§ 5.18 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)
I beg to move,That the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1962, dated 4th July, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.As this Scheme and the corresponding Scheme for the hearing industry are very similar to each other, I suggest that it would be convenient to the House to deal with the two together.
§ Mr. Soames
As there axe other fishery Schemes and Orders to be con-sidered la-tar, I will not take up more of the time of the House than I need, but these are new Schemes which require some explanation. These Schemes, like the Schemes now in operation, make provision for grants by the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board towards the cost of acquiring 68 new fishing vessels and engines. The Sea Fish Industry Act, 1962, authorises us to continue to make such Schemes for a further ten years. The main purpose of these Schemes is, therefore, to extend the assistance which would otherwise have expired under the old legislation. In other words, we needed new Schemes to fulfil this purpose.
The new Schemes make some important changes and I should like to say a word or two about these and why they are being made. Under this new Act grants can be made for distant water vessels and the limitation, which was imposed under previous Schemes, that grants could be given only for vessels up to 140 ft. in length, has, therefore, been removed. This is the first big difference. Then the Act has made it possible to remove the distinction which had hitherto been applied between working and non-working owners of inshore vessels, a distinction which led to difficulties and which we no longer think is justified. Up to now, under the old scheme, non-working owners have been able to get grants of only 25 per cent. for vessels instead of the 30 per cent. allowed to working owners, and this distinction, together with their not being able to get grants for engines, is now dropped. Non-working owners will be eligible in the same way as working owners.
The maximum amounts of grant have also been revised. New vessels under 80 ft. in length will still get a 30 per cent. grant but subject now to a higher maximum of £13,000—it was £5,000 before— and engines for such vessels up to a maximum of £2,500, which was £1,250 before. For vessels over 80 ft. in length—and this includes the ones over 140 ft. as well—grants of 25 per cent. will be available but up to a maximum of £50,000 instead of £37,500 as hitherto.
Another change made in the Scheme is that the period during which grants might become repayable if the conditions of the Scheme are broken has been reduced. This control period was 10 years under the 1953 Scheme but for vessels of 116 ft. in length or over under the 1955 Scheme it was increased to 20 years. The reason for this was to prolong the restrictions on voyages in the distant waters by these vessels, but since there 69 will be no such restrictions on vessels which will be built under this Scheme, there is no need to continue the control period for as long as 20 years and we are putting it back to the original 10 years.
The control period for engines is also being cut from 10 years to five years to relate it more closely to the actual life of the engine for which the grant is given. While on the subject of these restrictions I would add that the restrictions which at present apply to vessels built under the 1953 and 1955 Schemes are being dealt with under Section 31 of the new Act, not under these Schemes. Where these Schemes are concerned, vessels built under them will not have the restriction placed on them at the commencement of their life, as did those built under the old Schemes.
The present Schemes differ from their predecessors in that we have dropped the condition that applications can be entertained only in respect of vessels and engines built or to be built in the United Kingdom. This is, of course, the most controversial aspect, if not the only controversial aspect of these Schemes.
The basic purpose of these grants is to help the fishing industry to equip itself. This implies that owners should be able to buy the vessels that they need from the most efficient yards at the most favourable prices wherever these might be found. The question that the Government had to decide in making a new Scheme under the new Act was whether it would be right to write into the Scheme what was in the old one, a requirement to build only in home yards to get a grant or loan, which is plainly contrary to our international obligations. From the point of view of the fishing industry, which the Scheme is designed to help, there was clearly no case for it, and in relation to our international obligations, which are quite definite, we were going to put ourselves at a considerable disadvantage in arguing, as we often have to do, against discriminatory practices abroad if we were blatantly to prescribe one ourselves. This was highlighted when it came to the point of having to put in a new Scheme under the new Act.
As regards the trawler-building section of the shipbuilding industry, it will from now on be in the same competitive posi- 70 tion vis-à-vis, the trawler-building industry abroad as will the rest of the shipbuilding industry vis-à-vis, its competitors abroad. But it is not actually along these lines that the real criticism has come. There was real anxiety on two points. First, that the British trawler-building yards should have an opportunity of competing, and, secondly, that the competition should be on fair terms. I hope to be able to satisfy the House on both these points.
On the first point, the White Fish Authority will be directed to administer the Scheme in such a way that when an application is received for building a vessel abroad, the applicant will be required to obtain not less than three tenders from British yards, and the tenders will be based on the same specification. If any of the British tenders are lower than the foreign tenders, but the applicant still decides to build abroad, the grant will be related only to the amount of the British tender and no more.
On the second point of fair competition, what has worried hon. Members is that we should not grant aid orders placed with foreign yards which are subsidised by their own Governments. Let me assure the House that it is OUT firm intention to administer the Scheme so as to ensure, as far as is humanly possible, that grants are not given for boats built abroad in yards which can be shown to be in receipt of a material element of subsidy. This will be done by the White Fish Authority referring to Departments any proposal where they consider that on the basis of the tenders there is a good case for a grant to be given to a vessel which is to be built in a foreign yard. If the Ministry of Transport from the information available is satisfied that the foreign yard in question is receiving a material element of subsidy, the White Fish Authority will be so informed and will then tell the applicant that no grant will be given if he decides to go ahead with building the vessel in that foreign yard.
The points that I want to make to the House are that in our view it would have been wrong for the Government to have brought in a new Scheme which was in blatant contradiction to our international obligations, but that, on the other hand, we were determined to see 71 that we built safeguards into the way in which the Scheme will be operating, so that British yards will have the fullest opportunity to compete on fair terms. I believe that the Government's decision was perfectly justified and that the safeguards that we have included will ensure that what has been done in the interests of the fishing industry and within the framework of our international obligations will not prove to be detrimental to our shipbuilding industry. I trust that the House will give its approval to both Schemes.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for his explanation of this Scheme. We had some little doubt about who would give the explanation and we are pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman with us.
At the outset, I apologise for the non-attendance of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), who is usually with us when we debate these matters. I am certain the House will be sorry to hear that he suffered a very sad bereavement during the weekend, and it is that which prevents him being with us.
This Scheme, in the main, changes the periods of time and the sums involved in previous Schemes, but, as the Minister said, it goes much further. The duration for repayment was determined by the change in the fishing grants, and because of the effect that this is having on a section of our fishing industry the Government have decided that there will be no limit on the number of sailings that will take place to grounds previously prohibited to the class of vessel covered by this Scheme.
We are concerned today with the proposal in this Scheme which will give to foreign shipyards subsidies previously reserved for shipyards in this country. We have many objections to this proposal. One objection is that this is the first time that this House has had an opportunity to discuss it. Secondly, we do not have freedom to amend this provision. Either we accept the Scheme as it stands, containing this provision, or we reject it, and by so doing we would 72 fail to provide fox ships built in this country. This puts the House of Commons in a very awkward position.
We are bound to express our feelings in this matter, because we had long discussions on the Measure out of which this Scheme arises and during the course of those proceedings the Government never once hinted that this alteration would take place. Indeed, in another place this proposal was rejected. The Government were incensed about this because, if the proposal had been allowed to stand, it would have come back to this House for discussion, but to prevent that happening the Government moved an Amendment to delete that proposal, restoring the Bill to its original state and depriving the House of Commons of the right to discuss this specific issue. We believed it to be a bit of sharp practice, and we still believe that to be the case.
We resented the fact that we in this House would be deprived of any opportunity of discussing the matter. We have been told that this will put British shipyards in line with foreign shipyards in the matter of competing for other classes of vessels. But the Minister has got the argument the wrong way round. Up to the present our shipyards have had the advantage of this subsidy. It is now proposed to take that advantage away from our shipyards and give it to the foreign shipyards, placing the foreign shipyards on the same basis as British shipyards for vessels built under this Scheme. That ought to be clearly understood; otherwise we shall get into difficulties in discussing this Scheme.
The Minister has argued that the Government have done this in order to conform to international agreements, and I am certain that he had in mind E.F.T.A. and G.A.T.T. But this is not so. The Secretary of State—I refer to the departed Secretary of State, not the present one—took part in a debate in this House on 8th June and made it perfectly clear that this alteration had not come about because of any representations by the owners or G.A.T.T. or E.F.T.A. Let me quote from his speech on 8th June. He said:It is true that, as yet, there has been no formal complaint against us under either the G.A.T.T. or the E.F.T.A. Convention in regard 73 to this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th June, 1962; Vol. 661, c. 851.]Therefore, if the Minister seeks to found his case on these two conventions, I point out to him that neither G.A.T.T. nor E.F.T.A. made any such request to him. His case, so far as those two conventions are concerned, goes by the board.
These regulations have been in existence for many years. They were not produced merely a year or eighteen months ago. It is under these regulations that all this rebuilding of shipping is taking place, and without any complaint at all. What we wanted to know on 8th June, as a result of a Question which was put on the Order Paper, was who had complained against these regulations. The Secretary of State had to confess that he had received no specific complaint at all. All that the Minister has done this afternoon is to argue that it might have been possible to complain. I was on the point of calling him the Secretary of State. Of course, we do not know what he will be in an hour's time, but let me call him the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the time being. The Minister has argued his case from the point of view that there has been some complaint from E.F.T.A. or G.A.T.T. and I am pointing out that there has been no such complaint at all.
The Minister said that, having agreed to do this, we ought to draft some rules so that the British shipbuilder would have a fair deal. He proposes to take three tenders from British yards and one from a foreign yard. Then he proposes to do something which he has been complaining about. He says that if we are going to conform to the E.F.T.A. and G.A.T.T. conventions it has got to be done on an equal footing. But he has just announced that we are going to differentiate between the countries. He says that we are going to tell the owner who orders a vessel that if he decides to take the vessel from a foreign shipyard and the price is greater than the British shipyard tenders, the White Fish Authority will differentiate and will say, "If you order from this foreign yard, you will be paid a subsidy less than the lowest British tender."
In fact, he is going to base his proportion of the subsidy on a price lower than would have been obtained by the 74 foreign shipbuilder if he had been successful. In other words, he is going to ignore the difference between the foreign tender and the British tender. It is not to be taken into consideration at all. Here is a differentiation that the Minister himself proposes to institute by his present proposal. This cannot be regarded as equal tendering. He himself is breaking the law, and breaking the agreement with G.A.T.T. and E.F.T.A.
I and my hon. Friends have opposed this proposal because at present one cannot say that British shipyards are so busy that they cannot cope with orders of this kind. But we find ourselves in a difficulty that if we reject the Scheme we are making it impossible for the grants and loans to be made to any trawler owner in the country. We think that the Government's proposal is iniquitous. We can only console ourselves with the thought this is a mere tampering with the fishing industry and that if we take all these Schemes together there is no solution. Perhaps our greatest consolation, in view of the present turmoil, is that we shall not have to put up with this Government much longer.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I hope that the House will forgive me for a rather inadequate voice. I speak on this Scheme only to ask the Minister to con-sider two short points. It has been said in relation to the grants that is it the Government's intention to make the fishing industry look for new grounds and go in for new methods of research in view of the troubles in Iceland, the Faroes and other places. The industry is only too ready to do this, but it considers that an unfair burden is imposed on the companies concerned in having to go in for some new experimental type of vessel and that the grants might therefore be increased. If such a vessel is being built, the Government could make things easier for the industry if they said that where there was a revolutionary type of vessel the industry would be given a slightly larger grant.
It is not in order now to go into the pros and cons of fishery protection, though I hope to be doing so later on. I would call attention, however, to the fact that the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee has built its own protection 75 vessel, and I would ask whether the Government could consider extending grants to the building of protection vessels by the fishery committees themselves.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) said about the dilemma in which we are placed, in that we have to accept or reject the Scheme and there is no means by which we can amend it. Like the hon. Member, I was extremely anxious when we first heard of this new departure in the payment of subsidy to a vessel built in a foreign yard, but I was somewhat relieved by what my right hon. Friend had to say today about the safeguards which have been devised for the administration of the Scheme. I gather from my right hon. Friend's statement that it is difficult to see how these vessels will be built abroad in future.
The prime reason for my speaking to the Scheme is that I should like my right hon. Friend, or whoever replies to the debate, to clear up one point. My right hon. Friend said that the White Fish Authority will look at each transaction and will take into consideration any material element of subsidy which it may discover in any foreign yard when the three British yards have submitted their quotations and the price asked by the foreign yard is less. My point is not about the question of direct physical subsidy by the sovereign State to the foreign yard but whether it will be considered by the British Government as a direct subsidy if in future the position which arose in Germany, as implemented by Dr. Schacht, occurs again.
This is the position where there is a blocked currency and certain facilities are provided whereby that currency can be used to have a vessel built in a certain yard. In practice, nothing could be a greater subsidy than that. This was why a great deal of business flowed into the yards at Hamburg whan Dr. Schacht introduced it in the Reichstag by promoting the Sperrmark. I want to feel satisfied that if there were such circumstances this would be considered by the White Fish Authority and by the Ministry as a definite subsidy to the yard.
76 I should also like to echo what the hon. Member for Leith said about the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). I am sure that the whole House very much regrets that one more difficulty has confronted the hon. and learned Member, for whom so many of us have very sincere affection.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
These Schemes are the result of a Measure which we have spent so much time in discussing during the last seven months. Perhaps the Minister now realises that the surreptitious way in which he brought forward the contentious proposal of subsidies to vessels built in foreign shipyards was a mistake on his part. I know that he and his ex-colleague, the Secretary of State for Scotland up till a short time ago, tried to justify it by reference to our international obligations. In the rather curtailed debate which we had on the subject we heard an explanation to that effect from the former Secretary of State.
But we have still been left without a satisfactory explanation why the proposal was announced to the House on a Friday by means of a Written Answer to a Question when there was no opportunity for us to probe the matter by means of supplementary questions. It has been left until now for us to receive from the right hon. Gentleman information about the safeguards which he says have been worked out to maintain the productivity of British shipyards in the face of foreign competition. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has treated the House at all fairly. We are entitled to know more about it.
§ Mr. Soames
I should like to make one point clear. It was on 18th May that I announced this in a Written Answer to a Question. The timing of that was in order to tell the House as soon as possible before anything leaked out, because consultations had had to take place beforehand. I was very well aware that Oral Questions to me at Question Time would not be reached in the immediate future. In fact, after 18th May, Questions to me for Oral Answer were not reached until 2nd July. Had I waited until then it would have been much too late to inform the House. It is quite a natural way to give by this method an outline to the House of what 77 is decided, and then the House is the right and proper place to have a debate upon it. I was anxious to give the House as long a notice as possible about it.
§ Mr. Jeger
With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman and his intentions, that is not really satisfactory. It so happened that, on the day before that, there was the Second Reading in another place. The announcement which appeared on the Friday could have been made in another place on the day before. There could not have been all that importance in its being held over for one day. Furthermore, as the right hon. Gentleman knows—he has been on the Front Bench long enough, perhaps too long—the following Monday after the Friday when he made his announcement was his day for replying to Questions in the normal way.
I am quite sure that Mr. Speaker would not have objected if the right hon. Gentleman had asked permission to answer a Question which was so lowly placed on the Order Paper that it would not be reached in the ordinary course. This has been done many times. Ministers have asked permission to make statements in reply to Questions not reached because they wanted to give the House the fullest possible information.
It is quite obvious that the right hon. Gentleman did not want to give the House full information. He wanted to slide the thing through by means of a surreptitious Written Answer to a Question on the Friday so that the matter would go through without being subjected to any question from either side of the House. There are many hon. Members on both sides who have been uneasy about this, as the Minister must be well aware. However, I do not wish to pursue it further. The Minister knows out view about it. He knows that he has acted very badly. Although he has been trying his best to remedy the situation, he has not succeeded very well.
The terms and conditions which the Minister read out seem to me to be satisfactory. They seem to help to put the matter in a better way than appeared when it was first outlined to us, but I want to know whether those terms and conditions emanated only from his own Department and the Scottish Office or ware formulated in consultation and 78 agreement with the shipping interests in this country.
After the storm broke over the original announcement, we were told that the shipping interests had had an interview with the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Transport and that they had gone away partly satisfied at the sympathetic response which they had received. I want to know whether the terms and conditions which the Minister read out today are the result of those consultations and the shipping interests are satisfied with them, or whether they are only the result of his own fruitful mind and are being foisted upon the shipping industry without agreement.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the House for not being in my place at the start of the debate. I was unavoidably delayed.
At the outset, I associate myself with all hon. Members who have expressed sympathy with the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) in his recent bereavement. The hon. and learned Gentleman has had a very rough time lately. We can only hope that it is of some comfort to him to know that hon. Members on both sides of the House are thinking of him at this difficult time.
I do not intend to go again over all the arguments which were used during the Adjournment debate on the question whether these grants and loans should be extended to vessels built in foreign yards. Since that time, I have done my best to pursue the matter by Question to try to clarify some of the points which did not seem at all clear. I feel no happier about the matter now than I did at the beginning. I was not at all happy about the way the matter was introduced, but, above all, I do not consider that any clear or satisfactory explanation has been given to the House of why, at this moment, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade suddenly appeared to be so very important.
Since the end of the war, we have had many white fish and herring industry Bills before the House. The excuse given has been that, because this is a new Measure, now an Act, we could not continue the same arrangements having 79 regard to our obligations under the G.A.T.T. As I understood it, the reason always given hitherto for why we made no change was balance of payments difficulties, not our obligations under the G.A.T.T. I should have thought that this, of all times, was not the time suddenly to imply that the balance of payments difficulty is entirely remedied.
As regards the safeguards, I understand from some of the shipping interests in the Port of Aberdeen that people are a good deal happier about the arrangements since the consultations with the Ministry of Transport, but one has to remember that these consultations came not before but after the announcement. This still does not meet the point of principle that, while no one objects to a British owner building abroad if he wishes to do so in order to obtain specialised gear or new skills, people feel very strongly about an owner being virtually encouraged to do so with the British taxpayers' money.
This encouragement is being given at a time when the British shipbuilding industry is in acute difficulty. Had this arrangement been made at a time when owners have to wait two or three years to place orders in yards in this country because they were full, one might, perhaps, have thought rather differently about it. Even so, I still feel that the subsidy arrangements should, in the end, be directed to ships being built in this country.
We have not even tried to apply for a waiver under the G.A.T.T. It is a fact that the Canadians subsidise their shipping to the tune of 40 per cent. and the Australians do it to the tune of 33 per cent. So far as I am aware, it is not intended to make any formal protest under the G.A.T.T. that these Common-wealth countries are making these subsidies available for ships built in our yards; nor do I suggest that we should do so. But I do feel that it will be extremely difficult to find out what are comparable rates of subsidy in the countries concerned.
When there was an inquiry into ship-building practices a little time ago, it was said that it was almost impossible to assess what were called comparable degrees of subsidy when one took into 80 account hidden tax turnovers or other financial arrangements which might exist in other yards. I do not think that we have been given a satisfactory explanation.
§ Mr. Soames
It is not a question of whether it is comparable or not comparable as an element of subsidy. The question is whether there is any material element of subsidy, in other words, any visible and outward element, something one can judge as an element of subsidy. It is not a question of making difficult comparisons in the degree of subsidy as between one country and another. The question is whether there is a material element of subsidy in the country which has submitted the tender. This is the matter for judgment, and the difficulty of judging comparability of subsidy— this is not really our subject in agriculture and fisheries, but I am sure that it must be difficult—really does not come into this matter.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I hope that the Minister who is to reply to the debate will explain how one will assess what is material. What is a material element of subsidy? Who is to decide what is material and what is not? I hope that the word "material" will be defined when the reply is given.
It has been known for very long, ever since the end of the war, that we had these obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Why was not an announcement made to the House when the Sea Fish Industry Bill was first put before Parliament? If the reason for this change is that it had to be made under a new Bill, we should have known about it at the start of the Bill instead of just before it was about to receive the Royal Assent. That being so, I still remain profoundly unsatisfied.
Since we are talking about general agreements on tariffs and trade, I hope that the Minister will start negotiating with the European Economic Community about the fishing industry. In answer to a Question which I tabled the other day, I was told by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal that negotiations on this subject had not yet begun. Perhaps my right hon. Friend, when he winds up, will give us some idea of what will happen under this heading.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
In spite of what the Minister may say, it is clear that the way in which this matter was handled was quite disgraceful and not worthy of a Government which had the courage to face up to what they believed. Obviously the Government tried to manœuvre this through in an underhand fashion, hoping to escape criticism which might come from various quarters. In other words, it was a cowardly thing to do and was not worthy of a Government which could call themselves a Government. I am beginning to think that this Government could not call themselves a Government. Even the Prime Minister thinks that, and he is trying to rectify the situation at the moment, I understand.
I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweeds-muir) that we are not satisfied about this matter. We must ask ourselves what injury will be done to the shipbuilding industry as a result of the proposal to subsidise ships built in foreign yards. I do not know what estimate is made of that, but if it is in any way substantial, then what the hon. Lady said was right and the Government should have applied for a waiver. I understand that this is a common thing to do and that it is a safeguarding provision in most international agreements. Even countries in the Common Market can apply for a waiver in respect of certain things which are likely to have serious repercussions on certain industries in those countries.
This proposal will have a serious effect on some of the smaller shipbuilding firms. We should bear in mind that most of the shipbuilders affected by this proposal are situated in the smaller ports. Therefore, we are doing injury to districts least able to bear it. If the burden falls on larger firms situated in larger ports, obviously its effect is not as great as it is a smaller industry based in a smaller port. This proposal will have a certain significance, particularly in Scotland, as the Undersecretary of State knows. I do not know whether he is still Under-Secretary of State, but for the moment I shall assume that he is. It is obvious that there will be considerable concern about this proposal.
A number of the smaller ports and smaller yards are situated in districts, 82 particularly in Scotland, where there is already high unemployment and which tend to lose their populations. In these circumstances, the Government should have thought very much more seriously than apparently they did before agreeing to this proposal and before deciding not to apply for a waiver. They could not have thought very seriously about it if they did not consult the interests concerned prior to taking the action. Any Government should find out what will be the effect before taking action. In Scotland, the effect could be very harmful to an economy which is already struggling to recover from blow after blow delivered by the Government.
For these reasons, I remain most dissatisfied with this proposal. If it were possible to vote against it without voting against the general scheme of grants for vessels and engines, I should do so, but, as has been said, this is not possible. If we did vote against it, we should be voting against the fishing industry and against the legitimate subsidies to which it is entitled to enable it to face the problems of the future. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), I register my vigorous protest against the Government's action.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
I understand that when this Scheme of grants and loans began there were in Scotland thirty-five yards able to build boats under them. The number of these yards has now been reduced to nineteen because of the contraction of the industry. It is against that background that those engaged in the shipbuilding industry look at these proposals.
While I appreciate the difficulties in which my right hon. Friends find themselves in keeping faith with their international obligations, it is true that we are very busy at the moment trying to formulate new agricultural subsidy schemes which might be applicable if we joined the Common Market. Surely there would be opportunities to apply ourselves in exactly the same way in respect of the fishing industry.
If I heard my right hon. Friend aright, he said that if comparable tenders from English yards and from foreign yards are obtained and one of the British tenders is the lowest, the subsidy would 83 still be paid to a foreign yard on the basis of the lowest English tender. That seems to me to be an odd arrangement. If the tenders are comparable and if the boats which it is proposed to build are similar, why should British taxpayers' money go to the foreign yard, for some obscure reason? Perhaps I misheard what my right hon. Friend said, but I should like to be enlightened on that point. While we can welcome almost all the provisions in this Scheme, it is very difficult, in the present economic circumstances of the country, to see that it is right for us to make our money available to foreign shipbuilders.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister for not being here at the beginning of his statement. I hope that he will accept my apology.
I, too, wish to comment on the way that this matter has been handled. I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I point out that I know that he has not always been Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but for a long time we have found ourselves in some difficulty when discussing fishing interests. We have discussed them in the middle of the night. It took many very firm representations to get a debate at an appropriate time of day.
We never seem able to get from my right hon. Friend's Department the interests of the industry stated in terms which give one any confidence that fishing is considered just as important as agriculture in his Department. That is why I feel extremely perturbed.
I want to follow one or two of the points which have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. I want to know whether both the shipping interests and the British Trawlers' Federation had got agreement with my right hon. Friend before the statement was made in that most unsatisfactory way on Friday, 18th May. I do not think that the British Trawlers' Federation had tied up the points to make the position satisfactory to them. I should like to know whether they are satisfied.
84 My right hon. Friend worsened his position when he jumped in to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South about the position of material or comparable subsidies. Had he left the matter where it was, he would have been in a much better position at the end of what he had to say.
The difficulty over this whole matter always comes from the fact that we never seem to have the right Minister at the right moment. Ministers shuffle about and when one wants to make remarks concerning subsidies to ship-buiilding yards abroad compared with this country—a matter which is pertinent to the Scheme—one has to deal with the Minister of Agriculture, who really does not know much about shipbuilding or its problems.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The House always enjoys a Parliamentary joke. I am serious on this matter, and when I use the word "shuffle" I am talking not about the present shuffle but about the problems we have to face in our indus-itry, which seems to be divided between two Ministers. It always seems to be the wrong Minister who comes to answer the points.
I do not think that my right hon. Friend's answer about material and comparable subsidies was at all a good one. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport decided to have an investigation into shipbuilding and the reason for our losing orders, he appointed a distinguished body of chartered accountants to look into the matter. If I remember aright, when they reported my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport came to the conclusion that in the case of subsidies, tax reliefs, or whatever they were, it was not possible to get to the bottom of what was happening abroad.
It did not matter whether the word "material" or "comparable" was used. The fact was that there was no answer to the investigations that my right hon. Friend had ordered. I do not mind which of the two words it is. What I 85 want to know is how we are to know whether we are on equal terms in the tenders that are submitted. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would like to send for his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to give his version of this, but it is an extremely important matter.
When a situation such as we are discussing today arises, I always become very suspicious. It seems to me most extraordinary that, suddenly, G.A.T.T. and our obligations under it are blown up into an enormous balloon when nobody has mentioned them before. I have a shrewd suspicion that prÒbably the Foreign Office—here is another Government Department coming into the matter—has felt that unless we get ourselves, if we can, into an absolutely sound position so that we cannot be challenged, it will be difficult for us when we discuss the position of the fishing industry in the European Common Market. That is my explanation of why, suddenly, my right hon. Friend 'has come forward with the reason for producing this new Scheme and the terms that will be imposed in connection with grants and loans.
That emphasises once more what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South said. As far as I can make out, we have not approached the matter of fishing in the context of the Common Market. One cannot expect the fishing industry to feel any great confidence in any Minister—I include the whole lot— unless we know that its interests are just as much in the minds of our Ministers as agriculture and other matters which have a great deal more steam behind them in the country than (hose of us who try to represent the fishing interests.
It must be clear to everybody that the future of the fishing industry as a whole is under great threat from all sorts of interests. I hope, therefore, that when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate he will let me and the House know specifically at what stage those who are entitled to be consulted were consulted, on what date they agreed that the action which my right hon. Friend has implied by the Scheme satisfied them, and whether they have any outstanding questions which they want settled. I should also like to know whether the 86 shipbuilding interests feel that with this Soheme their interests are being safeguarded.
Will my right hon. Friend make a note —and put it in the file of the Department in case he does not stay there very 'long—that in future it would be more helpful to those of us who are interested in the fishing industry if the Department appeared to give greater consideration to those who have to earn their livelihood toy the industry? It is obvious that those people feel that agriculture is of greater interest to Parliament; that it carries a great deal more implications and problems I fully realise. We have the right to expect, however, that if it is the decision of any Government to add fisheries to the responsibility of the Minister of Agrioulture, we are entitled to have as much consideration and interest given to our problems and difficulties as to agrioulture. It is on this aspect that I feel most strongly.
Whenever I have attended a fishing debate, nearly everybody has been unanimous and united against the Minister. It always happens that way. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can answer my questions specifically and in future, please, let us have a little more attention directed to this very important industry.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) was entirely fair when making a comparison between the time devoted in this House to agriculture and fisheries. One of the most striking facts that I have noticed since coming into the House is 'the time that the fishing industry occupies on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Prior
When I think of the time occupied by agriculture during the past year and compare it with the time occupied by fishing, I might be justified, speaking as a farmer, in saying that agriculture has not had enough consideration and that fishing has had too much. I make no bones about saying this, 'because I am certain that it will not be misunderstood by my friends in the fishing industry, who often tell me that they 87 are amazed by the amount of time that we devote to the fishing industry.
This debate today has really nothing to do with the fishing industry at all but is really much more concerned with the shipbuilding industry. I want to try if I can to prick this balloon my hon. Friend talks about as being blown up. I want to try to prick it because I think we have got to get this in the right proportions, and this, to me, is a comparatively small matter.
In the last few years a large number of ships have been built under the grants and loans Scheme for trawlers of under 140 ft. in length. No trawlers over 140 ft. in length have incurred a grant or loan. They are now eligible under this Scheme for the first time. Since the war, 70 vessels of over 140 ft. have been built, incurring no subsidy, and out of those 63 have been built at home and seven have been built abroad. One of those built abroad was the "Lord Nelson", and it was built abroad for the specific reason that no British shipyard was capable of building at that time a stern trawler. I do not think this reflects very well on the management of British shipyards.
Under this Scheme, we shall be allowing vessels of over 140 ft. to be built and also the continuation of the Scheme for vessels of under 140 ft., and I think we have to be frank: there will not be many more vessels of under 140 ft., from 80 ft. to 120 ft., built under the Scheme. Already the White Fish Authority has stopped building them at Lowestoft and Aberdeen. I think it is probably now doing the same in other ports as well. The fact is that the middle-water and the near-water fleet is not going to increase in size, and any building which goes on will be extremely limited. Therefore, to say that we are going to deny our shipyards the right to build ships because of the action which the Government have now taken is not really true.
When we consider the big ships, we are again concerned with comparatively small numbers, and the majority of them obviously will continue to be built at home, but I think the fishing industry has the right if it can to obtain competitive tenders on fair terms to build its ships abroad.
88 I come back to the "Lord Nelson". I am quite certain, knowing them, that the owners would have much preferred to have found a British shipyard capable of building that ship.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
When my hon. Friend says that the "Lord Nelson" was a ship that could not be built in a British yard, he will recall, will he not, the "Fair Try" and also the "Junella", which has only just left Aberdeen, having been built at Aberdeen?
§ Mr. Prior
I am dealing with the shipbuilding industry because I think it is very important that it should face up to the facts of life. I have criticised the management of the shipyards. I want to criticise the trade unions as well. The sooner the shipbuilding industry as an industry realises that it cannot afford to have either bad management or restrictive practices in the industry the better and quicker it will be able to compete with foreign yards on its own terms, and then there will be no need to worry at all about ships being built abroad, because they will be built at home.
I think the Minister is perfectly right in taking this decision. After all, how can we expect other countries to play fair with us, and complain that they are using underhand methods, if we do not play fair with them? I think the terms are fair and it is up to the shipbuilding industry to make certain it can compete. I am quite confident that now it can compete and I hope that it will take this lesson to heart. I think everybody concerned is satisfied by recent efforts that it should be able to compete, and it has appalled me that we should have heard such nonsense talked, and I hope the industry will from now on behave in the way it should.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) will regret the discordant note that he has struck in the debate. I wish to assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not intervene to cause him any discomfort and I hope from seeing him sitting so firmly on the Front Bench that he is happily installed there and that that appearance is not misleading. I do 89 not wish to discuss the fishing industry, but to pursue the debate we have had about shipbuilding.
This is what has caused anxiety in a Scheme which, I am sure, otherwise would have been generally welcomed by the House. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, over the past few years I have consistently expressed a good deal of anxiety about this great industry. No one can deny, however material this may be, that the industry will be at a disadvantage when this Scheme comes into force, compared with the position which it enjoyed before it came into force. I do not think that anybody can deny that.
What I find very difficult to understand is: who thought of imposing this disadvantage on the shipbuilding industry? I was fortunate enough to hear the debate on the day before we began the Whitsun Recess. It was quite clear to me that the former Secretary of State was not responsible for it. I have heard the lucid explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, who made it plain that he was not responsible. What I should like to know is: who is responsible, because a guess has been made that it may have been a civil servant in the Foreign Office? My guess is that it could easily have been done by a civil servant in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, who, rather than resort to doodling, turned his mind to G.A.T.T. and E.F.T.A.
I object to this, as I have objected before. I object to government by men from Whitehall. It is quite clear from the way that this has been presented. We had no debate in Standing Committee, and there was no debate when we had the Second Reading in another place. It is clear that this was not a political decision, but it is a matter with very real political implications and repercussions. I do not think that we should go on tolerating this government by men sitting in the obscurity of the third room back. I think that it might be a good idea if they were brought to the Bar of the House. It would be very interesting to see the people who really are our effective rulers.
Here is a case where it has been made quite clear, from the embarrassment which Ministers have suffered since this matter has become the focus of political attention, that it was not a matter about
90 which the full political implications were considered before it was done. It was done by some George Washington type of official in a Ministry—we are not even sure which one it was.
What is quite clear is that the fishing industry has not made representations to any Department about this. That is quite clear. I am not talking about consultation, but no initiative came from the fishing industry about this. This is important, because the right hon. Gentleman put this in the context of providing greater opportunity of choice to the fishing industry in obtaining new vessels. The industry has not asked for this, and I am not very impressed by his talking about a working party and about further arrangements through the Authority and the Ministry of Transport.
In fact, freedom of choice will be seriously limited. We are to have this reference to the Authority and to the Ministry of Transport. As I say, I do not want to trespass on the fishing industry, but I know from personal knowledge that some members of the fishing industry have expressed their concern about this and, that, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said, have asked to be assured that there will not be unnecessary interference with specifications. It is clear that no initiative came from the fishing industry. It is equally clear that there was no consultation with the shipbuilders until after the decision was taken.
As has previously been said, the industry is facing very grave difficulties. We have been given figures relating to the east coast of Scotland. In the earlier debate the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) gave figures—they were accepted by the Government Front Bench—to show that the number of men employed in the fishing vessel and boatbuilding industry had been halved in the last twelve months. We cannot lightly put this on one side. Although it might be a minor aggravation in other circumstances, this decision can be really serious for people in an industry as badly hit as this one.
We surmise that the difficulty relates to G.A.T.T. and E.F.T.A., but we have had no reply to the question persistently put to the right hon. Gentleman: why do this? I do not know what discussions the right hon. Gentleman has had with 91 the Minister of Transport, but shipping all over the world is riddled by subsidies. It may be for this reason that no representations have been made to us. The former Secretary of State told us in the previous debate that no formal complaints had been made. I do not know whether a change of Government would affect the position, but if a complaint were made in present circumstances presumably there would be discussions about balance of payments factors.
It is important to realise the purpose of the white fish and herring subsidies. We considered this as a broad national question. It is not unrelated to defence. The position of trawlers and small vessels was borne in mind when we considered generally whether the industry should be aided. These are factors which we should still bear in mind. It is not good enough for the former Secretary of State to say that it may well be that a few orders will go abroad. If orders go abroad, they will be for the large and expensive vessels.
I should like the Minister to say something more about his discussions with the Minister of Transport. I mention the question of the trawlers and fishing boats in the national context not only as fishing vessels, but as part of our way of life and of our national defence. But think what is happening when we look around our coasts. There are 200 or more smaller ports in desperate difficulty. We have the plight of coastal shipping and the plight of the smaller shipbuilding yards.
This is something which affects our position as a country. It seems to me that it is something which has been entirely neglected by the right hon. Gentleman in taking this decision—entirely neglected in the sense that we are talking about, of utilising the natural resources near our shores. We cannot do this without not only fishermen but boat-builders, too. Also, generally, as an island, we have continually to think about defence.
If the right hon. Gentleman had discussed this with the Minister of Transport, surely the Minister of Transport would have said, "I am perplexed and sorely worried about the whole business. The Rochdale Committee is looking into the matter of the ports, and I am await- 92 ing its advice. It is a matter of concern to us if the smaller yards are knocked out." Indeed, we may reach the position where the fishing industry may be driven to order abroad.
The main theme which has run through our debates on shipbuilding during the past few years has been the increasing volume of tonnage built abroad for British owners. The last returns from Lloyd's showed that we had reached the staggering total of 750,000 tons of construction in foreign yards for registration by British owners. Under the present Government we have become what we have never previously been—a net importer of new shipping. We appear in Lloyds List as the largest importer of new shipping in the world. I should have thought that this would have upset and concerned the Minister of Transport. I should have thought that against that background he would not lightly take any step which might be thought to show lack of concern for the position which is arising in world shipbuilding.
This is a very odd moment to consider this Scheme. It is only a few weeks since the Minister of Transport said that while he was concerned about the volume under construction abroad, he was pleased to learn that the orders placed abroad had been reduced to a trickle. Just at the moment when public attention has been drawn to the problem and shipowners are responding the Government say, "We do not mind if a few orders go abroad which otherwise might not have done so." I should have thought that this was just the moment not to take any such action. While I appreciate what the Minister has said and accept his good faith—that we will try as best we can to ensure that orders do not go to yards which are subsidised and that this is more than has been said previously—I join hon. Members who have said that this is a task which the Minister will not accomplish.
We had a firm of accountants investigating this, and they told us, in effect, that they could not advise us about the question of subsidies. The Minister of Transiport spent the last Summer Recess visiting yards, and told us that he could find no evidence of subsidy. But we know that subsidisation takes place. There are subsidies in France and Italy, and we know that, when need arises, 93 subsidy is given to German yards. However, it is very difficult to find the subsidy. Some yards, for instance, are given grant in aid instead of the State incurring expenditure on unemployment benefit. How can one trace this to the construction of a vessel?
Throughout our debates on shipbuilding we have had all the arguments about the difference between the credit facilities provided for foreign yards compared with what is made available for our yards. I should think that the right hon. Gentleman would be unable to get any assistance from the Ministry of Transport on these matters. It is clear from our debates that the Ministry of Transport would say that they were not in a position to determine—apart from the most obvious cases—whether or not there had been subsidy.
I join my hon. Friends in complaining about this matter. We cannot oppose it, because it is only one part of the Scheme. We cannot amend it. However, I hope that the Minister will recognise that there is a great deal of anxiety about this provision and that everyone who is affected by it and concerned with it is convinced that it is unnecessary. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will assure the House that he will keep it very well informed of any orders which are placed abroad by virtue of this Scheme. I hope that he will confirm that the assurances that he gave us in opening the discussion will be fully honoured and implemented and that if he feels any difficulty or embarrassment in finding out whether the orders have gone to subsidised yards, as we believe they will do, he will not hesitate about amending the Scheme.
§ 6.40 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Lebnrn)
I should like to add my expression of sympathy to the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). We all greatly miss his presence and no one more than myself. During the Committee stage discussions on the Bill there were many occasions when the hon. and learned Gentleman and I had reason to debate matters across the Committee.
Today, we have been debating not only the question of grants and loans to the fishing industry, but also the whole question of shipbuilding. I assure my 94 hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) that although she may feel that the fishing industry does not receive the same amount of attention as agriculture I cannot accept that criticism. I assure her that I find just as much of my time at the Scottish Office —as does my right hon. Friend—is spent on matters connected with the fishing industry as with agriculture.
§ Mr. Leburn
I believe that the main point in our discussion today related to the question of making grants available for vessels and engines built abroad. Certainly, the subject has not lacked discussion. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) knows that there was a debate on 8th June, although he said that no opportunity had been given for discussion, and it has—
§ Mr. Hoy
The hon. Gentleman had better get it right. I did not say that at all. If an opportunity was given our thanks are due to Mr. Speaker, and not to the Government, that I was successful in securing an Adjournment debate. I said that this House could not make a decision on the issue of whether a subsidy ought to be extended to these foreign shipyards. That right has been denied to the House up to the present, and, in fact, it has been denied to the House tonight.
§ Mr. Leburn
I do not quarrel with what the hon. Member said. I was saying that the whole question has been discussed before now. I make no complaint about the fact that we are discussing it more fully on this occasion. That is as it should be.
As was explained on a previous occasion, it is the Schemes and not the enabling legislation which hitherto have contained the requirements that grant-aided vessels or engines should be built in the United Kingdom. That requirement is not included in the Schemes which we are asking the House to approve tonight. Therefore, it is proper that the omission should be discussed. What I have said is the answer to the hon. Member for Leith who suggested —echoing the discussion in another place on 26th June—that this House had been deprived of its constitutional night to take an effective decision on the matter.
95 The hon. Gentleman suggested that had there been something in the Bill, or if the absence of any requirement to build in this country had been drawn to the attention of the House when the Bid] was being discussed, an Amendment could 'have been moved and a decision taken on the question of foreign building. Whereas, as things are now, that cannot be done, since, as has been said rightly, the House cannot amend the Schemes. It can either accept or reject them as they are.
As my right hon. Friend explained on 8th June, the requirement about grant-aided vessels or engines being British built has never been included in the enabling legislation. It has always been part of the Schemes. We did not in any way seek to conceal anything by not detailing with the point in the Bill. We were simply following precedent. It has always been a matter for the Schemes and a matter for debate when the Schemes came up for approval as is being done tonight. I have said to the hon. Gentleman that we are faced tonight with a situation in which it is not possible to amend the schemes. They must either be accepted or rejected.
§ Mr. Willis
Surely, if the Government had made an announcement at the time when the Bill was being discussed in the Standing Commititee an Amendment or a new Clause could have been moved which would have enabled us to take a vote upon the matter.
§ Mr. Leburn
That may well be so. I am saying that precedent has been that this matter has come up in connection with the Schemes rather than the legislation. Year after year that has been the case.
What I think more important is that we should deal with the merits of the question. I hope that the hon. Member for Leith will not mind if I say that I cannot allow to pass unchallenged his statement that these are subsidies to foreign shipyards. They are not. They are subsidies to our fishing industry in order that those in the industry may equip themselves. There is no question of these grants being given to shipbuilders abroad, or to shipbuilders in this country either, for that matter.
96 I have listened carefully to what has been said this evening, and I do not think that anything new has emerged which would lead me to believe the Government decision to be wrong. Plainly, the present requirement that grant-aided vessels or engines must be built in the United Kingdom is a breach of our international obligation. The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) raised the point that in the past we may have been in breach of our international obligation, but that we have done nothing about it. The point is that having become aware of this fact—
§ Mr. Leburn
I should not like to say exactly when. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during the debate on 8th June said:Nevertheless, there have been inquiries which indicate that our practice has not gone on unobserved—."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th June, 1962; Vol. 661, c. 851.]
§ Mr. Leburn
I do not think that hon. Members should try to use this argument. If a person knows that he is in breach of an agreement, and feels that it may have been going on in the past, that does not excuse anyone for carrying it on into the future. I say that it is arguable that we ought to have removed it before now.
§ Mr. Leburn
I am not on a sticky wicket at all. I am saying that if anyone in the House—or the Government— is in breach of a contract or an obligation, be it an international obligation or not, I feel that he, or a Government, ought to put it right. I really do believe that we ought to put our house in order, especially at this time when we are embarking on a new series of Schemes under legislation which will run for another ten years.
§ Mr. Willey
Can the hon. Gentleman say what representations we have made to other countries about them honouring their obligations in this respect?
§ Mr. Leburn
I can assure the hon. Member that we are in a very much better position to make representations to other countries.
§ Mr. Leburn
I cannot say whether we have or not, but if the occasion does arise we shall be in a position to make representations to other Governments, whereas if we ourselves were in default in a matter of this kind we could not do so. I feel strongly that we must put our own house in order, especially if we are now to embark on this new series of Schemes.
As my right hon. Friend said when winding up the debate on 8tlh June, we do not believe that the removal of the Britisih-built condition will result in any substantial number of boats being built abroad. We believe that British shipyards are in general efficient and should be able to hold their own in fair competition with foreign yards. I thought that point was made very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior).
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) talked about the plight of our shipbuilding yards. We on this side believe that they are competitive, that they are efficient and that they will be able to compete. I must again make clear to the House that this subsidy is a subsidy to the fishing industry and not a subsidy to the shipbuilding industry. If we wanted to subsidise the shipbuilding industry we certainly would not have done it in this way.
98 My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft made the point that the distant water owners until now have had no grants yet one-tenth of the 70 or so vessels they have built during the last ten years have been built abroad. In other words, only seven of those 70 have been built abroad. On a number of occasions that was for special reasons in regard to the type of vessel and on others it was because delivery dates offered by British yards were much longer than they are now. For the smaller vessels we believe the links between fishermen and builders should be closer.
There are all sorts of reasons why a fisherman should prefer to have his boat built in a local yard always provided that our own yards are reasonably competitive on price and quality The only real danger would be if our yards were exposed to unfair competition from foreign yards heavily subsidised by their Governments. I repeat the categorical assurance given by my right hon. Friend on 8th June and given again today by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that we shall ensure that grants are not approved for the building of vessels by foreign yards known to be in receipt of a material element of subsidy. That, I am quite sure, will safeguard the position.
§ Mr. Leburn
I shall come to that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South asked: what is a material element of subsidy? If she will consider it carefully she will see that it is not possible to define "a material element of subsidy" in words. I believe that she appreciates that it is a matter of judgment. Obviously, if a subsidy is of any significance, or any significant amount, we would not in that case approve of it.
§ Mr. Leburn
I tell my hon. Friend that this is a question of judgment. I am quite satisfied that that judgment can be left to my right hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth and the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) 99 asked about consultation and arrangements between the shipbuilding industry and the fishing industry. I assure them that the arrangements which have been made have been fully discussed with the shipbuilders and I understand that they are acceptable to them.
On the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, a meeting was held with the shipbuilders on 26th June when proposals for ensuring fair competition was put before them. I have to admit to her that there was no consultation with the shipbuilding industry itself, the B.T.F.—the British Trawlers' Federation—for the reason that this action will be for the direct benefit of the fishing industry itself. We did not think it necessary, in those circumstances, to consult the fishing industry.
§ Dame Irene Ward
If negotiations are taking place which vitally affect the British Trawlers' Federation and the fishing industry, could my hon. Friend explain why he considers that they need not be consulted about a new proposal to be used in relation to the industry?
§ Mr. Leburn
The difference between my hon. Friend and myself is that I would not consider that the fishing industry is vitally affected in a matter of this kind. It might vitally affect shipbuilders or the boat building industry, but it does not vitally affect the fishing industry. It can only be to its advantage to be able to purchase boats wherever it wishes to do so.
§ Mr. Leburn
The interesting point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) is one of the matters which my right hon. Friend will certainly keep in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) raised two interesting points. One was in regard to grants and whether these could be given to owners who were to carry out experimental voyages or special kinds of experiments. I assure my hon. Friend that financial grants can be given through the White Fish Authority towards the cost of experimental vessels. There is no statutory limit on the size 100 of the grants which can be given and each case will be considered on its merits. I assure my hon. Friend that we have this point very much in mind.
My hon. Friend suggested that grants should be given for protection vessels by sea fishery committees, but we have no powers to give grants of that kind. I draw this attention to the fact that this might be a very expensive operation. From my experience I know that running a protection squadron in Scotland is a very expensive operation. I hardly think that a sea fisheries committee would be in a position to undertake this task.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am most unhappy with what my hon. Friend said, which was that his right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend will bear this interesting—as he was kind enough to say— point in mind. I put a specific question. If by currency manipulation one brings about a subsidy in a foreign yard, will this qualify as a subsidy? In the recollection of most right hon. and hon. Members, this was how Dr. Schacht did this during the régime in Germany.
§ Mr. Leburn
If my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin believes that it is a subsidy to a material extent—and he obviously thinks that it is—this will apply in the same way as any other material element of subsidy which we have already discussed.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
My hon. Friend has said that the White Fish Authority could give grants for experimental vessels. Will he make it clear that in that case the responsibility for the specifications falls entirely in the hands of the owners and that the job of the White Fish Authority is merely to approve or disapprove the subsidy requested?
§ Mr. Leburn
In a matter of this kind we should obviously discuss, and the White Fish Authority would discuss, with the builders what it was hoped to achieve with regard to the specifications of the vessel. We could not expect the White Fish Authority necessarily to approve that expenditure unless it were satisfied that it was money to be well spent. I hope that this explanation satisfies the House.
§ Mr. Hoy
Before the hon. Member sits down, I remind him that I asked a specific question: how would he differentiate between a subsidy paid to a foreign shipyard and one paid to a British shipyard tendering for the same vessel, and what provision there is in G.A.T.T. or E.F.T.A. which permits the Government to take that action?
§ Mr. Leburn
In the first place, there is no subsidy to the yard; there is a subsidy to the owner of the vessel. The point was also made to some extent by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), when he asked what would happen if the price of the boat which was to be built in the foreign yard was higher than the price of the boat to be built in this country, and the owner decided to build in a foreign yard. He asked how it was that we should pay only the subsidy on the lower price. This is only a sensible arrangement. We cannot decide where the owner will build his boat, but I do not think that it would be wise to use Government money to subsidise that boat at a price higher than that at which it could be built in this country. I could visualise a case in which the White Fish Authority would not necessarily pay grant on the full amount for a boat built in this country which could have been built for a considerably lower price at some other yard in this country. I do not think that Government money should go towards subsidising boats built at higher prices than are reasonable. I hope that I have answered the questions.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There must be some finality about the process of sitting down, both physically and in terms of order.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I intended to start by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on surviving yesterday, but I am not at all sure that he does not feel that the former Secretary of State for Scotland is in a happier position than foe is at the moment, except that the Minister of Agriculture was not here on 8th June and, therefore, the speech then was made by the Secretary 102 of State for Scotland. I know where the right hon. Gentleman was on 8th June, because I was there, too.
§ Mr. Ede
It is a terrible thing to see a Scotsman struggling with his conscience, and that is what we have just seen. At some stage in the proceedings after the Bill had left this House the Government became conscience-smitten in that they had broken international law. They discovered this all of a sudden. Then, in another place, in circumstances which prevented us from having an effective discussion in this House on a matter of finance which is our prerogative, they made a statement. Was this made on instructions of the Secretary of State for Scotland or on instructions of the Minister of Agriculture? One or other of these two right hon. Gentlemen seems to have given instructions that the statement was to be made in the other place, which has caused all the trouble. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon talked about outward and visible signs. That is always connected with inward and spiritual grace, and the gracefulness of it has not been made apparent this evening.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) put some very pertinent points to the Ministry which the hon. Member has not answered, except to say that at a certain stage in these matters they became conscience-smitten. When did they discover that they had been committing this series of offences against international law? Was it while the Bill was before the House or did it come afterwards? Surely we can be told when that painful discovery was made. We ought also to be told why, if it were known before the Bill had left the House, the House was not then informed of it, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said, had we known of it in this House we could have taken steps by a new Clause or in some other way to see that the issue was raised here.
One can only hope that the Ministers in these two Departments have learned from this how serious the House is bound to take a matter of this kind. 103 Speaking for a shipbuilding and ship-repairing port, I know how bitter the feeling is there about the way in which this matter has been handled. In some astounding way, if the ship is built in a foreign yard, the money will get into the pockets of the shipbuilders responsible for that yard and not into the pockets of shipbuilders in this country. I cannot see that we have had any explanation from the Minister to make us feel satisfied that this matter was at any stage handled competently or with any regard for the final interests of this country.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, 1962. dated 4th July, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.
§ Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme 1962, dated 4th July, 1962, [copy laid before the House, 4th July], approved.—[Mr. Leburn.]
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Soames
I beg to move,That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Schemes, 1962, dated 4th July, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.As this Scheme and the corresponding Scheme for herring subsidy are similar, and as the Aggregate Amount of Grants Order arises directly from them, I suggest that it might suit the convenience of the House if we deal with all three together.
§ Mr. Soames
The House is accustomed at this time of year to Statutory Instruments providing for operating subsidies for the fishing industry for the year ahead. This year there are some changes brought about by the new Act, though some of the familiar methods of subsidy payments continue.
I want, first, to say a few words about the familiar ones. The Herring Scheme and the White Fish Scheme provide for subsidies for inshore and herring vessels on the same basis as before. The House will remember that the Government intend to continue, as in the past, to fix the herring and inshore subsidies year by year according to the needs of each section. The 104 changes this year have been made in line with this principle.
Those classes of vessels which are doing relatively well have had the subsidy reduced and those doing not so well are to get the same subsidy or a higher rate. The daily rates for the larger herring vessels have been adjusted and the stowage rate for the smaller vessels has been substantially increased. As regards inshore vessels, the stonage rate has been increased by 1d. to 1s. 3d. and a daily rate has been introduced for vessels between 60 ft. and 70 ft., which it is calculated will bring them in 1962 roughly the same subsidy as they got in 1961. It will have the advantage of providing an income when catches are poor.
Vessels between 70 ft. and 80 ft. are now classed as inshore vessels rather than near water vessels, and the daily rate for them is being increased. The seiners which make long voyages are to be paid a daily rate the whole year round instead of six months of the year only. It will be at a lower rate than hitherto, but we believe that the net result will be advantageous to them.
The method of fixing the subsidy for trawlers over 80 ft. long follows the new policy set out in the Government's White Paper last August and incorporated in the new Act. Basic subsidies are to be paid to these vessels tapering off within a pre-determined range over the next ten years and additional special rates of subsidy to particular classes whose circumstances warrant it.
The basic rates of subsidy set out in the Scheme are those agreed with the British Trawlers' Federation and the Scottish Owners' Association and published last autumn. The Scottish Owners' Association have recently decided to repudiate this agreement and have asked for considerably higher basic rates of subsidy. The Government heard their arguments but have decided that it is right to adhere to the terms of the agreement.
One of the main features of the Fleck Report was that the basic subsidy rates should be designed to encourage efficiency. In the talks between the Government and the industry which followed the publication of the Report, both agreed that this should be a guiding principle. It was as a result of these 105 discussions that the three initial basic subsidy rates were decided upon and agreed to, designed, as they were, to give a fair relationship between distant, middle and near water vessels having regard to the differences in their costs of construction, operating expenses and catching capacity. It would be wrong to throw aside this principle, which we believe is a sound one for the trawler industry as a whole.
Moreover, the British Trawlers' Federation, whose members own four-fifths of the trawlers in the United Kingdom, still think that the agreement is right and are standing by it and the Government would not be entitled to tear it up, even if we thought it right to do so, which we do not.
Last year was not a good one for the industry as a whole, and Scottish boats have suffered along with the others. But the fortunes of the fishing industry are notorious for rapid fluctuations from year to year and we cannot look simply on one year's results. This has to be decided upon on a ten-year basis. We must remember that this time we are not fixing just one year's rates but the initial basic rates which will set the pattern for the next ten years.
Some sections of the fleet have done worse than others in the past twelve months. In our view, the way to tackle this is not to throw over a general agreement designed to be in the best interests of the fleet as a whole, but rather to give particular help to those in special need. There are three ways in which we are able to do this—by a moratorium on debts to the White Fish Authority, by lifting restrictions on distant water fishing, and by supplementary payments. This has been our approach to the problem.
It was clear that a moratorium for those in financial difficulties who have failed on their payments under their loan agreements with the White Fish Authority was one of the ways in which we could help and the Trawler Owners' Associations asked that a moratorium should be extended to all those who have loans. But we see no reason for allowing those owners who are capable of paying to defer payment of their commercial debts, so the moratorium will be given only to those who prove the need for it and have a fair chance of over- 106 coming their financial difficulties within a reasonable period. The moratorium will be subject to a number of specific conditions, which we believe to be right, since public money is involved. These are set out in the letter a copy of which has been put in the Library. Hon. Members who have read it will notice that payments may be deferred for "a reasonable period". We have purposely not been specific about the period, but I take the point that more than one year will probably be necessary, in some cases at least, and we have in mind a period of up to about two years.
Then there is the second way in which we can help, the removal of the restrictions on distant water voyages by grant-aided vessels which the British Trawlers' Federation, representing the interests of all trawler owners, has itself proposed. I hope that the House will not underestimate the benefit that can flow from this for the middle water fleet. It is not possible to be precise, but the results which we have seen from vessels which have been able to make additional voyages to distant waters following the relaxation of the restrictions last year lead us to believe that the removal of restrictions will make a difference over a year of about £10 a day to those vessels which take advantage of it. With the bigger vessels able to fish further away, this will reduce the weight of fishing in middle waters and so be of considerable help to the smaller vessels, which cannot go elsewhere.
Finally, the House will remember that the Act provides for special subsidy rates up to a maximum of £350,000 in any one year. The whole purpose of these additional payments is to help sections of the fleet in real need. It is not a particularly enviable task to apportion these payments as between the various claims on behalf of individual classes of vessel, but we have been guided by what we thought fair justice as between the various claims. It would not have been prudent to commit the whole amount now, and we have kept some £120,000 in reserve. It will, therefore, be open to any port to make a further claim for special subsidy at any time during the year, and we shall be able to consider these claims on their merits in the knowledge that some money is available to meet well-founded claims that might arise later.
107 I want just to say a word about the Aggregate Amount of Grants Order, which will provide the moneys for these various subsidies. The maximum expenditure on subsidies authorised at the moment is £25¼ million, and that will soon be exhausted. The new Order is, therefore, being made under Section 1 of the Act to provide an extra £5 million, which will be enough to carry us through for the whole of the coming subsidy year. These subsidy schemes together lay down the initial basic subsidy rates which will set the main lines on which the Government will give financial help to the trawler industry over the next ten years. They also provide for additional special payments for the coming year to those sections of the trawler fleet that have so far made out the best case for some extra assistance. These, with the moratorium to individual owners, will help those who are in immediate difficulties.
As to the future, we all hope that last year's bad results will prove to have been only one of the ups and downs to which the fishing industry is constantly prone, and we have no reason to suppose that, in the longer term, the fortunes of the trawling industry should not recover, particularly with the help that the middle-water fleet will get from the removal of restrictions on distant water fishing next year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) mentioned negotiations with the Common Market on fishing interests. The reason why there have so far been no such negotiations with the Six is that the Six themselves have not yet even started to consider what common fisheries policy they are to have. But we have carefully considered the provisions of the Treaty of Rome in that respect, and the general principles embodied in it in relation to our fishery policies, and we do not think that our general objectives would be in any way inconsistent, or make it difficult for us, in this regard, to accept the Articles of the Treaty of Rome. I can assure my hon. Friend that, at the appropriate time, we shall certainly make our views on fisheries policies well known to the Community.
These Schemes make provision for subsidies for the coming year; they 108 cover all sections of the industry, from the smallest inshore vessels to the largest trawlers. I think that they provide the best balance we can devise between the interests of the different sections of the industry, and I commend them to the House.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I should be out of order if I followed the argument which the right hon. Gentleman nearly developed about policy towards Europe on fisheries, but I hope that he will make his views known soon and that they will be better known than are the Government's views on agriculture. Very little has been known about the Government's views on agriculture, and we still wish to press the Minister on that subject.
I am very glad that the Minister has presented the group of Statutory Instruments we are now considering. I had expected that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) would have replied as Parliamentary Secretary, but we have heard (that he has been cast aside by the Government along with the other Parliamentary Secretary in another place. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has gone, because he was always courteous, efficient and, I believe—and I say this quite sincerely—one of the ablest junior Ministers we have had dealing with agriculture. Why he has been thrown aside by a Prime Minister who has been so ruthless, I cannot understand. It obviously means that in the Tory Party one must not do one's job efficiently, or one is cast out. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will feel very sad at the loss of two diligent Parliamentary Secretaries.
It was those two hon. Gentlemen, and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Leburn)—who carried the burden of the relevant legislation in Committee. Tonight we have heard the views of the Minister who is, in the end, responsible. We do not oppose the Orders. We accept the need for operating subsidies. The Minister said that some of the subsidies are due to changes in the new Act and that others are familiar subsidies carried on under previous legislation.
There have been adjustments here and there. In connection with the Scottish 109 trawler owners' repudiation of the amounts, the right hon. Gentleman made a rather unusual remark. He said, "Even if we thought that any changes would be right, we would stick to our agreement." Can the Minister explain that remark in more detail? Does he really mean that if in the next year or two it were found that the agreement on subsidies, and the other details that we are now discussing, ware not working, the Government would still carry on with their policy without any adjustments? I should like a definite answer to that, and I will gladly give way to get it.
§ Mr. Soames
I said that we made the agreement as to the starting rates only a matter of months ago. That agreement was reached after long and thorough discussion taking all interests into consideration. I said that even if we had agreed with the Scottish owners, which we did not, it would come ill from the Government themselves to break an agreement into which they had entered only a few months earlier. That was in relation to starting rates.
§ Mr. Soames
All I say is that the British Trawlers' Federation wish that it should be held to the agreement.
§ Mr. Peart
But even if, as the right hon. Gentleman says the British Trawlers' Federation owns four-fifths of the fleet, that is not a sound argument. The one-fifth, which mainly covers the Scottish side, faces greater difficulties over a period. Its members are smaller owners—often family firms—and they face difficulties. It is unfair to compare them in that way. Those hon. Members opposite who represent Scottish constituencies should press the Minister on this matter.
To take up the Minister's other argument. If we go into the Common Market, it may well be that the subsidies will have to go. We might find that there was a change of policy, probably dictated toy the Commission in Brussels, or by someone else. The Government would have to change their mind if they were out voted. That situation might arise if we enter the Common Market and sign the Treaty of Rome. Even if there is agreement between the British 110 Traders' Federation and the Scottish Section, it could happen, if we enter Europe, that these subsidies would have to be altered. I hope, therefore that the right hon. Gentleman will not be too dogmatic in his approach.
We accept in principle that there is a case for these subsidies. Nevertheless, hon. Members who have followed this matter, particularly those who represent Scottish constituencies, know that there have been difficulties. I do not intend to go at great length into the plight of the Scottish trawler owners. I will leave that to hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies. I have with me a lengthy memorandum issued by the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners' Association Limited and the Newhaven and Granton Trawler Owners' Association. This memorandum repudiates the agreement made by those organisations with the Government in October last year and asserts that they cannot accept the terms of the Bill, particularly its references to viability. Published on 13th June last, the memorandum states:The Scottish Trawler Owners are asking for a subsidy sufficient only to enable them to break-even and provide a small return on the capital which they have invested in modernising the industry.In other words, they believe that the subsidies now provided by the Government will not really help them. They are seeking an adjustment. The document continues:The meagre subsidy proposed by the Government will mean that, after depreciation, vessels will be operating this year at an average loss of between £4,500 and £6.000. Owners cannot consider maintaining their fleets in a modern condition and to suit changing needs under these proposals. Unless the Government gives the right amount of financial support now and for a few more years there will be no Scottish Trawling Fleet left operating to take advantage of any improvement in the situation …The memorandum goes on to argue this case in detail and pleads for a greater degree of financial support.
We have not today received an answer from the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, the Minister casually dismissed the whole matter. It may be that my hon. Friends will press this matter, for we certainly would like a reply from the Minister responsible for Scottish affairs. There is a feeling in the industry that, despite the agreement, the industry may not be viable over a ten-year period. Indeed, 111 the British Trawlers' Federation admits this in its memorandum of 31st October, 1961. I used the following quotation from that memorandum on Second Reading of the Bill when I stated:'We accept the basic principle that the trawler fleet should be self-supporting within ten years and will co-operate fully with the Government to that end'.I assert that members of the British Trawlers' Federation are still concerned about whether or not that principle will work out in practice and that the industry will really be viable in ten years' time.
The Fleck Report indicates that there is a possibility that the industry will not be viable over a long period of subsidy arrangements. On Second Reading I quoted from the Report as follows:'The industry is, therefore, not likely to have any easy time ahead of it, and it may be all it can do to hold its own at about the present level of profitability, or an only slightly higher one, even if the subsidies continue as at present'.I continued to quote from the Report:'Any reduction of the fleet to a completely economic level, such as must eventually follow the withdrawal of the fishing subsidies, might lead to a decline in the supply and a rise in the price of home-caught fish'." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1961; Vol. 694, c. 301–2.]I could go on for many paragraphs quoting the Fleck Report, but I will not weary the House. We have argued consistently that these subsidies, while we realise the need for them, may not result in a viable industry over a period of ten years. It could happen that many sections of the industry might be harmed by events quite outside the control of the Government.
I am, therefore, merely asking the right hon. Gentleman not to be too optimistic. I realise that he should be realistic, but in view of the situation regarding the Scottish side of the industry, he will appreciate that the people concerned are very worried about the matter. I appreciate, also, that an important argument could be introduced; the whole question of subsidies. I will not develop this argument at great length because I accept the need for subsidies. However, time and again it has been emphasised that we are subsidising private industry. On many occasions hon. Members have pointed 112 out—so did the Fleck Report—that we should exercise caution in this respect.
In this connection, it is worth bearing in mind the evidence given by Mr. George Middleton to the Fleck Committee. It is important to remember that we are also subsidising an important private section of industry which in certain circumstances may be financially stable. We must admit that there has been a growth of monopoly among certain sections of the fishing industry. There has been the classic pattern of vertical and horizontal integration. Page 21 of the Fleck Report reveals how certain groups within the industry are doing quite well and how the catching, processing, and distribution sections are becoming so intermingled that it is difficult to know just where the subsidy ends; that is, whether the subsidy, in the end, goes to the catching side or to the other sections.
On the other hand, there are many smaller owners in Scotland, particularly family concerns, who have not so far been affected by this growth of integration as much as other sections of the industry. That is why I expect the Minister to be a little more sympathetic to the difficulties of the Scottish owners as outlined by the Scottish Trawler Owners' Federation. Tonight he dismissed them rather too casually. Perhaps the Minister responsible for Scottish affairs will give a sympathetic reply.
Obviously the purpose of the subsidies is to make the industry more efficient. There will be structural changes in the fishing fleet as a result of these subsidies. This point was brought out in detail in Committee on the Sea Fish Industry Bill. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) explained how structural adjustments might take place.
We plead for flexibility and also for co-operation between the various authorities concerned. In the design of boats this flexibility must exist and this applies equally in combining the efforts of research workers. The subsidies must be used wisely to ensure that the fleet is modernised, for the taxpayers' money is involved. There must be accountability and the money being spent must improve efficiency within the industry.
Naturally, the owners have a responsibility in this. They must aim for 113 efficiency and this view has been expressed time and again by horn. Members. We are cautious in the sense that we expect that the industry will become viable, but in view of the difficulties now showing themselves it may be too optimistic to assume that the problems involved will be solved by subsidy arrangement which will peter out over the ten-year period. We support this aid to the industry.
Those hon. Members who are so critical of aid to public concerns, such as the Scottish coal pits which are being axed as a consequence of the Government fuel and power policy, should not be doctrinaire. Perhaps this evening they will appreciate we are giving a considerable amount of money to private industry —and they should be as generous to public concerns as they are proposing to be to the Scottish and English trawler owners.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) will not mind if I tell him that I certainly shall not be doctrinaire. I am also deeply conscious of the difficulties of the Scottish trawler owners, but I should like to leave that matter to my hon. Friends on this side of the House who are more closely connected with it than I am and who will cover those points.
I want to say a word or two about the problems of the inshore fishing fleets in Scotland. They are very serious. These subsidies are very important, but it is little use having a subsidy if there is no fishing industry at all, and that is the reality of the situation which faces us off the north-east coast of Scotland. There are no fish in the local grounds whatsoever, for the second year in succession.
The inshore herring fishermen are having to go to Lerwick to get the herring and the quality of the fish is good. Moreover, they are the only fish that they get at the moment and the price is good enough to obscure the grimmer realities of the situation for them.
Even then, though, the numbers are very scarce. The latest figures that 1 have show that for the best day in a week the catch was 1,100 crans and 114 that for the rest of the week it varied between 200 and 700 crans. Apart from that, the boats from Fraserburgh and Peterhead have to travel so far that they are at best only able to get back once or perhaps twice in the week.
In fact, the whole structure of what has been a traditional and very important form of fishing has been very greatly disturbed with the consequent damage and danger to the industries which have grown up there, based on a regular herring supply. It is an exceedingly scrious matter. In that light it will be a very sad disappointment to the men on boats of between 60 ft. and 80 ft. to find that their subsidy has been out from £8 10s. a week to £8—a loss of 10s.
I asked about a week ago why there was this scarcity of herring in the North Sea. I can only say that the answer of the Secretary of State that this loss was due to natural causes excites a great deal of derision on the part of men who have to make their living from this industry. They have, generally speaking, been in the business for generations. They have watched the fish come and watched the fish go. They have seen two world wars and they have seen the renaissance of fish. Each time it has come about with a renewal of fishing after the wars and their forced period of conservation. Now we are told that it is due to natural causes, and the fishermen simply do not believe it.
We see day in and day out foreign trawlers scooping up the heritage of our inshore fishermen with nets through which nothing can pass; they look like curtains. They are catching everything, even sand eels. It is quite absurd to expect that the fishermen will believe that the effect on the death of fish is caused by natural causes, because they see what is causing their destruction. In the Moray Firth, as my hon. Friend says, it is particularly and most painfully obvious.
The question that I put to my right hon. Friend is: how much longer can we delay pushing out our limits to at least six miles? I am well aware of the delicate balance which has to be made between the interests of the national fleet as a Whole and our own inshore fleet, and also of the delicacy of the 115 negotiations on the Faroes which are due to come off shortly. But we are losing a tremendous national 'heritage of wealth for our inshore fishermen, and if the Government find it impossible to conserve abroad and internationally, why cannot they start a policy of conservation at home?
We are all aware of the difficulties of getting the nations of the world to agree on a uniform policy of conservation for world fishing. It is a sad fact that some of them seem to prefer to cut their own throats. If we cannot bring about conservation abroad why cannot we do something of the sort for ourselves at home, by expanding our limits to at least six miles and within that territory embark on a policy of control, if necessary, and also the development of our own natural fisheries?
One thing is obvious—unless we can bring a rebirth to our inshore fishermen a very important industry to the whole of Scotland will suffer material damage.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
I have every sympathy with the position of the inshore fishermen, but I cannot imagine a more irresponsible moment for this country to push out its limits within the short period before we start negotiations with the Faroes on the question of limits.
I want to speak briefly about two matters: first, about the middle-water fleet; and, secondly, the White Fish Authority. On the middle-water fleet, the Minister was, I think, extremely sympathetic. The fleet is still going through an extremely bad period and this reflects itself in a number of middle-water firms who are behind in their interest and capital repayments to the White Fish Authority. The question is what attitude we ought to take to this and what we think is the solution.
The Minister has described a number of possibilities. First, a complete moratorium on debt repayment for all firms in the industry. He rejected this, I am sure quite rightly, because I do not see how we could justify a total moratorium to people who are perfectly capable of making interest and capital repayment to the White Fish Authority.
116 The second possibility which, in effect, he accepted is that we should have a moratorium for two years, or however long it is needed, simply for those firms in difficulty which cannot make their interest and debt repayments. This the Minister has more or less accepted. I think that this is right although the disadvantage is that this means that the Government accountants have to get themselves heavily involved in the affairs of individual firms. This is a nuisance for the firms concerned. It is not a principle which one wants to support, but I do not see any way round it.
The next possibility is that we help this section of the fleet—we are concerned mostly with the middle-water section of the fleet at the moment—out of the supplementary fund for contingencies, a fund out of which the Minister can make payments up to £350,000 a year. Payments out of this fund are going to the middle-water fleet. The Minister mentioned that not all of the £350,000 has been covenanted to the industry. I believe that there is still £120,000 for which application can be made from sections which are particularly hard hit. It may be that some part of the middle-water fleet will have to apply for this part of the fund, and I hope that the Minister will be able to help if such application is made.
When we are discussing the difficulties of the middle-water fleet we should remember that these difficulties may, and indeed should, prove temporary. The situation should have improved two years from now. From the end of this year there will be no restriction on distant water sailing and this may make a number of the larger boats more profitable, enabling the remainder who stay at the Faroes more profitable, too, because there will be less fishing going on there. This should ease the situation in the industry.
When we add to that the fact that the more inefficient coal burners are going out at a rapid rate, the middle-water picture should look better in time. We should be able to treat this as essentially a temporary problem. Nevertheless, while this problem continues the Government must watch it. I think that the Minister will be sympathetic if applications are made for the reserve element 117 in the £350,000; and it may prove necessary, if these difficulties become aggravated, to increase the size of the supplementary fund beyond the £2½ million at which it now stands.
I would be very disturbed if, after agreeing to this total aid to the industry, within a year we had to increase it. I hope that we shall be able gradually to see it decline over a period of, say, ten years, and I should be alarmed if we had to increase it. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will watch the position carefully.
Looking back over our discussions during the last year, my regret is that if I were starting again, of the total aid going to the industry I would cut down the amount going to the middle-water section. I recognise that this is being wise after the event, but I think that if we were all starting again many of us would take this view.
I am less sympathetic to the Scottish owners than some who have already spoken. I do not want to discuss the Scottish owners in detail because one would be mad to get into any discussion about the Scots. I am particularly vulnerable because a namesake of mine, T. W. H. Crosland, once wrote a book entitled "The Unspeakable Scot", in which he quoted Charles Lamb, who said:I have been trying all my life to like Scotchmen, and am obliged to desist from the experiment in despair.I am sorry that the Scots have felt it necessary to take the decision that they have, because the industry can only be weakened by lack of unity. The one thing that this industry needs more than anything else is unity. As it has gone off all on its own, the Minister must not think that if he is approached by the Scottish owners speaking mainly of their middle water problems, they represent the whole of the middle-water fleet. They do not. They tend to give the impression sometimes that they represent the whole of the middle-water section of the fleet, whereas we in Grimsby have a substantial part of the middle-water fleet.
I hope that the Minister will remember this when he or his colleagues are approached by the Scottish trawler owners, and that he should consult the British trawler owners as well. Aberdeen 118 will be largely a distant water port after the restrictions are taken off. It will no longer foe a middle-water port, and, presumably, a large proportion of the trawlers will sail to distant waters.
My only other point about the Faroes is that when the Minister comes to negotiate with the Faroese on limits I hope that he will bear in mind that one of the reasons why parts of the British industry are suffering is that there has been a spectacular increase in imports from the Faroes and Denmark in the last five years. In Grimsby, from 1957 to 1962, the increase in Faroese landings has been from £150,000 a year to over £800,000 a year, and Danish imports into Grimsby have almost trebled from £700,000 to £2 million. Unlike some people, I am not against all imports as a matter of principle. I am rather a free trader. Indeed, I am a European. Nevertheless, when negotiations start with the Faroes I hope that the Minister will bear this point in mind.
With regard to the White Fish Authority, through whom these loans, grants and subsidies are channelled, this is a suitable moment to discuss the matter because it has recently asked the industry for an increase in levy from ½d. to 1d., and all our merchants especially are against this increase in the levy. One of the reasons that the Authority has gone into the "red" (this year is that its Income Tax liability is more than doubled. It seems absurd for a public body of this kind so to arrange its financial affairs that it has to pay £28,000 back to the Treasury in tax. I think that by a change in accountancy this considerable burden on the Authority would be saved.
A larger point is this. I myself would not begrudge the Authority the extra ½d. and, indeed, a larger amount of money if I were certain that it was doing the job that we expect it to do, but I am doubtful whether it is. I am not criticising individuals in the Authorit. I am simply criticising the structure and the size of the Authority.
I should like to refer to one or two other points. The first, which has been raised in the House before, is whether the Authority is exercising enough influence on the type of trawler being built. Just as limits are being extended everywhere, we find ourselves with a largely 119 modern fleet consisting almost entirely of conventional trawlers. Of course, we are beginning to build unconventional trawlers, like the "Lord Nelson", but predominantly we have a fleet of new conventional trawlers. They are not adapted to a situation in which limits are being extended to 12 miles.
I believe that the owners are heavily to blame for this. Indeed, they admit that this is not the right way to deal with the new situation. They say that they could not foresee the extension of the limits. I do not believe it. From 1952 onwards, when the first Icelandic struggle started, any intelligent person could have foreseen that we were in for a bad time over the question of limits. The owners ought to have seen this and they ought to have experimented with new types of trawlers before they did.
The White Fish Authority should certainly have foreseen it. Indeed, it may have done so and done nothing about it. It says in its Annual Report that it is not its task to try to enforce a particular pattern of investment on the industry. Of course, it is not. It has not got the legal power to do so. But it administers all these large sums and it has considerable powers of persuasion, and it could have exercised more persuasion on the industry to start innovating new types of freezers long before it did.
Similarly, I feel that more research ought to be carried out by the White Fish Authority. This year's Annual Report mentions research into new fishing grounds, but, so far as I know, none is south of the Equator. Certainly, there is no hint in the Report that it is doing any new research into fishing grounds there.
On quality control, the Authority could do a great deal more than it is doing, for it is extremely complacent about this matter. There is no hon. Member directly from Hull in the Chamber at the moment, but there is one very close to Hull. The White Fish Authority always talks as if the quality control scheme in Hull really works. In fact, many people in the industry think that it is near to being a farce. Lip-service is paid to it by Hull because Hull wants to avoid something stricter. At any rate, it seems to me that this attitude on the part of the Authority 120 towards quality control is also too complacent.
Lastly—and this is a serious matter, though going slightly away from the Authority—there is the question of the three-man investigation committee at the ports. I, and I am sure many hon. Members, have put a great deal of weight on this, but now we hear that the chairman of the committee, after only twelve months' experience of the industry, is moving into the cereals industry, which no doubt is very important. I do not know whether this is true or not, but if this is so it is absurd and is messing the industry about.
This man has had a lot of experience during the last twelve months and we know him to be without question a man of extreme ability. It is messing the industry about if this man, having the industry at his fingertips as it were, is to be moved to another department. All the work done by the three-man committee will prove largely wasted because the chairman has gone to another job, and the whole thing will have to start again from scratch.
§ Mr. Soames
There are, of course, movements within a Department of officials from one important job to another. This is always happening. Because a man has proved himself efficient in one branch, and to have great knowledge of it, does not mean that he will be left there for ever. It would not be in his interest or in the interest of the Department as a whole.
§ Mr. Crosland
Obviously, as a general rule, that is true, but I was pointing out the effects on the fishing industry and that it would appear that the work already done would be wasted and that the whole thing would have to start again. We in Grimsby will have a new man and, presumably, the two same men coming to the port again as a committee of three to interview all the interested bodies and presumably the new chairman will have to learn the whole thing from the beginning. I and many of my hon. Friends believe that by far the most important thing in the fishing industry 121 is not the trawling side. It is the question of the organisation of ports. It is on this that we had placed great hopes which have been disappointed by this news.
I gather that the chairman of the Authority is now part-time. I believe that on the basis of the amount of money the Authority has to spend and the tasks it has to carry out that it is utterly inappropriate that this body should have a part-time chairman. We know that he is extremely able and we think that he should be full-time. I would not grudge the Authority the extra ½d. if I thought that the body would be made larger and more powerful and have more teeth and would give greater leadership to the industry as a whole. Like the merchants in Grimsby and many other people, I would have considerable doubts about the right-ness of this organisation if it continued on a part-time basis.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I agree with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) that it would have been far wiser in apportioning the subsidies to have given less to the distant-water fleets and more to the middle-water fleets. At the same time, while I understand the hon. Member's interest in Grimsby and the middle-water fleet there, I should like to devote my remarks particularly to the position of the Scottish owners and the middle-water fleets. I very much regret that these owners have felt it necessary to repudiate this agreement not only by reason of their trading returns but also because they did it so late. While I believe that they have a strong case, I think that contrary to the position with the Scheme which we have just discussed, the Minister also has a case not to make a change at this late hour.
It is all very well to have had the Royal Assent given to a Measure which took months to go through Parliament and then to ask the Treasury to alter the subsidy rates which were originally agreed to by the whole industry. Nevertheless, I think that we in the Scottish industry made a mistake in agreeing with the British Trawlers' Federation to support the starting rates of subsidy, because I understand that at that time it was suggested that the rates should not be fixed until we had had one more year of trading returns. If we had waited 122 that long, I do not think that we should be in our present difficulties.
We have to face the fact that the Scottish owners have formed their own federation and that they will have to be regarded separately. It is unfortunate that we do not have a united industry, but it must be remembered that in Scotland, and particularly in Aberdeen, which has the largest preponderance of boats, the industry is entirely dependent on near- and middle-water fleets. There is also the peculiarity not to be found in the larger ports in the South that on the whole these are family businesses, whereas in the big ports, where there are long-distance trawlers, the big companies can balance profit and loss between long-distance and middle-water fleets.
It is also only fair to say that, as I understand, Granton and Leith did not agree to the original arrangements with the British Trawlers' Federation and they made a specific reservation on this point as long ago as last September. People in Aberdeen very well recognise the principle behind the Sea Industry Act and the Fleck Report—that there should be increased efficiency throughout the industry. The oldest ship sailing from Aberdeen now is only four years old. We are, therefore discussing a very serious position, namely, the future of the Scottish fishing fleet and, in particular, of its major port of Aberdeen.
What new factor has arisen which has made it so difficult for these fleets which sail from Scotland and particularly from Aberdeen? It is, of course, the lack of fish due to the extension of the fishing limits. It could be said that one would not have needed foresight to know how bad the returns would be, but it must be remembered that the Scottish fleet was encouraged by the Government and the White Fish Authority to build a certain type of boat. Also, that it has been since the building of that type that there has been the extension of the Faroes limit and that there is now the possibility of the further extension of that limit to twelve miles.
This, therefore, is the excuse for asking the Minister, from now on until the new Session, to give careful thought to the position of the middle water fleets, and, in particular, the Scottish fleet, which has the personal characteristics of 123 a family business and the characteristic of fishing in the Faroes. The hon. Member for Grimsby said that Aberdeen would shortly become a long-distance port because of the removal of the restriction on the number of trips which can be made to fish in Icelandic waters. But I am sure he will appreciate that the removal of this restriction can only be of limited advantage because the boats in question can often fish these Icelandic waters only when the weather is good. This gives them only a limited number of trips in the year.
It must be realised that in the short time available the Minister has done what he can under the Act and within the powers he holds to try to help in this situation. I welcome the selective moratorium because I am sure that it is fairer even if it does involve the very close accounting of which we have been told. The Scottish owners have throughout repudiated this offer of a moratorium, but I think that it would, as the figures given this afternoon show, make a considerable difference to the possibility of keeping the fleet fishing throughout the year.
I am very glad also that it is possible to give supplementary payments either for certain classes of boat ox for certain ports on application. I am quite sure that the port of Aberdeen will shortly be applying for the rest of the £120,000 which, I think, is being kept back at the moment out of the total of £350,000.
In my view, we must look again at the whole matter of principle in making the fishing industry viable within ten years. The Fleck Report itself made a very important reservation that, if there were factors outside the industry's control such as, for instance, the pushing out of fishing limits for conservation purposes, this would be a ground for examining the whole question whether the industry could be viable in ten years. I consider that the time has come seriously to consider whether, in order to avoid these constant rows and disagreements every July with the fishing industry, we ought to regard the industry as one having a claim to be considered on a par with agriculture. This has always been repudiated, but Why?
124 The fishing industry produces food which is considered to be of strategic importance to this country just as agriculture does. It has great international difficulties confronting it. We are a maritime nation still. For strategic reasons alone, we ought to give continuing support, within reason and having regard to efficiency, to the fishing industry as we give it to agriculture. We support agriculture fundamentally for strategic reasons because we know that our community in this country cannot be supported if we do no do our best to make the agriculture industry viable. The fishing industry will try to make itself viable, but, at a time of difficulty, with fishing limits being extended, I suggest that we must make a complete recasting of our thoughts on this problem.
The figures agreed with the Department in relation to the Scottish fleet are that it is expected that for the near and middle-water fleets the loss in the coming year will be between £4,500 and £6,000 a boat. Aberdeen and Granton and Leith have between them 52 near-water boats and 78 middle-water boats. On 1st August this year, when this new subsidy will come into effect if we pass it tonight, the basic subsidy for these boats will amount to £440,000 which, together with the supplementary fund of £104,350, will total £549,000. In fact, this is £128,000 less than the subsidy in the last financial year.
The needs estimated for Scotland as a whole are that £1,158,000 is required for the industry to break even, in other words, an increase in subsidy of £609,000 taking the moratorium into account. In 1961–62, the Scottish trawlers received £684,536 which was the equivalent of 29 per cent. of the total United Kingdom subsidy. This year, they will receive the equivalent of 19 per cent. of the total United Kingdom subsidy. Of course, the bone of contention which is very much in people's minds in Scotland is that there should be a subsidy paid of £17 a day for the distant-water fleet as compensation for the loss of its Icelandic fishing. In my view, they have a strong case when they ask also about compensation for the loss of fishing round the Faroes, particularly when one takes into account the size of our boats and the physical limitation placed upon us of 125 taking advantage of fishing very much further afield.
What owners want in Scotland is a higher rate of subsidy for about two or three years which would give them the opportunity to recast the middle-water fleet, to try to build a few ships which one could describe as small Junellas, not scrapping the whole of our modem fleet but try to recast and remould it. Whether this should have been done before, with guidance and persuasion from the White Fish Authority, is a moot point, but the fact is that this is required now if the Scottish fleet is to survive. Also, it would give time for research and practical experiment 'in regard to new fishing grounds.
Those sailing from Aberdeen believe that, within three or four years, the effect of conservation may mean that the fish themselves will increase and there will be a greater opportunity for fishing in the North Sea; but there will be, as there is mow, an extremely difficult period ahead. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to give an assurance that the Government will, in consultation with the industry, recast their whole thinking on this matter. The supplementary payments end in December, at the end of the year, and I suggest (that, if some amending legislation could be brought in in the new Session, this could be made to operate in the early part of the year. If we go on waiting for another year, parhaps we shall be able to keep the fleet fishing, but it will mean another year's delay. This is the moment to consider, with the fishing industry, exactly what the future of the Scottish fleet as a whole should be.
While we may not have a united industry in this country today, in my view, the importance of this industry for Scotland is in the employment it gives in so many of our coastal areas at a time when Scotland as a whole is in great difficulty and is going through a period of great change. I hope that the Government will 'give very serious thought to introducing amending legislation.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Marshall
I hope that my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) will forgive me if I direct what I have to say more to the speech made by her colleague, my 126 hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen-shire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon).
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) spoke about the tax which the White Fish Authority has to bear. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind and consider whether the impact of this tax upon the Authority is really necessary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East spoke about fishing limits. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Grimsby that this is one of the most difficult times to advance any suggestion for extending the limit to six miles. I am rather tired of hearing again and again that this is not really the time to do it and that some foreign country will find itself in greater difficulty in negotiating with us as a consequence. At the end of the day, we in Britain, as far as I can see, do nothing about these matters, and it is about time that we defended our own fishing industry, particularly the inshore fishing industry which means a great deal, by extending the fishing limits. Paragraph 16 of the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme. 1962. mentions the different subsidies which are being paid to the inshore fishing industry. I am glad to note that in paragraph (a), which deals with eels, mackerel, mullet, and pilchards, which no doubt my hon. Friend 'the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) has taken deep notice of, the subsidy is 1s. 3d. a stone. That is good, but what I wonder is whether the pilchard industry will last long enough to receive anything.
Two points arise directly from this. There have been two forms of approach on the part of the White Fish Authority to see what can be done about the pilchard industry. One approach dealt with the catching of pilchards and the other with the question of marketing. I think that fundamentally the authority made a mistake in the beginning. It should have spent the money on the marketing side before dealing with the matter of research.
Secondly, whatever subsidy is given to the inshore fishing industry or to any type of fish caught by the inshore fishing industry, such as pilchards, one must ensure that it has a capacity to fill the market. When South Africa was part of the British Commonwealth, difficulties 127 arose which we could do nothing about, but now that she is not part of the Commonwealth I fail to see why the Cornish pilchard industry should suffer. It seems that we are not willing to take any action whatsoever about the import of this canned fish, produced by an industry in South Africa whose employment conditions axe far below those which we consider right in this country.
These may appear to be small matters in some ways. Of course that may be so when talking about an industry which is not very great in itself. But the men and women in this industry have supported this country in innumerable ways when it has been in danger. They have manned the small boats. These are the people on whom we depend at the end of the day, and it is about time that the Government thought in those terms when dealing with the inshore fishing industry.
I hope that some day some Minister will do something about the two points which I have mentioned. Our fleet— when I use the word "our" I include Scotland—needs defending by increasing the limits of the sea to six miles. We do not want part of that fleet to be annihilated by imports about which we do nothing.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I have a great deal of sympathy, as I often have, with the points raised by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) in connection with the inshore fishermen, whether they fish for pilchards, for lobsters or for any other fish in the waters around our constituencies. I reinforce once again the hon. Gentleman's plea for greater protection for the people to whom, as he rightly said, we as a nation have turned in war very often for protection and, in peace, for the supply of our food.
There is a growing danger as the years go by of the concentration into the bigger ports of all the fishing of this country and the consequent decay of the smaller communities. That is a problem which we have particularly in the Scottish Islands and the Highland bays and creeks. As I say. I reinforce the hon. Gentleman's appeal and that of another hon. Member who spoke about the need for greater protection within the fishery limit waters around our coasts.
128 Among the problems mentioned as being most needing of consideration and on which there was a great deal of debate during the Committee stage of the Sea Fish Industry Bill was the lack of local capital for building up modern dual-purpose fleets. That is a problem which we in the Scottish Islands have long had to face. There has been a lack of local capital because of many years and, indeed, generations of ill reward for the fishing industry; partly, also, through the factors mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and partly through the overwhelming competition from other countries Which has, for some reason, been permitted even when our own fishermen were capable of supplying the needs of most of our own markets.
In addition, there have been runs of bad seasons and fluctuations and vicissitudes in the fortunes of the fishing round our shores. There has been a lack in the Islands, and certain other parts of the country about which I am thinking, of local shelter and adequate harbours, jetties and piers. That is a matter to which Government after Government have addressed too little attention. This is a problem which was repeatedly commented on as much as 70 and 80 years ago by Commissions of investigation into the fishing industry.
Another problem which I doubt whether these present proposals will solve, although they may mitigate it financially, is that of distance and consequent transport costs to rail and road-heads, especially in the North-West between the islands and the mainland coasts and the markets. That is a problem which probably only two things can solve in part. One is better and specialised transportation of the catch, and the other, which is even more important in the modern processing context, is increased plant and facilities on the spot, or as near the catching spot as possible, for the processing of the catches from the local fishing grounds.
Another problem which has been referred to so often during the past weeks and months is that of the fishery limits. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) expressed concern lest the advice given by a Member representing an Aberdeen constituency were carried out too soon. That advice concerned the 129 extension of the fisheries limits. Goodness knows, this House and successive Governments have had long enough to think about this matter. It would not take anyone by surprise if any Government suddenly extended the fishery limits now. This could have happened 50 years ago, and we would have had fifty years' notice of it even before that. Commissions, local authorities and Members of Parliament representing fishing constituencies have been clamouring for this measure for years. Certainly no one would be taken by surprise if it came about. There may be other demerits about it, but that of surprise is not one of them.
There is one thing which the Minister may consider doing. I am not sure whether or not it requires legislation. There are precedents for it in other countries, such as Norway. It is to close, at least experimentally, certain fishery areas. I am thinking of areas like the Minch and, possibly, the Moray Firth. The closing of the Minch would have the support of all the Highland local authorities who, indeed, have demanded it. They have mentioned 12 and 6-mile limits, but that was as a compromise. The closing, at least for an experimental period, of the whole Minch area would we understood and, I believe, would be accepted by foreign countries, just as we in practice have had to accept, in spite of the general application of international law, the exceptions which the Norwegians claimed and have been allowed to enforce for several generations.
Had the Government listened to my own humble submission among many others at the time of the Neven-Spence Report in 1945, which advocated the closing of the Minch for, say, five or seven years to give a chance to the local fleets to be built up with the help of Government capital to make up for the lack of local resources, perhaps by now we should have had a more modern, up-to-date and efficient fleet in the Western Islands and around the northwest Highlands.
Belatedly, I agree, the Government have come in in a small way and they are operating the Hebrides fishery scheme, but it is very late in the day and the overfishing damage has been done. Many of the grounds have been 130 damaged, and even the trawlers no longer come into the area because it is no longer profitable for them to do so. It has been heavily overfished, as has been the whole of the North Sea, but, naturally, the smaller areas like the Minch arid Moray Firth have been even more heavily depleted. In consequence, if there is less poaching by trawlers today, it is because their own poaching was only too successful in past years.
Meanwhile, the whole question of policing and of the limits is a live question with the local fishermen and the local authorities. The Minister is well aware of all the arguments in favour of extending the fishery limits and of better policing, with more modern equipment, of the existing limit. While, however, on the one hand, the Government are handing out subsidies, while they are assisting sections of the industry in various ways financially and otherwise, when trying to operate a local scheme like the Western Islands fishery scheme and trading arrangements why on earth do they insist upon rates of interest from beginners, men launching out on these new ventures, of from 6 to 7½ per cent? It is an exorbitant rate to charge these men. In two or three seasons of fishing failure, the debts will pile up and that debt, along with this high rate of interest may do more to discourage all further development of this kind and the development of fishing in general.
In spite of what my hon. Friend has said, this is the time when, more than ever, the Government should be directly addressing themselves to the closure of the Minch and, as a major, separate issue, the extension of fishery limits generally. These are two questions which can be treated separately. There are examples from other countries of extending the limits. For many years, the Norwegians have claimed in practice the right to follow the shape of their country drawn along the base lines and to extend for several nautical miles beyond the base lines. The Western Island of Scotland and the Shetlands and Orkney, and a good part of the Highlands, too, could well adopt something of the same kind. The base line principle advocacy is something with which the Minister is so familiar that I shall not start arguing it now. It has rightly been argued many times and frequently advocated in this House.
131 I suggest, however, that if the Minister wants to encourage a modern, efficient fleet of dual-purpose vessels which would be able to do all-weather fishing and not lie part-year idle, which would be disastrous at present cost levels for the purpose of making a success of the present policy, he must give adequate protection in the fishing grounds, not only, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen-shire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) said, against foreign trawlers, but against those vessels of our own trawling fleets who see fit to come within the territorial limits.
Among the British offenders, it is not only the larger syndicates and the bigger fellows who do all the depredations and damage. As often as not, it is the smaller seine-net men themselves who come in with their little fleets of seven or eight or, sometimes, more vessels into the bays of the Highlands and trawl well under the noses of the fishery protection service.
The cruisers cannot be everywhere at one time. They cannot all be concentrated in the Lewis bays or around Eriskay or Barra or across at the West Coast—it is unfair and unreasonable to ask them to do so; but it is not unreasonable to ask the Minister to supplement and assist the work of the longer-distance cruisers by means of locally-based speedboats. We do not ask that they should replace the cruisers, although they are uneconomic and are too easily seen by what I might call the enemy miles away and their movements are far too easily signalled from one to another of the poacher fleets and vessels. If, however, the Minister intends to operate what is ostensibly his policy of restoring prosperity, both to the inshore and the other fleets, he must give greater protection within the existing limits as well as contemplate urgent action to extend the limits also.
We suggest to the Minister that in supplementing the service of the cruisers with the services of locally-based speedboats, manned partly by men who know the local waters and the ways of the local poachers—in other words, they should have a certain number of local men aboard—the Government and their Department should by one means or another also urge the courts of law to 132 enforce higher penalties even within the existing maxima.
If anything like even the present maximum fines and other penalties were imposed, we could clean up a great deal of the trouble that is harming the inshore fishermen. The difficulty is that when the master of a vessel appears before the local sheriffs, their hearts always seem to melt at the sight of the poor character who has been caught robbing the local fishermen. Some of them take the view, or some courts have done in the past, that the person whom they would like to see in front of them is the owner of the vessel and not the man who carries out their orders or takes a chance on their behalf. I, too, should like to see the owner or some of the directors of the firms and syndicates themselves appearing in court and given some of the publicity that is certainly no more welcome to the skipper than it is to them.
We should like to see, in some cases, not merely fines imposed. What is more hurtful to people who are prepared to take chances on illegal fishing is the detention of their vessel in port. That could hurt a great deal more than a mere money fine, which very often can be allowed for in the first night's depredations. It can be costed up very nicely in advance.
These things which we have so often advocated are still the views of the local authorities of Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Caithness and Sutherland, and also of the fishermen themselves, as well as of every Highland and Island Member in this House. I do not think that any hon. Member representing the Highlands and Islands dissents from my view that the Government should have closed the Minch years ago and, with the aid of the infusion of Government capital, should have helped to build up local fleets to a condition of efficiency and modern methods of fishing which would in time make them independent of subsidy and help them to increase their contribution to the national wealth.
Somebody has mentioned the Common Market. There are so many Frenchmen, West Germans and Belgians poaching amongst the bays and creeks of the north-west Highlands and the Hebrides that one would swear that we 133 were in the Common Market already. The only step further that those people have to go is to land the whole of their main catch here, instead of taking it back to their own countries, and render our home market position even more disastrous for our own people than it is already.
One can imagine how resentful and what a deep sense of injustice our fishermen in the Western Isles felt when, a few years ago, they went to sea, at Last, armed with rifles to fight off the poachers. These are men who had learned something in war-time about protecting not only themselves but other people. They and their forebears have been called up in every war in our history. That they were armed with rifles for self-defiance became known to the Press and was splashed in national headlines.
I wrote to the Prime Minister at the time, four or so years ago. He was horrified by the rifles. He is a man who does not believe in violence, except, of course, when reshuffling the Cabinet. He wrote and said, "For goodness sake, do anything reasonable you like. The fishermen have very great provocation, and I can understand the resentment of the small fishermen who see the big fellows coming in and appearing to be robbing their fishery bays, but do not use violence of any kind." This was shortly after the Tory Government's violence in Suez, and so, of course, the fishermen thought that this caution against violence was rather a joke.
However, there followed a promise of action by the Secretary of State for Scotland. He is also, unfortunately, one of the departed now since the Government reshuffle. For personal reasons, I am very sorry that that is the case. But there was a promise of action then, and that promise is still open. It has never been honoured. I do not for that blame the departed Secretary of State alone; but I do blame the Government on whose behalf he was speaking, with the Prime Minister's authority behind him, because the Prime Minister's words, in the 'letter to me, were that he was passing this for action to the Secretary of State, and presumably with his full support. So we expected action, and the Lewis men oiled their rifles and stacked them back at their crofts and waited for action, but the Secretary of State took no action.
134 No action has yet been taken. I can assure the hon. Gentleman the Undersecretary of State that the day is coming when, unless something is done about it, it will not take a third world war to bring these men out again with their rifles. It is a measure of their resentment and sense of injustice that they had to resort to that threat against people who provoked them night after night throughout every fishing season, robbers whose fleets they saw, openly lit up as often as not, well inside the limits, off the local island coasts, from Lewis southwards for over a hundred miles to the Barra coast. It is understandable that our Islands fishermen are resentful and feel a deep sense of injustice. I hope that they will not be provoked and forced eventually to violence, but if ever they are, then it must be remembered that it is the Government who must bear a great deal of the blame.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I hope that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) will forgive me for not following him into his impending wars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, although I do agree with a lot of what he said in his speech, which covered both countries, north and south of the Border. I shall mention fishery limits later in my speech.
I think that the House will agree that the most important issue raised in the Scheme is the question of the English and Scottish middle-water vessels and whether they are to be paid sufficient subsidies to allow them to continue to operate. Before I consider the future I should like to draw the attention of the House to the immediate background of this matter.
We start off, of course, with the Fleck Committee. Section 3 of the Committee's Report recommended that an operating subsidy should be paid to all vessels, and that included for the first time the distant-water vessels, and that it should be related to gross proceeds. The Committee suggested 3 per cent. for the distant-water ships and 7 per cent. for the middle-water vessels. It also suggested a special fund for supplementary payments.
We then come to the Government's reply in Cmnd. 1453, in which they said 135 that they agreed to the general idea of operating subsidies, but, in view of the loss of fishing grounds off Iceland, they suggested that the percentatge paid to the distant water ships should be 5 per cent. and not 3 per cent. They also suggested that year by year there should be, as it were, an annual price review, of the amount paid to each section of the fleet, and they approved the Fleck Committee's recommendation about the supplementary fund and said it should be a total of £3 million, of which £400,000 could be paid in any one year.
Continuing the background story we then come to the reply of the British Trawlers' Federation to the Government's suggestion, and that is contained in a letter, circulated, I think, to most hon. Members of the House, and dated August, 1961. It asked for a compounded subsidy. In other words, the Federation wanted the operating subsidy and the special fund to be compounded together and the same subsidy to be paid for three years, and then reduced progressively over the next seven years, ending completely in a total of ten years. It was claimed that this would end the uncertainty inherent in an annual price review.
I understand that under the Fleck recommendations and the Government's amendment of those recommendations the subsidies paid for the three sections of the industry would have been £5.8 per day for inshore vessels, £10.1 per day for middle water vessels, and £19.8 per day for distant water vessels. Under the B.T.F.'s recommendations those figures would be £10, £15, and £20, respectively.
Then followed a great deal of negotiation with my right hon. Friends and their Departments, and out of the negotiations came an agreement, and that agreement is contained in a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from the President of the B.T.F. and the Chairman of the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners' Association. That agreement said that the industry, as represented by the B.T.F. and the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners' Association, would accept an operating subsidy of £9 per day for inshore vessels, £13 for middle water vessels and £15 for distant water vessels and that in the first two years this subsidy would be reduced by 136 not more than 7½ per cent. and in subsequent years by between 7½ and 12½ per cent. They also agreed that there should be a special fund of £2½ million compared with the £3 million already suggested.
I quote the figures to illustrate the difference between the Government's original proposals and the proposals we are now debating, which have been finally accepted by the owners of English and Scottish vessels. The original proposal for middle-water vessels was roughly £10 per day, and the final figure is £13, an increase of £3; the original proposal for distant-water vessels was £19.8, or a round figure of £20, and the final proposal is £15, a reduction of £5 per day.
Therefore, I do not think that it can be maintained that the distant-water section has not been prepared to sacrifice a certain amount to help 'the middle-water vessels in the difficulties which they have to face. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come off it."] When the Scottish Association repudiated the agreement which it had quite openly signed and agreed to, it in no way consulted or even informed the British Trawlers Federation that it intended to take this action. We realise that the middle-water vessels, particularly the Scottish ones, are a special case, which should be considered sympathetically. But an operating subsidy of £45 per day seems to me to be a very high one indeed.
§ Mr. Hoy
The hon. Gentleman is obviously exaggerating the case to suit the distant-water fleet which he represents, but he ought to be fair and say that there were continual discussions as well as correspondence passing between the B.T.F. and the Aberdeen owners and certainly the Newhaven and Granton Trawler Owners' Association. He is not correct in seeking to convey the impression to the House that nothing like that happened.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
May I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltem-price (Mr. Wall) that the Scottish trawler owners, to break even, asked for £25 or £33 a day, according to length? Those figures are very different from the subsidies being presented to the House now.
§ Mr. Wall
On the first point, the agreement, which is contained in a letter to the Association dated 30th October, 1961, says:If these proposals are acceptable to the Government, both the Federation and the Association would be glad to give their full support to the speedy passage of legislation to bring them into effect.That is a perfectly clear and categorical acceptance of the arrangements, freely entered into with the Government.
I do not want to be castigated too much by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) or the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). I have admitted that the middle-water fleet is in a difficult position, particularly the Scottish section, but we have to remember that it can now fish off Iceland. The moratorium has been mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and he has a lot of supplementary payments in his pocket which could be used in certain cases to help. The real point is that the difficulties, particularly in Scotland, are probably only temporary.
§ Mr. Wall
—of which £350,000 can be used a year. I understand that this year he has £120,000 which has not yet been allocated. I am sure that if I am wrong my right hon. Friends will correct me. I see him nodding, so I assume I am right. That is quite a sum of money, and is can be augmented year by year.
I was making the point that the difficulties facing the middle-water vessels, particularly the Scottish vessels, may be only temporary. If we go into the European Economic Community, then the partners in the Common Market must agree that the limits will be abolished by 1970 or that there must be a common limit existing between all the partners by 1970.
That would do a very great deal to help the middle-water vessels (based on Aberdeen, or elsewhere. It will be a 138 great help if Norway and Denmark come in, as, presumably, they will, and it may be that Iceland will be forced to join the Community. These countries will then have to negotiate a common limit, and we shall have a considerable amount of say in those negotiations if the Treaty of Rome is taken to mean what it says in the appropriate clause. However, that still leaves the difficulties of this coming year before a final decision is made. I hope, therefore, that the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South will be given very careful consideration.
We have heard about the extension of the limits for Iceland, Norway and the Faroes. But what about the limits for the United Kingdom? It seems to me that we should do something about this most important matter. There are two lines of policy which may be adopted, a positive or a negative one. Regarding the positive policy, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he does what he can to increase the number of patrol vessels. There are not enough of them at present. I know that this would impose a strain upon he Royal Navy, but it would provide good training.
To increase the extent of their coverage perhaps it would be possible to operate helicopters from these vessels. Modern survey vessels and frigates carry helicopters as part of their equipment and helicopters could be used to check poaching witihin the existing limits. The hon. Member for the Western Isles referred to the necessity to impose suitable fines upon poachers similiar to those imposed by the Icelandic authorities upon our vessels. That would soon stop this practice.
From the negative point of view, I support the extension of our limits to six miles from headland to headland. I accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) that it is not wise to do so just as we are deciding whether to enter the European Economic Community. There is also the question of the Faroe negotiations. I have a suspicion that these will not be concluded until a decision has been arrived at about whether Denmark and Britain will enter E.E.C. But surely we can do something now. Cannot we get rid of the anomalies which exist, particularly those relating to Scotland?
139 I do not wish to become involved in Scottish matters any more than I am already, but I should like the Undersecretary of State for Scotland to give a direct answer on this matter. We have heard a lot about the Minch, the Firth of Clyde and the Moray Firth. A letter from various fishermen's associations, addressed to the Secretary of State for Scotland, includes a definite request and I should like to know whether it is reasonable and could be granted. They ask forthe immediate enforcement of the provisions of the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act 1889 as interpreted by the High Court of Justiciary in the case of Mortensen v. Peters in 1906. … The effect of this would be to ban trawling by foreign vessels in the Moray Firth, the Firth of Clyde and the other Scottish estuaries and firths enumerated in the Schedule to that Act.It seems to make sense and would be justice to subject foreign vessels to the same laws as British vessels and I cannot see why that should not be done. I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with the point.
Fundamentally, the whole question of limits arises from the need for conservation, as I am sure the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) would agree. I am particularly worried about the industrial fishing which is going on, especially by the Danes. We shall not get anywhere with this problem until we have an international agreement and inspection. That should foe one of the matters to be considered by the partners in E.E.C. if the Community is extended to include our membership.
I understand that research is paid for by the Government and toy the White Fish Authority and, as has already been mentioned, the Authority wishes to put up its levy by another ½d. to pay for more (research. I should like to quote a paragraph from an article in the Fish Trades Gazette, which states:Among those primarily concerned with research and experimental work on commercial fisheries there are the laboratories of the Fishery Departments, and of the D.S.I.R.; the recently appointed Experimental Work Advisory Group; the Herring Industry Board and the White Fish Authority, with its retinue of consultative committees and advisory panels. To this already-crowded field the authority now intends to add a further runner in the form of an industrial development unit.140 The article goes on to suggest that there should be far better co-ordination among the research organisations. I hope that the Minister will take this matter up through the White Fish Authority to see what can be done to get co-ordination among these authorities which are trying in various ways to do the same job.
I suggest that the subsidy rates that we are discussing are fair, but this is only an interim measure because the whole picture facing the fishing industry, particularly the middle-water industry, will be affected by the decision whether or not this country joins the European Economic Community. Whatever individual views on the Common Market may be, it seems that the fishing industry will greatly benefit from our joining the Common Market.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
The main issue in this debate is the question of the Scottish trawler owners operating from Granton and Newhaven, and Aberdeen.
The Government, in 1951 and onwards, pressed the Aberdonians and the New-haven people to renew their fleets. Everywhere old vessels had been written off for many years before they were ultimately made obsolete, and they were making money operating in these over-fished grounds. They responded to the appeal of the Government to accept grants and loans to rebuild their fleets. They have done that in recent years, but it is not paying. The reason is that the capital cost is very high, much higher than non-capital cost of the written off craft. The main reason why they are not profitable is that they are not catching fish in sufficient quantities to make it pay. In spite of the very high prices which are ruling, they are losing money.
One may ask why the middle-water trawlers from Grimsby, Hull, Fleetwood and Milford Haven, which apparently are making ends meet, do not join with the Scottish Trawler Owners but want to adhere to the agreement? I think that the answer is that the Humber, Hull, Fleetwood and other ports work co-operatively. Most of the big groups have their own repair shops, their stores, supplies and victualling departments and 141 plough back the profits to the voyage account of each individual ship. I do not think that is done in Aberdeen, but it is something which is worth investigation. By talking steps to help those in most need that will come out.
The basic problem is that the fish are not there. I have said in this House for twenty-three years—my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and other hon. Members may be tired of hearing me say it—that I remember the days when fish were prolific. In the early days of this century there was an abundance of fish which were selling cheaply all over the country. That was because the grounds had been fished by steam trawlers only since 1892 or 1893, a limited time compared with the time that the North Sea has been in existence. I congratulate the Government on what they have done.
They have dealt well with this problem, and I think that the supplementary moneys which are to be made available will prove helpful to Aberdeen. I hope they will be applied if the need is there. I urge hon. Members who make the claim, such as I have made, that our limits should be extended to seek to get all the nations whose joint heritage is the North Sea to come together and agree to rest these grounds. I do not think that closing some of the grounds for seven years, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) suggested, is the answer. The answer is to give the fish a chance of spawning. We give salmon and trout a chance to spawn and we give grouse and other game birds a chance to reproduce their species, but we do not give cod, haddock and herring, which are so much more important, a chance of survival. Successive Governments have allowed the grounds to be over-fished.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
My suggestion was rather a throw-back to a recommendation which I made as a minority comment at the time of the Neven-Spence Report at the end of the war. We had in mind the very point with which the hon. Member is concerned—conservation and an opportunity to rest the grounds. Immediately before the recommendation was made, during the war, places like Broad Bay in Lewis had had this opportunity, and 142 afterwards they yielded tremendous amounts of first-class fish from 1946 onwards, when they were open to fishing again. The rest did them a lot of good, and another seven years would have done them even more good.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I appreciate that, but the hon. Member will no doubt recollect asking me in a recent fishing debate how the Canadian and American halibut conservation agreement was working. I told him that according to the best information I had, it was doing wall and had begun to show signs of results within one year of the quantitative control being introduced. Halibut is the No. 1 white fish in that ocean, and the scheme was introduced by two friendly neighbouring nations, and it began immediately to prove successful
From my experience following World War I and World War II, I am convinced that if grounds had a chance to be rested, as they were in those days, despite the nation's great need for food, there would be plentiful supplies. In those days the middle-water craft fished right up against the minefields and produced a lot of fish, but when the war ended there were supplies in abundance —but not for long. The trawlers soon went to work, going back to the same place day after day and particularly during spawning seasons when fish, heavily in spawn, are easily caught.
I am tired of making these appeals, and possibly hon. Members are equally tired of hearing them, but this is the only answer to the problem. Things will have to be made worse before they are better. But there is a great opportunity. The seas are enormous; there is far more sea than there is land area. Off the coasts of Africa and South America there are abundant supplies of fish. I know that the Advisory Committee of Industry has been working with officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food looking into these grounds and considering the edibility of the fish there. I cannot speak of Equatorial Africa, but I have knowledge of South Africa. I ate fish almost daily there because I enjoyed it so much. The species were different from ours but were very palatable.
The hope of Aberdeen lies in using these fine, modern trawlers, which are capable of going anywhere and fishing 143 anywhere in the world. Diesel-engined craft can be refuelled from a mother ship. A mother ship is essential unless there are shore bases—which are preferable but which raise all kinds of other difficulties. I have been talking to some friends in the industry who seem to be fearful about mother ships, but I cannot see that there will be any difficulty about them. The trawlers themselves would no longer carry ice and their holds would be available for freezing their catches as they came on board. A frozen catch could be taken to the mother ship, and the catch would be preserved from the moment it was brought on board. The mother ship could freeze even more and could cold-store refrigerated transport ships could come alongside the mother ship—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
This is very interesting, but I think that it is getting far from the Order.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for going out of order. I will pass on. I have always tried to make constructive speeches on an industry about which I know something. I have some experience of expedition fishing. It is no good year after year going back to the same grounds to get diminished quantities of fish. That is what is happening. It has been happening for a long time. Nobody can deny that. It is happening with distant-water grounds, too. The distant-water people are very good companions in the way that they immediately agreed to the middle-water craft going to the grounds to which they normally went. There is a very fine feeling in the catching side of the industry. It applies even to other nations. Our trawling industry has always been very friendly with the Germans and others. There are great international communities in these distant-water grounds. In the early days when we went up from Hull and Grimsby we were about the only people fishing there. Now craft from all nations fish there. Now that Aberdeen craft and other North Sea craft go fishing in distant waters I hope that it will make their year's return more profitable.
However it would be utter folly to go on hoping, like Mr. Micawber, that something will turn up. If we did that, 144 we should only be postponing an evil day. We have been doing that for far too long. The Government must face up to the situation. Subsidies are fundamentally wrong. Any industry up against it would be entitled to say that the Government must subsidise it. Where will it end? Where is the money coming from? I wholeheartedly approve of what the Government have done in this case, but I warn them. Their own officials and advisers must know this. It is not only white fish that is over fished. Herrings, are over fished. They have almost vanished. A week or two ago my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. WolrimGordon) asked what had happened to herring. I think that the answer was that it is just a natural thing that has happened. It is the most unnatural thing that has ever happened. They have been fished out at spawning time by trawlers which found out where the spawning took place off Buchan Ness and on Smith's Knoll off the East Anglian Coast. It is a history of over-fishing and successive Governments for years past have been blameworthy.
I do not think I shall ever make another speech like this, because I am so tired of it. I referred to this in my maiden speech, when fish food was terribly important to the nation. During the Second World War I made many speeches on the subject. The Coalition Government responded, but unfortunately it has now become an issue between the parties. Money is provided to try to keep the vessels afloat.
The Aberdonians who are refusing the moratorium—the cessation of their payments, if they are not able to make them —are honourable men. Perhaps they realise that this would just postpone the day of bankruptcy, to the detriment of the other creditors. I hope that the Government will pay some attention to this. They think that what I advocate is right for salmon and trout and other wild life but not for these fish. Yet the ordinary sea fish—cod, haddock, and so on—are vitally important as food for the public.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard
I want to make three points very shortly. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) said about the inshore 145 situation, and especially about pilchards. We are grateful for the subsidy, but my right hon. Friend will remember that a year ago I brought a deputation to him on this subject. We were hoping for answers in September. We have not got the answers yet. We still do not know what is happening.
As my hon. Friend said earlier, if something is not done soon we may get to a stage where we will not have an industry to help. Then, as the last straw, we have South Africa, which is no longer a member of the Commonwealth but which still gets Commonwealth Preference. What justification there can be for that, I just cannot see.
My right hon. Friend said that these measures will help all sections of the industry, but he knows jolly well what I am about to say. The one section they do not help—and I make no apologies for having made this point time and again for at least eight years, and I shall go on making it as long as I am in this House—is the shell fishermen. What are called Dublin Bay prawns, or scampi, are caught by trawlers, and that trade is flourishing, but some of the men in Morecambe Bay who are catching shrimps are not flourishing, and the shell fishermen in my part of the country are not flourishing, either.
One of the reasons is this. My right hon. Friend may have seen that at a meeting of inshore interests the other day it was agreed that every 24 hours of the day at least 150 foreign trawlers are poaching in our territorial waters. A large number of those poaching in my area are Frenchmen, who can come in because of our present limits.
It was for that reason that in debating an earlier Order I asked for enlightenment about sea fisheries committees having their own boats. The reply was that that would be a very expensive business, but that is not the right idea. What we need is a much smaller and faster vessel which can keep at sea locally based, manned locally, and with a local man in command who knows the waters, and knows where the Frenchmen are likely to be.
We know that today it is difficult for the Royal Navy to produce small vessels for the fisheries protection squadron, but 146 we want small vessels, with good sea-keeping qualities, and manned by fishermen who are a jump ahead of the Frenhmen. Why cannot we have some assistance to build those ships? We have one already in Cornwall, and other sea fisheries committees have them, too. As a result of the complexities of an Order still to be discussed, we shall have greater problems in policing the area, and small vessels such as these might help.
I want to emphasise what has been said about research. We have Torry, and Plymouth, the White Fish Authority and a number of other bodies, one of which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), all doing research work, but it is highly important that there should be real coordination of their work so that they are not all working independently on their own. There should be properly co-ordinated research in the industry, otherwise we might have the White Fish Authority going in for one thing, Torry doing something else, and Plymouth researching something entirely different. There should be proper co-ordination of all these different forms of research, with full interchange of information.
While I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) about fishing limits, it should be remembered that, unfortunately for the inshore industry, it always seems to be the wrong moment. This applies to discussions re the Faroes at the moment. This brings me to the question of our entering the Common Market. People often speak optimistically about this, but do they really think that, if we enter E.E.C. the Icelanders or the Danes will automatically revise their limits or that they will allow our trawlers back in their waters? That is pure wishful thinking.
From the Scottish point of view, for heaven's sake let the Government do something about the Moray Firth, the Minch and the Clyde. How the situation has been allowed to develop and why it has been allowed to go on for so long, I do not understand. Something really must be done. Only if the Government take some action will the fishermen see Chat something is being done about conservation. Let us show everyone, even before we go into the Common Market negotiations, that we are prepared to do 147 something about our fishing limits. A new scheme for fishery protection vessels, as suggested, would show our inshore men that we really want to help them.
We are grateful for assistance from the Government, but they should remember that help to a non-existent fishing fleet will be no good to anyone.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Prior
The closing remarks of the Minister's speech referred to the Common Market. I understand that my right hon. Friend goes to Brussels at the end of this week and will be talking about agriculture and fishing. He bears a heavy responsibility and the farming and fishing industries are looking to him to obtain for us reasonable conditions should we enter the Common Market. The fishing industry—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
We cannot now discuss horticulture and agriculture.
§ Mr. Prior
I had intended to say that we all wish my right hon. Friend good luck in the difficult negotiations he will be undertaking.
This has been a difficult year for the fishing industry as a whole. It has experienced a good many set backs, many of which, I hope, will not be repeated in future years. The speech of my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) showed clearly the difficulties under which the Scottish fleet has been operating and these hardships apply equally elsewhere. I suppose that my constituents have experienced this last winter some of the worst conditions for a long time. Apart from the weather, there have been increased imports—at a time when we did not want them—and the potato shortage with extremely high prices for potatoes. This has had a marked effect on the demand for fish, for example; the fish and chip shops not requiring so much. All this has meant the price of fish falling to an unremunerative level and, at the same time, there have been increased costs to the fishing industry.
The supplementary fund, which is designed to help out certain sections of the fleet in special circumstances, is 148 important. There is stall left in the fund £120,000 and some of it will have to go to Aberdeen and Grimsby. Some of it, I think, will also have to go to Lowestoft, and it will be seen that not much will be left. My right hon. Friend may, therefore, have to consider the Fund again because although it is desirable that the fishing fleet should stand on its own feet, that may not be possible. More than the £2½ million at present allowed for over the ten year period may have to be increased.
I want to ask one or two questions. Is depreciation taken into account in the profit and loss accounts of the trawlers when they are submitted to the Minister? I got the impression that the Minister intends to disregard completely the depreciaition, and that would not be correct. Will he say whether or not the supplementary fund can be brought in at any time and cut off at any time, so that if the industry find that it is doing better it can do without it and if it is needed it can have it? I do not think that it is something that should go on for a long time if it is not required.
My own port has had a rough time during the last year and particularly in the last four months. I understand that when applications for supplementary funds were reviewed accounts for only the last four months were produced. This was not considered a long enough period in which to judge the profitability of that section of the industry, whereas if accounts could be produced for a longer period to show that it was losing a lot of money that would have been taken into consideration. For how long has a section of the industry to be doing badly before the supplementary fund can be administered?
Finally, on the question of the White Fish Authority, I agree very much with what was said by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). Apart from the Income Tax assessment which must strike anyone as being quite ridiculous, there are some other items in the White Fish Authority's accounts which worry me. For example, I am not certain that it is the White Fish Authority's job to carry out publicity on behalf of the fishing industry. This should be left to the very large firms or groups of firms which are publicising their own policy. To spend £74,000 in this way is a waste. We 149 cannot get enough publicity for £74,000 to do any good, and in any case it is not the White Fish Authority's job. I hope that item of expenditure will be looked at carefully, and also the cost of administration. This has gone up considerably in the last few years from a total of £137,000 in 1960–61 to £143,000 this year and an estimate of £162,000—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. What on earth have the expending activities of the White Fish Authority to do with this Scheme? The hon. Member may submit that is in order, but I do not for the moment follow how it is in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I can understand that the distribution of the money available or perhaps the inefficiency in the distribution of it is justified, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is near the borderline.
§ Mr. Prior
I am very grateful to you. Mr. Speaker, for your advice. I should not like to pursue the matter at length except to say that the fishing industry is extremely worried about the activities of the White Fish Authority at the moment in the maldistribution of some of the money that it receives from the industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look very carefully at the affairs of the White Fish Authority before he allows it to increase the levy which it proposes to increase at the moment.
Concerning experimental work, I understood from the Fleck Committee's Report that this was to be a responsibility of the Government. It now appears that the White Fish Authority is to undertake this work and that the cost of doing so will come out of the White Fish Authority. I did not understand in the first place that this was the intention.
To sum up, I hope the industry will have a good year. I hope my right hon. Friend will realise the difficulties that it is going through, and I trust that next year when we debate these provisions again he will either have a happier tale 150 to tell or he will be able to do something more to help this industry.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hoy
In a very long and interesting debate we have travelled from Greenland to Africa. There has been mention of conservation and action against foreign countries. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you would rule me out of order if I were to attempt to cover those subjects. Therefore, I shall merely content myself by saying that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) and that action is called for to protect the fishing grounds against the depredations of foreign trawlers.
This Scheme extends these subsidies for ten years, and I must tell the Minister this evening what I said on Second Reading when the Bill from which the Scheme flows was introduced. I am glad to have the support of the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). I said during the Second Reading debate, and I repeat, that I thought the industry was foolish to agree to write into this agreement that in ten years' time in would be viable and that no more subsidy would be necessary. I thought that the industry was wrong then and I think that it is still wrong. That is why I do not approve of these Statutory Instruments as they are drafted.
As I said earlier today, whether we take these Statutory Instruments separately or together they will not provide a solution to the difficulties that confront the fishing industry. We are living in a fool's paradise if we think that they will.
I was a little surprised at hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who, I am sorry to say, is not here at the moment, saying that this agreement, having been reached, is sacrosanct and that we must never make changes even if we find that mistakes have been made. Even the Scheme has been changed since it was presented. One only has to look at the names on the Scheme. It was promoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and it bears the name "John S. Maclay", who, apparently, was Secretary of State for Scotland and has now departed from that office. There is a 151 further change. It was signed by a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, a "Mr. Michael Noble". I understand that he is now Secretary of State for Scotland. Therefore, even the Scheme itself has changed. We cannot have control over all these things. If we find that a mistake has been made, even if the Minister himself makes a mistake, the House is always ready and willing to accept an apology. It is much better to own up to a mistake rather than persist in it.
The British Trawlers Federation signed that agreement. It does not seek to deny it. I do not know why the hon. Member for Haltemprice made such a to-do about it. Perhaps he wanted to speak tonight because he was not present during our debates on the Sea Fish Industry Bill. I believe that he was in Africa at the time. Of course, he has a right to go to Africa if he wants to go there, but he must not seek to make up for lost time tonight. Meetings were held with the fisheries committees of both parties. They did not seek to hide the fact that they had signed the agreement. Those who attended either of the meetings are bound to admit that they were, if not coerced, certainly pressed into making this agreement so as not to show any division within the British Trawlers' Federation, or between the Federation, the Aberdeen Association and the Government. I think that that is a fair summary of the situation. Indeed, the Newhaven and Granton Trawler Owners' Association wrote to the B.T.F. and said that the proposal would in no way meet their position.
It is no secret to tell the House that the B.T.F. said, "Let us go on negotiating, but do not let us show any differences. Let us show solidarity in the matter". So this agreement was reached. But it was not long before the trawler owners of Scotland came to the conclusion that what was contained in these proposals would not meet the needs of the Scottish situation. They have gone further, because today they have sent telegrams, which, no doubt, most hon. Members have received, asking us to vote against the proposals and saying that if we accept them it means the collapse of the Scottish trawling industry and a serious threat to employment. They say, also, 152 that the situation would be no less serious for the near and middle-water trawlers in England.
It is true that these provisions will have a greater impact in Scotland because there are more family businesses there than there are large concerns as there are in the constituencies represented by the hon. Member for Haltemprice and my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). If my information is correct, there is an association in Grimsby which will collect more subsidies under these schemes than will the whole Scottish fleet put together.
§ Mr. Hoy
I thought that this might provoke the hon. Member. I know that they catch more fish. I am not saying that they do not. It is unfortunate that as soon as one says something about which the hon. Member is stuck for an argument he immediately goes on to something else. I do not deny that they catch more fish, but surely he will not deny that if these small industries went out in Scotland it might mean the collapse of a whole village.
§ Mr. Crosland
On this point of family businesses the impression was given by the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) that the English middle-water fleet consists entirely of giant combines. This is not correct. In Grimsby a large part of the middle-water fleet consists of family businesses in the same way as it does in Aberdeen.
§ Mr. Hoy
I agree that that is so, and I shall have something to say about it before I finish. If my hon. Friend will allow me to deal with the Scottish position first, I shall come south of the Border later.
During the past few weeks I have had the privilege of meeting one or two owners from the constituency of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), not that I went out of my way to do so but I was in the vicinity on other parliamentary business, and they, also, had a story to tell me. All I say is that these proposals will in no way meet the needs of the Scottish trawler owners, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, 153 if not the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, must take cognisance of this.
The reason why there has been this difference of opinion between Scottish owners and the British Trawlers' Federation is not that they want to be at war with each other—far from it. The Scottish owners came to the conclusion that the distant water fleet had such great power inside the B.T.F. that in the case of the middle-waiter trawler owner was apt to get lost in the process of negotiations. They said that if the special difficulties of Scotland were to be recognised that could best be done by a purely Scottish association. That is why the Scottish Trawler Owners' Association has been formed. To suggest, as some have suggested, that it is only the Scottish owners who are complaining is quite wrong.
I had a letter from a trawler owner with a fairly large business in Lowestoft, a man with whom I have been personally friendly for many years, and he complained about the position of his middle-water fleet. I sent his letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the right hon. Gentleman said that he would go into the figures which this owner had provided.
The peculiar feature was that the losses estimated by this particular owner approximated to the losses of the Scottish trawler owners. The hon. Member for Lowestoft must know that the vessels in this section of the fleet in Lowestoft have been making considerable losses this year. Although the Minister says that we cannot go on only one year, the past year, he cannot deny that these losses have continued this year and that boats in the middle-water fleet in Scotland and in Lowestoft—at least in the section of which I know— are making losses of from £4,000 to £6,000 per annum. The situation is not getting any better, and this is the situation which we must meet.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice says that a subsidy of £45 a day would be necessary, as if this were the only answer to the problem. I have argued times without number that a subsidy is not in itself a solution to the problem, but it might be as well, in view of the position of the Scottish economy today, when 154 so many of our basic industries are disappearing, that this price should be paid for the next two or three years to keep the industry going. The alternative can only be unemployment, and this will be much more expensive.
This is why the Scottish trawler owners have asked us to oppose these proposals. This gives us not great satisfaction. The difficulty about measures of this kind is that, by opposing them, one denies assistance which one can give to other sections of the fleet and even the mediocre assistance offered to the Scottish fleet. This is the difficulty we face tonight.
It has been suggested that it is only the middle-water vessel owner who complains. Nothing of the kind. Great tributes have been paid in the House today to certain vessels which have been built recently, vessels which are regarded as experimental, and tributes have been paid on this occasion, as on many others, to the firm which has built and is now operating the Fairtrys. These vessels cost about £450,000, three times the cost of a normal fishing vessel. I have raised this matter before because, although it does not fish from my constituency, the headquarters of the parent company which built these vessels is in my constituency. This company has said to the Minister that the boasted £15 may be all right as a daily payment to a company which has built a trawler costing £150,000, but what about those who have built vessels at a cost of £450,000?
If the argument of the hon. Member for Haltemprice has any weight, this company should have his support. I do not know why he did not speak up for it tonight. Vessels of this kind, apparently, catch three times as much as is caught by a conventional trawler, but only the same amount of subsidy is paid. The company argues, quite logically, I think, just as the middle-water fleet owners say that they are not getting sufficient, that the subsidy it is being paid does not in any way compensate for the tremendous outlay it has had in building these vessels or for the catches which they bring in.
All that I am pointing out is that the complaint comes not only from the middle-water fleet, but from the people who have spent money on building this type of vessel, to Which great tributes 155 have been paid. Although we have sent all the relevant facts to the Ministry, they have had no satisfaction from the replies which they have received. Therefore, at the end of the day they have willy-nilly to accept the proposals laid down in the Scheme.
A very serious problem confronts the Scottish trawler fleet. The Under-Secre-tary of State cannot escape that. It is obvious that this Scheme will in no way meet the situation. The Minister should be forthright and should make up his mind on whether it is just to sink—that is the right word—into oblivion. Is be prepared to make up his mind that it should go if it is economically impossible for it to live? Must it go? If that is the case, let the Minister say so quite openly and fairly, and then the industry will know where it is and Scotland will know what to expect.
If the Minister does not want this industry to go, what does he propose to do for it? That is a decision which rests only with the Government. The owners in Scotland do not regard the moratorium as any solution of their problem. They are worried about the £175,000 per annum which they are behind in their repayments to the White Fish Authority. Merely to say to them, "You will not have to pay what you owe us for the next two years" is no solution. All that that does is to put off the evil day, and eventually the repayments will be greater than ever.
In paragraph 7 of the proposals which govern the granting or otherwise of a moratorium, it is made clear thatinterest will be charged on the sums overdue in accordance with normal commercial practice.To think that by granting a moratorium for two years the owners will not only be able to meet their present commitments, but will be able to meet their back payments as well plus 6¼ per cent., is just nonsense.
A great deal of the money owed by the industry is not the repayment of capital but the very heavy interest charges imposed because of the Government's policy. This applies not only to the fishing industry, but to agriculture, housing, and so on. If the Government wanted tonight to make a real contri- 156 bution to solving the difficulties of this section of the industry, the best thing which they could have done was to make a substantial cut in the interest charges imposed by them. To insist on these high charges is to maintain the existing high debt.
I wonder whether any hon. Gentleman has ever heard of proposals such as these before an owner qualifies for the moratorium. The White Fish Authority will be able to go to every business and to send its accountants to look at the books. It will be able even to deny an owner the right to go in for new development without the Authority's approval. No director will get a fee, nor will any emolument be paid unless the permission of the Authority has been obtained. A sort of Gestapo has to go in on behalf of the Authority before a moratorium is approved. No self-respecting business would allow it to take place. The Minister must, therefore, find something different from the moratorium for solving the difficulties.
We shall look forward to what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has to say. His is a great responsibility tonight. He must, at the very least, be able to give us an assurance that the Scheme is not the final word of the Government concerning Scotland nor of those sections of the middle-water fleet who experience the same difficulty. If he cannot do that, let the country understand that he is, as has been said by the Scottish Trawler Owners' Association, condemning them. Scotland cannot afford to lose another of her basic industries.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Leburn
We have had a wide-ranging debate on the two Schemes and the Order, and many interesting points and suggestions have been made from both sides of the House. I should like to start by taking up some words of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), who in opening the debate said that fishing has not had too easy a time. We would all agree with that. Certainly, I should be the last to be too optimistic for the industry. At the same time, however, it has been appreciated that not all the difficulties, but the main ones, facing the industry concern the near and middle-water trawlers, not only those of 157 Scotland, although I know fully about the trawlers both of Granton and Aberdeen. In discussing these United Kingdom Measures, we must be fair and remember that there are other near and middle-water trawlers in England and south of the Border which, at the same time, are also experiencing difficulty.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) in saying that she regretted that the Scottish owners had found it necessary to repudiate the tripartite agreement which they made with the B.T.F. and with the Government. I, too, very much regret that they have found it necessary to do do this. At the same time, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said in opening the debate, the Government have to take into account that all the members of the B.T.F., comprising 530 out of 670 boats, are adhering to that agreement. Therefore, the Government have to take that fact very much into consideration.
What do we do about Aberdeen? My right hon. Friend and I have given deep and careful thought to the point. We have met trawler owners both from Aberdeen and from Granton in what, I understand, is now the new Scottish Trawlers' Association, although at the time we mat them it had not been formed. My right hon. Friend listened carefully to all the points they made.
It has been brought out in the debate that there are three matters in which the Government can help. First, as my right hon. Friend said, we are lifting the ban on fishings in distant waters. We should not underestimate the importance of this. It could be very important that some of the bigger vessels in the middle-water fleet should be able to go to distant waters and catch fish. Not only will that in itself help, but it will also relieve the amount of fishing which is taking place in the middle and near waters. Secondly, there is the question of deferred repayment of loans, which has been fully explained tonight. Thirdly, there is the supplementary fund. It is interesting—it is very natural, and I understand it—that various hon. Members, be they from Grimsby or Lowestoft or Aberdeen, are already starting to try to put their finger on that supplementary fund, or what is left of it. Here I would tell my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that of course these 158 amounts need not be fox any specific time. Orders can be brought in later to allocate what is left of the fund, provided, of course, we keep within the limits laid down by the Act of £350,000 a year and a total of £2½ million over ten years.
After our full debate and the close understanding which all hon. Members have shown of this subject, I would not think it would be necessary for me to go fully into the background of the matter, the Fleck Committee's Report and the Government's White Paper leading to negotiations. I think all hon. Members fully understand the position. If I may I will go back for a moment to the Scottish position because the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) challenged me to face up to it.
I want to say this to him. While he may say and while the fishermen of Aberdeen may say that the industry there is faced with collapse, I do not believe that that is so. We in this House know the resiliency and the ingenuity and the efficiency of fishermen in all parts of great Britain, and I know about it in Scotland. We know, too, that this business of catching fish fluctuates from year to year. They have had a bad year; prospects for next year are not good; but in 1958 and 1959 fairly reasonable profits were made. We really must wait to see how this works out. Of course, if the Secretary of State fox Scotland were faced with the total collapse of the Aberdeen fleet in, let us say, a year's time or two years' time, and if it were likely to happen just like that, we could not allow it, but, on the other hand, I think it would be unreasonable, in view of the agreement which had been come to, in view of the fact that the B.T.F. are adhering to it, and in view of the fact that the Government have taken steps through the supplementary fund and the moratoria and the lifting of the ban on distant-water fishing, not to leave the matter there for the moment.
A number of hon. Members have raised this very difficult and very delicate question of the fishery limits. Several hon. Members have urged that we should at once adopt the six to 12-miles fishery limit and measure that limit from straight base lines. The proposals which the Scottish inshore fishermen have put forward, with the support of their 159 English colleagues, are being very carefully studied. We appreciate that there are arguments for reviewing the United Kingdom policy on this matter, and that we are doing. I am extremely sorry that tonight I cannot at this Box go further than that.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) raised the subject of the White Fish Authority levy. I understand that the position is that under the statutory procedure the Authority is required to advertise its proposals and consider any objections made to it and, if it decides to proceed, to submit the regulation to my right hon. Friends for confirmation, together with the objections. It then falls to the Ministers to consider the Authority's proposals and the objections, and, if they decide to confirm the Authority's regulations with or without modification, to lay before the House an Order Which is subject to negative Resolution.
At present the Authority is only at the stage of consulting the interests concerned and considering the objections which those interests have raised. No regulations are yet before Ministers, and, therefore, I must not prejudice the consideration of this matter, which we are required to carry out in a judicial manner, by making any comments at this stage. However, I think it will be clear to the hon. Gentleman from what I have said that there are ample safeguards to ensure that all views are taken into account.
My hon. Friends the Members for Bodmim (Mr. Marshall) and St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) raised two specific points. The first concerned the research programme for pilchards in the south-west. I know that this has been going on for some time and that perhaps patience is becoming exhausted. However, what the White Fish Authority is trying to establish is where pilchards can be caught during the winter months to make worth while the type of arrangements we would all like to see made. The Authority is pressing on with this programme, and I understand that Sir Louis Chick is at present in Truro discussing next winter's programme.
The other point was about the coordination of research, which interests 160 a great many hon. Members. The activities of the Government laboratories at Lowestoft and Aberdeen and the Government-assisted laboratories at Plymouth and Millport are coordinated by the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research of the Development Commission, which also keeps an eye on the research and development work of the White Fish Authority and Herring Industry Board, and there is also close interdepartmental contact with the Torry Research Station of D.S.I.R.
I would conclude by referring to the adventurous spirit of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). His speech tonight, like his speeches in the past—[Interruption.]—I am not ashamed of this—shows in regard to fishery matters that he has the right spirit of adventure to go forth and try to find fish in other parts of the world. At the same time I heartily endorse his views about the need for conservation. I believe that the British fishing industry will succeed if it faces up to its problems in that spirit.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1962, dated 4th July. 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.
§ Herring Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1962, dated 4th July, 1962 [copy laid before the House, 4th July], approved.—[Mr. Leburn.]
§ White Fish and Herring Subsidies (Aggregate Amount of Grants) Order, 1962, dated 4th July, 1962 [copy laid before the House, 4th July], approved. —[Mr. Leburn.]
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Leburn
I beg to move,That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-Net Fishing) Order, 1962. dated 4th July. 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.Would it be convenient, Mr. Speaker, to discuss the other two Orders, the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Drift-net Fishing) Licensing Order and the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Drift-net Fishing) Restrictions on Landing Order with this Order?
§ Mr. Leburn
The prohibition Order and the landings ban Order have been introduced to implement the announcement made during the progress of the Bill for the recant Sea Fish Industry Act that the Government proposed, when the powers became available under that Act, to introduce an Order prohibiting drift-net fishing for salmon off the coasts of Scotland and the Tweed as from 15th September, 1962, and to support that prohibition with a ban on the landing of salmon.
My right hon. Friend first announced the Government's intention of taking this action on 1st August last year, when it became evident that the new practice of drift-net fishing for salmon was growing with great rapidity in certain areas off the East Coast of Scotland. The licensing Order has been introduced with a view to preventing the development off the coasts of England and Wales of a similar situation to that which has arisen in Scotland, and, at the same time, make allowances for boats which have practised drift netting for salmon for many years.
I think that by now hon. Members are familiar with the reasons for the action we are taking. This new fishery started in Scotland in 1960 and has developed very rapidly. It has developed so rapidly that the growth has greatly exercised the Government on its possible effects in two ways. First, the effect on the established commercial fisheries which give employment to 1,600 or 1,700 men who see their jobs in jeopardy. I might also mention the salmon angling which plays an important part in the Scottish economy.
Secondly, and of even more importance, is the effect upon our valuable salmon stocks. On this matter, I know that there is a unanimity of views. As we have explained in earlier debates, we were advised when drift netting started that if it developed to a large extent over a wide area it could be damaging to stocks, though direct evidence might not be available for four or five years. I do not think that I need to labour these points tonight. The fact is that the drift-net industry has continued to expand rapidly and steadily.
The catch rose from about 9,000 fish —all off the Tweed—in 1960 to about 28,000 in 1961. For 1962, the figures 162 which we have show that up to 7th July of this year more than 65,000 salmon have been caught by this method. The number of boats participating—
§ Mr. Leburn
I am not aware of that. I was trying to show the steady increase from 9,000 in 1960 to 28,000 in 1961 and to 65,000 this year. I think that it is clear that there is no let-up.
I realise that the drift-net fishermen are anxious that they should be allowed to continue what, admittedly, we realise has been to them a lucrative form of fishing. As we expected they are strongly opposed in principle to prohibition and suggested that no action should be taken until we have the report of the Hunter Committee, which is reviewing the whole law on salmon and trout in Scotland and which was asked particularly to give priority to that part of its remit dealing with the regulation of fishing which, of course, includes drift-netting.
I know that the Committee is giving priority to this matter and is pressing on with all speed with the taking of evidence about it from the appropriate bodies. But the Chairman has reported that the Committee is not yet able to say whether it will be possible to submit an interim report on the question, and naturally, it cannot say yet, if that proves practicable, when it will be able to do so.
In view of this we have felt it essential to take action now. I am quite sure that it is better to be safe than sorry. Certainly, when the Committee's report is received—or the interim report if it makes one—the recommendations it makes on drift-net fishing will receive immediate and careful consideration and the action which has been taken will be reviewed in the light of the Committee's report.
The prohibition Order provides that during the period 15th September, 1962, to 15th February, 1965, fishing for salmon and migratory trout shall be prohibited in a specified area off the 163 coast of Scotland and the Tweed. Inside territorial waters the prohibition applies to all fishing boats. Outside territorial waters it applies to British-owned fishing boats, whether registered or not. The area to which the prohibition applies is set out in the Schedule to the Order. I do not think I need take up the time of the House in describing the boundaries in too great detail.
Broadly, what we have done is to make the prohibited area a kind of box completely enclosing Scotland and the mouth of the Tweed with its sides far enough off the coast to include all the waters where salmon returning to Scottish rivers and to the Tweed might be caught by drift-nets. Except in the south-east, where we start with the area of the Tweed district as defined by Statute, the whole of which is included in the prohibition, the boundary lines all run east and west or north and south.
The boundary is thus fairly simple and I do not think hon. Members will have much difficulty in following it. Only on the south-west does it look a little involved. Here, it follows a rather zig-zag pattern in order to avoid encroaching on an area off the north of Ireland where there has been a traditional drift-net fishery for salmon.
I turn to the position in the area south of the prohibited area. Inside territorial limits off the coasts of England and Wales drift-net fishing will continue to be subject to control by river boards, as hitherto. Outside those limits it will be subject to licensing by my right hon. Friend under the licensing Order within the area described in the Schedule to that Order. In this case it has not been practicable, because of the configuration of the coast, to define the area by straight lines of latitude and longtitude and for the most part the boundary is drawn 25 miles from the coast.
The purpose of the licensing Order is to control drift-netting off the coast of England and Wales to prevent a situation developing similar to that which has arisen off Scotland, and, at the same time, to allow the small number of fishermen who traditionally fished with drift-nets inside and outside territorial waters to continue to do so.
My right hon. Friend proposes to consult the river boards before granting 164 licences and to impose conditions as to close seasons, close times, types of nets, and so on, corresponding to those in adjacent river board areas. The prohibited area—particularly those parts of it where drift-net fishing has been taking place—will be patrolled by protection ships, but it would be very difficult by this means alone to ensure over the extensive area that there is no breach of the prohibition.
That is why we have introduced the Restriction of Landing Order. Under this Order the landing of salmon caught in waters to which the prohibition Order and the licensing Order apply will be prohibited, but exception is made for fish caught under licenses from either river boards or from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I think that I have said enough to show what the Orders will do and why I think they are necessary.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hoy
After about six hours on fishing—I see that one or two other hon. Members have arrived since 10 p.m.— we are getting to the tail end of the debate. The official licensing hour, closing time, in Scotland is 10 p.m. One or two other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), have arrived for the closing stages of the debate.
I do not wish to prolong the discussion, nor have I much more to say on this Order. This is a rotten Order. I have said so before. It is brought in under the most dubious circumstances. I will briefly recall what has happened. Certain private interests wanted this Order introduced to protect the private rights of private river owners, and the Government felt that there was not sufficient evidence for this. In fact, the noble Lord, Earl Waldegrave in another place made it clear that they had not sufficient evidence to do what the Government were being requested to do. As a result of that, he got the sack today.
This having been done, what I have called a shoal of noble Lords arrived from Scotland, including the Queen's Factor. They descended on another place and stampeded the Secretary of State for Scotland—he was involved, not the Minister of Agriculture, who has nothing to do with this Order—into taking action against the drift-net fishermen. 165 He has been sacked, too. The only difference is that he was sacked yesterday.
§ Mr. Hoy
He got the sack, anyway. Both Ministers have disappeared. The Government are so determined that this Order shall be enforced against the poor drift-net fishermen that tine Chairman of the Tory Party in Scotland has been made Secretary of State for Scotland has been made Secretary of State for Soot-land to see that it is carried out.
Do they intend to apply it to all fishermen? Not a bit of it. This prohibition against drift-net fishing for salmon is against only British fishermen. Despite all the verbiage with which the Under-Secretary of State wrapped up this statement—and it is becoming a habit of the Scottish Office never to say quite what they mean but to surround it with a lot of padding—it means that foreign fishermen can come into our waters and fish up to the three-mile limit for salmon, drift-netting and all. The only fishermen who are prohibited under the Order are British fishermen.
To bolster up his case the Joint Undersecretary of State quoted a lot of figures about salmon which have been caught by drift-net fishermen. He has given us some meticulous figures. I only wish that he could produce them when they are needed. Apparently they can be produced only when he wants to bolster up this very flimsy case. He does not even make comparison with the large amount of salmon being caught at present by ordinary methods. If he were to do so he would weaken considerably the case which he has made against the drift-net fishermen. I do not object to the ordinary fisherman doing well out of it; that is why they are in business. But we cannot consider the problem of salmon and migratory trout without taking into consideration not only the methods of the drift-net fishermen but also those of the stake-net fishermen and all the rest. Indeed, one has to remember the considerable power of the Tweed Fishing Company and the many thousands of £s which they earn by catching salmon.
If the Government had been really interested in all this, they would have 166 examined that question and would have had a look at the question of the salmon which are destroyed by river pollution, which might be wreaking much greater havoc on our salmon stocks than drift-net fishermen. One of the extraordinary things about the Order is this. When a Government want to do somethihng they normally first want to put off doing it and they appoint a committee. The committee usually reports after two or three years. If we follow the practice of this Government whether it be the Devlin Commission or the Pilkington Committee, the Government then decide to do nothing about the Report.
On this occasion they did not take the chance. The Government introduced the Order to prohibit drift-net fishing for salmon. Having enacted this legislation, they set up a committee under Lord Hunter to see if it was the right thing to do. They first introduced the prohibition and than set up the committee to find out if the prohibition was necessary.
If all these salmon were being caught, why should Lord Hunter have this difficulty? The Under-Secretary said in introducing the Order that the Committee was giving priority to this question. He said—I think I quote his exact words —"Lord Hunter thinks it might be difficult to bring in a report in a very short time, perhaps not even by 15th September". If drift-net fishing for salmon is producing so many salmon, why is it difficult for Lord Hunter and his Committee to find this out for themselves and report accordingly? The hon. Gentleman cannot have the argument both ways.
I have great faith in most of the Scottish Law Lords. I think that Lord Hunter will do a very good job, together with his Committee. I can only express the hope that he will. If it is so apparent that drift-net fishermen are doing all that they are supposed to be doing, Lord Hunter and his Committee should have no difficulty in finding the evidence to submit to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Apparently it is going to be a little more difficult than at first envisaged.
I condemned the proposal at the beginning. I condemn it today. I do not think that the Order will do any good. 167 The Secretary of State has given way to the pressure of the noble Lords of Scotland and the interests of the Tory Party. We on this side have argued for years for the conservation of our fishing stock —salmon stock or any other fishing stock. We think that that is a sensible thing for any country to do and for any group of countries to do. But let us at least produce some evidence about it. If it is necessary, I assure the Government that we should be only too delighted to co-operate, but the flimsy evidence that they have produced so far can only make us believe that they are giving way to some selfish private interests against which they care not to stand.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) but I hope that he will accept my sincere apology in this instance that I cannot follow him with regard to Scottish legislation and the effect of the Order on Scottish interests. Throughout all the discussions on the Sea Fish Industry Bill I have concentrated on the interests of England and Wales. Therefore, I should like to refer to the two Orders which affect the licensing position in England and Wales and also the restrictions on landing of salmon and migratory trout in England and Wales.
I want to say at the outset that I welcome the two Orders that affect England and Wales. They bring in a licensing system which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has explained will be operated to give the present licensees under river board regulations power to go on with the particular forms of fishing which they have been carrying out for a long period of years. I entirely approve of that approach, because in England and Wales we have been fortunate in having a committee under Lord Bledisloe which has reported that the present balance between the various interests is satisfactory.
My hon. Friend said that the licensing would be done by river boards, but I believe that when we may be thinking of licensing of fishing outside territorial waiters it would be advisable for the sea fisheries committees to be consulted. Now I am thinking of another of these 168 Orders, under which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) asked for grants for the fishery protection vessels that are operated by those committees. I think that it will become necessary for the sea fishery committees to co-operate with the fishery protection squadron in the necessary policing and they may need some assistance in the provision of rather more vessels to be used in conjunction with the fishery protection squadron in order that the policing may be effective and fair.
In the debate on the Second Reading of the Sea Fish Industry Bill, I said that I did not like such enabling Measures. We have had to deal with a number of Orders tonight. Admittedly, we have had plenty of time to discuss them, and I am grateful for that; but the Orders have been in my hands only for about a week and, I believe, have been available for only just over a week. It is just not possible to get Orders back to fishery organisations, and get their reactions to them so that we can speak with authority. When Orders come forward as swiftly as they do in Parliament I often find myself having to use my own judgment.
In this instance, I was able to get the reaction of the Salmon and Trout Association, through a consultation with the secretary but, as a generalisation, Orders of this nature are not satisfactory When they come so swiftly after an Act of Parliament has received the Royal Assent. It is not a satisfactory way of carrying through legislation, and I make a mild protest—not against my right hon. Friend's Orders but against the Order-making procedure in general.
I very much hope that these Orders will effectively control the fishing for salmon and migratory trout in England and Wales, but I have some doubts about it. Rather than a prohibition of drift netting it would have been better had the Orders been framed entirely differently. Had they prohibited all forms of fishing other than that specified in the Order we would have known that all other forms of fishing were prohibited. We would have known that the licensed netsmen alone could fish, and the way in which they could fish would of course have been specified. As it is, it will be very difficult to prove that the fish were 169 caught in a particular area by a particular means. Therefore, although I hope that such Orders as these will be effective, I have grave doubts about it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the consultations he permitted the various interests to have with his Ministry prior to the laying of the Orders. I cannot say that his officials were particularly receptive of the points put to them, but it was fair and reasonable that the various interests were afforded those consultations.
One of the English Orders prescribes a maximum licensing fee of £20. The sum of £20 is a very modest figure for a maximum. It represents about the price of four salmon and I suggest that, should we discuss these matters again, a higher maximum licence fee might be envisaged 170 because £20 these days is quite unrealistic.
I hope that the fishery protection squadron will be extraordinarily active in patrolling the waters where this new form of drift-netting might start in England and Wales. A delicate position exists over the English and Welsh salmon stocks and it would be a tragedy if these stocks were decimated by illegal fishing. I trust that these measures will be effective and I can promise my right hon. Friend the co-operation of all the interests for which I have the honour to speak. If they are not as effective as they should be I can assure the Minister that we shall have pleasure in assisting him to bring in Orders, in due course, which may be more effective.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I would like to say a few words on another aspect of the matter, one which particularly affects my constituency. I would, first, endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) about the need for taking steps to preserve fishing in the rivers. The River Forth, for example, is one of the big salmon rivers and considerable trouble is being caused by the discharge of effluent which is poisoning the fish.
I am told that when the water gets covered by a film of this effluent the oxygen is prevented from getting into the water so that salmon can neither breathe nor get up the river. Great destruction is taking place because of this pollution. The Secretary of State has assured me that steps are now being taken to put the matter right. I hope that he will consult some of the industrialists and local authorities which may be responsible for polluting the rivers. There seems to be a dispute going on as to whether, scientifically, sewage feeds or destroys fish, but there is no doubt in the minds of the fishermen that this de-oxygenisation of the water destroys fish.
Fishermen in the upper and lower reaches of the Firth of Forth want the salmon protected. They do not want their livelihood destroyed by the simple massacre of the salmon stocks. The anxiety in their minds is that the proposals under discussion do not necessarily guarantee the safety of the salmon stocks. This is not a matter solely for this country, and I hope that when the Minister goes into the Common Market negotiations he will point out the importance of taking steps to stop the poaching of fish on other people's shores and to control fishing generally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leith, at the Council of Europe some time ago, persuaded the Council to pass a resolution regarding the control of the size of nets. I understand that the resolution was ratified by all the countries concerned. Protection of salmon should also be controlled by all the countries bordering the North 172 Sea. We ourselves can control it only partially, so that full co-operation to achieve this aim is necessary.
The hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) referred to licensing. I recall that when there was a dispute about salmon fishing by drift-net inside the Forth Estuary the question arose of whether or not there should be licensing of the fishermen. At the moment fishermen can be interdicted or prosecuted if they fish by any method other than sweep net. My constituents feel that it is hard luck on a fisherman who is prohibited from drift-netting in the Estuary if someone fishing down the river by drift-net gets away with it. It was during the dispute I have mentioned that the question of licensing came up and I can inform the hon. Member for the City of Chester that if he wants to protect fishermen it is somewhat risky to try to do so by subjecting them to licensing. If a man breaks the law he can be fined and at least he gets the chance to live another day, but if his licence is withdrawn that is capital punishment. Therefore, it is very risky for fishermen to get themselves placed under a system of licensing rather under a system by which they are punished in the customary way for breaking the law.
I should have thought that from the fishermen's point of view it would be very unwise to become involved in a licensing system whereby a man who broke the law was prohibited from plying his trade. If we were half as enthusiastic about withdrawing licences from drunken drivers as we are about withdrawing licences from fishermen who commit offences, there would be fewer deaths on the roads and more salmon in the rivers.
I hope the Minister will take these points into consideration, especially when dealing with Europe, and will obtain European control over these practices as soon as possible.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
So many species of wild life have suffered that it would be wrong to oppose out of hand any method of conservation. That not only this country but Norway is worried about drift-netting for salmon is proof of that fact.
173 Several items worry me about this Order as it stands. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in giving the figures for the number of salmon that were caught by drift-nets, showed that it had gone up from 9.000 to 65,000. During the ten years from 1950 to 1960 I understand that the total number of salmon caught, as returned to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has varied from 150,000 to 220,000. which means that there has been a variance of up to 70,000 fish in a year, which is not as much as has been token by drift-netting.
I have seen in my part of the world a fleet of foreign boats fishing just outside the three mile limit in the estuary of the Tay, and I cannot help feeling that the upsetting of the balance of our salmon stocks has not been caused by drift-netting alone, which has only come about in the last two or three years. There must be something far more to it than merely the question of drift-netting for salmon.
Whilst I feel that we must accept this Order in the interests of Scottish salmon fishing, because it is a central part of our economy, I am certain that if the Minister thinks that by passing this Order he will have done all he need do to conserve the salmon stocks of this country, he is wrong. There must be something more, because the figures do not show that drift-netting is responsible for our troubles.
My hon. Friend may be able to tell us what were the total numbers of salmon caught by all methods during these years when drift-netting has increased from 9,000 to 65,000, to see what relationship there is between the fish which have been taken out of the sea but cannot be caught in the rivers. If we look on this simply as a problem of drift-netting I am certain that we shall get it wrong.
I would also commend to those who are interested in fishing an article in last week's Field in which an American gentleman interested in the rod angling side of fishing wrote that after he had caught a fish he could see no reason why he should not put it back into the river and let it spawn. He had had his fun and he felt there was no reason why he should deplete the stocks.
174 I am certain that there is some financial implication behind this, but it seems a good idea that this interest in conserving fish should be encouraged. I do not understand why we are so keen to prohibit drift-netting but not so keen on putting a limit on the number of fish taken out by other means. Why not put a brake on every method until we are certain what is the cause of the trouble?
§ Mr. Willis
I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) has said. We have been panicked into this step at the behest of a group of landed interests. It is the group that commenced to panic in another place. We have been driven to take hasty action. As has been pointed out, that was agreed and that was the Government's case twelve months ago against the people who were asking for this form of legislation.
I find difficulty in accepting the Order because we do not know the facts. The Under-Secretary quoted figures to show how the catch by drift-net fishermen had increased, but a report in The Scotsman last week said that catches by river netters on the Tweed were record catches this year. When he was interrupted and asked whether this was the case, the Undersecretary could not answer. If it is the case, then surely it makes nonsense of the argument which the hon. Gentleman used in putting this legislation before us in Standing Committee when we were given figures showing the great damage being done to salmon stocks. We ought to be told whether it is the case that catches of migratory trout and salmon have been at a record level this year.
Another point about the figure of 65,000 is that the drift-net fishermen have been more or less under sentence by the Government for the past twelve months and they have spent large sums of money on nets which they will not be able to use after the Order comes into force. They have been trying to make hay while the sun shines and to cover the cost of the nets, in other words catching as much as they could before the Order came into effect. If the drift-net fishermen had not been under this guillotine I doubt whether 175 the catch on the Tweed would have been anywhere near this level.
The hon. Member for Fife, East gave a number of instances to show that we do not know all the facts. I agree with him about the importance of conserving stocks, but the question is who does the conservation. Research is carried out by the Hydro-Electric Board and at Pitlochry. We recognise the importance of these stocks and it would have been more to the point if the Government had brought forward legislation which would have encouraged this work and had done something more about it instead of prohibiting the catching of salmon. In Committee on the Measure I read a quotation from the First Report of the Scottish Fisheries Department in which this point was made. The quotation which I read referred to the fact that whereas we were more concerned with controlling the catching of salmon, America was more concerned with increasing the stocks of salmon. We could not do that, of course, because we spent so much on armaments—this was way back in 1870—that we could not afford to go in for conservation of stocks at that time. That appears to be rather humorous today, but the point that it makes is a good one.
The other point about the Order is that we are acting without knowing the facts. We have not awaited the report of the Committee which was set up. That is fantastic. I think of the time that it takes to persuade the Government that an industry is dying and needs their assistance. We listened to a debate a short time ago in which the Undersecretary said, "If Aberdeen is to suffer and we see the middle-water fleets gradually dying, of course we shall have to do something about it." There was not much urgency about that. When it was a matter of protecting salmon, however, we had a Bill passed and the Orders introduced within twelve months. This difference in the approach of the Government to the various events that happen in Scotland and to industries which are dying or threatened is rather strange. If the landowner is concerned, we get legislation quickly; the Parliamentary timetable always permits it. If, however, it is a matter of protecting people and their jobs, that is rather 176 different and we are quite content not to do much about it.
In this case, we have been rushed into the matter rapidly and without any proper report on the problem. We have been pushed into it without any recom-mendations about what should be done and we have been rushed into it mainly as the result of a powerful pressure group in the Tory Party—that is, the landowning interests, who first raised the matter in the House of Lords and compelled the Government to act, ably assisted, of course, by certain Scottish back-benchers. Perhaps I should not use the word "ably," because none of them have been given jobs in the new reshuffle of the Government.
Whilst I agree about the necessity for conserving salmon and taking action to increase stocks, there is the question of the pollution of rivers. There is in my constituency the River Esk. The last salmon that came up there gave itself up in disgust to a wee boy with a pin. At one time, it was a fine salmon river. This is happening all over the place. Every year, I ask what the Government are doing about the pollution of the Esk, but I never get very far. It is still almst an open sewer. We do not find the same urgency about it. If the Government are to tackle the problem correctly, they cannot do so simply by producing Orders of this kind, which penalise one section of the community as against other sections.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon
I agree with a lot of what has been said on both sides of the House in the debate so far. There is a great aura of indignation around salmon interests. It arises whenever the matter is even discussed—the question that men have a right to take salmon by drift-nets. I feel that if those interests had shown half as much energy and determination in dealing with pollution or even the seal menace that would have had an extremely healthy effect on the salmon industry. As it is, the whole weight of the assault has fallen on the drift-netters, and this Order is the result.
The effect of it is that freedom is being denied to our own fishermen to fish inside our territorial waters or outside our territorial waters while foreigners can scoop the lot. What 177 action can the Government take to control foreigners who want to scoop the lot, and what action will they take to control those foreigners? This is a matter about which our own fishermen feel very deeply indeed. What they want and what they seek is justice in this matter.
Even in the debate tonight the Undersecretary of State would not give the comparable figures of the salmon caught by all the traditional methods, as opposed to the number he gave of salmon which had been caught by drift-net That is the kind of way in which this debate has been conducted up to now. Our inshore men who have taken salmon by drift-net in this last year do not want to destroy the salmon, but they feel very strongly that no case has yet been made against killing salmon with drift-nets and that instead they are the victims of propaganda and real prejudice.
I really do think it is incredible to interfere with the liberty of the subject to this extent, without an adequate survey of the facts of the matter. The Hunter Committee, as we all know, is sitting in Edinburgh at the moment. Why could we not wait at least till the results of that Committee's work are known and we could have a properly created policy fox salmon? In my part of the world salmon used to be so numerous that they ceased even to be a popular form of food, one could have them so often. That was not a long time ago—about fifty years ago. Could we not have some hatcheries, and less pollution, and a more effective policy against seals, which have destroyed so many of these fish?
I personally feel that total prohibition is wrong. It means loss to the men who have invested their money in gear. There are not enough facts on which to base this decision of the Government, and it is a derogation from liberty. Total prohibition makes the Government guilty, for whatever reason, of unfair discrimination against a group of men who have made their living from catching fish in the sea, and whatever kind of fish they would. This is the first time this prohibition has happened.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I agree largely with what the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. 178 Wolrige-Gordon) said, and I have considerable sympathy with his point of view in defence of the salmon netters. I certainly agree with him that the practice the Government have been following for the past few years is a curious one—of first producing a Bill and then appointing a committee to see whether any Bill is needed. That is partly the reason for the sense of grievance which the drift-net fishermen feel in this case, but the same practice was followed in connection with the licensing (Scotland) Bill which was recently before the House. The Bill was produced while a committee was still skiing and had produced only half its report. We had the same process in connection with hydro-electricity in Soot-land. The Mackenzie Committee was appointed, but in the meantime the Secretary of State decided to cut off practically all development before the Committee had given any recommendations to that effect. This practice is becoming a habit, so that perhaps the hon. Gentleman should not concentrate all his attack upon the Government in connection with this salmon fishing Measure but extend it a wider front and upon the Government practice as a whole. This practice is becoming a highly objectionable habit with the Government.
There was such a characteristic speech a few minutes ago from the other side by an hon. Member who has now departed. In an earlier debate tonight, when some of us were pleading for additional vessels to reinforce the fishery protection cruiser fleet in Scotland, particularly around the Islands to protect the livelihood of the people, there was not a great deal of support from that hon. Member. I do not think he joined in the support which some of his colleagues on that side gave to us. But when it came to enforcing this Measure against the drift-net fishermen, when it came to salmon and migratory trout, the hon. Member rose and proposed that the already inadequate fishery protection fleet should be diverted from its main object of protecting the fishery limits for white fish and other fishings, and that we should even get the Government to spend more money by adding speedboats and additional protection vessels to the fleet; all to protect private salmon and trout. It shows what is behind the advocacy of the Government and those who support them. During the dis- 179 cussions on the Bill—of which these Measures are obnoxious by-products, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) would have said —we have had clear evidence of the interested character of the advocacy of hon. Members opposite and even more so of noble Lords in another place.
I have a considerable amount of sympathy for the drift-net fishermen because I feel that they have been harmed in two ways. First, they have been put to considerable loss by this Measure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East pointed out. Many bought gear in the ordinary way before or at the beginning of the season, and then they found that they would not get even the cost of it back, let alone make a profit on it. Some, it is said, have gone all out to make sure that they caught enough fish in the short period legally open to them to make up for any possible loss. It seems to me that they even have a claim for compensation against the Government, because they bought their nets in good faith, having no reason to anticipate that their activities would be made illegal so abruptly and that they would not recoup, at least, the full value of their purchases of gear. The second matter is that they have been condemned, as has been said, without a full trial, without full knowledge of the facts. That is unpardonable.
We have all paid more than lip service to fish stocks conservation. I do not know anyone who dissents from that policy and the prosecution of it so far as it can be done without unreasonable damage to innocent parties. As the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) said, there is no evidence that the drift-net fishermen alone are the cause of the depletion which has worried the Government so suddenly and so much. I agree with him that if one is to take their activities into consideration, one should take comprehensively into consideration the activities of all parties and all interests which may be causing depletion, and possibly do something about all of them. What exactly should be done is a matter which one could develop fully only if one took all the established facts into consideration in the right way.
I am worried about the fact that our own Scottish fishermen will more 180 than ever before feel a sense of injustice because, while they can be stopped, prosecuted and punished severely, as, of course, they must be for illegal fishing, they can see foreigners day and night throughout the season coming quite openly into our fishing grounds and taking all they want and getting away scot free. There is nothing that one can do about that use of the high seas for salmon or anything else without international agreements, and ratified agreements at that. As a representative of lobster fishermen and other fishermen, I know how deeply they resent the difference in treatment between themselves and the people who come very often illegally fishing, within our territorial limits and on our own fishing grounds.
An example in passing is that our fishermen are not allowed to take berried lobsters or land lobsters of less than 9 ins. in length, but foreign trawlers take everything that is going and no one can stop them landing them in their own or other countries. What will happen if we join the Common Market I am not sure —nobody is—but I understand that negotiation, or at least discussion, on fisheries is beginning. But there is a sense of injustice with regard to the lobster catchings and landings, and in respect of the prohibition on British trawlers in the whole Moray Firth, while the foreigners can practise as they will. This new salmon protection provision will add to that sense of injustice.
While we are in favour of conservation, many hon. Members on this side of the House feel that we are conserving for the wrong people. When I make speeches in support of conservation, I am conscious that, unfortunately, the people who benefit most from the conservation are not the general public or the general body of British fishermen. In an area such as my constituency where there are fine salmon and trout rivers, it is not the ordinary people who benefit, but people like Lord Baillieu, who writes to me protesting when I say that there is insufficient conservation. There are protests from the House of Lords and from interest in the City which apparently have no legitimate connection with the Western Islands. But when one makes a protest against their apparent monopolies they spring from all sorts of extraordinary quarters to 181 claim that they own whole areas of the islands or the fisheries.
Everyone, as I say, is in favour of conservation. But unfortunately, everyone does not benefit from it. The people who benefit are not the small people but those who are concerned with trying to get out of it for themselves the greatest possible commercial advantage. One example of this is afforded by the Grimersta River on the Island of Lewis which is one of the finest of our salmon rivers. But no ordinary person from the Western Isles or elsewhere can gain access to the river except by permission of the landlord which is very seldom granted.
There was a prospect of developing hydro-electricity from this river's water-power for domestic needs and, possibly, for the introduction of industry. But because of the salmon monopoly interests that was initially killed, ostensibly in the name of conservation, but in fact it was in the interests of private individuals. only later was this officially denied. So while we agree with conservation, and preached it long before the surviving members of the Government came to this House, we do not like to see conservation only in the interests of a small group of monopolists. Secondly, we do not like to see the drift-net fishermen being condemned before the facts are known and understood.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
Tonight we have heard a great deal about people not knowing the facts. I can forgive the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) for not knowing the facts, because the only place one would find salmon in Edinburgh, East is on a fishmonger's slab. But I cannot forgive my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) because he has not taken the trouble to learn the facts. In my part of the world we have reason to know the facts. They were not told to me by the landowning interests, but by working men, anglers on the River Don in my constituency. I have also heard them from hotel keepers, shopkeepers, and others in my constituency concerned with the tourist trade. It has been said that this question was first raised by the landowning 182 interests in another place. That is not so. It was raised in this House by me as the result of the representations made to me by the working men anglers in my constituency.
We have been told tonight of 1,700 men round the coast of Scotland whose livelihood is in jeopardy because of the drift-net fishing. Hon. Members opposite do not know the facts. The facts are that on the River Dee in my constituency the catches of salmon by orthodox fishing methods, including orthodox nets, to the end of May this year were about one-third what they were last year, which is completely different from the suppositions we have heard from articles in The Field and elsewhere. These are the facts. Salmon fisheries, which are the heritage of all the northern countries, Scotland, Norway, Finland and the lot, will be in jeopardy unless steps are taken, and taken now.
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) had some doubts about the wisdom of my right hon. Friend in bringing in these Orders so suddenly. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing them in, because unless they were brought in now the whole fishing in the North could disappear overnight. A careful balance has been kept between salmon fishers and breeders, but in the last two years that balance has been going. These Orders are a temporary measure to restore and maintain that balance. Some of the facts we do not know. That is what the Hunter Committee has been set up to find out—how to increase salmon. Until the Committee reports we must do what we can to keep that balance. I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing in these Orders and commend them to the House and hope they will be passed.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) seems to know more facts than the Minister, who refused to give statistics. He must have known the official Government policy as announced in the House of Lords by Lord Waldegrave, that we could not be dogmatic, there were no facts and there were difficulties. I shall not repeat his speech, 183 but he announced the Government policy and I remind the hon. Member of what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said:… this is not a matter on which it is possible at present to make any firm predictions.He went on to say:There are many factors which affect the stocks of salmon and it is difficult to disentangle the effect of any one of them. Moreover, in order to get any relevant information of what is happening to the stocks, statistics over a fairly long period are required …"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 22nd June, 1961; Vol. 232, c. 773.]The hon. Member must agree, as the Minister and the Secretary of State did, that that was official Government policy. My horn. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) and others have argued over and over again that there was a change of Government policy.
§ Mr. Soames
I said "Hear, hear" to the fact that the hon. Member has argued the case over and over again.
§ Mr. Peart
The right hon. Gentleman knows that he is on bad ground. We have argued over and over again in Committee as we do tonight that this was a bad part of a very important Bill. The Government injected into the Bill which dealt with wider problems of the white fish industry this matter from which these Orders ensue. These Orders are bad, unjust and unfair. The Government should have waited until they had more facts. We all accept the need for conservation. In the Council of Europe, in this House and elsewhere when speaking on fish matters, my hon. Friend has stressed the need for conservation. We stress it tonight, but we argue that the faots are not yet available. The Committee of investigation should have reported before action was taken. We should not only have had legal people making pronouncements but scientific evidence which has not yet been produced. Figures should have been provided before anyone was dogmatic about the situation. I trust the Minister tonight will give us the figures for which 184 his hon. Friends have asked—his hon. Friends who have criticised the Order.
The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) made an important point when he said that people operating in the Tay, beyond the three-mile limit, may be causing harm to the salmon stock. This point was taken up by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon), who strongly criticised the Order. We have the spectacle of foreign fishermen being able to fish for salmon just outside the three-mile limit and possibly doing much more harm to the salmon stocks; they can fish for salmon but British fishermen are penalised if they do so. We suggest only that before the Government take such action as they envisage in the Order there should have been a scientific inquiry. This was, indeed, the Government's view before they caved in to pressure from certain Scottish landed interests.
The Government are in difficulties. The Order prohibits drift-net fishing in an area surrounding Scotland. The southern boundary, on the western side, will intersect an area of the high seas within the Solway Firth. I am interested in this area because my constituency borders the Solway Firth, and some fishermen from Cumberland, under licence from the Cumberland River Board, have been drift-netting for salmon there for some time. I trust that they will be able to go on doing this, with a licence. No doubt in Scotland fishing into the Solway Firth will be prevented, and yet I hope that the Cumberland fishermen will be able to go on drift-netting. That is anomalous. We shall have foreign fishermen who can fish for salmon outside the three-mile limit while British fishermen cannot, and an anomaly in the Solway Firth because of the prohibition area.
We say that the Order is bad and that the Section of the Bill under which it is made is bad, penalising unfairly an important section of the fishing industry. We cannot dismiss lightly these people who are engaged in the industry. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) to say that this Order will protect the livelihood of 1,700 fishermen; that is not true, and he knows it. Many of these men are not full-time fishermen and will 185 not be harmed in any way comparable with what will happen to the inshore fishermen who are engaged in drift-netting for salmon. There is no comparison, and the hon. Member knows that. He should consult his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East and other Scottish Conservative Members who have spoken against the Order. I hope that the Minister will give us the figures for which we have asked and that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West will listen to them.
We say that this is a bad Order, unfair and unjust, because it will prevent Scottish and English fishermen from fishing while others will remain scot-free. We have pressed the point, and we shall not dwell on it unduly. We have criticised the Order, and we hope that even at this late hour the Minister will give us better reasons for introducing it than we heard when we discussed the subject in Committee and on Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) said that this was a rotten Order and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said that it was a bad Order, so that it is getting better as the evening wears on. We regard it as a necessary Order. There is a lesson to be learned from the fact that in the debate, we have been told from both sides of the House that the Order goes too far and too fast and that there is doubt about its efficacy.
The chief argument of those on both sides who advocated greater delay on the part of the Government before making the Orders was that we should have waited for the Hunter Committee to report. They quoted the remarks of my noble Friend in another place at about this time last year. Evidence as to the depletion of stocks of salmon is terribly difficult to obtain and to be of any use; like as not, once found, it is too late. Where I think hon. Members have gone astray is in talking about fishermen who have been earning their living at this, as if it is something to which they have been traditionally accustomed. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) referred specifically to fisherman who have bean earning their living at this for a year or two. Before 186 that they caught other fish. So it cannot be said that this is their traditional form of fishing.
The figures rose from 9,000 in 1960 to 28,000 in 1961. It was at that point that the Government asked themselves, "Are we now going to legislate?" At about this time last year, or perhaps a little later, bearing in mind the time it takes to get legislation though the House, we finally decided to legislate knowing that it would not be on the Statute Book until about now. If we had not done it this year, we should have had to wait for another year before doing it. What would have been the figures of catches this year? What would they have been next year if we had not legislated?
§ Mr. Soames
I hear the hon. Member for Workington saying "No, no, no". Two views can be taken about this. One is that things should be allowed to let rip and that there should be no legislation. There is all the difference in the world between indulging in the luxury of criticism and being responsible for the stocks of salmon and for deciding on the extent to which a risk could properly be taken or whether no risk should be taken by not allowing this type of fishing to continue.
§ Mr. Peart
The Minister should not argue that we were prepared to let it rip. We would have preferred a committee quickly. The right hon. Member, with his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland, delayed it. We could have had a committee immediately to investigate the whole problem of the conservation of salmon.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman is saying that he would not have legislated this Session. If the Hunter Committee had started work this time last year, he would have had to decide whether to legislate this year, because these things take time. A Bill cannot be drawn up in two days. We believe that we were right to legislate this year. Where I believe that the hon. Gentleman can argue with us is as to whether we should have legislated. I do not believe that he would have chosen to set up a committee, wait perhaps a year for the committee's report, and then wait another year while legislating. How much time 187 would have been lost and how much damage would have been done? If the hon. Gentleman argues that we should not have laid the Orders now but should have awaited the Committee's Report, that is a different argument from that on legislation. We do not know when the Hunter Committee will report, but this year we have to face the fact that there has been a very steep rise in the numbers of fish caught by drift net. I believe that in the last full year the figure was 28,000, and I think that up to the end of June of this year it had gone up to 65,000.
Hon. Members have asked how those figures compared with catches other than drift net catches. Over the last ten years, the average numbers have been 225,000 salmon and 151,000 grilse, making a total of 376,000. I know that last year the figure was 370,000, which was about average. Against that, 9,000 salmon were caught by drift net in 1960, 28,000 in 1961, and 65,000 up to the end of June, 1962. This is a very steep rise, and the current figure represents a very considerable proportion of all salmon caught off the Scottish coast —particularly as it is by a new and un-traditional system of fishing.
§ Mr. Soames
Those are collected at the end of the season. I do not have them for the first six months of this year, but I have no reason to suppose that they are unusual; I should certainly be surprised if they showed anything like the rise in the drift netting figures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), referring to the Hunter Committee, asked, "Why pick on one type of fishing?" The answer is that it is not the traditional type of fishing that has been going on. The terms of reference of the Committee are:To consider in the light of current scientific knowledge the extent to which fishing for salmon and trout by any method whether in inland waters or in the sea should be regulated, and to recommend such changes in the law as might be thought desirable.188 Until the Report is in our possession, we have thought it right to prohibit in Scottish waters this new system of fishing which has caught such very large numbers of salmon in the last few years. Of course, when the Report is made, we shall be able to reconsider our decision in the light of the Report. It is not an agreeable thing to prohibit the catching of any type of fish on the high seas, but we felt that in the circumstances it was necessary for the preservation of this species.
Several hon. Members have said, in effect, "You are stopping your own fishermen but you are allowing foreigners to fish." The point is that we have been faced with a threat to our salmon stocks. We have met this threat, which has come from our own fishermen and not from foreigners, by these Measures. It may happen that we may change them when we get the Hunter Committee's report. We are meeting the threat in this way and at this time. There has not been any evidence of foreigners indulging in this form of fishing off our shores. However, it is our intention to protect our salmon stocks. This we have now done as best we can. With respect therefore, it is pointless to say, "But what are you going to do about the foreigners?" because we have no evidence that foreigners are indulging in this form of fishing here.
The House will recall that there is in operation in this country a landing ban on salmon applying to boats of any sort. We will do our best, should this threat extend to boats of foreign nationals, to meet it if and when it develops. As I say, the comments about foreigners do not present a case for our not meeting what we consider, rightly or wrongly, to be an existing and actual threat to our salmon stocks from this new type of drift netting from largish boats with extremely long nets.
I was asked a number of questions about the licensing of fishermen in England and Wales as opposed to a prohibition in Scottish waters. The two situations are different because there has been a traditional history of fishing by smallish boats with smallish drift-nets for a century or more off the English rivers, mostly within three miles, but occasionally going beyond that limit. 189 At the moment they are licensed by river boards. As I say, this is a traditional form of fishing and it is not our intention to interfere with it. In other words, while it is not our intention to interfere with these vessels which have been fishing off the English rivers for one hundred years or more, it is equally, not our intention to permit Scottish boats to transfer their attention to English rivers.
In saying that we intend to permit the continuation of the traditional types of fishing, I should point out that all the fishermen concerned have licences issued to them by the river boards. We shall, therefore, be guided by the boards on the question of issuing licences for fishing outside territorial waters.
§ Mr. Soames
This matter is the subject of a special Act, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) knows all about it.
I have explained what we intend to do. Some have taken a different view and have said that we should "wait and see." However, we shall await with interest the results of the Hunter Committee's deliberations. When one has a responsibility in these matters one is, perhaps, more apt to err on the side of caution than one's attitude might be without such responsibility. The Government have a responsibility to maintain our salmon stocks.
it has been said that there is as yet no direct evidence to show that the stocks are being depleted by what is happening. But it is because we fear that they might that we have thought it necessary to introduce these Measures. I believe that the new Orders are the best that can be devised to suit the circumstances of our traditional salmon fishing interests, and I hope that the House will agree with the course we propose.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-Net Fishing) Order, 1962, dated 4th July, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.