HC Deb 27 May 1963 vol 678 cc1057-80

10.13 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme 1963 (S.I., 1963, No. 770), dated 8th April, 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th April, be annulled. This Scheme is perhaps not quite so exciting as the business which preceded it, but at least it is of importance to a considerable section of our country. On it rests the ability of many people to earn their livelihood. Tonight, we are considering the workings of the 1962 Act and this Scheme, which supplements the subsidies paid under that Act.

Since the passing of the Act the fishing industry has gone through a very difficult time, as will be agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Many sections of the middle water fleet, and especially the Scottish section, have been making losses during the past 12 months of about £6,000 per vessel per annum, according to figures approved by the Scottish Office. These are the figures to which this scheme applies.

During the Committee stage of the Act, my hon. Friends and I raised considerable doubt as to whether the Scheme would meet the needs of the fishing industry. I contrasted it, not unfairly, with the provision for agriculture by the same Ministry. In the context of the principal Act, about £21 million has been made available by way of supplementary grant to spread over the next 10 years. But in any single year the grant must not exceed £350,000.

The Act provides for the grant to be at full rate in the first year, and accordingly one would have thought that then the industry would be economically at its best. Instead, however, considerable losses have been made, as a result of which the supplementary grant must be employed to the full extent of £350,000. I am sure that the House will agree that it is obvious that the industry is not in a very healthy condition.

This Scheme seeks to pay the supplementary grant to the whole of the fishing industry. I will take the Scottish section first. Those vessels which qualify for the grant would, under the original arrangement, have been entitled to a payment of some £100,000 by way of supplementary grants. But the new Scheme will bring this sum up to £160,000. That is the maximum that the Scottish fleet will receive under this Scheme. This £160,000 has to be distributed between 137 vessels which have made, on the whole, an average loss of some £5,000 to £6,000 in the past year. One can realise at a glance just what effect this grant will have on that section of our fleet.

The main factor is that the middle water and inshore fishing fleet is of tremendous importance to Scotland and its economy. The distant water fleet, about which I am not grumbling, is, in effect, confined to Grimsby and Hull. Thus, the rest of the country's fishing ports are dependent on the middle and inshore fleets for the economic survival of their industry.

The House will, therefore, see that this grant cannot do much more than make up the minimal amount lost by a considerable section of the fleet during the past year. As I have said, this is being done in a year in which 100 per cent. grant is being paid under the 1962 Act. The position of the fleet will worsen in the year ahead. After this year, the subsidy is to fall. Indeed, if I am correct, the subsidy over the first two years of the 10-year period over which the grant is to he whittled down is to be reduced by 7½ per cent. in both the first and second years, meaning that 15 per cent. will be written off in the first two years and the remainder over the next eight.

Does it not seem even to the Government that this is an impossible position in which to place the industry, that in the very first year of grant, when the 100 per cent. payment is being made and when the supplementary grant totalling £350,000 is being paid to its fullest extent, the fishing industry should still be in the red? I should have thought that this was an argument which the Government would be prepared to face tonight and that they would be prepared to tell the House what is proposed in these circumstances.

After all, the problem which has fallen on the fishing industry is not a problem of its own making. It has been created by agreements in international politics. In other words, the fishing limits around each State are being extended to such an extent that our fishing industry is being denied the right to fish in waters in which our fishermen have always fished. That is the problem and the Government need not think that they can buy off their responsibility by the payment of £350,000 in this year. That is the kernel of the argument. In these circumstances, what are the Government prepared to do?

I should like to give one or two figures of what I estimate to be the effects of the Scheme. The Minister will correct them if my figures are wrong. I understand that under this Scheme vessels of 80 ft. and over but under 90 ft. will qualify for a grant of about £4 2s. as against the £1 of the original Scheme. Vessels of 90 ft. and more but under 100 ft., mainly used by fishermen from Aberdeen and Milford Haven and affecting a tremendous part of the Scottish fleet, will qualify for a subsidy of about £4 as compared with £2 under the old Scheme. Milford Haven vessels which were to get a subsidy of some £2 per vessel are to get only 19s. under the new Scheme.

Vessels of 110 ft. or more but under 120 ft., important to the Scottish section of the fleet, are to receive subsidies ranging from £3 2s, in Fleetwood to £8 3s. in North Shields with Aberdeen and Granton qualifying at £5 and Grimsby and Lowestoft at £5 16s.. dependent on the length of the voyage. Those may seem to be substantial improvements and I do not seek to belittle them, but considering the condition of the industry as a whole and the losses which it has been making, they are no more than the industry is entitled to receive.

One interesting fact emerges from the Scheme. Vessels of 120 ft. and over operating from Aberdeen are to get £3, from North Shields £2 10s., from Grimsby and Milford Haven £6 13s., from Lowestoft £5 14s. and from Fleetwood £3 16s. That is compared with £3 under the old arrangements. But Milford Haven was not even mentioned in the 1962 Scheme. Is this an addition to the arrangement? We are entitled to know how much of the £350,000 this inclusion will cost.

I hope that I have said enough to show that the fishing industry is going through an extremely difficult time. Constant efforts by other countries to extend their fishing limits are having a serious effect upon our fishing industry. I wish the Minister to pay attention to the fact that we have not been dependent on the importation of fish from other countries. There are certain fishing companies in this country, especially in respect of the distant water fleet, which make up their income from subsidiary companies concerned with deep freeze. Some companies are concerned not only with fish for freezing purposes but they also deal in frozen vegetables, and can supplement their income from these subsidiary companies which they own.

Tonight we are interested in the fishing fleet. In Scotland, in many parts of England and in Wales the middle water and offshore fleets are basic to the economy. We are grateful—perhaps grateful is not quite the correct word—for the small supplementations which are given. But they present no answer to the problem confronting the industry. We will accept what is offered but we should like to know what action it is proposed shall be taken. What action will be taken by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? Will the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland tell us what action is to be taken in respect of Scotland, because this matter is extremely important to the Scottish economy?

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) indicated that the fishing industry is in difficulties and I think the point should be made that the reason for the difficulties is partly the overbuilding which has been going on during recent years which has been emphasised by the joining together of the distant water and middle water fleets. There is also the other basic difficulty—which is beyond the control of this Government or the country—caused by the extension of fishing limits throughout the world and the fact that this country is the greatest market for fish in Europe. To suggest that this problem might be debated at this hour in connection with such a Scheme as this is, I suggest, wholly wrong.

The House will remember that the Government are to take part in a conference to consider the issues connected with the expansion of the fishing limits and markets. I hope that note will be taken of what has been done about agriculture so that similar action may be taken about fishing. Perhaps all these grants would not be necessary were there some form of restriction on imports. But this is not the time and place to debate these issues.

I hope that the Government will accept the fact that hon. Members on this side of the House, and I believe hon. Members opposite, will want a debate on fishing after the long Recess and the conference. I understand that the Government are providing in subsidies this year the maximum amount of money which is possible under previous legislation, and that the Scheme allows for increased payments for the appropriate categories of vessels. On that narrow issue I do not think there is much about which hon. Members can grumble. But may I say again that I hope that the Government will bear in mind the need for a major debate on all the matters affecting the fishing industry as soon as possible after the European conference?

10.30 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I wish to support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and to point out that I find myself in some difficulty in being expected to debate a Scheme such as this in isolation, so to speak. We always seem to be in the difficulty of having to debate the fishing industry either in the middle of the night or on a Statutory Instrument which is placed before us more or less without notice and on which we have no real background, except the knowledge which comes to us through discussions in the various ports which we represent.

I appreciate that I cannot say much about the operation of the Scheme which is before us. I was greatly interested in the details of the new arrangements which have been made for the port of North Shields. However, in view of the problem which is covered by the Scheme—a major problem for North Shields—I should have preferred to have had a greater discussion about the problem of getting some trawlers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice suggested that one of the reasons for the Order, and one reason why the fishing industry is finding itself in such difficulties, is because we have been overbuilding. I do not wish to get involved in a controversy between England and Scotland, but I think that a part of our difficulties—that is, from the point of view of my constituency—is that the Scots grab so much of the money for building the trawlers that there is nothing left for any of us.

I do not believe that it is a good idea to have amalgamated the distant and middle water fleets for the purposes of this kind of subsidy. While I would find it difficult to oppose the Scheme, I wish to let the Government know that we expect a major debate, with plenty of time available—and not at this hour of the night—on the fishing fleet at the earliest possible moment after the Whitsun Recess.

I want to make it perfectly plain, in no uncertain terms, that Scotland has had too much out of the industry and that my part of the world has had very little. I want the Government to adjust the situation, not merely by way of money because it is no good offering us subsidies if we do not have the trawlers to go out to sea to catch the fish. It makes no difference to us what we get by any arrangements if we do not have the trawlers. I do not wish to say very much at this time of night. I am profoundly disturbed at the Ministry appearing to go forward in a hit and miss way when it comes to the fishing industry. Far too few people seem interested in the fundamental difficulties which the industry faces today.

I am grateful that a conference is to take place but, as I say, the announcement is made without prior notice of any sort. The Lord Privy Seal makes an announcement, nobody explains the real problems of the industry and the fleet; the Minister just produces a Scheme and expects hon. Members to accept it. Nobody takes the trouble to explain what it is all about and it is left to the Opposition to oppose it. It is high time that the Government put their house in order on these issues and that the Minister paid a little more attention to fisheries and not so much to agriculture. That may not go down well with some of my hon. Friends, but it is worth while saying it.

In the meantime, before we have the major debate of which I spoke, I hope that we will see a better adjustment of the spending of the money, so that more is spent in support of those fishing ports which are in the greatest difficulty. If the port of Aberdeen will send us a few vessels with which to fish from North Shields we will get our proper proportion of the subsidy; but they must work for the region I represent and the balance of the money being spent on building new fishing vessels in the port of Aberdeen and the money going elsewhere must be considered, because Aberdeen is swallowing the lot.

I look forward to the House having a major debate in which we will have ample time to consider the difficulties of the industry. After all, the economy of the country depends to a great extent on the fishing fleet, which has done so much for Britain. A full debate is needed. not just a few minutes at this time of night.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) has said practically all that need be said in favour of the Prayer, and I welcome the support that has come from the other side of the House. I quarrel with the Government's general policy towards the fishing industry, which has difficulties of its own, and I protest against the way in which the Government, by sporadic measures of this kind, change their policy towards it. The Government should have a consistent and constructive policy that would allow all sections of the industry to know where they are from year to year and from month to month. That is not the present position. This little Instrument is an example of the unhappy and unstable way in which the Government treat an industry whose ancillaries also suffer from the same instability of Government policy.

Another strange feature of this debate is that we have not yet heard a Minister explain why the Scheme has been introduced. The Government should introduce Schemes—any Schemes—relating to the fishing industry on a reasonable basis. They should certainly explain how they have the audacity to produce this Scheme, against which I protest.

10.38 p.m.

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

I agree with what has been said so far about discussing this great industry at this time of night, and I hope that in the near future we shall have the chance of a full-scale debate. I welcome the Government's recent initiative in giving notice to reserve their right to increase the fishery limits. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) —whom we were all glad to hear, as he has a great knowledge of the industry—spoke of the difficulties of the inshore fishermen. It has been extremely difficult for those on the inshore side to impress on the Government the necessity for increasing the fishery limits. That notice has been given, but I understand that we are likely to have a good deal of difficulty with the French in the near future.

I hope very much that the Government will take the kind of action that General de Gaulle has taken recently in many matters. I hope that they will take that action with the French if they start making trouble over our limits. It is about time that this country did something for our own people. It is about time that we told the French that we are very sorry but, for the reasons which many of us have explained on many occasions in the House, we think that we should increase the limits.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Perhaps the hon. Member would help me. To what limits is he referring? I hope that he will keep to the Scheme which we are now debating.

Mr. Howard

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I agree that perhaps I was a little carried away on the subject of fishery limits which we hope the Government will increase to help the inshore fishing industry. The question of the conference on the restriction of imports has been mentioned.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Member but there is nothing about the restriction of imports in the Scheme which we are now discussing.

Mr. Howard

Again I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but as it has been mentioned in the debate so far I naturally thought that it was in order to mention it now.

Another point which I wished to raise and which the Scheme does mention is the quest on of payments per day at sea. Some of us have been trying for many years to impress upon the Government that it would be a good thing if this day-payments scheme also applied to the inshore fishing industry. I hope that the Government may consider that again before we have a further debate. I support the plea for a full-scale debate on the fishing industry and not a debate of this kind late at night. We should have the time to devote our attention to the whole of this vitally important industry. I hope also that the Government will answer some of the questions put during tonight's debate.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

Here we are once again having brought before us at 10.30 at night some delegated legislation which to me is very complicated and to which is attached an insufficient Explanatory Note on why subsidies are to be paid and why they should differentiate between different vessels at different ports. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will not accept the advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) to think less of agriculture and more of fisheries, because I believe that the majority of hon. Members would prefer a bit of Scotch beef steak to a Lowestoft kipper.

I cannot understand how the figures mentioned in this Scheme are arrived at. A vessel of between 90 feet and 100 feet sailing from Aberdeen qualifies for a payment of £4 a day while at sea, but a vessel sailing from Milford Haven qualifies for only 19s. I happen to be a Welshman who represents a Scottish constituency. I am therefore in favour of the £4 for Aberdeen, but as Wales is my native land I resent the 19s. only for Milford Haven. We should have an explanation of that.

If we come to a vessel of 120 feet—that is only 20 feet longer, 10 feet on each end—and it sails from Aberdeen, it gets £3, but if it sails from Milford Haven it gets £6 13s. A vessel of 90 feet sailing from Aberdeen gets £4, but if it sails from Milford Haven it gets 19s. A vessel of 90 feet sailing from Aberdeen gets £1 less than a vessel of 110 feet. I want to know how in the name of fortune these figures have been arrived at. Why are there these seemingly contradictory figures for sailings from different ports?

I have been a Member of this House for 12 years, and ever since I came here we have had every year Orders to increase subsidies for those either producing or processing food. It seems to me that we have come to this situation—we must recognise it—that no one economically can get his living out of fishing or otherwise producing food without a subsidy from the State. In these 12 years the subsidies have gone up, and the price of the product does not come down. We are paying more and more in price for the product, be it fish or agricultural produce, and we are paying more and more in taxation to keep the business going. I think it is about time we had an inquiry into what is happening in the gathering of fish, and its distribution in the market, when we have this situation where we have to keep on subsidising this very important industry.

Mr. G. R. Howard

It is being done.

Mr. Bence

It is being done by the Fleck Committee. There is an investigation. I hope it will result in resolving what seems to me to be the ridiculous situation we have in such a tremendous field of economic activity, which we have to keep subsidising.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope the hon. Member will devote his argument to the comparatively narrow field of this Scheme.

Mr. Bence

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought I would say that at the end of my remarks, because I thought it might be approaching the limit of order. But I do want to hear the Minister's explanation of these figures for the rates of grant.

In the circumstances, since the Scheme is helping our fishing industry. I am not opposed to it, because I recognise that the industry is in difficulties, probably not of its own making, but because of weaknesses in the organisation of the production and distribution of fish in general, but I think the House and the taxpayers are entitled to know exactly on what principles these subsidies are fixed and the differences between the different ports. Aberdonians will not like £3 for a 120 ft. vessel when a Milford Haven one gets £6 13s. Wales will not like the other figure. I hope that there is an explanation for all these figures.

10.49 p.m.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I. want only to ask one or two questions about this Scheme. Various hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), mentioned the question of inshore fishermen. As I understand it, inshore fishermen are not covered by this Scheme. Therefore, their rate of subsidy is unchanged. I want to get that clear. In addition, an Aberdeen coal-fired vessel is not covered by the Scheme. The subsidy for the Aberdeen coal-fired vessels is unchanged. The Scheme covers only middle water and distant water vessels of 80 ft. in length up to 140 ft. which are oil-fired steam vessels or motor vessels. It is limited to that. In Scotland, it comes down to Aberdeen and Granton, and in England the ports are as listed in the Schedule.

I was not quite clear what the hon. Member for Leith meant in speaking of the £350,000, which is the 100 per cent. grant allowed for this year. Does it include the inshore fishermen and the coal-fired Aberdeen vessels, or is it just the vessels covered by the Scheme?

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

It was my hon. Friend who raised this.

Sir J. Duncan

But it is the Government's job to answer a Prayer, and the Government will answer it. The hon. Gentleman made this case for the Prayer, and he did not make this point clear. That is all I am saying.

As I understand it, as regards the oil-fired steam vessels and the motor vessels between 80 ft. and 140 ft., this is a topping-up operation. The original subsidy rates were in the last Scheme, and the topping-up this time, I presume, comes as a result of the enormous losses which have been made in varying degree by vessels fishing from various ports. I have not late information, and the hon. Member for Leith has later information than I have. From what I was able to learn a few months ago, it was clear that all the vessels fishing off the Faroes and a lot of them fishing off Icelandic and further waters were losing a very great deal of money. This applied particularly to those fishing the middle waters and the Faroes out of Aberdeen and Granton. Even under the original subsidy rates, they were losing a great deal. The hon. Gentleman spoke of £5,000 to £6,000 a year. That was the estimate at the time. The Faroes fishing was going down and down, and it was increasingly difficult because of the limits. They were not even earning enough money to pay the interest on the Government loan.

I want to know whether this topping-up operation will make it possible for these people to repay the Government loan, let alone make a profit. There are quite a lot of men involved, besides the owners. A good many men take a share in the earnings of the vessels. It is a loss not only to the owners of the vessels but to the skippers and crews, and they would suffer, too, if they cannot make enough to repay the loan and leave something for themselves out of their arduous operations.

I take it that the difference in all these figures comes as a result of costings taken out at the various ports. I assume that that accounts for the differences according to whichever port the vessels sail from. I shall be interested to hear my hon. Friend's explanation of why the differences are so great. I can understand it, but I think that an explanation is required. For instance, the daily payment for a vessel of 110 ft. but under 120 ft. out of North Shields is £8 3s. whereas at Aberdeen it is only £5.

Dame Irene Ward

Does my hon. Friend propose to ask how many vessels are sailing from the port of North Shields and how many are sailing from Aberdeen and Granton?

Sir J. Duncan

No, I was not going to ask that. The fact is that there must be at least one vessel, otherwise the subsidy would not be in the Schedule. As my hon. Friend has interrupted me, I would say that I am rather surprised at her back-handed compliment to the Scots. If she has not got any trawlers or fishing vessels being built at Tynemouth or North Shields, it is her own fault. It simply means that the Scots are more business. like and energetic than the English.

Dame Irene Ward

Not at all. It is because the Secretary of State for Scotland has grabbed the money.

Sir J. Duncan

That is not in the Schedule or anywhere else in the Scheme. In short, the Scheme, which does not come with a very clear Explanatory Note, needs some detailed explanation. It lasts only until 31st July. I suppose it would be out of order to discuss what happens after that date. I simply echo what has been said already in respect of the future. As the Act says that next year's subsidies have to be reduced—I forget whether it is next year or the year after—

Mr. Willis

Next year.

Sir J. Duncan

Next year it comes down by 7½ per cent. The very fact that these subsidies have had to be topped up this year means that we shall have to have another Scheme with even bigger figures next year if we are to keep vessels of these types fishing profitably so as to be able to repay the Government loan.

10.57 pan.

Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)

We have had perhaps one of our more confused debates on the fishing industry this evening, partly no doubt because the hour is late, and partly because we have had the benefit of one non-fishing intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), who made up for his ignorance of the fact that the Fleck Committee had even sat by reading large chunks of the Scheme verbatim. Some of those who have spoken have already left the House. I think that, if hon. Members speak, they should have the courtesy to wait for the rest of the debate. Anyway, for a variety of reasons, we have had a somewhat unusually confused debate.

What we are discussing is something relatively simple—a supplemental Scheme which gives discriminatory aid to certain parts of the industry. I think that I am correct in saying that my constituency of Grimsby gains nothing from the Scheme for the distant water section, although we gain from the middle and near water sections. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) was wrong when he was discussing who was aided by the Scheme. It does not affect the inshore fishing fleet, nor does it affect the distant water fleet, with the exception of a very small number of vessels in Hull. The Scheme is primarily concerned with the middle and near water sections.

] In principle, this kind of aid is right. This is discriminatory supplemental aid to particular sections of the fleet. This is right. It is clearly the case at the moment that the near and middle water sections of the fleet are doing much worse than the distant water section. In terms of firms—I quote from my constituency because I know them best—in my constituency there are small family firms mainly engaged in near and middle water fishing which are extremely badly off and in a precarious position. They are a long way behind with their interest payments on White Fish Authority loans. Their position is desperate.

If we are to aid the industry at all, all our aid, or all the aid where we have any freedom of manoeuvre, should go to the near and middle water sections. At the moment, I would say that there is no case for giving additional money to the distant water section of the fleet. Quite apart from the fact that in this section the fishing is better at the moment, the fact that there is no case is due mainly to the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) said, they tend to belong to extremely powerful mixed groups—like the Ross Group, Associated Fisheries, and the rest. They do not rely solely on their fishing. From their own point of view quite rightly, they have spread their risks. They have branched out into all kinds of other activities. It cannot be said that these firms are desperately situated at the moment.

The Ross Group recently announced that it expects its profits for the coming year to be double what they were in the past year. I am happy to say this, because the group is heavily engaged in my constituency. Associated Fisheries has a slightly more uncertain outlook, though nobody can say that this firm is in desperate straits. I accept the principle which is embodied in this Scheme of concentrating all the supplemental help we can into the near and middle water sections. My objection to the Scheme is not to the Scheme as such, but to what it illustrates. I think that the Government are guilty—in fact, we may have been guilty on this side of the House as well—of having a hand-to-mouth policy for the fishing industry. What happens in all our fishing debates is that about twice a year we all speak for whatever constituencies we represent and say that the Government should give slightly bigger subsidies to whichever section of the fleet we are most interested in.

My complaint fundamentally is that the Government, who have the resources, unlike ordinary Members of Parliament, should take a much longer-term view of the future of the fishing industry. It may be for all we know—I am not stating this—that this is an industry which fundamentally will decline over the next ten years. I do not say it will, but it might be the case. If so, then the answer to this problem—we ought to know this from our consideration of the cotton textile industry—is not to come to the House once a year demanding bigger subsidies to prevent the decline continuing.

If the industry is in a situation of decline, we ought to ask the Government to take a long-term view of the industry and to say that we must have a policy which includes not only subsidies but possibly import controls and some kind of restriction inside the industry related to the capacity of the industry, and so on. We ought to have some sort of long-term plan for a phased decline in the industry.

My main objection to the Scheme is that it is a sort of ad hoc, once-in-awhile, hand-to-mouth kind of policy. Whether the Government have got the resources to produce a longer-term policy I do not know. I have grave doubts whether the Ministry as now organised has a long-term research and planning section which is capable of taking the kind of view for which I am asking. I am certain that the White Fish Authority is not capable of taking this kind of view. It lacks the resources.

I am making a slightly incoherent but positive plea for increases in particular subsidies which we debate in a somewhat unto-ordinated fashion about twice a year, and for some slightly more coherent long-term view to be taken by the Government.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. E G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I rise to support the Scheme, to ask for some information and to make one or two comments.

It is obvious, from the present state of the near and middle water fleets, that something must be done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has said, the method proposed in this Scheme is probably the way to do it, if it is based on the costing of the boats and placing the subsidy where it is most needed. I am not altogether certain about that, but at least I assume that it is an endeavour on the part of the Government to do this. Nevertheless, we ought to have some explanation of the various amounts in the Scheme.

I was interested in the special plea of my hon. Friend for longer-term planning When I first saw this Scheme planning. I wondered how it fitted into the longer-term recommendations of the Fleck Committee. If I remember aright, the Fleck Committee conclusions were that there could be a slight increase in the market with slightly smaller fleets, and that the industry could be put into a paying position within ten years. The conclusions of the Fleck Committee were accepted by the Government and some of them were embodied in the Measure under which the Scheme is made, and I should like to know whether the Government think that those conclusions are still sound.

Sir J. Duncan

The hon. Member will realise that the Fleck Committee reported long before the ban on the Faroes.

Mr. Willis

I know that the situation in respect of the Faroes has changed, and that a number of other factors have also helped to change the picture in the fishing industry. I am merely asking the Government to give us the true picture. I was rather surprised when no Government spokesman followed my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) to give this information to the House. It is difficult for us to assess what the Scheme does and how it fits into the general plan unless we know what are the estimates of the Government. What do the Government think about the conclusions of the Fleck Committee?

Considerable changes have occurred. The whole question of fishery limits will be discussed as a result of the initiative of the Government. But the Government have waited a long time to do this. I appreciate the reason why they have not wanted to be too hasty, but we are still suffering considerably because of what amounts almost to hesitancy on their part to take any effective action on the question of the limits.

A number of other questions arise, concerning the organisation of the industry, which form part of the recommendations of the Fleck Committee, and the Government should tell us what their views are. Are the conclusions of that Committee—upon which the 1962 Measure was based —still agreed to by the Government? If not, what are the Government's present views?

That leads me to express agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby that we should have someone in the Ministry endeavouring to make up the long-term picture and trying to measure future trends.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the Hon. Member, but I feel that he is getting a little far from the Scheme.

Mr. Willis

I have no wish to stray from the Scheme, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it arises out of the 1962 Act, and the pieces of the Act on which it is based are those which I have been enunciating. We should bear them in mind when we are considering whether the Scheme is good or bad.

In my view, the Scheme is necessary as an immediate remedy for the undoubtedly serious situation which exists in our near and middle water fleets, but we should be told in what way it fits into the wider picture. We should be told bow it varies the assumptions upon which the Government were working last year, and what the Government are doing to change those assumptions in accordance with the changes taking place in fishing throughout the world. The Government should have given us that picture when my hon. Friend the Member for Leith finished his speech.

Mr. Wall

It will be difficult to get a clear picture until we have had the European Fisheries Conference, embracing the questions of limits and markets. Does not the hon. Member give the Government credit for calling that conference?

Mr. Willis

I am prepared to do that. I recognise the importance of the conference, but the Government should tell us something about this, because the Scheme fits into it. We must subsidise these vessels until something is done. The Scheme only goes up to 31st July, 1963—eight weeks hence. This conference will not have finished by then. Therefore, we should know why this applies only to that date. Why is it to be only for the first seven months of the year? We would like an answer to these questions in order to be able to understand how the Scheme fits in to the overall picture of the needs of the fishing industry.

11.10 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brootman-White)

The rather limited purposes of the Order are, I think, clearly understood by the hon. Members for fishing constituencies, including the hon. Members for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) and Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). It is a limited operation. In the nature of the legislation under which we are working, it is bound to be.

The subsidy review of the supplementary payment given in 1962 was based on detailed figures for 1961 and some information, not so concise, for the early months of 1962. Further information which came in during the summer and autumn of last year showed that there were continuing and further difficulties among some of the vessels helped by the earlier supplements and that there were other vessels not covered by the earlier supplementary payments which were also in difficulties.

The Government were approached by the British Trawler Federation and by representatives of the Scottish Trawler Federation asking that an additional supplementary should be given up to the maximum available in the financial year. That had been done under earlier orders, and it was made clear in the debate on those earlier orders that a substantial sum was being withheld to await developments and see if it was necessary to apply that sum and, if it had to be applied, where it could be most effectively used.

Several hon. Members spoke of the application of these admittedly rather complicated figures as between port and port and vessel and vessel of different types. The distributions were based, in this second instalment of the supplementary payments, in the case of England and Wales on figures which were discussed with the Ministry by the British Trawler Federation. In the case of Scotland, the Scottish Trawler Federation discussed the matter with us. It said that although it wanted the supplementary payment up to the maximum available, it would prefer that the actual distribution in Scotland should be undertaken by the Scottish Office in the light of further evidence which it made available.

These figures have been worked out in consultation with the industry. They have been accepted by the industry, which would, of course, have liked more overall. But the actual division between ports and ships has been accepted by the industry as satisfactory in the circumstances.

The hon. Member for Leith and others began to touch on the wider considerations as far as they could within the rules of order. This is a limited operation, however. A limited sum is fixed by the Statute and we have gone to the maximum. The hon. Member for Leith said that the industry had gone through a difficult time and was not in a very healthy position. We would not quarrel with that. He mentioned the middle and inshore fleets and their importance to the Scottish economy, and I would not quarrel with that. But my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth and the hon. Member for Grimsby made it clear that the wider considerations did not apply to this operation. A conference is, we hope, to be held at which underlying problems of the fishing industry will be thrashed out.

The hon. Member for Leith implied that this year we were in a position which would deteriorate. That is not necessarily so. I agree that the basic subsidy is to come up for reduction, but we hope that the position of the industry will not depend on the position of the basic subsidy. Many measures are under consideration by the industry and we hope that they will be considered internationally so that the whole future of the industry can be put on a much more stable and prosperous basis.

Mr. Hoy

If these special subsidy payments exceed the limit before 31st July, will the whole scheme of supplementation come to an end because there is no more money in the fund to meet the need?

Mr. Brooman-White

These payments have been arranged in the most careful consideration with the industry and the Departments to do the maximum without exceeding the ceiling in this period, leaving a slight margin for error. It is retrospective and covers part of the preceding arrangements as well.

The hon. Member for Leith mentioned average losses. His general estimates per vessel were, in the main, correct. He spoke of the average losses of Scottish near and middle water trawlers. The figure he gave was based on a depreciation allowance of 10 per cent., which is a pretty tough depreciation allowance. Taking depreciation as 63 per cent. of actual cost, average losses were £2,500 for near water and £3,350 for middle water trawlers. I accept that those figures are far from satisfactory, but I have given them for the record.

Sir J. Duncan

Does that mean that the topping-up figures will enable the boats to pay their way?

Mr. Brooman-White

The effect on the topping-up figures would depend on the position of the individual companies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) laid a good deal of stress on the conference which we hope will be convened. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth made a rather regional, almost syndicalised speech, for she not only extended her strictures to the Ministry of Agriculture as well as to the effectiveness of the Scottish Office in getting support for the Scottish industry, which is admittedly in difficulties, but joined her voice to others which asked for a fuller debate. We take note of that. She also mentioned the wider considerations which would, of course, come into a fuller debate at the appropriate time.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) was quite right to say that the Scheme does not cover inshore vessels. Coal-fired steam vessels are still covered by the 1962 Scheme.

The hon. Member for Grimsby and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) were concerned with the wider issues, the future of Fleck, and so on. Tonight, we are considering the best way of distributing the total of money available for this purpose among the various categories of vessels and ports which need special assistance. This is accepted by the industry as the best way, and I hope that the House will accept it.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Hoy

By leave of the House, may I say that steam vessels are, of course, covered in the first part of the Scheme and that there is nothing which in any way depreciates the allowance for them. There is a reassessment in the first part of the Scheme. I have not worked it out, but I have worked out the second part and I accept responsibility for the figures—I did not have any assistance from the Government, but I do not think that they are inaccurate.

It would be out of order to refer to the conference about which the Lord Privy Seal told the House, but it was suggested to the right hon. Gentleman a long time ago. I regret that it has taken him so long to appreciate what the suggestion meant when it was made about three years ago.

I cannot go over the whole question of building during the past year. I have said previously, on other occasions, that a considerable amount of over building took place. The responsibility for this must rest with the White Fish Authority, the Herring Industry Board and the Government. One of the great deficiencies of the Fleck Report was the fact that neither Sir Alexander Fleck nor the members of his Committee faced up to the problem of whether we should have a balanced industry. I hope that we shall have a full debate, when this matter can be adequately discussed. We can then consider getting a balance in the industry, for at present it is obviously in a state of imbalance.

The problem to which the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) referred—and we are always delighted to see her with us in our fishing debates—has arisen not because Scotland has more than its share. It may be that Scotland has a little more than Tynemouth, but North Shields has been rather backward in this respect. I hope—and I say this to her warmly—that her constituency will invest a little more in the industry. The assistance is available to everyone. Aberdeen was backward. it was in very much the same condition as North Shields, but it took advantage of the Scheme.

Dame Irene Ward

Since the hon. Member is being so nice, kind and generous towards what I said earlier, I will not disagree with him. If this really is the responsibility of the Government, the White Fish Authority, and so on, they must have known how much money was available. Should they have allowed overbuilding to have continued, without leaving any for us? The Government have for years been encouraging our port to build more vessels; but when we have the people who want to build them we find that there is no money. The Government are refusing help because, they say, "You are over-building in Aberdeen."

Mr. Hoy

The position is not quite that. It is that the trawler owners in her constituency were a little slow in taking action. The hon. Lady must not blame Aberdeen for that. In any case, Aberdeen was not very quick off the mark in this respect. There is not a particularly good record there of which to be proud. When one admits that from this Box it says even less for the trawler owners of Tyneside.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) welcomed the debate. I thought that I should table the Prayer because that was the only method by which we could initiate the debate. Had the Prayer not been tabled there would not have been a debate, so I thought it right, in the circumstances, to table it.

I can inform my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) that the selection is not always between a bit of Scotch beef and a kipper. There is a much wider choice. I would remind hon. Members that the one pure food we can get today is taken from the sea. For this food we do not depend on artificial fertilisers, and so on.

The hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said that the inshore fishermen were not getting anything out of the Scheme. It is true that it does not specifically benefit them, but if there is any industry which is interdependent one section upon another it is the fishing industry. If there is a contraction of the distant water fleet, it means a narrowing of the middle water fleet and it has an impact on the fishing grounds which have previously been regarded as the right of the inshore fleet. This interdependence is found right through the industry. What is important to one section is equally important to another.

Sir J. Duncan

All I said was that they were not in the Scheme.

Mr. Hoy

If they were not in the Scheme, they should not have been discussed.

I was seeking to stress the interdependence of one section of the industry on another. It is true that even with this extra subsidy, the middlewater fleet is not able to repay the grants made to it by the White Fish Authority, and the interest charges. That is what faces us, and it is appalling. I could not agree more than I do with my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), when he said that we have been living on a kind of hand-to-mouth policy. That is not the responsibility of this side of the House, because for many years we have been arguing for an overall policy for the industry so that those in it not only know what the industry requires but what the Government require of it. Even since the publication of the Fleck Report, the industry still does not know what the Government want.

I think that the debate has done some good by proving that even with this supplementary grant the industry remains in an extremely difficult position. It behoves all of us who are interested in it to take the opportunity to think again over what should be done in the immediate future. If the debate has done no more than stimulate that thinking, it has done a very good job for the industry and the country. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.