§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
It is a long time since we started our discussions on this Bill. Clause 2 is a particularly important Clause, because under it the Government seek authority to raise the limit from £20 million to £25 million for outstanding loans. It is under this Clause that grants are made for the building of new vessels.
Since the proposals of the Fleck Committee were made known, various opinions have been expressed as to the extent to which the Government should go in providing these loans. There are those as critical as the commentator in the Economist of 21st January, who thought that the Government should allow the matter to be tightened up to such an extent that the weakest would be killed off and no aid at all should be granted. There are others who think that under this proposal a limit should be set; but the Fleck Committee in its Report did not care to lay down any limit on the help to be given to the fishing fleet. Indeed, the Fleck Committee reported against any attempt by the Authority to limit its grant in such 1214 a way as to affect adversely some particular section of the fishing industry.
Since then, and since this Bill has been introduced and the money has been made available in this House, certain other actions have followed. The Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority has announced that loans would not be granted for particular sections of the fishing fleet. It is under this Clause that those loans and grants would be made. In the trawler section there was a fair amount of unanimity that perhaps time should be given to think about it between now and September to consider what its future policy should be and what type of vessel would be required. It was thought that for that purpose the loans should come to a halt.
This was interpreted by other sections of the industry—the seine netters, the creel fishers and the line fishers—to mean that the White Fish Authority would suspend loans and grants for all types of fishing vessels. That brought about great protests from certain sections of the industry in Scotland. It also brought considerable protests from the builders in Scotland, because in many of these northern ports the workers are entirely dependent for employment on this type of boat building. If the Government, through the White Fish Authority, ceased to make these grants, the result would be a diminution in the size of the fishing fleet and unemployment for considerable numbers of workers in Scotland.
Protests were made by the shipbuilders and associations representing the Scottish inshore and herring fishermen. The Secretary of State, to whom I wrote on 16th March, has this morning sent me a considerable reply. I am grateful for the consideration he has given to this problem, along with Sir John Primrose, who is Chairman of the Scottish Committee. The Secretary of State says in that letter:In the first place paragraph 4 of the memorandum you sent me, in saying that the Committee's decision virtually imposes a complete standstill until September, 1961, of the operation in Scotland of the grants and loans scheme, does not seem to be accurate.He went on to say:For such boats there is … no complete suspension and, moreover, applications in respect of other inshore boats, e.g., for creel 1215 fishing or line fishing, will continue to be considered on their merits, and this will also apply to new seine net boats for which applications are made in pursuance of the outer islands training scheme.So far so good. That seems to alleviate the position a little, but in the penultimate paragraph of his letter the Secretary of State points out that some three years ago shipyards were allowed to engage in what might have been regarded as speculative building, but it was speculative building generally with the approval of the authority concerned. What we are concerned about tonight is that certain of those boats are on the stocks. We should like an assurance from the Secretary of State that for those approval will be given for completion. While the Secretary of State admits that these special arrangements were made some three years ago, this special arrangement was terminated by letter only in November last year. I assert that if boats have been put on the stocks under this speculative building programme, at the very least the Authority is in honour bound to meet its obligations in this respect.
In his letter, the Secretary of State said that this decision of the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority was reached onlyafter full discussion with representatives of all the Scottish catchers last autumn.I should like to be assured that that discussion did take place. Even if it did take place, that does not mean that there was agreement. There is a great difference between discussion and agreement. I should like to know from the Secretary of State if when the proposal was made the other sections of the industry outside the trawler section in fact agreed to the proposals. We were then faced with protests from these five associations, representing not only the boat owners but the men working on the boats, the shipbuilders and the men employed in the yards.
The industry is of particular importance to certain smaller ports in our country. I know that the Secretary of State will argue in his reply that the seine netters in recent times have been responsible for a considerable part of the Scottish catch, perhaps a part even exceeding that of the trawlers. Perhaps he is 1216 trying to hold the balance, through the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority, between the seine netter and the trawler.
These are questions of absolutely first-class importance to the industry in Scotland and to the men whose livelihood and employment depend on it. I am certain that the Committee will want to know from the Secretary of State exactly where the Scottish Office stands in this respect.
The reason for the hold-up was that the Authority had run out of cash, as the Secretary of State makes clear in his letter. That was one of the reasons why my hon. Friends and myself had some argument with the Government about the Financial Resolution. This is the sort of difficulty into which the industry has been placed not of its own making, but because of the Government.
Clause 2 proposes to raise the level from £20 million to £25 million. Because so many workpeople are dependent on this for their livelihood I ask these questions of the right hon. Gentleman, to which I hope that he will provide the answers, but at least we shall not oppose the Clause.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I promise that I shall not detain the Committee for long, but I want to add a few words in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). There is no doubt that considerable concern has been caused in a number of places in Scotland, in the boat-building industry and also amongst fishermen about the decision of the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority to limit for the time being the extent to which loans and grants will be given for the purpose of providing new boats and modernising and re-engining older boats. That concern has expressed itself in the memorandum which has been sent to a large number of Members and to which I understand the Secretary of State has given some consideration.
This is a fairly serious situation for many areas in Scotland. The unfortunate part is that they are areas from which employment cannot beneficially be taken—in other words, they are not large conurbations in which if a few men are unemployed they can 1217 be absorbed by other industries. In the majority of cases they are small ports around the East Coast. If they suffer a loss of this character, they experience a certain amount a depopulation and decay. There is a further drift of population to the industrial areas of Scotland.
This is a very serious matter in Scotland and one which causes great concern not only to Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies but also to anyone concerned with the Scottish economy as a whole. Some very specific information should be given to us tonight by the Secretary of State. We should be told whether this decision to limit the extent of loans was taken as a result of the Report of the Fleck Committee. I can hardly think that it was, because discussions took place before the Committee reported.
Arising from that, we should be told what it means in terms of employment—this is what matters—both to the men working on the boats and also to the men engaged in the boat-building industry. We should also be told whether the Secretary of State is considering what will happen as the result of men losing their employment. It is pointed out in the memorandum that already more than 100 employees have lost their jobs and that this number will increase as time passes. It is said that the number will be considerably higher by September. It is also pointed out that there will be fewer openings for apprentices. The prospects school-leavers have of taking apprenticeships in the various industries in Scotland are already bad enough without their difficulties being increased by apprenticeships in this industry being lost. We should be told whether the Secretary of State has any information to give us about this.
In other words, what are likely to be the results of this decision? After that, we should be told if it is intended to rescind this decision in September or if it can be rescinded before then. Having once passed the Money Resolution for the Bill, we should now be able to go forward long before September if it is the policy of the White Fish Authority to go forward and allow the industry to find its own level, which is what the 1218 Fleck Committee recommended. I do not altogether agree with it finding its own level, and I stated my view on Second Reading and also on Clause 1 when we were debating the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". I do not agree with that view, but that is the recommendation of the Fleck Committee. Knowing the Government and their views on these matters, I assume that they will have a certain amount of sympathy with this recommendation. If the Government are to accept this view, is the White Fish Authority to be allowed to let the industry find its own level? In other words, is there to be a certain amount of competition in boat building, subsidised by the grants and loans for the various purposes authorised under previous Acts?
We should be told something about this, because it is causing great concern. People are asking many questions. What will be the results? I do not think that we can leave the Clause until the Secretary of State gives us much more information than he has given us up to now, and it should be information of a fairly detailed character, which will at least relieve some of the anxieties of the people who live in small fishing ports.
§ Sir William Duthie (Banff)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Members for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) and Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). I want to refer again to the decision which has been taken by the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority. The impact of this decision upon the inshore fishing industry and the boat-building and ancillary industries in my constituency is disastrous. There is no other way to describe it. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East mentioned 100 people being out of work. It is several hundred today. People are being paid off weekly, and the decision by the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority is absolutely without rhyme or reason. [...]f one did not know individually the gentlemen who compose the Committee one would think that the decision had been taken out of spleen or rancour.
They have chosen to apply the term "speculative building" to a procedure that has been followed in shipyards ever since the beginning of the grants and loans scheme. Speculative building is commendable foresight on the part of 1219 builders, and had it been earlier forbidden the White Fish Authority would have had a perfectly good reason for acting as it has done. As I say, speculative building has continued ever since the grant and loans scheme came into being.
The boat builders have been taking time by the forelock to ensure as little delay as possible in the finished boat being slid down the ways into the sea, by prefabricating as much as possible, by getting all the materials together and keeping continuity of employment under the eyes of the supervisors of the Scottish Committee of the Authority. That supervision was not withdrawn up to the very moment in November when the builders were told that this practice had to stop. It is true that they were told to go easy in 1958, but the supervisors continued and the work went on very well, with maximum employment in those yards.
The first warning we as Members of Parliament received last autumn was an S.O.S. from the Scottish Committee of the Authority saying that funds were running out and that work had to be slowed down as a result. Representatives of the boat builders' associations came to this House and, with me, talked the matter over with the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.
I must say that commendable speed was shown by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretaries in getting an Order signed forthwith to prevent a hiatus. That Order was for £2 million. It was signed, and the Authority was told that it could anticipate Parliamentary consent. That temporary suspension became permanent, with several vessels on the stocks and partially built, and left the workmen uncertain about what was to happen.
As mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), the chairman of the Authority, when discussing the matter with the Secretary of State, mentioned that this decision was taken after discussions with the representative Scottish catchers, but, as the hon. Member also said, this memorandum of 15th March, representative of the views of all the Scottish catchers' associations—and I emphasise "all"—expresses a view 1220 diametrically opposed to the decision announced by the Authority. That is the present position.
It is true that the Scottish Committee of the Authority has statutory powers, but I would emphasise that its decision flies in the face of the Fleck Report. It is a complete negation of the pronouncements of the Fleck Committee on the inshore fishing industry, which the Report singles out as being perhaps the most successful and progressive section of the entire fishing industry. One asks oneself why there should be all the flurry and all the rush in the autumn to get funds if this action was in mind. As I say, the Authority was told to anticipate parliamentary consent and to keep the work going.
My right hon. Friend, at the behest of several of us, has seen Sir John Ure Primrose who, apparently, has talked the Secretary of State into agreeing that in this regard the views of the Scottish Committee of the Authority are correct. I trust that the House will tell my right hon. Friend, the Government and the Authority in no uncertain terms that it does not agree.
Apart from fishing, this boat-building industry is the main wage-producing activity in the coastal belt of the North-East of Scotland, yet unemployment is now being deliberately and needlessly created by an arbitrary decision with no foundation of reason. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has mentioned apprentices. Many apprentices to boat building and the ancillary engineering industries—the making of winches, the fitting of engines and the like—have left, and are now working in Slough as casual labourers or as labourers in the building trade. They apprenticed themselves in order to become skilled workers but, to use a parliamentary term, the guillotine has fallen on them at an early stage in their career.
The Authority either will not or cannot realise that since the Icelandic settlement the fishing industry faces an entirely new set of conditions. Fishing limits are very much in the news. They have to be revised, and the inshore fishing fleet will play an ever-increasing part in supplying fresh fish. Further, the Authority cannot realise that, as I believe, the quayside prices of fish will during the coming years be higher than they ever were in the last few years, and 1221 this will give the owners of vessels a much better chance than they had previously to repay their loans.
Parliament has a right to insist that the monies voted by us to the White Fish Authority for use in the fishing industry shall be used intelligently from every point of view; that those who go to sea will get the vessels they want, and get them speedily, and that those in the shipyards will have all the work that our efforts can bring them. I plead with my right hon. Friend to go back to the Authority and to its Scottish Committee, and tell them the views of this House.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
As so often in fishing debates, one feels it almost in bad taste, speaking after three Scots on the subject, to bring the debate back to the British fishing fleet, and the ports of Grimsby, Fleetwood and Hull. In general terms, I support the Clause, but it is a great deal more necessary than it was when the Bill was first introduced, in consequence of the terms—worse than many of us expected—of the Icelandic settlement.
I have one proviso, on which I should like the Minister to comment. I hold very strongly that when the Government and the White Fish Authority are distributing the loans that are sanctioned under the Clause—and the grants as well—they should not neglect the minority Report of the Fleck Committee, which suggests that in determining the distribution of these loans the Government should take a definite view on what the future pattern of the industry should be. On this, there was a clear division on principle between the majority and the minority of the Fleck Committee. I found the arguments of the majority extremely weak, and I should like to adduce one or two arguments on the side of the minority Report.
First, under the predecessors of this Bill—and partly in consequence of loans and grants from the Authority, but not solely—we have had a good deal of new investment in the industry in the last decade. The middle water fleet has been almost completely renovated, and the distant water fleet has had a good deal of new investment. But looking back on the investment carried out we must see that a large part has been misdirected. 1222 We are now, therefore, in a position where we have a large number of conventional trawlers which, though of recent and good design, are not the best-equipped vessels in the fleet. I am, I admit, being wise after the event. It would have been much better if we had had fewer conventional new trawlers and more experiments, more part-freezers or freezers or factory ships. It is just conceivable, taking this as a general point, that some part of the misdirection of investment might have been avoided if the Government and the White Fish Authority had been equipped to take a rather clearer view of the future.
It is said by the majority, in opposing this attitude, that one cannot say anything about what the future shape of the fleet will be when discussing loans and grants. The whole thing is so uncertain and, in any case, so it is said, it is right to leave the matter to market forces. In fact, of course, the pressures which are being put on the industry and which will decide what the right type of investment is are not market forces at all. They are usually completely non-economic forces of a political character. The industry now is forced to condition itself to a new situation not because of any changes in market forces, supply and demand and so forth, but simply as a consequence of political decisions and political agreements about fishing limits. Therefore, I think that it was rather naive of the majority to say simply that the whole thing must be left to market forces.
I suggest to the Minister—this applies not only to the fishing industry—that it is a good general principle that, where the Government are giving or lending very substantial sums of money to an industry, as they will under the Bill, they should take a view about how the money should be spent. After all, the same Ministry which will ultimately be responsible for this money gives a great deal of money to the agricultural industry, to the farmers, but there, of course, it takes a most detailed view about what the pattern of agricultural output ought to be. We have the Annual Farm Price Review, which is deliberately and rightly used by the Ministry to impose a certain pattern of output on the industry.
I do not suggest that in the fishing industry anything like that degree of planning and control would be appropriate, but I do believe that the Ministry 1223 and the White Fish Authority should take a further and clearer view in broad terms of the future pattern of investment than they have taken in the past. If this is to occur, we shall definitely need the single national body which the Fleck Committee suggested, and it may be that this will involve, if it is put into effect and if that kind of long-term view is taken, a considerable strengthening of the fishery department of the Ministry.
Finally, I have a question about dates of payment. When loans are given under the Clause and when grants come to be made to the distant water section of the fleet, will there be any possibility that the grants could be made retrospective to the date when the Fleck Committee reported? After all, it was the Fleck Committee which recommended that aid should be extended to the distant water section. Have the Government considered that and arrived at a view?
The main point I make is the general one that it seems to me that the minority Report advanced an extremely strong argument for saying not only that things should not be left entirely to the industry—of course, the industry must always take the detailed decisions—but that the Government and the new joint authority which we hope will emerge as a result of the Fleck Report should have a general view as to what the future shape of the industry should be.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) made a very important point about conventional trawlers and the misdirection of investment. I should very much welcome the comments of the Secretary of State on that and on the question my hon. Friend asked about how far the Government feel justified in taking an interest in this matter.
The Secretary of State teased me on Second Reading because, apart from the general argument, I made what he called a constituency point in a fishing debate, and my constituency is far from the sea. As I pointed out then, a great number of engines for trawlers are manufactured in Lincoln. Of course, they are chiefly for the trawlers with which my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby is concerned, the type of trawler which tends to operate from Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood.
1224 I intervene here particularly because the impact of the Scottish Committee's decision goes far wider than Scotland. It is quite true that it cannot be said of any English or Welsh constituency that, in the words of the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie), this decision has had a disastrous impact. We could not possibly say that, but, of course, it does affect other parts of the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) at the start of his speech referred to the fact that the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority had refused loans for certain parts of the fishing fleet and that other sections of the fishing industry assumed that the Authority would suspend loans for other sections. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and the hon. Member for Banff took the matter up. I think their questions can be summarised in this way. What about the boats on the stocks? Is approval to be given in respect of these boats?
The hon. Member for Banff asked the further very important question: is the Fleck Report to be accepted? What is the Government's view about it? It seems that we are starting to erode the findings of the Fleck Report. Is this the reason why the Government have been so slow to publish their views about the Fleck Report so that we may know them and debate them?
A further question asked by the hon. Member for Banff must surely be answered. If the inshore fleet is to be allowed to decline, are we to deduce from this that the Government have decided that they will stand pat on the territorial waters? Are we not justified in drawing such a conclusion?
The other matter on which we should have information was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, namely, the question of the date and possible retrospection. This, too, is an important matter. There are important questions to be answered, and I know that the Secretary of State is anxious to answer them.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
I will certainly do my best to answer all the points which have been raised, if I possibly can. If, at the end of my speech, I have omitted 1225 something important, hon. Members will remind me. I am sure that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), if he is in the Chamber, will do so.
I think that it was made clear during earlier stages of the Bill that the Government were very glad to hear the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House on the Fleck Report, but I said that it would be quite premature to express the Government's views on it at this stage. A great deal of consultation must go on. We have to assess all the implications of the Fleck Report before we can come to a sensible view. I do not imagine that hon. Members would expect me to deal with the detailed points that they have raised here. It would be neither wise nor constructive to do so. I have noted what has been said, particularly the point made by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland).
The main question arises out of the decision of the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority. Perhaps hon. Members will forgive me if I deal with this first. I assure the hon. Member for Grimsby that I shall touch on some English figures as well as Scottish figures. I am aware that there are some fishing boats south of the Border. The fact is brought to my notice from time to time. First, I should make clear what the decisions were. It is important to have the matter plain beyond a peradventure. There is not a complete embargo on the building of new vessels. I refer here to the decisions of the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority. There are two separate decisions with regard to two different classes of vessel.
First, as regards near and middle water trawlers, the Committee has decided to suspend any further approvals until September, when it will review the position in consultation with the industry. As regards seine net vessels, it has decided to regulate approvals so as to maintain the fleet at about its present level. There is no question of a dropping away of the fleet. This means, for example, that applications for new seine net vessels required to replace old ones to be scrapped will be eligible for consideration. The same applies to applications to install new engines and to build line or creel fishing boats.
1226 I do not know whether that consoles the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). I do not know whether he builds engines for seine net vessels. I would point out to the hon. Member for Lincoln that I was not twitting him on making a constituency speech on a previous occasion. I was lost in admiration that he succeeded in doing it in a debate on the fishing industry.
These decisions do not apply to seine net boats required by fishermen concerned in the Outer Isles training scheme. These, as well as line and creel fishing boats, will continue to be considered on their merits. There will not be a complete stoppage of new building although undoubtedly the number of new vessels approved will be much reduced.
The policy is to be reviewed in September in consultation with the industry. In the memorandum to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) referred, which was prepared by the Fishing Boat Builders' Association and the organisations representing Scottish inshore and herring fishermen, and which was sent, I believe, to a number of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite, a different impression is given of the decisions which the Committee has taken.
It was suggested that the decisions represented unfair discrimination against the inshore fishermen. Whatever the effect that these decisions may have on the building of new boats it does not seem to me that they can be represented as unfair discrimination against the inshore fishermen. I think that the Memorandum must have been based on a misunderstanding of the facts.
The second point which I should like to make clear is that these are decisions of the Scottish Committee, taken on its own responsibility and in the exercise of its statutory duties.
§ Sir W. Duthie
It would be very helpful if my right hon. Friend could give us the reasons advanced by the Scottish Committee for taking the decision to keep the fleet at its present level.
§ Mr. Maclay
Yes, it is the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority that makes these decisions. The Committee was not obliged to seek, and did not seek, the prior approval of Ministers for these decisions. There is no reason why it should. It took them, as it was entitled to do, in pursuance of the statutory duty with which it had been specifically entrusted by Parliament; in other words, Parliament had specifically required the Authority, and in relation to Scotland, the Scottish Committee, in considering applications for grants, to have regard to the needs and interests of the industry as a whole.
I now come to the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) raised. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Leith have made it clear over recent weeks how strongly they feel about this matter. In these circumstances, the Scottish Committee has quite properly exercised its function and it would not be right for me to seek to influence its decision or, as the memorandum to which I have referred urges, to ask the Committee to revise its decision.
I have had the opportunity, as hon. Members know, of discussing the position with the Committee's chairman, Sir John Ure Primrose, who assured me that the decision was taken after full consultation with the associations representing the Scottish catchers. I do not say that consultation necessarily means agreement, but it was taken after full consultation. The suspension of grants and loans for building new trawlers was specifically recommended to them by the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners' Association and the Newhaven and Granton Trawler Owners' Association. These were specific recommendations of the two associations.
Sir John Ure Primrose assured me that the Committee reached its conclusion only after the fullest consideration of the present position of the Scottish fishing fleet and after full discussion of the position last autumn with representatives of all the Scottish catchers, including the inshore associations. It had these meetings and did not just take the recommendations that came from the two associations urging it to stop 1228 approvals, but considered the matter very carefully and had full further consultations. It cannot be said that it was a hasty decision.
When I first heard of the decision I wondered what the back history was. I have had the full talk to which I have referred and I am now reporting to the hon. Members the reasons I was given. The decision followed on a comprehensive review and series of discussions which the Scottish Committee has been undertaking for some time concerning the size and composition of the Scottish fleet and the effect of the new building which has already taken place or been approved.
In the case of trawlers, 100 new diesel vessels had already been completed and applications in respect of a further 20 had been approved. Only 18 coal burning trawlers are left in the Scottish fleet, 11 at Aberdeen and seven at Granton and probably most of these will disappear when the remaining new diesels join the fleet.
As I said on Second Reading, we have virtually broken the back of the main job of modernisation on which we set out seven years ago. In the case of the seine net fleet, there has been considerable expansion over recent years, apparently as the result of the grant and loans given for new boats, and partly as a result of the changeover from herring fishing to white fish catching. Last year, the Scottish seine net fleet landed more white fish than the Scottish trawler fleet. This shows that very substantial progress has been made. In these circumstances, as I said in a previous debate, we cannot now expect the same impetus as before. I do not think that the Scottish Committee can be said to be wrong in going slow for a while so that it could review the position. It would not be proper for me to seek to influence the Committee in the exercise of its judgment and the discharge of its statutory function. I have satisfied myself that the Committee's decision is consistent with the obligations of the Authority to the fishing industry.
I realise, and so does the Scottish Committee, that from the point of view of the shipbuilders, as opposed to the fishing industry itself, the Committees' decision must be a very unwelcome one. Much as we all regret, and I certainly 1229 do, the difficulties in which some of the building yards may find themselves, I think that it is clear than in administering the grant and loan schemes the Authority and its Scottish Committee must have regard primarily to the needs of the fishing industry.
Again, as I said on Second Reading, it would not be right to encourage the building of vessels whose prospects as fishing vessels would be open to doubt. We are faced with this unpleasant situation in which, unfortunately, the needs and interests of the fishing industry on the one hand and the ship building industry on the other do not point in the same direction. I do not think that the White Fish Authority can be blamed for taking the view that its first duty is to do what it thinks best for the fishing industry. There is no question of a stoppage of new building. There should be orders forthcoming for some of the yards, even though on a reduced scale. I think that it was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff that these decisions are inconsistent with and make pointless the provision of an extra £2 million for grants in the order which was approved by the House on 31st January and the extra £5 million for loans provided in Clause 2. I do not think that that is so. It was clear that the Authority's commitments would, before long, have completely exhausted the funds available and if we had not provided additional grant money and made provision in the Bill for additional loans, grants and loans would have had to be stopped altogether.
Trawler building grants and loans are suspended only until next September. They may thereafter be resumed. Indeed, the trawler owners have specifically and quite reasonably requested that an appropriate sum be kept in reserve against that possibility, which cannot be done unless the Bill is passed.
Some inshore vessels will still be built. Finally of course the funds are for Great Britain as a whole and not only for Scotland. I have gone into the Scottish position for obvious reasons. Hon. Members would wish to know, I think, what is the position in England and Wales. Here, about 160 new trawlers have been built with the aid of grants and loans and 40 more have been 1230 approved. The coal burning fleet is down to less than 70. There are, however, some ports where progress has not been satisfactory and some building still remains to be done. The Authority will, therefore, be continuing to approve new construction, but on a selective basis, and the number of approvals is likely to be smaller than it has been of late.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
Of the total of new ships built for England and Wales, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many have been built outside this country?
§ Mr. Maclay
I cannot give that figure. The loans which are under consideration extend to processing plant in England and Scotland and some provision is also necessary for them.
To repeat, the sums to be provided were carefully considered in consultation with the Authority. We knew and took into account at that stage that there was likely to be some slowing down of approvals. I have explained in some detail why I take that view.
§ Mr. Maclay
I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the number of trawlers. The hon. Member was asking how many boats had been built outside Britain, not necessarily with grants and loans, for which they would, of course, not be eligible. He merely wanted to know the general figures.
I wish to run steadily through the sequence of events leading up to the White Fish Authority's decision. The hon. Member for Leith and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff referred to the question of what has become known as "speculative building". In August, 1958, the Scottish Committee found that a number of builders were adopting this practice of building "on spec"—that is to say, they were building fishing boats before they had received orders from fishermen and before applications for grants and loans were considered by or even submitted to the Authority. The 1231 Scottish Committee warned the builders by letter that this practice was likely to lead to difficulties and that the Committee could not be regarded as in any way committed to approving subsequent applications for grants for such boats on the ground that work on them had been started.
In view of the representations made by the Scottish builders about the recession in boat building at that time, the Committee agreed in December, 1958, as a special measure, that on certain conditions applications for grant would not be ruled out merely because work had been undertaken in advance of approval. The conditions were that the prior approval of the Authority should be obtained for such advance building—it is very important to note that point—and that the work was to be carried out under the supervision of the technical officers in the same way as work in respect of boats for which applications for grant had been approved.
I would emphasise to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff—I realise how strongly he feels on this matter—that this has always been the practice, since 1958 anyway—that the prior approval of the Authority was necessary before speculative building was started: otherwise it would not guarantee anything about grants and loans for these ships. That point was touched on by several hon. Members. I hope that the position is now clear.
I was asked if work on ships which had been previously approved would be gone ahead with. There is no reason to believe that anything other than that will happen. Where specific approval has been given by the Authority, it will, of course, honour its approval. I cannot say that it will help ships which have been built on speculation without the prior approval of the Authority.
I have dealt with the meeting with the inshore fishermen which took place. I am not implying that there was an agreement, but there was consultation. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) asked if this decision of the Scottish Committee was taken as a result of the Fleck Committee's Report. He answered that question himself by saying that it was taken before the Fleck Committee's Report was made. This decision was made with full consideration of its 1232 responsibility for the fishing fleet as a whole and for the fishing industry.
What does it mean in terms of unemployment? I have tried to get the figures, but it is extremely difficult to judge accurately the result. The unemployment figures for this area—that is. Anstruther, Buckie, Fraserburgh, Banff, Peterhead, Aberdeen, Montrose and Arbroath—have been improving considerably over the last year. They are a good deal better. The total figure of unemployed in shipbuilding and ship repairing on 13th March is 166. It is very difficult to see what effect these decisions will have in the next few months, but I emphasise that some yards have already done something which I hope many others will do most energetically, namely, look for other markets and get into this interesting, important and growing business of building the smaller type of pleasure yacht, which is becoming an important part of the life of the community. One or two yards have found a real market for this type of vessel. These boats were shown at the Glasgow show and at other shows, and they are selling. I hope that yards will turn their attention to this kind of diversification in production.
I think that I have covered the detailed questions which I did not cover in my main remarks and which I wanted to go through carefully. While fully appreciating the anxiety of hon. Members about this decision of the White Fish Authority, I cannot say that I think that it was wrong. It certainly had the right to make the decision on its own account, without any consultation with me, which is what it did, and I only hope that the consequences to the shipbuilding yards, which cause me great concern, will not be as serious as some people have forecast. I hope that we can get this Clause, because it will help to obviate some of the difficulties of which hon. Members are fearful.
§ Mr. Maclay
That was a point which I thought I could not properly be expected to answer in advance of full consideration of the Fleck Report. Owing 1233 to no fault of his, the hon. Member was not in such a good position to listen to my answer as he might otherwise have been. Anyway, the answer was not much use to him. I said that this was another matter which would have to wait pending the Fleck Report.
§ Mr. Hoy
I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman had to say. I am sorry if I appeared to misunderstand the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) about subsidised shipping. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was giving figures for the number of boats built under the subsidy scheme.
§ Mr. Hoy
Apparently that is true. It is true that one or two distant water trawlers have been built in foreign yards. All we can hope is that that will not be permitted when the new scheme comes into operation and when Government money is involved.
It is true that there may be only 166 unemployed people in North-East Scotland at present, but the right hon. Gentleman must also take into consideration the fact that many people are having to leave the area. Only this week—this is what I would like my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite from south of the border to understand—there were representatives of firms from Corby selecting 200 men in Aberdeen and Stone-haven to take them south of the border. That will cure unemployment up there, but it is having a tremendously hard effect on the economic life of Scotland. If we keep taking people out of Scotland, we can solve unemployment in that fashion—
§ Mr. Loughlin
There is a terrific fallacy in my hon. Friend's argument. I very much appreciate the difficulties of our Scottish friends concerning unemployment and emigration. I am a victim of precisely the same thing in my constituency. The logic of the argument now being advanced is that the Scottish White Fish Authority should make grants, irrespective of the economic consequences to the present fishing fleet, for the sole purpose of maintaining employment in the shipyards. I hope that my hon. Friend does not mean this, and I 1234 wish to give him the opportunity of saynig that that is not the impression which he wishes to convey.
§ Mr. Hoy
That is exactly what I am not saying. The Secretary of State for Scotland was saying that he had no right to interfere with the White Fish Authority in its grants and loans policy. I am not asking him to do so. What I am saying is that he cannot absolve himself from his personal responsibility for this problem.
§ Mr. Hoy
When one thinks of certain other industries that receive millions of pounds per annum for providing employment, I might drive my argument a little further by saying that that kind of thing might not be going too far in these places where work is so scarce. I am arguing that we must have an economic use of the money. It may be that we would have to divert boat-building orders to these places rather than by economic policy drive the people out of them. That is what I want the Government to understand. While I agree that Sir John Primrose and his Committee have done a first-class job, we, on the other hand, have responsibilities to our people. If economic circumstances drive them out of these parts, we are entitled to use the House of Commons to ask the Government to take action to make it at least economically possible for working people to live in these parts.
§ Sir W. Duthie
Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has expressed his sympathy with the people of the North-East, in the shipyards and elsewhere, who have been so hardly hit, will he undertake to use his greatest possible influence with the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority to ensure that approval and grants and loans will be given for the vessels now in the shipyards partially completed? This would provide work and would tail off the scheme, if it is to be tailed off, in September. It would provide much necessary employment.
The builders have not started these vessels without a certain measure of official approval. The White Fish Authority has been au fait with what has been going on and has expressed its approval. It may have been only tacit 1235 approval, but it was given by the officials and was taken by the builders as official approval by the White Fish Authority. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to do his best to remedy this situation.
§ Mr. Willis
We are grateful to the Secretary of State for the information he has given us about this matter. I do not often say that, but I thought that I should preface my remarks by saying it on this occasion. I still regard the position as unsatisfactory, however, and I want to say why. Apparently, the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority has decided that until further notice the seine net fleet will be maintained at its present level. As I have pointed out earlier, this is more or less in accordance with the proposal of the Fleck Committee. What I object to, however, is that this decision should be made in respect of Scotland and not of the rest of the United Kingdom.
If the proposals of the Fleck Committee are to be adopted by the Government, it seems to me that we have jumped the gun in limiting the size of the Scottish fleet. That is quite wrong, and I cannot see the reason for doing this. Whilst it is true that in the trawler section of the fleet a halt in the building programme was asked for, it is obvious from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that the seine netters did not ask for a halt. They might have been consulted, but they certainly did not ask for a halt. I do not think that anybody else asked for a halt, certainly not the representatives of the fishermen's associations who met the right hon. Gentleman's Department.
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Member asks why this has happened to Scotland but not to the rest of the United Kingdom. In ports where there are sufficient ships—for example, in my own constituency—there is a standstill in the granting of loans for new ships until the autumn. The reason is that we cannot get the crews to man these ships. That is the reason for the standstill in other parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Willis
That is a different matter. Because there is a shortage of manpower in Lowestoft does not mean that Scotland must be treated the same as 1236 Lowestoft. I know Lowestoft quite well and I know the North-East quite well. Certainly, there is a vast difference in the problems facing the North-East. The trouble is that men in Scotland have to come down South to get jobs.
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. I was not talking about the shipbuilding side. There again, we are extremely worried. We would like many more ships to be built in our yards. I was talking about the crews to man the ships. If we cannot get crews to man the ships, it is no good building the ships.
§ Mr. Willis
We have men for crews, too. The unfortunate thing is that the numbers have been diminishing for the last 20 or 30 years. There are only a small number in my constituency. The numbers have been halved within a comparatively short time. The point I am making is that we cannot afford this to happen in Scotland.
It might seem that we make a great to-do about something which down South might seem a small affair, but we cannot afford this to happen in the North-East and down the East Coast. Already, we have a drift of population from those areas into the Lowland belt of Scotland and from the Lowland belt down into England. This is one of the problems that we are up against. If the Government always willingly accept this migration, we might just as well give up struggling to build a healthy economy in Scotland. That is why the matter is serious.
I asked about the unemployed. Oddly, enough, we have had answers about this. In the document for 15th March, it is said that already there were over 100 unemployed and that the number would increase. The hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) said that in his constituency alone there were many more than that, but the Secretary of State tells us that there are only 165 down the whole of the North-East, round the North-East corner right down to the Forth. There is something wrong somewhere. These figures do not conform. Whatever the differences between them, it is obvious that there is here a problem. We ought to know more about it.
The Secretary of State said that the boat-building industry must expect to build fewer boats for some time. What 1237 did he mean by that? Did he mean until September, October or November? Is it then to expect to be able to build more? My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) shakes his head. I am trying to obtain information which the industry is entitled to have at least as fully as the Government can give. This information is vital to the lifeblood of the small communities. We have unemployment already and we want to know what the future will be. We want as much information as we can get.
This raises the whole question of apprenticeships in the industry. Our problem in Scotland is much bigger than south of the Border. We raise it week after week on the Floor of the House. If the apprenticeships are to disappear from the industry, that will aggravate the problem. It is all very well for hon. Members to shake their heads and wonder why we make a noise. This is the place where we ought to make a noise. This is what the House is for—to try to impress upon the Government that this process must stop. We have seen fishing villages die in Scotland. I could take hon. Members round a number of ports which are almost at a standstill and practically dead. There are others where there are now about half the number of boats that were there previously. This is why we are very concerned about the provisions of the Bill.
Although I am grateful to the Secretary of State, I am not satisfied with his answer, nor with the explanations that have been given. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has paid enough attention to the future. We want to know something about the future. It might be that if unemployment increases in these areas they can be scheduled under the Local Employment Act as areas of rising unemployment. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is no good."] It is supposed to be beneficial and that is why we should like as much information as possible. Even if the right hon. Gentleman cannot give that information now I sincerely trust that he will treat this matter seriously and that at least he will try to get other forms of industry into these areas to prevent the tragic loss of men and women from them.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I had not intended to intervene in the debate, for I shall make 1238 my position quite clear on Third Reading. I am possibly the only hon. Member on either side of the House who opposes the Bill. I cannot understand the indignation of some of my hon. Friends who, supporting a Bill of this kind, see its baleful implications as applied in their own constituencies and then cry out that they want something else done.
It is not unusual, or rather it can be expected, that when Government grants are given to an industry and the body that controls the degree of grant that shall be made begins to consult associations representing the industry there comes a point at which the number of boats built means that at a given figure each boat is an economic unit in the industry, but once there is building in excess of that figure each boat becomes an uneconomic unit. If we are to consult associations representing boat owners and ask them how many boats they think we should build their first concern will be how many boats they need to ensure the rate of profits that they desire. It is no use my hon. Friends supporting Measures of this kind and then crying out about their effects.
I would be the last person to suggest that the solution to the unemployment problem in the shipyards of Scotland is to build boats ad infinitum. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) became really indignant at the suggestion that his constituents have been out of jobs because of the lack of building of these boats.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Very well, the people of my hon. Friend's native land. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not Scotland."] All right, the hon. Member's adopted land. My difficulty is that I do not know an Englishman if he speaks a Scottish dialect.
§ Mr. Loughlin
It may well not be. A pure Scotsman may be able to distinguish it, but it does not seem to me to be very much like English. Whether my hon. Friend is native or adopted. I do 1239 not think that he can expect the Government to solve the problem of unemployment in Scottish shipyards on the basis of building this type of boat. He should know that that is not the solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said of the Local Employment Act, 1960, that it was not a solution to the problem of these areas. Nor will there ever be a solution to our unemployment until the Government come to this side of the Committee. The sooner we start arguing that case, instead of wasting our energies talking about things that are of no value, the better it will be for us, and the quicker the Government will go out. Once this Bill is set up, the industry itself will determine the number of boats to be built and operated. There is no solution in this Bill for the problems raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
This debate is very reminiscent to those of us who recollect the plight of the shipbuilding industry between the two wars. We are seeing again a repetition of the breaking up of teams of men. I am told that people go from Corby to shipping ports to pick up young men, take them out of the shipbuilding industry, and put them into another industry.
The Government forget that we are an island and there come times in our history when our very survival depends upon having teams of shipbuilders who can provide the ships which are essential in the hours of peril which we have to face from time to time. Again we see the sort of situation that applied between the two world wars. These men did not go to Corby then from the shipyards. They had been, for instance, on the Tyne when the industry there was reasonably prosperous—before, in the great words of Ellen Wilkinson, Jarrow was "murdered". Part of Jarrow at that time was in my constituency. I traced these men later on in Birmingham, repairing barges at a time when they were needed to build sea-going ships.
Let us be under no doubt. It is no good people on this side of the House trying to provide better answers for the Government than the Government can dream up for themselves, because that is no great strain on anybody's intelligence. I hope that the Secretary of 1240 State and the Minister of Agriculture will realise that what has been raised by my hon. Friends, who speak with some indignation, is a warning that this is one industry that we cannot allow to decline in times of what is now called affluence—although one does not find much affluence in the shipbuilding industry—because we shall want these men in this trade if ever again, unfortunately, we are fighting to keep the sea lanes open.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has referred movingly to the break-up of the shipbuilding crews, and that does not apply only to the part of the country which he has represented in this Committee for so long and which he knows so well.
We are facing the same problem in Goole, which is a small shipbuilding port and which also has engineering works. The orders for new ships are coming in slowly and gradually and piecemeal. What affects us particularly is the very slow way in which the trawler fleets of Britain are being modernised and re-equipped with the most modern form of equipment and made speedier so that we can have fresher fish landed at the fishing ports. We do not fish from Goole, but we build the trawlers, and we are vitally affected by what happens to shipbuilding.
It has been said that there is very little unemployment among men in my constituency. However, there is much concealed unemployment because the shortage of work in the shipyards has led to men going to work outside Goole because there is no other work for them in the town. If there were more shipbuilding orders in Goole, men would not have to travel 20 miles or more to steel works or factories in other parts of Yorkshire, or even into Lincolnshire to get work. Although we do not do any fishing from Goole, we are vitally affected by the Bill.
Clause 2 lays down that the advances which can be made are to be increased from £20 million to £25 million, so that we are discussing a matter of £5 million. That is the sum to be spent on making loans for the acquisition and modernisation of fishing vessels not exceeding 140 feet in length which was previously the rule but which has now been extended 1241 by Clause 1, and for the construction of plants for the processing of white fish.
Owing to changes in the structure of the fishing industry, particularly around Iceland, our trawlers and other fishing vessels will now have to travel much greater distances. I gather from those who like collecting figures that the return voyage from the Humber ports to Greenland will be 3,214 miles and to the West side of Greenland—
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)
Clause 2 does not refer to the distant water fleet, about which the hon. Member is speaking.
§ Mr. Jeger
That may be so, but it refers to the general structure of the loans which may be granted, and most of the near and middle water fishing fleets will have to be converted into distant water vessels if there is to be any fish brought here. Most of the fish landed in this country is brought by the distant water fleet and not by the near and middle water fleets. There will obviously have to be a change in the structure of the industry before long and that is a factor which must be considered. It may be said that this is a subject which will be better debated when we consider the Fleck Report, but we cannot dismiss it from our minds when considering what loans or grants should be made to the industry so that it can function more efficiently.
I was about to say that the fleet which now goes to distant waters will have to go even longer distances. At present it consists of 235 ships of which 37 are coal burners, which will consequently have to be modernised and changed over to diesel. How many trawlers can be re-equipped and modernised for £5 million when a diesel electric trawler costs between £350,000 and £380,000 to build?
§ Mr. Soames
It is not £5 million more, and it is not a matter of the difference between £25 million and £20 million. Clause 2 provides that the amount outstanding at any one time can be £25 million instead of £20 million, and that bears no relationship whatever to the total amount of the loans. The total amount which could be outstanding at any one time was £20 million and that is being increased to £25 million. That 1242 does not mean that only £5 million more is to be loaned.
I must again say that Clause 2 does not refer to the distant water fleet about which the hon. Member has given figures. This is not an endeavour to provide loans for the building of a distant water fleet. The Committee as a whole is well acquainted with that fact, and that problem is something which we will have to tackle in the light of the Fleck Committee Report. The Clause is merely an extension of the existing loan arrangements for the middle, near and inshore fleets.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeger
That may be so, but it will be the concern of trawler owners to modernise their fleets as quickly as possible; otherwise they will be left sadly behind in the fish war that is about to start between Britain and the other fishing countries. It may be that the figure of £5 million is not the exact increase in the amount to be lent. At the same time, it will be about that figure.
I agree that some returns of loans will be coming in and that the total amount dealt with will be £25 million, but the increase from £20 million to £25 million represents a basic increase of £5 million, plus a little that will have accrued in the meantime which will have reduced the previous authorisation to a figure slightly below £20 million. It still means that the total ceiling will be £25 million, and within that sum there is little scope for the construction of processing plant in addition to the acquiring and modernising of trawlers. We regard the sum of £25 million as too little. We believe that it should be increased, and that in the light of the new development of the industry there should be further provision for the modernisation of the fishing fleet.
The question of the shortage of crews has also been referred to. Young men are leaving the industry. It may be that when the fleets are augmented with the new trawlers there will be a shortage of crews for them, but whose fault is that? The situation will have arisen because of the neglect of the Government in the past to make the fishing industry one in which there was a certainty of employment and good career prospects. It is the uncertainty in the industry which is causing the shortage today, and which 1243 may result in a future shortage of crews for the modern vessels.
Although we shall not divide the Committee tonight, I hope that the Minister will realise—
§ Mr. Jeger
Because it provides grants, with which we are in favour, and we do not want to deprive the industry of them. I hope that the Minister will give favourable consideration to a still further extension of these provisions in the future, and that when we discuss the Fleck Report we can regard this as part of a comprehensive scheme for the improvement of the industry.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I rise only because I am very dissatisfied with the remarks of the Secretary of State. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) that we would not think of voting against the provision of these extended benefits to the fishing fleet.
§ Mr. Ross
I am speaking for myself, and I trust that my hon. Friend is speaking for himself. We are troubled by the fact that, despite the extension provided by the Clause, we have been told that there will be a restriction of modernisation and replacement in respect of the Scottish near and middle water fleets. This certainly gives Scottish Members cause to consider what line they should pursue with the Secretary of State. On many occasions we have claimed that we should have a special voice and give special consideration to the interests of Scotland, and we now have a Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority. But no one would doubt that the various parts of the United Kingdom industry, doing the same job and covered by the same legislation, have roughly the same problems to face.
There will be a restriction in relation to the Scottish fleet, which will be affected by what happens in England. If the building goes on, not in relation to the near-water fleet perhaps but certainly in relation to the middle-water fleet, where they may well be fishing exactly the same grounds, the later 1244 development of the Scottish fleet may well be endangered. From the point of view of avoiding disputes between the two fleets, surely there ought to have been adequate consultation between the two committees. Has there been any consultation? I find it difficult to believe that the Scottish committee took this decision without any consultation or effort to see what was happening south of the Border.
I do not think anyone should complain because we in Scotland draw attention to the fact that even on the figures given by the Secretary of State, in one scattered part of Scotland, where we find it most difficult to attract industry, we are faced with more unemployment as a result of this standstill. Unemployment to the extent of 165 men does not mean much in a large city in the Midlands, but it means a great deal in small villages which are dependent on these small industries. Once the small industries decline, the village declines and men move away. In the light of that, a difficult position is created when the Scottish committee takes this decision without relation to what is happening elsewhere.
It is a strange position for the Secretary of State who, apart from his responsibility in relation to fishing, has overall responsibility in relation to employment in Scotland. He knows that one area there has been scheduled, and the hon. Member for that area can tell him how little has been done to attract new industries. It is very difficult to attract new industries into this kind of area; it is far easier to keep industries going.
A standstill means unemployment, which means that people must move away, which means that the area will not be able to cope with any resurgence of the industry, which will go instead to other building areas which are being kept alive. It is certainly better to keep the area alive and not to have this haphazard planning in relation to England and Scotland which we seem to have.
I hope that the Secretary of State will think seriously over what has been said to him. I was very troubled when I heard the speech about these boats which have already been started and the number of people employed there. To such an area it means as much as John Brown's yards mean to the Clyde. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will 1245 reconsider the position. This is something related not to the committee, but to his power of approval.
§ Mr. Maclay
I shall complain if I think that it is necessary.
The debate has moved into an employment debate. I do not complain, because employment is involved, but in the process I find myself in the astonishing position, after having been thanked for my reply by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), if not the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), of very nearly having to defend the antecedents of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East from a savage attack by one of his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I should like to correct that. I should not like that to go on the official record. It was not a savage attack.
§ Mr. Maclay
In the hon. Member's part of the country it would be regarded as a very savage attack indeed. We had better leave that, or I shall be in trouble again.
§ Mr. Willis
We welcome hundreds of Scots in my part of the country—Norfolk. In fact, they almost run the county now, and I am a refugee.
§ Mr. Maclay
I do not hold anything against Norfolk. I got my wife from Norfolk. That puts us all square. Perhaps a better term would be that we have a point in common. But I must now get back to the subject of fishing, or I may be in real trouble with the Chair and the Committee.
What has been discussed in the last quarter of an hour is the effect of unemployment in the North of Scotland. I assure the Committee that I am just as concerned as any other hon. Member about anything which reduces the employment opportunities in that or any other part of Scotland. I repeat what I said briefly in my earlier remarks, that this need not necessarily mean the break-up of teams of men—not necessarily, though it may if the conditions run on too long.
1246 There is a real opportunity for the yards building the smaller types of ship to go out for different markets and not remain concentrated on fishing-type boats. This applies to various yards on the West Coast and to some yards on the East Coast. I am sure that I need hardly say this, but I hope that the yards concerned will explore any possibility of widening the market and not being completely dependent upon fishing craft.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East asked me whether I could not say more about the future. I am used to doing a good deal of crystal ball gazing—one has to do it at times—but on this occasion I would say that one cannot forecast precisely the effect of what has happened on the building of fishing boats. For the reasons which I have given, it has not stopped altogether anyway. One cannot forecast the effect on employment. Other outlets may become available.
The so-called standstill, or partial standstill, runs only until September, when it has been agreed that the White Fish Authority will re-examine the whole position. As to what will happen after that, I cannot foretell the future. A great deal in the future will depend upon the decisions which arise from the Fleck Report I hope that we shall not get into the position that the skills of these men disappear. I should be very concerned if that happened. I hope that it will be possible for the men to go back if they do have to leave. That has happened in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) made a plea about the ships now building in the yards in his constituency and urged that they should at least be allowed to go ahead. I can only repeat what I said in my earlier speech, that where ships have been approved by the White Fish Authority they will, of course, go ahead. But I could not say that special regard should be paid to boats being built "on spec.", because that would be grossly unfair to the other yards which have not done that sort of thing.
I do not think that it would be right for me to say that I would put pressure on the White Fish Authority to pay special regard to the cases where boats were being built on spec. without having had the prior authority of the Authority. 1247 That would be unfair to yards which have paid full regard to the warning given by the Authority some years ago.
Having said that, I repeat that the Clause is helpful and necessary—
§ Mr. Maclay
I am glad that the hon. Member has reminded me of that. I think that there is some misunderstanding here. Of course, the Scottish Committee is part of the White Fish Authority and is in constant consultation with the rest of the Authority. This means that there is consultation with England. But that is not the real point. The real point is that the Committee has to look at the position in relation to the ports and fishing areas and what is happening in the areas fished by Scottish boats and the ports where Scottish boats land their catches. It is bound to do that.
I think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) knows better than anybody else that this question of overloading ports with one type or other or with too many of both types—trawlers and seine netters—can lead to trouble. There has been discussion for many years whether the seine net fleet has not become too big and is spoiling things for the trawler fleet. This is the kind of difficult problem which the White Fish Authority has to consider the whole time. It is not a question of Scotland versus England. It is a matter of looking at the Scottish fishing fleet and doing what is best in its interests.
I think I have covered nearly every question asked of me and perhaps now we can accept this Clause.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 3 and 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
1248 I do not think the House will wish me to speak for long. I have been saying a good deal in the last three-quarters of an hour which I should only repeat if I went into detail about what this Bill is designed to do. It is a small but important Measure. It is no way part of the long-term arrangements which we may decide to propose to the House after a full consideration of the Fleck Committee Report, and that deals with the point raised by the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger). This is a holding Measure to deal with important matters to be attended to during the time which it will take to reach a decision on the long-term position. I do not wish to bore the House after our somewhat protracted discussions during the Committee stage. I commend this Bill to hon. Members as a useful Measure which we need.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I think that this is a bad Bill which ought to be opposed. It is effrontery on the part of the Government to present it to the House, particularly at this time. I wish to make perfectly clear that I am not attacking those who man our fishing fleet. Although I am no longer associated with the industry, I have a personal interest in that members of my family are still trawling and I have a great admiration for the men in our fishing fleet, both the inshore and the deep sea fishermen. Therefore, anything I say in opposing this Bill should not be taken as a reflection on the courage of the men upon whom this country relies so much when the defence of our nation is involved.
I oppose the Bill largely because of the provisions in Clause 1 which extends the operational subsidies to the deep water vessels. I consider that a misuse of public money. It may be argued that taxpayers' money should be used to assist the inshore fishermen where there is an entirely different set-up regarding the ownership of the vessels from that which applies to the deep-water fleet. It may be arguable, though I should not like to advance the argument, that subsidies should be given to trawler owners operating North Sea vessels. It might even be argued that a case could be built to give subsidies to the Faroes ships. I should not like to argue about that.
1249 I defy the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to argue the case for any of the categories of vessels I have described, other than those of the inshore fishermen, on the pure economics of the fishing industry. That is a challenge which the Minister, if he is responsible in the pursuance of his duties as a Minister of the Crown, ought to accept. We have had repeated statements by representatives of the Government, particularly in the last few weeks, about the basis on which taxpayers' money ought to be used in subsidies. I repeat the challenge to the Minister because I think it important. He ought to be able to argue for the expenditure of public money to any section of the fishing industry on the basis of the economics of the industry itself. If he cannot do so, I charge him with not carrying out in a responsible fashion the duty imposed upon him as a Minister of the Crown.
We have had long debates recently involving the whole question of subsidies. It amazes me that some of my hon. Friends have seen fit to argue the case for the application of this Measure. Even as late as last night we had a debate in which a statement was made as to the basis on which public money should be paid. That is what we are dealing with in this debate, and in a debate of this kind it cannot be restricted specifically to the spending of this precise amount. One has to compare the spending of public money in the form of subsidies throughout the whole economy if we are to get this debate into proper perspective.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but this is a Third Readng debate when we are restricted to debating what is included in the Bill, not what might be in it.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I am grateful for your correction, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am always willing to be corrected by the Chair, because the Chair in this House is generally fair. May I submit this to you? This Bill contains a provision in Clause 1 which involves the spending of public money which is not defined. The total of it is not known. It is not specifically stated what amount of the taxpayers' money will be given to this industry in the form of subsidies. May I draw your 1250 attention to the words in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum? It says that Clause 1 is an amendment making for a schemeproviding for the payment of subsidy whatever the length of the vessel concerned and and without regard to the waters in which the voyages have been made or the fish caught.At the end, after referring to an order-making power, it says:… the order-making power will be exerciseable from time to time, but no one increase is to exceed £3 million.
§ Mr. Soames
Further to the Ruling you gave, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Has the hon. Gentleman understood the Bill fully? The Bill does not empower me to pay an operating subsidy to the distant water fleet. It no longer debars me from making an order, which will require an affirmative Resolution, to give an operating subsidy for the fleet. I want to make it quite clear to the hon. Gentleman that the Bill, if it receives a Third Reading, will not empower me to pay a subsidy to the distant water fleet.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I am very sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is so bankrupt of arguments to advance for the Bill that he has to resort to splitting hairs. He knows as well as I do that the Bill empowers him to bring an Order before the House from time to time to extend subsidies by £3 million, or to the maximum of £3 million, to deep water vessels. If he imagines that I am not conversant with the provisions of the Bill, he should think again.
The submission I was making to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, was this. The Bill contains a provision for the spending of public money. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect hon. Members to compare Government policy on the spending of public money with the provisions of the Bill. I do not for one moment want to impinge upon your rights, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I certainly do not wish to challenge your Ruling. The Bill, although it extends the subsidy to deep water vessels, is bad because it extends the subsidy without any consideration of the economic stability of the operators of the vessel.
If we are to spend public money in the form of subsidies of this kind to the industry, the public, whom we represent, should be assured that the industry needs the money. Why do we want to spend 1251 the money? Why does the Minister come to the House and say that the money is necessary in the interests of the industry? Ai no stage in the debate has he attempted to argue that it is essential for the economic well-being of the industry that the subsidy should be advanced to deep water vessels. I have read the Second Reading debate and the other part of the Committee stage. I have also listened to this debate. In the granting of public moneys it would be reasonable to apply to this industry the same test that the Government say should be applied to old-age pensioners, and to local authorities for housing—whether the expenditure is necessary and whether the industry needs the money.
From some of the debates we have had on this industry one would imagine that we were giving subsidies to poor men who go down to the sea and operate the trawlers themselves. If it were a question of three or four members of the crew operating the ship the argument might be sustained, but that it is certainly not so in the case of the deep-sea vessels. We know that the deep-sea side of the industry is earning fabulous profits.
The national award to what is known in the ports as the "top skipper" was recently made to last year's top skipper, who earned £10,000 for himself. It might be argued that all skippers do not earn £10,000 a year, but the same man, who was not the top skipper in the three previous years, stated that his average annual earnings in those three previous years was £8,500. He does not own the boat—he merely sails it on a poundage basis, and the boat he sailed last year landed fish to the value of £152,000. This is one ship.
This is the industry to which we are asked to give operational subsidies. Why? Is it not the Minister's responsibility to argue the case on an economic basis? If the old-age pensioner wants to retrieve the 2s. she pays in prescription charges, she has to prove her need. So should this industry prove its need if it wants subsidies. If the Government apply to the old-age pensioners a yardstick different from that which they apply to this industry, they are not facing up to their responsibility.
1252 Excluding the inshore and the seine net boats, there are 171 vessels sailing from the port of Grimsby. There are 71 deep-sea vessels, 44 Faroe vessels, and 56 North Sea vessels. As I have said, it might be possible to argue a case for the North Sea and the Faroe vessels—although I would not like to try—but the whole of those 171 vessels are owned by 11 firms. Of the 71 deep water vessels, 54 are owned by three firms, and the other 17 are owned by three other firms.
That means that six firms actually own and operate the 71 deep water vessels that trade from Grimsby. This is important, because what I seek to show is that this is a very highly concentrated industry, controlled by a very limited number of people. This is by no means a question of ships being owned by the crews. I think that the Minister will agree that 54 vessels out of a total of 71, and those owned by only three firms, is a substantial proportion of the total number of deep water vessels being operated. These firms do more than own deep water vessels. They also own some of the North Sea and Faroe vessels. If one were to argue that three firms owned 54 deep water vessels running from the Grimsby ports, one would give the wrong picture. They are much bigger firms than that. Who are they?
First, there is the Northern Trawlers, owning 29 vessels. This company owns or has interests in vessels in Hull and other ports. It is associated in merchanting, in curing, in deep-freezing, in retailing. It owns the business producing "Eskimo" brand deep-frozen products. In practice, it is in every possible aspect of the fishing industry.
What applies to Northern Trawlers applies equally to the Ross Group and to Consolidated Fisheries of Grimsby, the other two firms controlling the bulk of ships running from the Grimsby ports. Each one of them operates not just as a trawler owner. We are told that these poor, downcast industrialists need subsidies. They have to come to the House of Commons and ask for public money to be put in their laps. They own the boats. They own merchanting organisations, curing organisations and deep-freezing organisations. They own wet fish shops and they own fish and chip shops. They own cold stores and they provide all their own provisions. They 1253 own tugs. This is the scandal in the distribution of taxpayers' money to which this country is descending.
I am in favour of attempting to reorganise the fishing industry. Before ever the industry had any assistance from the House of Commons, I would say to it, "Put your own house in order first". At an earlier stage of the Bill, my hon. Friends from Scotland and my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger)—I had a little argument with him about it—complained at the lack of orders coming into the shipbuilding yards. They argued that one way of maintaining employment in some of the Scottish shipyards would be to have ships built irrespective of the total of ships which would operate.
It would not be a bad idea if those now running from the ports of Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood who are to receive operational subsidies decided to have their ships built in this country. If the Government intend to pay operational subsidies to the deep-sea trawler owners, they ought at least to see that the ships which will qualify for the operational subsidies have been built in British shipyards. The Minister ought to be in a position now to tell us how many of the trawlers operating from the three major ports during the past twelve months—I am not asking for a lot; I am forgetting a great many ports, taking only Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood—were built in German shipyards. If he knows the answer, which I do not suppose he does, and he wants to answer now, I shall willingly sit down.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member must please restrict his speech to what is within the Bill. Asking questions outside the Bill and expecting an answer would be out of order.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I did not think that it would be out of order in asking that the operational subsidy embodied in the Bill should be applied in a given way. The Bill gives provision to the Minister to come to this House—I want to be perfectly correct as he is bound to split hairs with me again—and to ask this House, by affirmative Resolution, to grant him some money from time to time up to a maximum of £3 million. We ought to be able to say, if not now at the time of the requesting of the affirmative Resolution—and unless we 1254 have the answers now we shall not know then—that the money which he is asking us to grant to him should be spent with at least some limitation. If I am out of order in asking the right hon. Gentleman to give me information which he has not got, I am quite willing to move on from that point and to deal with something else.
What is the real nature of the Bill? Here again, I want to try to avoid being out of order too much, but I think that we ought to have from the Government the real reason why they want this Bill. I notice the Minister posing and sighing as though he were a bit tired of the arguments. He has the opportunity later on to answer them. It might be a better idea, even if the arguments are not valid, if the Minister of Agriculture had a pencil in his hand to take notes so that he would be prepared to answer the arguments that are not even valid, because he is responsible. His job is to safeguard the public purse.
The Minister has no right to come to this House to ask for subsidies under Bills of this kind unless he can justify the payment of those subsidies in the proper way. He can sigh and pose as much as he likes, but he ought to be made to answer the questions that have been asked. The real reason for the Bill is that it is the price we have to pay for the failure of the Government to resolve the Icelandic problem. That is private enterprise. Here, we are giving to private enterprise of a very highly organised kind a subsidy of £3 million. If the Government, which represent private enterprise, have got private enterprise into a difficulty because of their inability to negotiate with the Icelandic Government, they cannot have it both ways. They cannot have private enterprise and Government subsidies. We should recognise that it is no longer private enterprise. It is the constant reiteration of the demand of industry for Government "lolly".
If the Government wish to give subsidies of this kind to deep sea water vessels, some of the money should be used to improve conditions in the industry. If they are concerned about the fishing industry, they should at least demand from the trawler owners that the men who serve in the ships should get a better deal. The men in the ships work an 18-hour day by agreement between the 1255 trawler owners and the unions. The owners are the people to whom we are to give a subsidy, yet the best that they can do for the trawlermen, the hands on the ship, is to agree to an 18-hour day. It has been said that this has been determined by the exigencies under which the ships are fishing. If there were 26 hours in the day, the trawler owners would want the men to work for 26 hours. That is my experience of them.
The difference between the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and myself is that I have been engaged in fishing and I know something about the industry. It is about time that we had a Minister who knew something about the fishing industry. If we did, we would not be wasting public money in the way that we are wasting it now. It is a tragedy that we have a Minister who knows so little about the fishing industry and who has the effrontery to bring in a Bill of this kind to give £3 million subsidy to a section of the industry which does not need it, which is making fabulous profits, which is organised on the basis of a virtual monopoly and which should be the last industry to ask the Government for subsidies. I oppose the Bill.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Hoy
What the Secretary of State said in describing the Bill as a holding Measure was accurate except that it goes a little further. It has been said that it provides a subsidy to the distant water fleet, or at least there is provision for so doing. To that extent, it is a departure from anything that we have had so far. I said that on Second Reading, but I am bound to say that neither myself nor any of my hon. Friends from Scotland regard the Bill as a solution to our difficulties or to the shipbuilding problems. The Bill can help only the smaller fishing villages and shipbuilding yards on the coast in the North of Scotland. They are grateful for what work they can get. If it can be done in this way, we are grateful for it.
The decision concerning the distant water fleet is quite a different matter. Let it be clearly understood that the Icelandic Agreement was not made with any great cheer on the part of anybody in this country, but it was approved at the end of the day by the workers, 1256 represented by the Transport and General Workers' Union, as the best which could be obtained. As a consequence, a considerable part of our fishing grounds will be lost to us and it will be up to the industry to replace it either by new forms of fishing or by finding new grounds to fish. Certainly, we hope that the subsidy that will be paid will be used for this purpose.
I do not intend to go over the argument I used some weeks—nearly months—ago, because the Bill has been going on since January. I said then that I hoped that as a result of it those engaged in the fishing industry—I am talking of the men who man the trawlers—would also get some of the benefits that might flow from the Bill. I have always said so. Just as their physical conditions have improved on all forms of trawling, I would hope that the monetary rewards would also be greater. The Bill holds the position as it is for the middle and near water fleets, who are undergoing difficult times. It makes possible the extension for the distant water fleet.
The Bill is truly a holding Measure. Certainly, those of us on this side and, I am sure, hon. Members opposite, hope that it will not be long before we have proposals before us to discuss the Fleck Report and all its implications and the results deriving from it. Then, we will be able to decide the shape of our fishing fleet. Only when we have done that will we be able to make the decisions which will determine not only the size of the fleet but the conditions of those who have the hazardous job of sailing these vessels.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I want to get some assurances from the Minister about the operation of the Bill when it becomes an Act. It is assumed that the vessels which we are discussing—those over 140 ft.—will operate in distant waters all the time. I only hope that that is correct. It is not necessarily true, although we are assuming it. The voyages as described in the Bill can be of any kind to any area.
What some of us are anxious about is that we may find ourselves in the difficult position, to say the least, of subsidising the operations of vessels which operate in certain areas where we are most 1257 anxious to ensure that the existing stocks of fish in the near and inshore waters are properly conserved. Conservation of fish is one of the most important problems before the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and before the nation. We know that areas as extensive as the North Sea can be, and have been, over-fished. How much more easily and more dangerously can we deplete smaller areas like the Moray Firth, the Minch and areas of that kind?
We know that there has been over-fishing in those areas. There is nothing to prevent the subsidised operations of the larger vessels from clashing with accepted national policy in respect of the conservation of fish in the nearer waters. I doubt whether there is any provision in the Bill to guarantee that the vessels will not operate in the quite near waters which already are heavily over-fished. We may, therefore, find ourselves subsidising this class of vessel and, at the same time, paying for a fishery protection service which the operations of the subsidised vessels will defeat. It is a strange thing, but that can happen. I am extremely concerned about the position of the nearer waters and the inshore waters.
We have had all this out in past years and we have a position in which on the one hand we have a fishery protection service paid for by the taxpayers and on the other the trawler fleets coming in and fishing illegally in the supposedly protected waters within the limits. The need for the Bill was created by the Icelandic dispute and the situation around Iceland. As these vessels are being excluded from a wider area of Icelandic waters and the fisheries there, they are tempted to fall back on other areas for their fishing operations, with the result that other areas may well be exposed from time to time to the depredations of vessels driven out of the old Icelandic zone and later out of the 6–12 mile zone as well. Therefore, they may well be forced once again from time to time into the inshore fishermen's area and into the nearer waters which are already so seriously over-fished and depleted.
We must be sure that in subsidising the wealthier and more powerful sections of the fishing industry we are not jeopardising the weaker sections of the 1258 same industry. I doubt whether we are providing adequate protection even now for the inshore fisheries. If we add the catching capacities of even occasional raids by the bigger subsidised vessels on inshore fisheries, how much less must become the provisions that we are making today against the illegal trawlers.
We are making provisions for the Faroes. We recognise their special need for an extension of their limits and we would bar the ships which we are here subsidising from fishing in a wider area round the Faroes than the fisheries round our own country. We have been forced to recognise the special claims of almost every area except the areas where our own inshore fishermen are compelled to make a living. This is an extremely anomalous situation about which we should think most carefully in putting these subsidies into operation.
I hope that the Minister will constantly have the closest regard to the protection of our own inshore fisheries and, indeed, the nearer waters which are so heavily over-fished and depleted already. Arising out of the international dispute which was so ineptly handled we have the Icelandic claim to have special provision made for the only industry on which Iceland must continue to depend for her survival. There are extended fishery limits around Iceland and we now have a situation in which these subsidised vessels will be forced back in certain conditions into places where one would want them least of all to fish.
This question of conservation is extremely important, and the operation of the Bill will raise new problems in various fishery areas. I should hate to see us subsidising an increased catching power to do more over-fishing in areas which are already over-fished and for the protection of which we are providing further money out of the public purse. It may well be that we shall have to extend the fishery protection service even further in respect of the provisions of new vessels under this Bill.
I hope, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), that the Minister will have the closest regard also to the conditions in which the men will live and work on these vessels, because, after all, we are assuming a special responsibility for them. We have a right to lay down 1259 stricter conditions in relation not only to manning but living and working conditions once we put public money as a subvention into this section of the industry.
I hope that the Minister will more and more, in the years to come, give his close attention, with the trade unions and the employers concerned, to this problem of the working and living conditions on board these vessels. They are extremely important in many ways, not only in respect of the present personnel but also from the point of view of attracting the best type of workers into the industry. That is also extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West also referred to the fact that while there is a limit of £3 million at any one moment, there is no limit, so far as we are aware, to what any one firm—or, nowadays, one syndicate—can enjoy in the way of an operational subsidy under the Bill. That is another thing to which the Minister and the House will have to pay close attention. Every application will have to be scrutinised with the greatest care to make sure that we do not have concentrations of interests grabbing the greatest possible amount out of the total sum of £3 million.
My hon. Friend was perfectly right in what he said about that aspect. The danger is that the more powerful firms are the ones most likely to be able to launch out with the assistance of the new operational subsidies, and the likely result will be that some of the smaller firms will go under. We do not want to see that happen, but the greater the financial concentration, with all its consequences, the greater the destruction is likely to be of the smaller firms around the smaller ports. If there is anything which this House should be concerned about, it is the avoidance of the destruction of the fishing population. We must also see that there is a proper distribution of that population around our coasts and islands.
Whether from the point of view of recruiting for the Royal Navy, the Merchant Navy or the fishing fleets, it is vital that the greatest possible number of the right type of young person should be attracted into the industry and encouraged to learn from the shore outwards—the Secretary of State knows 1260 what I mean—from their local foreshore to deep sea fishing.
The area that I represent has been a centre for seamen since long before the Vikings took over the Western Isles. The people of the Western Isles have had a proud association not only with our fishing fleets and the Merchant Navy but with the Royal Navy. Before the last war they recruited about one quarter of the Royal Naval Reserve. We want to see a continuance of that association in opportunities for training for seamen and fishermen—men with the lore of the sea, who have a pride in the fishing industry and in seamanship.
We want to conserve the smaller ports. We are anxious that there shall not, as a side effect of the Bill through the allocation of subsidies, be too great a concentration of the industry in three or four major ports. To a large extent that has already happened, but we still have to try to rescue what is left for the smaller building areas and the smaller fishing ports.
That takes me back to my first point—the importance of making sure that the purposes of the Bill, which are acceptable to many hon. Members on this side of the House as well as to hon. Members opposite, while assisting one section of the industry do not adversely affect the interests of others who are less able to help themselves and who even now are suffering from the depredations of the bigger interests in the industry.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I want to refer to the effect of the subsidy on the herring industry in particular. I am concerned with the idea that the fish meal and oil subsidy is to be taken off. That is relevant to our discussion of the Bill, because we must ensure that money paid into the industry is exploited as effectively as possible. If the fish meal and oil subsidy is taken off, there will be a serious psychological effect on the industry.
The herring industry is an industry in which large surpluses are caught at a very few times of the year, and if the surpluses are completely wasted there will be sad disappointment in an industry in which it is already difficult to get crews. There is only one way in which 1261 those surpluses can be used effectively and that is by storage, and particularly cold storage, for curing and other processing in the slack months. That is something which will have to be undertaken in great bulk and which will be extremely expensive.
At the moment, we are spending large sums on subsidies for the production side of the industry, but it is little good to increase the rate of production if marketing policy is not also improved so that the direction as well as the amount of our financial assistance is put right. One of our skippers said to me the other day—
§ Mr. Willey
On a point of order. I raise this as a point of order because I think that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) is under some misapprehension. Am I right in assuming that the debate can continue after ten o'clock if the House agrees to the Motion which the Government have put down?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
My understanding is that at ten o'clock a Motion will be moved to suspend the Rule for the purpose of continuing our business.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Further to that point of order. Should not the hon. Member give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who wished to ask him a question? Would not that be in accordance with the traditions of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) must know the rules of the House and that 1262 if the hon. Member in possession of the Floor does not give way no other hon. Member may rise to speak.
§ Mr. Wolrige-Gordon
I merely want to conclude by saying that although there is a great deal to be said for a policy which improves fishing facilities in the North of Scotland—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
On a point of order. Is it in order for a right hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench, while still seated, to interrupt my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Wolrige-Gordon
I merely want to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that they should pay more attention to storage facilities, especially to the storage and handling of fish—
§ Mr. Willey
On a point of order. We are now on the Third Reading of the Bill. Will you indicate to the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, which part of the Bill contains any provision relating to storage and such matters? The hon. Member has confined his speech to that point. I cannot find any provision dealing with storage or shore facilities.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That point of order is not without justification. I hope that the hon. Member will confine himself to the Bill. In any case, he has now finished.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis
I had a certain amount of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) said about stopping the oil and 1263 meal subsidy, but there is no reference to that in the Bill, although it was mentioned in the Fleck Committee's Report, and I wondered how the hon. Member managed to remain in order when talking about that. Nevertheless, I agree with him about the unfortunate consequences that might flow to Scotland from an acceptance of this recommendation.
I want to stress the importance of the arguments adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan). We have been adducing these arguments during all the proceedings on the Bill. As I understood him, my hon. Friend was concerned that the subsidy arrangements made in the Bill should not result in the smaller fishermen having to suffer as opposed to the larger groups, and there is a great danger of this. We have stressed this danger throughout all the proceedings on the Bill. It is especially dangerous for Scotland.
The danger arises because, for the first time, the Bill extends the subsidies to the distant water fleet. We are now paying subsidies to a formerly very prosperous and powerful section of the industry. I still think that there is a considerable amount to be said for the minority Report of Mr. George Middleton, who was a member of the Fleck Committee, in which he said that we ought to consider
§ this matter with very great care indeed before we begin to hand out large sums of public money to companies that are very very well off, some of which have extensive interests ashore, which make them financially powerful interests. I am sorry if hon. Members opposite are annoyed, but I consider the interests of the fishing industry in Scotland to be more important than the convenience of the Minister, or even of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
§ The importance of the Bill arises from the fact that the Fleck Committee reported that the fishing industry should not expand; indeed, that it should probably slightly contract. In Scotland, this is already happening. We have the decision of the White Fish Authority concerning the standstill arrangement in respect of trawler fleets and the seine net fleets. If, precisely at the moment that we apply this principle, we begin to subsidise the most powerful section of the industry—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.