HC Deb 26 February 1964 vol 690 cc563-87

9.58 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

I beg to move, That the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) (Amendment) Scheme 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

Would it be convenient to the House, Mr. Speaker, if we discussed at the same time the Prayer in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and myself: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 77), dated 22nd January 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th January, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, as far as the Chair is concerned, provided the House consents. The only difficulty that I have in mind, and what the House must remember, is the application of Standing Order No. 100, with regard to the Prayer. Otherwise, so be it.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I am in agreement with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) and I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your co-operation in allowing this to be done.

This Scheme amends the existing grants Scheme approved by Parliament in 1962, and its main purpose is to bring in freezer trawlers. We have also taken the opportunity to increase the grant ceiling for ordinary trawlers, and also to clarify a paragraph in the present Scheme on which some doubt has been cast.

I would remind hon. Members that when the present Scheme of grants was introduced in 1962 it extended the grant provisions to distant water vessels. The Government recognised at that time that the near and middle water fleet had been very largely modernised under grants and loan assistance, but that nothing had been done for the distant water fleet. It was then thought that there was scope for replacing the older conventional vessels on a "scrap-and-build" basis, and that there should be experiments in the meantime to see whether new types of vessels ought to replace the ordinary trawler landing wet fish. A review of the position was promised in 1965.

We are now convinced that the scope for replacement of the ordinary distant water trawler by more modern vessels of the same type is limited. But there is scope for more freezer trawlers. The technical problems involved in freezing at sea have to a large extent been overcome. Enough is now known about freezer trawlers for the Government to encourage a modest number to enter the fleet. There remain a number of problems, particularly in relation to marketing, but those can be settled only if there are more than the present two or three experimental vessels in existence.

However, I must make it clear to the House that this amendment is not the green light for a wholesale replacement of the fleet by freezer trawlers. The agreement with the industry in 1961, copies of which were placed in the Library, envisaged a strict limit in money terms to new building. This is not being changed. All that we are doing is to enable owners to replace some of their older vessels by freezer trawlers instead of by new conventional type trawlers.

Paragraph 2(a) gives a definition of a freezer trawler which can include part-freezer as well as whole-freezer trawlers, and will give the White Fish Authority a reasonable amount of discretion. Grant has been fixed for these vessels at the normal rate of 25 per cent. but with a ceiling of £110,000, as they may cost up to about £450,000. The British Trawlers' Federation agrees with this Amendment to the Scheme though I am sorry to say that the Scottish Trawlers' Federation has not felt able to express its agreement. However, we consider that we must not be behindhand with measures for helping the modernisation of the fishing fleet in times of technical change.

When the current Scheme was introduced in 1962, and for the first time included distant water vessels, the grant ceiling on ordinary trawlers was raised from £37,000 to £50,000 on the 25 per cent. grant payable. This ceiling of £50,000 was a shot in the dark, and it was agreed with the trawler owners in 1961, though it was not incorporated in the Scheme until 1962. We have found that it is not really in line with present building costs and present designs for conventional trawlers, and so we are proposing to increase the ceiling to £80,000.

Lastly, it is the normal practice in all Schemes for Government assistance towards capital projects for an applicant to obtain authority before he starts work. Prior approval by the White Fish Authority was intended under the previous Scheme, but paragraph 10 is not sufficiently explicit. We have there-fore decided that we ought to make quite clear, to the White Fish Authority and to the industry, that the Government intend to give grants only if the White Fish Authority has approved plans, specifications, costs and the form of contract before the trawler owner has committed himself to the purchase. I think that this has been made abundantly clear in sub-paragraph 2(d) of the amending Scheme.

I think that that is all I need to say about this Statutory Instrument, except to repeat that under the previous Schemes are near and middle water sections of the fleet have been modernised and this is an attempt to carry the modernisation still further, particularly in respect of the distant water fleet. But the Scheme is not confined to that section and if smaller freezer trawlers are found to be practicable and desirable, they can be assisted. I am sure that the House will agree and approve this Scheme.

As we have agreed to consider the two Instruments together, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word about the Prayer put down by hon. Members opposite. The purpose of the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme, 1964, is to give special white fish subsidies for vessels of 80 ft. in length or over during the period 1st February to 31st July, 1964. The power to make these grants derives from the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1962, which limits them to £350,000 in any subsidy year and £2½ million in the ten years 1962–72.

The House may wonder why the Scheme runs for only six months. The normal subsidies, that is to say the basic subsidy for the trawler industry and the various inshore and herring subsidies, customarily run for a year at a time. Special payments are in a different category, and it was always envisaged that they could be introduced to meet special difficulties as and when they arise. In 1962 we made an order for special payments running for the whole year, but we amended it early in 1963 so that different payments operated for the second half of the year. In the summer of 1963 the British Trawlers' Federation asked for special payments to run for only six months. They thought that it was better to do this and start at the end of six months with a clean sheet than to make a Scheme running for a year and then amend it—probably only partially—sometime during the course of the year. We thought that this was entirely reasonable. I must emphasise that the purpose of the special payments is to meet special difficulties. Thus it is perfectly sensible to limit them to six months by which time the special difficulties may have passed or been superseded by others.

Perhaps I should mention the likely cost of this. We estimate that the cost of the special payments included in the subsidy year by the House last July would be £160,000. The cost of the present exercise is more difficult to estimate. The number of days at sea depends to some extent on the weather conditions, and the number of vessels on which subsidy will be paid can vary, due to movements between ports and to the introduction of new vessels.

Our best guess at this moment is that the new Scheme will cost something like £170,000, making a total of £330,000, compared with the annual maximum of £350,000 laid down by Parliament in the 1962 Act. There has to be a certain amount of margin as I am sure the House will agree. One has to be prudent in these matters and allow for difficulties of estimating. Taking this into account and the fact that the review of subsidies held in the autumn last year revealed quite an appreciable improvement in fishing, we think that we have been relatively generous in going very near the limit.

Mr. Hoy

There is a complete re-division of these figures and groups within the Schedule. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would separate these, because sections of the fleets will receive cuts under the new proposals and we have a new section referring to vessels of over 160 feet which is not included in the original Scheme so that he is not comparing like with like.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I am not comparing like with like. I am trying to give the total of what the whole Scheme will cost in a full subsidy year. In the second six months between 1st February and end of July we estimate the figure to be approximately £170,000.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to go into detail as to why any particular category of vessel has been given a particular rate of subsidy, I will do so, but I must again make the point that the special allowance is designed to meet special hardship or special difficulties occurring at a particular time.

This bears out what I was saying about the reasons for choosing a six-month period, which was agreed with the British Trawlers' Federation. By taking this period, we can assess more accurately whether special difficulties have arisen and where special need is apparent. That is why, in the Schedule there are changes in the amounts of individual allowances, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Indeed, some of the amounts are now much more substantial.

Certain types of vessels this year, especially in the past six months, have achieved better profits that in the previous period. Many categories of Scottish vessels have done better and I am delighted, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is. I hope that I carry him with me in approving the substantial changes made for the various categories of vessel in the Schedule. I hope also that I have said enough to explain the intention of the Scheme the Opposition are praying against and that both these Schemes, which are so necessary, will receive the approval of the House

10.12 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

Let us get the thing correct from the beginning. We had to put down Prayer against the second Scheme because it was made under the negative procedure. Otherwise, we would not have been able to discuss it. We felt that in the circumstances it would be better to discuss both the Schemes together, since they both link up on the question of the fishing industry.

It would be impossible for me to introduce into the debate what is taking place outside the House, but it would be as well to understand that decisions may be made there that will have a considerable influence on the industry. Perhaps the best that can be said for the six-monthly order is that, as a result of decisions made outside, it may well be that the whole position of the industry will have to be reconsidered.

By the changes in grants for vessels and engines the Government are introducing a new category. I had intended to ask why there was no increase in the total sum that was to be made available. It is important. Whatever is taken out of the global sum for the new class of vessel, there will be less for the remainder. That is the simple reason why the Scottish trawler owners could not bring themselves to agree to the Scheme as it stands. They felt that they might be agreeing to a proposal which would deprive them of assistance when they applied for grants for future trawler building.

They wanted some assurance from the Government that, if the Government were to include a new type of vessel, they would also increase the total sum available for grant. I thought that a sensible view. It was, after all, with great protest and feeling that the Scottish trawler owners agreed to the original Scheme, and the British Trawlers' Federation itself is calling for reconsideration of the Scheme because of the difficulties which have arisen, although, of course, it will keep to its side of the bargain.

I want to ask one or two questions about this change. First, I am interested in the money. We want an assurance from the Government, and I welcome the presence of the Secretary of State for Scotland which is a pleasant change. We shall want to know from him what steps the Government will take to provide money if necessary if a difficulty is reached. There is something in the Scheme which has not appeared in any other Scheme. This is an Amendment to the Statutory Instrument of 1962 and makes provision for freezer trawlers. A freezer trawler is defined as a vessel which is equipped to freeze at sea a reasonable and substantial proportion of its catch. I should like to know what is thought to be "a reasonable proportion", what is "substantial", and what difference there is between these qualifications before a grant can be made. I thought the Minister a little naive about this. He said that the change had been made to make clear that the approval of the White Fish Authority must be obtained before the intending purchaser's contract with the builder or other contractor is entered into. Surely it has always been the case that the approval of the White Fish Authority had to be obtained. No trawler owner could decide off his own bat to build a trawler and then get a subsidy. He first had to get the approval of the Authority.

Since the Scheme was introduced there has been a change by which any owner who gets approval for a grant can have his vessel built in a foreign shipyard. The grant could not be denied to him if he got approval. Is one of the reasons for this change that if fishermen go in for the new type of freezer trawler the temptation to take orders out of the country may be greater than before? The reason the Minister made great play of this part was, I am certain, because he felt there might be changes in the order of contract. I should like an assurance that this does not mean that there will be a greater tendency to order vessels from foreign yards. Otherwise I can see no great reason for the Minister intimating what he regards as a change. I do not think it is very much of a change as authority always had to be obtained from the White Fish Authority.

Another reason may be that there is a belief in the industry itself that perhaps the White Fish Authority much too readily granted approval for trawlers under the old scheme. If the Minister means that it has made up its mind that there is to be a much more compact and efficient scheme with greater supervision of proposals for more allowances for these vessels, I can quite understand that. That certainly would have my approval because we have to make up our minds what type of fishing fleet and what size of fleet we want. If this is a step he is taking to make sure that we get a fleet of the right size and type, I shall be grateful to be told so. I shall be glad if he will give any other reason there may be for this change.

I turn to the proposed new subsidies. When the Minister says that the estimated out-turn would be about £170,000, which is slightly up on last year, he of course meant that a great new section of the industry qualifies for subsidies under these proposals and was not included in the last schedule.

It is pleasant to have the Under-Secretary of State here, because a week or 10 days before his appointment as Under-Secretary of State he wrote an interesting article in the Edinburgh Evening News in which he outlined what he thought ought to be done for the fishing industry. I do not think that I overstate it when I say that he thought that the industry's subsidies compared very unfavourably with those of the farming industry. He said that he could not believe for a moment that the farming industry would have accepted the decision which the fishing industry had had imposed upon it by the Government.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am a little disappointed in that, having looked at these subsidies, I feel that he appears to have had no influence on either the Secretary of State or the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. The House should understand what is happening under the Scheme. The proposal means that there will be substantial cuts in the subsidies for the Scottish fishing fleet. If we take vessels of 450 feet or over in length, which were included in the last Scheme, we find that they were paid at the rate of eight guineas a day whereas under the new proposal the rate is about £4 10s. Od. The Minister will be able to tell me whether I am right. I think I am. The other cuts are of equally substantial character for the Scottish industry.

The money saved by this will go—I am not arguing at the moment but merely showing where it goes—to the larger vessels, the distant water vessels, which are fishing from Grimsby and Hull. Let us understand what the Scheme does: it imposes substantial cuts on the Scottish fishing industry. The Minister will say that this six-monthly agreement has been reached with the British Trawler Owners' Federation but he might have completed the picture by saying that it did not meet with the approval of the Scottish Trawler Owners' Association. They took a pretty dim view of what has been happening.

It is true that the Scottish fishing fleet had an improved year last year; there was a substantial improvement. But that does not prove very much, because the previous year was very bad indeed—so bad that hundreds of thousands of pounds was owed to the White Fish Authority which could not be paid. Merely to do better than the previous year is not to prove that they have done well. I am delighted, as is the industry, that they have had an improved year, but they have not improved to such an extent as to show a profit because, even on the year's out-turn, considerable losses are still being made in the Scottish industry. The Secretary of State would not deny that.

This is the position in which the industry finds itself. While we are not objecting to the Scheme, it is as well that the House should understand what the Scheme contains and that for the Scottish side of the industry it does much less well than the previous Scheme. There can be no justification for it in the Minister saying that they did better than last year, because last year was a very bad year indeed.

I should like to conclude by asking the Government whether they are in a position to state their intentions with respect to the industry. These are only interim measures, and they will not solve the problems of the fishing industry. Let us not pretend that they will. I understand that proposals have been placed before the Government by the new chairman of the White Fish Authority—Brigadier Matthews. Since he has been appointed he has made a great impression on the whole industry and has had considerable influence with every section. The industry is much more united than ever I can remember—every section, catcher, wholesaler and retailer. They have at last come together because they realise that all their livelihoods depend upon the success or failure of this industry.

If Brigadier Matthews has made these proposals on behalf of the Authority, we are entitled to know when they are likely to be presented to Parliament. It would be much better, not only for the Government, but for the country as a whole, if we could find a real solution to the problems confronting the industry.

I therefore hope that before the Schemes are approved tonight the Secretary of State for Scotland will at least be able to reply to the questions I have put to him. The best thing he could do would be to tell us what the Government's views are and when they intend to reply to the proposals made by the chairman of the Authority, so that the House will be able to make up its mind on what steps have to be taken to solve the long-term problems facing the industry.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) thinks that this is unfair to Scotland. I do not know anything about the Scottish problem. All I can say is that this interim measure is certainly accepted by the Fleetwood trawling industry. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is an interim measure. It is to last for only six months. I am certain that the Government will have to review the whole case on subsidies, particularly after we have a decision about whether the limits are to be extended. If the limits are extended, it will make a great deal of difference to certain ports. The trawling industry based on Fleetwood would be very hard hit.

The point I want to raise tonight has not been mentioned in the reviews of extra subsidies by the Government. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is not here, but I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I hope that my right hon. Friend will answer all the English questions very well, because he might he trying to follow in the footsteps of a very illustrious Minister of State for Scotland, who I gather rightly says that he has taken over England. I wish my right hon. Friend the best of luck.

The Chairman of the Docks Board, Sir Arthur Kirby, has said that he thinks that the three ports of Lancashire—Barrow, Garstang and Fleetwood—ought to be shut down. I do not know if the Government endorse this view. I know that there was a later denial, but that did not seem so official as Sir Arthur's statement. If the Government are to close these ports, they will obviously have to give a substantial subsidy to the fishing part of Fleetwood. My right hon. Friend will certainly be well briefed by the Under-Secretary on the fact that Fleetwood is divided into two parts. If the other part of the port is closed down, the Government will have to subsidise the fishing port to a great degree. I do not see why they want to close down their ports, because it seems to me that this is one of the things run by the Government which makes a lot of money. I gather that it made £4½ million last year. If they close down the port of Fleetwood, leaving only the fishing part, a big subsidy will be needed so that it can continue as a trawling port.

I mention this because all the West Coast ports seem to be being closed down more and more. If this process continues, I believe that the country will get into great difficulties, because, if we have the disaster of another war, all the East Coast people will have to come on to the West Coast.

I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to give a complete denial and say either that the Chairman of the Docks Board was misrepresented or that he said the wrong thing. If this can be done, it will give great relief to those connected with these three ports, because there is naturally great uncertainty. If anything went wrong, I am sure that the Government would try to give some subsidy so that the port could carry on. It is a dangerous thing that people who are appointed by the Government can make such rash statements as that. Perhaps it will be all right if we can have a good denial. This Measure is to last for six months. In my view, what the Government are giving for the trawlers is all right, even though I chink that we shall have to examine it very carefully when the Government make their future plans.

I am very much in agreement with the hon. Member for Leith in saying that we really must try to have a long-term policy. This short-term policy puts everyone in a very difficult position, and I do not think there is any disagreement in a party political sense on this subject. The fishing industry would prosper very much indeed if we could get an agreed policy for a certain number of years.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) and the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) I should like to give a moderate welcome to these two Schemes simply as interim measures. I do not think that one can object in principle to them, although one can object, as my hon. Friend did, on behalf of a particular part of the industry which comes off relatively worse compared with the others. As for the first Scheme, one certainly cannot object to grants being given to freezers, although I was slightly disturbed when the Minister referred to only a modest number of freezer trawlers. I am certain that in the long term it would be more than a modest number of freezer trawlers which ought to be eligible for grants like this.

Similarly, on the second Scheme—the payments out of the reserve fund, as it were, the special subsidy—one cannot object in principle to that, although one may or may not object to the regional distribution of the additional subsidy. Nor, personally, would I object to the notion that the subsidy should be for six months. The main argument for this is one which my hon. Friend has already put forward from our Front Bench, that anything lasting more than six months is of no use to anybody because there are so many uncertainties hanging over the industry that it is impossible to take a long-term view, so that a Scheme like this has to be looked on as only a short-term interim measure.

The reason why we cannot take a long-term view is that there are simply too many total uncertainties hanging over the industry, and till those uncertainties are resolved the industry will be a state of suspense, as, in effect, it is today. To mention one or two of the uncertainties, first of all, obviously, as my hon. Friend has already hinted, there is the uncertainty about the results of the fisheries conference or indeed whether there will be any results at all so far as the critical countries are concerned—Iceland, Norway and Denmark. We in Grimsby are much more concerned that the Faroes limits are to be extended on 12th March than we are reassured by anything which is in either of the Schemes before us tonight.

The second uncertainty which might put a different complexion on this debate is what Government policy will eventually be about imports. I am not expressing any view about that tonight, but we in Grimsby recently suffered very much from the avalanche of Dutch plaice which drove prices down to catastrophically low levels.

The third uncertainty hanging over the industry is about the minimum price structure, which is now being investigated by the Restrictive Practices Court. It is rather ironic that the minimum price agreement in this country is under heavy suspicion whereas my information is that in Holland the Government are just about to agree to price regulation for certain types of fish, including plaice.

The next uncertainty is that it is an open secret, and more than an open secret, of course, to the Government, that the Chairman of the White Fish Authority has put forward certain proposals said to be of a quite radical nature, and till we know what the proposals are and what the Government's attitude to those proposals is to be the industry cannot possibly plan in any long-term sense, nor can we as Members of Parliament take any long-term view about the future.

The last uncertainty is a major one, about Government policy. We still do not know whether we are in what might be called the "Fleck period" when the industry is supposed to be viable within 10 years, or whether we are moving into a post-Fleck period where we take a much more pessimistic view about viability.

While all these uncertainties are hanging over the industry, although we can give a modest and lukewarm welcome to interim measures like this, it is impossible for us to take a further view on whether this type of measure will or will not meet the long-term problems facing the industry. As the hon. Member for North Fylde rightly said, in the end the industry will need not simply a succession of ad hoc, interim, short-run measures, but a much more coherent, thought-out, long-term and comprehensive plan covering every aspect of the industry.

Such a plan for the industry need not shock a good, ideologically Tory Government. We can always take the example set by the United States of America where the Secretary of the Interior has recently produced "Operation Trident"—a 10-year 13-point plan for the American fishing industry, an industry whose problems are very like those of the British industry. It is a plan which is both short-term and long-term. It has two appealling divisions in it—an "Action Now" programme for the short term, and a "Long Haul" programme for the long term. "Operation Trident" covers tariffs, import policy, grants, loans, subsidies and the rest; and we badly need something similar for our own industry. It is quite clear by now that this succession of short-run orders dealing ad hoc with particular critical situations cannot be the answer to the industry's problems, and we must take a much longer-term view.

It would be wrong of any of us in this debate to give the impression that everything about the industry at the moment is black. It is not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leith and the Minister said, results this year in several sections of the industry show a marked improvement on the results of previous years, and in my own constituency a number of firms are appreciably better off and in a much healthier situation. For this, everybody must be very grateful.

But, as my hon. Friend said, this is a short-run improvement. It is an improvement only as compared with a very black situation in the previous years, and, with all these uncertainties hanging over the industry, we will not be able to take a favourable long-run view until the Government, instead of coming out with interim measures, produce a systematic and comprehensive view of the future of the industry as a whole.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

It is a little unrealistic to give these two Schemes a lukewarm welcome. I welcome them heartily in the context of what other hon. Members have said, namely that we hope they will be the last Schemes that we shall have to debate at short notice. Next time we have such a debate I trust that we shall be in a position to have a firm long-term policy from the Government. No one blames the Government for the present situation. The reason we cannot have a long-term policy is due to international difficulties which are beyond the control of any Government of this country.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

With reference to my hon. Friend's observation about short notice, may I ask him how long he has known that these Schemes were to appear? I have known about them, and I have noticed that the digs that I have made at the Government about the matter have annoyed them.

Mr. Wall

I think I have known for about a week.

Dame Irene Ward

I have known for months.

Mr. Hoy

The hon. Gentleman has only been back a week.

Mr. Wall

The short notice that I was referring to related not to the Schemes themselves but to the fact that we cannot have a proper debate on the fishing industry until we reach a settlement at the conference which is proceeding in another part of this City.

I should like to make two points on the Scheme relating to grants for fishing vessels and engines. Paragraph 2(a) states: … 'freezing trawler' means a fishing vessel so equipped that in the opinion of the Authority a reasonable and substantial proportion of its catch of white fish may be frozen at sea and kept frozen until landed. The grant for that type of trawler is 25 per cent. of the cost or £80,000 if a conventional trawler, and 25 per cent. of the cost or £110,000 if it is a freezer trawler. Is £110,000 enough? Is my hon. Friend thinking of a conventional trawler which fulfils this definition by the installation of freezing machinery, or are the Government thinking of the new type of stern-fishing trawler or vessels like the "Lord Nelson" or "Junella", because the latter are altogether different types of fishing vessel?

It must be remembered that the traditional type of trawler costs over £250,000 whereas the "Junella" and similar ships cost more than £1 million. I point this out, because I am wondering whether the figure of £110,000 is wholly realistic considering the different types of vessel for which we are catering. It must also be remembered that the future of this section of the fishing industry is wrapped up in this new type of ship; and this raises the whole question of the greater the size the greater the cost and the necessity, now more than ever, of modernising the docks, many of which are barely able to cater for this larger type of vessel.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) referred to the degree of approval required by the White Fish Authority; in other words, the increased degree of authority which the White Fish Authority is given over the provision of grants. Some people may argue that this is encouraging bureaucracy, although I do not believe that anybody will voice that argument since the advent of the new Chairman of the Authority. I join the hon. Member for Leith in welcoming him and applauding his drive and the steps he has taken to lead the industry as a single unit. I like to hope that the work begun by the fisheries committees of the two major political parties last year has contributed to this result, and that this work will continue. I also echo the words of the hon. Member for Leith in hoping that the Government will tell us more about the report which the Chairman of the Authority has submitted and which will obviously have a great bearing on the future of the industry.

I must admit that the impression I got from reading the second Scheme we are discussing was different from the impression gathered by the hon Member for Leith. I thought that the operating subsidies were slightly biased in favour of Scotland. I will not quote statistics because, for one thing, I have not brought with me the past operating figures. However, I have the impression that Scotland is in a slightly more favourable position, and that is as it should be because the industry there is probably in a worse position than the industry in England. Vessels using Scottish ports will be particularly handicapped when the Faroes limits are extended next month.

I remind the House that the reason for these subsidies, and for the distant water vessels being included as subsidised vessels, is largely because of this continual extension of traditional fishing limits by foreign countries. I will not go into detail on this aspect of the problem, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will stand firm at the Conference that is now taking place, and will make it clear that anyone who signs the proposed Convention will enjoy the full benefits, while anyone who does not sign will not enjoy any of the benefits. That is an important factor to bring home to all the countries concerned.

I hope that before long hon. Members will be able to have a full-scale debate on fishing matters. I hope that we will be told that when the present session of fisheries conferences is over and when we can once again look ahead to some degree of stability in regard to limits and, possibly markets, a full day will be made available for a debate on the fishing industry as a whole.

10.44 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

It would be ungracious, although I had not intended to intervene in the debate tonight, if I did not say how grateful I was to find that we have at least managed to get this grant for the freezer trawlers. However, I was rather surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) indicate that he did not really know what was going on. I have been running from one Government Department to another on this issue for about the last 12 months.

Mr. Wall

I thought that my hon. Friend was asking me when I first saw the Schemes which, I think, were available in the Vote Office about a week ago. I must have misunderstood my hon. Friend's question.

Dame Irene Ward

I was not referring to the Schemes, but to the subject matter of them. It was a question of getting the Government to agree to the provision of grants for the freezer trawlers. I frequently find myself walking through a labyrinth of Government Departments trying to play one against the other in the hope of getting something as a result. I must have done that for at least a year and then at last—because I find it a useful way of proceeding—I put down a Question to ask when these Schemes would be forthcoming. Fortunately, it was announced that they would be debated tonight before the Minister had to answer my Question. This is a very old ruse employed by Government Departments and I enjoy it.

I am interested to discover that the Scottish Trawlers' Federation has still not found it acceptable that the general grant should be given to freezer trawlers. It is not often that a Sassenach has to take on the Secretary of State for Scotland, but by process of moving from one Government Department to another I suddenly found that the way was being blocked by the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is difficult to find out when the right hon. Gentleman finally withdrew his objection to the proposal, but I understand that he has done so. I therefore only want to say to him that, charming as he is, I have made a note that his action has already held up the development of freezer trawlers in the port of North Shields.

I do not want to start a war between the Sassenachs and the Scots, even though I live on one side of the Border and my right hon. Friend lives on the other. I do not take exception to his action, because naturally a Secretary of State for Scotland would wish to support Scottish trawler operators, but it is worth putting on record that, because he had to go to the defence of that Federation, it is very irritating, when we at last manage to get the sons of the old trawler families to resume trade and develop trawlers for North Shields, to find the Secretary of State for Scotland holding up that development in the port.

I have been trying to find out the truth about this, but at last we have the Scheme and I never look a gift horse in the mouth. I forgive my right hon. Friend when I realise that he had to withdraw his objection before he managed to get his obstinate Scots to withdraw theirs. I hope that North Shields will now have many freezer trawlers. It is perfectly obvious that my right hon. Friend objected to the grant because the port of Aberdeen had modernised all its fleet and it did not want to see modernisation in North Shields which might interfere with activities in Aberdeen. I am glad to see that the Sassenachs have at last triumphed.

10.49 p.m.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I apologise for not being in my place when my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spoke. I intervene because there is in my constituency a boatyard which might be affected by the grants to be made for fishing vessels and engines. The grant of 30 per cent. of the cost, or of £13,000, whichever may be the less, is a fairly reasonable figure if one takes £39,000 as the possible maximum cost of a vessel of under 80 ft. length. It ought to be very satisfactory to the firm in my constituency which builds this type of boat. It has a boat building now, but it did not have a boat for some months before, and the lack of boat building was due to the ban on grant imposed by the White Fish Authority. So I am grateful for the Scheme.

As regards the other Scheme, I see that for beats of 110 ft. in length North Shields is to get £9 a day and Aberdeen is to get only £2 10s. a day. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) made some remarks about the Secretary of State for Scotland—

Dame Irene Ward

Very charming remarks.

Sir J. Duncan

I think that my hon. Friend might very well be a little quieter about it in view of the fact that North Shields is to get far more per day for vessels fishing from there than Aberdeen is to get for its vessels.

Having regard to the argument which has gone on between the two sides of the House, I am not quite sure whether Scotland is better off or not. However, in the absence of Members representing the interests of Aberdeen, one of whom, of course, cannot take part in this debate because she is a Minister, I feel that I should call the attention of the House and of my right hon. Friend to the particular difficulties which Aberdeen is having. Most of the port's boats fish the Faroes, and, even with modern vessels, one cannot fish very much further. I do not think that we have been very successful yet in finding other fishing grounds. Aberdeen has a particular difficulty in this respect, in view of the size of its boats, even though they are modernised, because of the Faroes fishing. I hope, therefore, that, when the final arrangements are made, if they ever are made, full sympathy will be given to the special problems of Aberdeen, the size of its boats and the difficulties affecting its fishing ground.

10.52 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Noble)

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak about fish from the Dispatch Box. I can remember talking in the old days about fish from somewhere at the back of the Chamber, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) for the welcome which he gave to me. I do not think that I can help him very much with an exact definition of what is a "reasonable and substantial" part of the catch, but the intention of the words was quite simply to enable grants to be made in respect of trawlers which were more in the "Lord Nelson" class than in the "Junella" class, that is, trawlers which were part freezer trawlers and part ordinary ones, not entirely freezer trawlers. I think that we can be pretty confident that the White Fish Authority will use discretion on this kind of decision.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the changes in the contract were not in any sense brought in in order to avoid building in foreign yards. I have the two forms of wording here. In the old Scheme, the words were: shall be subject to the approval of the Authority". This approval could be given, or might be withheld, after a boat had actually been ordered and building started. As we have found in other spheres, particularly in agricultural subsidies and grants, this tends to lead to trouble. A boat may be ordered, the builder may have started to build, and then, for some reason, it is not approved.

We have changed the wording here to: approved by the Authority before the contract is entered into and this is done solely to avoid trouble and muddles due, perhaps, to the start of building before formal approval is given.

I accept the point made by several hon. Members, the hon. Member for Leith, the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley), about the need to develop a long-term policy for fishing. I accept the statement that this subsidy Scheme is of a temporary nature. It is for six months. But I think that the hon. Member for Grimsby was a little less than fair when he encouraged the Government to follow the American example and produce a long-term plan. In fact, the Americans have followed our example. We have had the Fleck Com- mittee's Report, which was a long-term plan, and the Americans, to that extent at least, are following us.

I cannot give the House details of the Government's intentions on the new ideas which have been put forward by Mr. Matthews, the Chairman of the White Fish Authority. They will come before the House in due course. I accept willingly the compliments which have been paid to Mr. Matthews from both sides of the House. He has brought a great deal of new thinking and drive to the whole industry, as the hon. Member for Leith said, not only the fishing part, but marketing also.

Many of Mr. Matthews' ideas are fairly revolutionary, and they need, as he himself admits, a good deal of thinking out. I believe that this can be done reasonably quickly and that the long-term plan which was laid down by the Fleck Committee need not be fundamentally changed. I believe that the objective of viability in 10 years is still possible, but it is necessary to look, perhaps more closely than in the circumstances in which Dr. Fleck made his Report, at some features of our industry.

The hon. Member for Leith referred to my hon. Friend and his article on fishing before he became Under-Secretary of State. My hon. Friend always writes interesting articles on all subjects, whether fishing or farming. I am certain that it was an excellent article, although I do not recall seeing it. No doubt, after this debate is over, I will have a full account of it and, probably, agree with every word of it.

The hon. Member for Leith suggested that there had been substantial cuts for Scotland, particularly in big trawlers. I do not think that he was trying to mislead the House in any way, but there is only one vessel in this class in Aberdeen. It is true, as has been said from this side of the House, and as was said by the hon. Member for Grimsby on behalf of the trawlers from his port, that in the last few months we have had a considerable improvement in fishing by some of these vessels.

Mr. Hoy

I quoted the top class because that was the highest trade. Even if the r ight hon. Gentleman refers to any other class, he will see that in every class there are substantial decreases in subsidy for Scottish vessels.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Member should also make it clear—and he will not mind my doing so—that these are extra subsidies. The basic subsidies which were provided at the beginning of the year remain, and these others are extras. They are intended to give help where it is needed. If, in this case, some vessels of the distant water fleet, which has been doing comparatively worse in the last few months, get more, this is exactly the purpose for which the subsidiary payments are intended.

It is true, as the hon. Member for Leith said, that there have been substantial losses in the Scottish industry, but everybody who has listened to any discussions on these problems realises that it is difficult to judge what will happen to the industry over one year or even a group of years. Figures which I have obtained for the last five or six years show that the variation has been considerable. 1958 and 1959 were good years, 1960 was reasonably good, 1961 was not very good, 1962 was definitely rather bad and 1963 is the best year since 1960, although, nevertheless, showing a slight loss. We get these variations in fishing and, indeed, in many other industries. It is for this reason that extra subsidies of this sort can be most useful.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde was worried about the position of Fleetwood. I discovered from my colleagues in England—I would not dare make a statement about North Fylde without checking my facts—that my right hon. Friend had appointed a Committee of Inquiry on all the major fishing ports. It has reported on Fleetwood, and I am told that there is no suggestion at all that the port should be closed. I am not aware of the particular statement made by the Chairman of the Docks Board, but I will make inquiries about it to discover whether there is any particular point in it. I found it rather pleasant to hear my hon. Friend asking for a subsidy for a port.

Mr. Stanley

I do not think my right hon. Friend quite understood what I said. I said that the suggestion was that only part of it was to be closed and that it was to be only a fishing port, and I said that it would have to be subsidised in order to keep the port open just for fishing. That is the whole point. I do not think that the Chairman of the Docks Board has authority to shut the fishing side of the port.

Mr. Noble

I might not have expressed it quite correctly, but I meant to indicate that there is no intention to close the fishing side of the port. I am unaware of the statement made by the Chairman of the Docks Board, but I will look into it and let my hon. Friend know.

The hon. Member for Grimsby felt that perhaps there was too modest a number of freezer trawlers indicated by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. We should be a little careful about this because the indications are, at least in some other parts of the fishing industry, that whenever a new vessel is conceived, it immediately does very well. This may be partly due to the fact that the new type of vessel gets the best sort of skipper. If we increased the numbers too quickly without studying the results, perhaps we should overdo the building of these freezer trawlers, which are fairly expensive vessels.

The hon. Member referred to uncertainties. I find it difficult in a debate of this sort to answer him very well or fully. Clearly, it is not appropriate to talk about the conference taking place in another part of London at the moment. As I have said, the proposals for re-organisation by the White Fish Authority which the Chairman has sent to my right hon. Friend are being studied. The hon. Member asked whether the Fleck period was still a possibility or whether we were thinking of having to postpone it because a more pessimistic view was being taken at the moment. The advice of Mr. Matthews on this is that, if we can improve certain aspects of the fishing industry, there is no reason whatever why something like the 10 years should be an unrealistic period.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) very kindly gave the first Scheme, particularly, a warm welcome. He asked whether £110,000 was enough as a ceiling. I think he overestimated a little the cost of the modern freezer trawler. He quoted £1 million for the "Junella". The cost of a freezer trawler today may be of the order £400,000 to £450,000 and the grant represents about 25 per cent. of that figure. He detected a bias in favour of Scotland. This is something which a Secre- tary of State for Scotland could not possibly admit. But I was grateful to him for pointing out the particular difficulties which face our trawlers because of the Faroes limits. I hope that when the conference is over there will be time for a debate on the fishing industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) made some devastating revelations about her methods of getting things done by playing off one Government Department against another. She seemed at the end to blame the Secretary of State for Scotland for some delay in possible shipbuilding orders for North Shields. As she knows, when she approached me some time ago about this problem of freezer trawlers I said that I was prepared to swap them for the Q4 any day that she would sign the paper.

Dame Irene Ward

I cannot allow that to pass. We are going to have the Q4 as well as the new freezer trawlers.

Mr. Noble

This will have to be settled by history. I thought that my hon. Friend would be grateful for my help over this, and not accuse me of holding, up anything in her constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) welcomed the increased subsidies, because he thought they would help boatbuilding. I hope they will. It was also kind of him to mention the particular problems of Aberdeen, realising that my hon. Friend tale Under-Secretary could not make her usual speech on this occasion. I hope that the House will welcome the Schemes.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) (Amendment) Scheme 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member desire to move the Prayer?

Mr. Hoy

indicated dissent

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