for three nights a week and yet get a voyage payment for every day. I think that is a right interpretation of the Bill. While I welcome it on their behalf, it makes the position of the smaller boats still more unfair. I do not know whether anything can be done to improve their position.

Naturally, one will not oppose this, because it does something for the industry. But, so far as Shetland is concerned, it would be wrong to leave the Government with the impression that this will put a rapidly declining industry on its feet. It will not bring back the curers or give confidence to the canners and other subsidiary trades which have been so important in many Scottish ports in days gone by.

10.47 p.m.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

If I may venture to say so, Mr. Speaker, you know as well as I do that the herring industry is one of great importance. It has produced as fine a breed of men as exists in this country, men who have rendered invaluable service to the Fleet and to the nation in two world wars. From time to time it has altered the course of history. Now it is dying. It is dying for one simple reason. Costs have steadily outpaced earnings since the war, so that it no longer affords an adequate living wage to the fishermen. They are leaving it to go to the white fishing industry in which they can earn more money, or else they are getting more lucrative employment ashore. Crews simply cannot be obtained. They are not being obtained for the forthcoming summer fishing. New blood is not coming into the industry. The sons of fishermen are no longer anxious to join their fathers in what was once a great adventure.

The number of drifters in membership of the Scottish Herring Producers' Association has fallen from 365 in 1948 to 185, a drop of over 50 per cent. It will fall further this year. The decline in the fleet prosecuting the great East Anglian herring fishing, upon which in Tudor times the strength of the Navy was largely based, is even more startling. In 1949, 473 boats were working from Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Last year there were only 189. This year there will be fewer still.

We must admit that this herring subsidy is an effort to stop the rot. It is to be paid per day at sea, and that is unquestionably the correct method. It has only one defect, but that defect is fatal for the purpose of attracting fishermen back to the herring industry. It is that the subsidy is quite inadequate. If we take into account the fact that a herring drifter requires at least two more of a crew than a drifter which is seine-netting, it does not bring the herring subsidy level with the white fish subsidy. By and large, if we consider the herring drifters from all the Scottish ports, the smaller ones and the ones between 60 and 80 feet, which are the ones with which the fishermen in my constituency are mainly concerned, it cannot possibly be maintained that the proposed subsidy is equal to the white fish subsidy.

This subsidy must also be considered in relation to the recently published price structure imposed on the industry, in the teeth of vehement objections, by the Herring Industry Board. It would be out of order to discuss these prices apart from their impact upon the subsidy scheme, but the impact is direct and great. A condition of the subsidy has been the withdrawal of the Exchequer grant in respect of the reduction, of herring to oil and meal. That is part of the "package deal." It means that the fishermen will get about 40s. a cran at ports where factories are situated, and only 20s. a cran elsewhere, as against a minimum last year of 42s. and 28s. In fact, the great bulk of herring consigned to the meal and oil factories last year was sold at either 42s. or 35s. This will hit my own fishermen hard, but it is death for the ring net fishermen on the West Coast of Scotland, unless the general subsidy is increased. That one can just be washed up. It is the end.

In addition, in its recent publication of price rules, the Herring Industry Board has decided to knock out the freshing and most remunerative side of the industry at the North-East ports of landing by fixing a high minimum price at the same level as that for the southern ports, regardless of transport charges; and also to knock out, as the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) has pointed out, the expanding export trade in canned herring. Why, I do not know. It really is not much use subsidising an industry which is already being sabotaged from within.

In our debate on the Second Reading of the Bill under which this Scheme is being introduced, I and various of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House made speeches on this particular subject. I think that we put our points of view rather forcibly, and Lord Macpherson in another place also put the case very forcibly. On both occasions the Government said that they would give deep and careful consideration to what we said. Nothing happened— no consideration of any kind, so far as we can see, was given— because the Scheme has gone through without a comma being altered.

I feel pretty strongly about this, because ten years ago I was instrumental in bringing about a meeting between the fishermen and the canners which resulted in a system of fixed price agreements, with allocations, which has been a tremendous success throughout those ten years. That has all now gone by the board; and the Food Manufacturers' Federation has been driven to say that, if this system cannot continue, the proposed statutory minimum prices are quite unrealistic and will result in the loss of our export trade. Last year, 85 per cent. of the total herrings canned were exported.

Listen to this, Mr. Speaker— from the Scottish Herring Producers' Association: The Association is convinced that the rules fixing herring minimum prices, so far, at least

Mr. Speaker

I think the hon. Member is commenting rather upon the Scheme of the Herring Industry Board for minimum prices than upon the subsidy Scheme. I quite agree that it is relevant to mention the matter, but it cannot be discussed in detail on this Scheme.

Sir R. Boothby

Thank you, Mr. Speaker— I did not altogether expect to get as far as this. The report from which I was quoting did say that the effect of these rules on the processors of herring would more than offset the benefits proposed to be given to the industry by way of direct subsidy to herring fishing vessels; so I thought that at least it came under the cover of this particular subsidy scheme which we are now discussing.

I have spoken with a little bitterness on this subject. Heaven knows, I have long since given up hope of being consulted by any Government Department about anything. But I have been mixed up in the herring industry for over 30 years and would have to be a mental case if I did not know something about it; and the same thing goes for my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie). They never seem to talk much about it to us; but they produce these subsidies and regulations from time to time, and then we are obliged to pick holes in them, and sometimes they are amended and sometimes they are not.

It is a bit hard to see this great herring industry gradually declining over the years almost to extinction; and I think that the Herring Industry Board's sustained ineptitude, with, I must add, the heroic support of the Government, is largely responsible for it. This is a bit hard to face. The Board does, on occasion, consult the industry; but never on any occasion pays any attention to the advice it is given. I must add that, as against the White Fish Authority, it has for the time being completely lost the confidence of the Scottish herring fishing industry.

Tonight, we can do nothing but pass this subsidy, for what it is worth— but it is not worth much.

I believe that the absolute minimum required to retain the existing personnel in our greatly reduced herring fleet in Scotland is a subsidy of at least £ 6 10s. per day at sea for boats between 60 ft. and 80 ft. in length, which go to make up the major part of the Scottish fleet; with proportional increases in respect of other boats. That, I think, is the minimum, especially in view of the new prices. Between now and September, the Government have got to make up their minds whether the herring fishing industry is worth the expenditure of something between another £ 50,000 and £ 100,000 a year, or whether it is not. When one thinks of the global total of the Budget, well over £ 4,000 million, and the amount given in subsidies— in my view, rightly— to agriculture, it seems fantastic to suggest that the survival of the herring fishing industry is not worth another £ 50,000.

I conclude simply by saying this. If the Government allow this great industry to collapse, because that is what is happening at the moment— it is inexorable, and one can see it from every figure one gets— if they refuse to spend this trivial additional sum of money to save it, I believe that they will live to regret the day they did it.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) said that he spoke with some bitterness. I can assure the House that his bitterness is a comparatively mild bleat compared with what the Clyde fishermen are saying about the Government and this subsidy. Far from agreeing that it is generous, they condemn the meanness of the Minister. They found him extremely unsympathetic and unco-operative in negotiations, and they are extremely critical of the whole Scheme.

If there is a case for giving subsidies to the herring industry, there is a case for doing the job well. What the herring fishermen on the West Coast of Scotland say is that the removal of the oil and meal subsidy has placed the small herring fishing communities on the West Coast in very difficult circumstances indeed. I have here a statement from the Clyde Fishermen's Association, giving some figures about the twenty-three vessels now employed in the Clyde. 1 see from them that the crew member's average earnings were £ 427 2s. 7d. last year. The average number of weeks worked was 45. The average earnings per week worked out at £ 9 9s. 10d. The average number of hours worked per week worked out at 90. The labour share, as a rate per man-hour, worked out at 2s. 1¼d. an hour. If those are the earnings of the men, can one wonder that they are not likely to stay very long in the herring industry?

The argument of the Minister was that now they are going to be raised to the level of the white fish industry; but, as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East said, they think in terms of the farmer. They want to know why they should get such miserable earnings compared with the farmer and farm worker. Let me illustrate the case as put by the Clyde fishermen, the very moderate case submitted in their memorandum. They say that the shock as a result of the withdrawal of the oil and meal subsidy has been very considerable and that they will, in fact, be worse off. The Minister may nod his head, but I assure him that the fishermen on the Clyde are very bitter about the way he refused to listen to their case.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to contradict these figures which have been supplied to me. The letter states: The proposed subsidy is inequitable in its results in that there is only one factory port on the West Coast of Scotland. This port, Stornoway, is far from the ring net fishing grounds. These ring net fishermen will almost inevitably have to sell their surplus herring at 20s. per cran— five for 1d., against the 4½d. paid to the farmer for an egg. It is the contrast with the agricultural industry that one hears about when the fishermen state their grievances. The Scheme may mean that some parts of the country do better than others, but it will certainly be disastrous to the fishermen living in the small communities, such as Girvan, Maidens, Dunure and Ballantrae and on the coast of Argyllshire.

We are told: Fishermen will not be persuaded by the direct subsidy to work all night and then steam eight hours across the Minch for 20s. per cran. Can we expect them to do so? The whole psychology is wrong, and the result is that boats will not put to sea. That does not look like saving the herring industry if boats do not go to sea. The letter continues: The direct subsidy divided according to custom will result in a married member of the crew getting no more than he would get on the dole. If that is the Scheme, what is the use of it? We are told that The inducement of catching herring at five for Id. will not get him to sea, and it should be stressed that during the summer months he can sell his herring for little else. So the fishermen I represent think that the Scheme is miserable, mean and niggardly and will not achieve the results which the Minister has stated.

Of course, £ 300,000 is a comparatively small sum in subsidies these days. The Scheme will be only half the cost of putting the "Britannia" to sea for a year. When the fishermen think of the other subsidies— the subsidies to those who pay Surtax, for example— they consider that they have been very harshly treated. They believe that the Scheme will work down in practice and that unless something better comes along it will ultimately mean the end of the herring fleet on the Clyde.

11.3 p.m.

Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife, East)

I cannot help thinking that some of those who have spoken this evening have forgotten the debate that took place on the Second Reading of the Bill, the purpose of which— we all recognised and applauded it— was to bring to the herring industry the same measure of subsidy as was, and is now, enjoyed by the white fish industry.

According to my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, mathematically the Government have kept their pledge. I do not know whether it is right or wrong — I have not worked it out— but I accept what my noble Friend has said that, mathematically, the Scheme will bring to the herring industry some £ 200,000 a year more than it is now getting. If that is so, it is at least as much as the Government promised on the recent Bill, and, in fact, it is a little more. On the face of it and on the figures which have been presented, that appears to be so.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), looking at the breakdown of the general global addition, doubt whether equity has been produced or, to use the words of my noble Friend, there has been "broad equivalence." Why is it that my hon. Friends doubt what my noble Friend said? I am sure it is not because they doubt he was speaking the truth. It is not because of that at all. It is because when we have broken down this figure to see what this section of the industry will get we find it will get less than was hoped. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire, looking particularly at the group of boats he so ably represents, finds that that group may not be as well off as he expected. What is apparent, therefore, is that it is in the breakdown of this £ 200,000 that we are running into trouble.

My noble Friend admitted that in his speech. He said some would be getting more than others. The large boats, for example, in comparison with others are getting a poor deal. I must say I have the profoundest sympathy with the ring net fishermen on the West coast of Scotland. All the time I was at the Scottish Office, as my noble Friend will find, I was striving to try to do something for that group of fishermen, because for a long time they have been running into trouble, largely because the herring have gone away. I do not assert this because I do not know the facts, but it would appear that this is another group of fishermen who have not done as well out of the Scheme as I expected they would.

What is the conclusion one comes to? It is this. Obviously we cannot suggest detailed alterations to the Scheme tonight. It would not be in order to do so. However, I hope my noble Friend will take to heart the message, the plea, the demand from all parts of the House tonight, and which I emphasise. He must examine with the greatest possible care at once the effect of these various figures upon the various groups of fishermen before he introduces his new Scheme at the end of July.

My own view is that we shall not have made a proper review by the end of July. It is only a couple of months, six weeks probably, before the accountants will consider the figures. In any case, it will be a short-term review covering only part of one herring fishing season. I do not think we can make a good judgment in much less than nine months. Therefore, we shall have to regard the new Scheme in July as temporary.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire got the point, of course, as he always does. If, having reviewed the figures, my noble Friend comes to the conclusion, as I think he must, that a higher measure of help is required, and if the total comes to £ 50,000, £ 70,000 or even £ 100,000, I am sure the House would be ready to grant that £ 100,000, considering the total size of the subsidy going to the white fish industry as a whole. If the £ 100,000 would make all the difference to other sections of the fleet, my noble Friend ought to fight the Treasury to get it.

I know he would have liked to have done that. We have talked about this before. We were thinking of this before I left office. In all these matters, of course, the Scottish Office has to persuade the Treasury that what it proposes is right, just, sound, and a proper use of the nation's money, and the Treasury, naturally, are always stiff. They have to be. It is their duty to be so. However, there are times when the Scottish Office has to fight.

All I am asking is for a careful review in the next month or two, or for a longer time if necessary. If it is then proved to the Secretary of State, as I think it will be, that changes must be made in the detailed application of these subsidies, I warn him that the House, including his hon. Friends behind him on this side, will demand a bigger amount of money for that section of the industry.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Great Yarmouth)

Some hon. Members sometimes get a little impatient with those who represent fishing interests because we all "have a go" as a rule when the House debates the fishing industry. The reason for our doing so is that we are really worried about what is happening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) talked about the debt that the country owed to the fishermen as a whole and about the things that the fishermen had done in the past for Britain. I merely claim to say tonight that the people of this country were very grateful in the past to the people of Yarmouth for taking to their bosom, so to speak, Nelson and, with him, Lady Hamilton. The people of this country were also grateful to Yarmouth because it supplied many of the gallant men who fought at Nelson's side. The country is no longer grateful to Yarmouth, even though Yarmouth suffered greatly in two world wars and received no adequate compensation for its suffering.

I think that it would be accepted by most people that now is the time when Yarmouth is suffering more than almost any port in England, because it relies solely on herring for fishing. This is the time when the country might think that it could do more to help the herring fishermen at Yarmouth, and the fishermen who used to come in great numbers to Yarmouth from Scotland but no longer do so.

I am informed that to help the motor-driven vessel of over 80 ft. by paying a subsidy of up to £ 8 a day, instead of the proposed £ 6, would cost only about £ 12,000. If that is true, it is very difficult to see why the Government decided upon £ 6. I have had a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which contains one remark that greatly puzzles me. It says: The object of the white fish subsidy has always been to moderate losses and not to ensure profits. That seems to me to be the economics of madness.

It might be argued that there should never have been a herring subsidy or a Herring Industry Board, and that the Chairman of the Board, before agreeing to the dissolution of the herring industry, should have resigned. It could be argued that if the Board had not been set up, the industry would not have relied upon the Board and might have fought harder for itself. But I cannot understand a statement of principle that a subsidy is not designed to help the industry to make a profit but only to ensure that losses might not be so bad. Is that the principle of subsidy as applied to agriculture? If it were, I doubt whether the country would support giving any subsidy at all to a dying industry.

It may be that I and my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) are talking nonsense, but it may be that we are not. If it is true that the country is throwing a subsidy away, or at any rate that part of the subsidy now proposed will be thrown away because the industry will still die, and, in the words of the Ministry, a subsidy is designed to moderate losses, not to ensure profits, then I do not think that we should give a subsidy at all.

On the other hand, the Ministry says that … the rate for motor vessels of 80 foot and over … should, we think, give reasonable encouragement to the owners of this class of vessel and will stimulate further the development of modern motor vessels which we are very anxious to see… How can the production of more modern vessels be stimulated on the principle that the punpose of the subsidy is to encourage companies to sustain less of a loss but not to make a profit? I do not see the logic of that.

I hope that as a result of the encouragement that the Minister has had from my hon. Friends who have been so close to this industry for so long, and bearing in mind the great experiment that is now being carried out at Yarmouth— on which I cannot speak in detail without transgressing the rules of order— the Minister will consider very carefully what has been said in this debate. If he cannot do anything before this Scheme expires, I hope that he will seriously consider doing something better when the matter is reconsidered.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)

I do not want to detain the House for very long in supporting the arguments which have been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby), and the hon. Members for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimoncl).

I should like to add my plea to the Minister to watch very carefully the situation affecting the small ring net fishermen, particularly on the West Coast. There is no doubt that this subsidy will affect these ring net fishermen very seriously.

Last year in the Minch we had the system of grading ports. A result of this subsidy is that that system has now been stopped. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire referred to the remarks made by Clyde fishermen on the subject of vessels steaming to Stornoway. There is an extraordinary situation in the Minch now. Not long ago I made an extensive tour of the Western seaboard of my constituency, and the fishermen whom I met were very worried when they heard about the proposed withdrawal of the oil and meal subsidy. The situation is ludicrous. Boats are now being forced to go to Stornoway. I have nothing against Stornoway, but when one finds that the boats are forced to go to Stornoway to get better prices because there is a factory there, but that there are no factories on the mainland of the West Coast. the situation is ridiculous.

I am glad that the subsidy is to be paid only for an interim period, and in the meantime I trust that the Minister will watch the situation carefully. There is no doubt that this Scheme is introduced to try to persuade the fishermen not to change over to white fishing but to remain herring fishermen. The Minister will not achieve that aim unless he watches the situation of the factories concerned with oil and meal.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff said, the lack of consultation is deplorable. The Herring Industry Board seems to make up its mind what it considers right, and then does it without real consultation with the fishermen concerned. I hope that one day we shall have only one Board dealing with white fish and herring. It is ridiculous, when we are paying a subsidy —

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is raising issues which are much wider than this Scheme.

Mr. MacLeod

I will leave that aspect, Mr. Speaker.

I hope the Minister will carefully watch the position of the ring net fishermen. After all, on the West Coast and in my constituency we are trying to keep the ports alive. The argument is advanced that the subsidy obtained by the fishermen will be better than that last year because not so many herring were then sold for oil and meal. The reason for that was that more herring were being sold for pet food. Because of the fewer herring in East Anglia the firms have been coming north. Now the argument is put forward that the subsidy will be a much greater encouragement to the fishermen because it will bring them more than they were getting for oil and meal. However, the explanation is that they were getting a better price for pet food. and so it was natural that the fishermen should sell their herring for pet food. The Minister must watch the situation carefully. There has only to be good fishing off East Anglia and the income of the fishermen in the northern ports will disappear. I hope the Minister will not be influenced by the other argument, which has no doubt been put to him.

I dare say that we shall be reviewing this situation shortly, and I hope that we shall see a completely new policy in respect of oil and meal. Otherwise it will be disastrous for the owners of small boats. The ring net fishermen depend to a great extent on disposing of surplus herring for oil and meal, and it is a ridiculous situation when fishermen receive a price of perhaps 42s. in Stornoway but only 20s. in some other places. I hope that the Minister will watch the situation very carefully.

11.23 p.m.

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

If an Englishman may dare to intervene in this "Scottish" debate, I should like to make three points.

First, Article 3 refers to "registered owner". Does that mean the registered owner of one or more vessels? Secondly, I was glad to hear about the Isle of Man, because it seemed a little unfair that if herring fishermen had to land their catches there they should be penalised for it.

Thirdly, Article 11 says: Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 9 of this scheme, if any structural alteration is made to any vessel which will increase its length, grant may be paid at the rate appropriate to the length of the vessel before the alteration was carried out … What does that mean? Is it suggested that someone will build a false bow on a vessel to make the vessel slightly larger in order to qualify for more subsidy? It is an extraordinary Article, and we ought to have an explanation of its meaning. An alteration to a vessel would be likely Ito cost far more than any additional subsidy that was obtained.

11.25 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

The Scheme has been introduced because there was a great run-down in the size of the herring fishing fleet, because examination of statistics submitted by the Scottish Herring Producers' Association showed that the income of the fishermen was deplorably low, and because there was widespread evidence of loss of confidence by the herring fishermen in their industry.

The Joint Under-Secretary will be under no illusions by this hour, after having listened to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken for the fishermen of their constituencies and made it clear that this Scheme is not going to repair the damage done to the herring fishing industry. It is perhaps arguable whether this kind of scheme will ever do the trick. I am not blaming the Under-Secretary for bringing forward a Scheme which merely produces another subsidy on a temporary basis, another expedient to deal with the long-term ills in the industry. On many occasions in the past I was myself in that position— introducing schemes and listening to debates, and making, I am sure, wholly inadequate replies at the end of the discussion.

It has been made abundantly clear that the provision in the Scheme is not enough. The Under-Secretary gave a little explanation during, I think, the Second Reading debate or a subsequent debate on the White Fish and Herring Industries Act as to why the oil and meal subsidy was being discontinued. But he has heard tonight what those hon. Members think who speak for the ring net fishermen in particular. Indeed, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby), who does not normally speak for ring netters but for the North-East Coast fishermen, said that the withdrawal of the subsidy meant death to the ring netters. Perhaps his language was too strong, but the ring netters are pretty nearly dead already. If any withdrawal of help leads to a worsening of the position, then, of course, it will mean death to the livelihood of those fishermen.

Fishermen who have spoken to me on the subject have deeply regretted the withdrawal of the subsidy and have said that, although they accepted the principle of the subsidy, there should be in addition to it a payment by result, a continuation of the subsidy in respect of those herring which are taken for reduction to oil and meal.

The Under-Secretary has commended the scheme to us as one which he hopes will help to restore the confidence of the herring fishermen. He has accepted the fact that the earnings of these men in the past year or so have been deplorably low. In those circumstances, was there any justification for foreclosing on so many of the fishermen on the West Coast who got their boats under the grant and loan scheme? As it is accepted that the industry was in a poor state and earnings were deplorably low, were not the Government over-hasty in foreclosing on a number of people in the last six months? Could the Minister say how many were foreclosed on in that period?

When I sat on the other side of the House, I used to listen to the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire complaining about the Herring Industry Board. Fishermen have complained to me that the Board always seems to be far too distant from them, too unfriendly and unco-operative. The same fishermen at other times are fishing for white fish, and they tell me that their relations with the White Fish Authority are excellent. When the same people give one information about the two authorities, it leads one to suspect that there must be something really wrong with the Herring Industry Board.

The fishermen tell me that money alone will not recreate the necessary changes, that there must be changes in their relations with the Board and that there must be wider consultation before changes are made. I take the view that this industry is not going to be saved by the introduction from time to time of palliatives of the sort that we are discussing tonight. Something bigger must be done. If I were to offer some suggestions I suppose that I should be out of order.

But here we have a Scheme which is to be replaced by another, which is to be introduced before the Summer Recess, so that there cannot be more than two months before the Government will be getting down to the job of producing the next scheme. The Joint Under-Secretary has had made very clear to him tonight the view that the next scheme must be more generous to the herring fishermen than this one is, and I hope that it will be more generous not only in the matter of the subsidies made available but also in its conception of what is needed to bring about a recovery in this great herring industry.

11.30 p.m.

Lord John Hope

If I may address the House again in reply to the debate, I am sure that the House would wish me to do so as briefly as possible. That is always desirable, but it is probably more so at this hour than it would have been earlier. I shall try to answer the spirit of the debate, and if I omit to answer any detailed questions I will put that right afterwards, as one always tries to do.

I appreciate most sincerely the force of feeling which has been demonstrated in all quarters of the House and, on the whole, the sense of responsibility which has been shown. I know that hon. Members on both sides feel that the Government might have done better, but some have made it equally clear that the Government might have done worse. There is nothing for any Government to be complacent about in that, and the Government are not complacent. On the other hand, as the House knows very well, we have had to work within certain limits, and most hon. Members pitched their criticisms against the true background in relation to which we were working, which was that we were trying to put the herring industry upon an equal footing with the white fish industry. If that premise is accepted it can be said that some of the conclusions which one or two hon. Members were inclined to make went rather beyond it.

I do not want to weary the House at this stage with too many figures, but I think that I must deal briefly with one or two. In answering this debate I must show, if I can, that the extremely gloomy forecast which several hon. Members have made is really not borne out by the figures as foreseen on a perfectly reasonable basis— a forecast based upon the figures as we know them to have been so far.

The House will probably agree that the particular category which was singled out more than any other was that of the ring-net vessels on the West Coast. Many hon. Members concentrated upon the lot of their crews. We believe that, on balance, the ring-net vessels will be substantial gainers and not losers. I suggest that whatever group one takes one must introduce the factor of comparison between what will happen as a result of the subsidy and what has been happening up to now. If the net result is a gain, surely that is not the language of death or destruction in the industry.

On the basis of their average catches over a 45-week period last year the withdrawal of the oil and meal subsidy should cost the ring-net vessels from the West Coast about £ 729 a vessel. But if they manage to fish for four nights a week. and therefore qualify for five days' subsidy, they can get about £ 1,237 a year out of the new subsidy; so that on balance they are about £ 500 better off per boat. That, to me, seems at least an encouraging figure.

It has been rightly said that there is a dearth of factory ports on that coast, but planning approval has been given for a factory to be built at Mallaig subject to certain conditions. The detailed design and the implementation of those conditions are matters for the Board and the county council, subject, if necessary, to appeal to the Secretary of State. I hope that there will not be any serious difficulty. I cannot say when the building is likely to be started, but the sooner it happens the better we shall be pleased.

Mr. T. Fraser

I thought that the case for the withdrawal of the oil and meal subsidy was that these factories were not being used. If they are not being used, why build them?

Lord John Hope

This certainly will be a help, as I think the hon. Member will realise as well as anyone else.

Mr. John MacLeod

I have dealt with this question of oil and meal for quite a time, and I do not agree at all. If a factory is to be built, I would rather see one which would be supplied by all sections of the industry.

Lord John Hope

I must not use the expression "red herring", because that would be misleading in the context of this debate. All I suggest is that this will be an encouragement to the ring netters on the West Coast.

We estimate that over every class of fishing boat the profits will increase by about twice as a result of this subsidy and, of course the average crews' earnings per day per man will go up in proportion, though obviously that does not mean by twice as much. I shall be delighted to give detailed figures to bear out that statement to any hon. Member who would like to have them, but perhaps the House will be satisfied if, at this late hour, I merely state the principle.

Hon. Members may have hoped for something more from the Government, but I am sure that on reflection they will agree that it will render no service to an industry which we all want to help if we overstate the case against this subsidy. We should look forward to the future with hope and confidence rather than with despair, arid it is in that spirit that I hope that the House will consent to this Scheme.

Question put


That the Herring Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1957, dated 17th April 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th April. be approved.