§ 11.14 a.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
I beg to move,That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1965, dated 5th July, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would consult the wishes of the House about how it would like the Schemes and Orders to be considered.
§ Mr. Peart
It would be convenient, Mr. Speaker, if we were to discuss at the same time the three succeeding Motions:That the Herring Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1965, dated 5th July, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.That the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (Aggregate Amount of Grants) Order, 1965, dated 5th July, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.That the White Fish and Herring Industries (Aggregate Amount of Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Order, 1965, dated 5th July, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.This has been the usual practice.
§ Mr. Peart
This debate has always been a traditional occasion to discuss fishing. We generally cover many problems affecting the industry and, naturally, hon. Members on both sides will today wish to examine critically and constructively some of the problems which affect this important industry.
This is the first occasion on which it has been my privilege to open our annual fisheries debate. I have listened to and participated in debates on fishing every year for the last 20 years—that seems a long time—and it is a privilege to open the debate this morning.
I know that hon. Members, on both sides, welcome this annual opportunity, which consideration of these Orders and Schemes affords, to review past progress and to discuss the future. The fishing industry may not be large compared with some of our other industries, but it plays an important part in our national 912 economy. I was glad to see that the problems of the White Fish Authority were raised in the debate yesterday. I wish that the hon. Member who raised the matter had been participating today, because I wish to deal with an aspect of the problem. Nevertheless, I am glad that it featured in yesterday's major debate.
As I have said, although the industry may not be large in comparison with other industries, it plays an essential and important part in our national economy. I am, therefore, proud to have in my constituency a small fishing port. I know that many other hon. Members who are here today represent much larger ports—for example, those who represent the Hull constituencies—and, therefore, have a deep interest in the future of the industry.
I hope that all hon. Members will join me in recognising the qualities of our fishermen. We are all proud of the achievements of the industry. We are also sympathetic with its difficulties as an industry so largely dependent on nature's bounty. It is, therefore, right this morning that Parliament should give time to studying the welfare of the industry. We all have its interests at heart and it is our policy to see it thrive.
I am glad to report to the House a continued improvement in the fortunes of the industry. The total British catch has increased for three years running, and increased in value from £51 million in 1963 to a record level last year of £54 million. In the first five months of 1965 the upward trend has been maintained with increases of over ½ million cwt. in landings and over £1 million in value over the same period last year. This is considerable progress, and we pay tribute to the industry.
It is against this background that we have settled the rates of subsidy for the coming year starting on 1st August. The trawler fleet improved its operating surplus by over 30 per cent. and was able to cover its depreciation. As hon. Members know, the 1962 Act lays it down that trawler subsidies must be reduced annually by between 7½ per cent. and 12½ per cent. of the original rates fixed in 1962. For the first two years the reduction was 7½ per cent., so there is some leeway to make up. This year we consider that a reduction of 10 per cent. can be borne out of the improved returns.
913 The difference between 7½ per cent. and 12½ per cent. is, in fact, very small—only £120,000 on a total of over £2 million. We believe that this room for variation is not worth the uncertainty to which it gives rise. We have decided that a similar reduction of 10 per cent. should be made in each of the next two years. This will enable the trawler owners to plan ahead with greater confidence and will spare them a great deal of costly and time-consuming discussion. The rate of subsidy reduction in later years will be reviewed when the time comes. It will then be the aim to secure larger reductions of up to 12½ per cent. to balance the two reductions of 7½ per cent. made in the first two years.
I will now deal with subsidies affecting trawlers and special rates. Provision is made for special subsidies to certain groups of vessels which have run into difficulties of a temporary nature. Obviously, these difficulties are out of their immediate control—for example, unusually poor fishing on their normal grounds. Assistance is not intended for inherently unprofitable vessels and cannot continue to be paid indefinitely to persistent losers. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will accept this. We shall, therefore, look at the next review for prospects of recovery for these vessels. I think that is right and sensible.
Hon. Members will see from Part III of Schedule 1 to the Scheme details of the vessels concerned. The total expenditure is estimated at £32,000 for the six months for which the subsidies are payable. In 1962 and 1963 the maximum of £350,000 was paid out annually. So there is evidence here, not only of better returns from fishing, but also of the elimination of older and less efficient vessels from the fleet. It is the desire of all hon. Members and of the Government to see that the fleet becomes modernised.
I will now deal with subsidies affecting the inshore fleet, in which there are over 2,000 vessels receiving subsidies. The inshore subsidies are not subject to any automatic reduction but are reviewed annually. The previous Government, however, laid down the objective of reducing the level of assistance as quickly as circumstances would permit. The last two years have seen a steady improvement in the fortunes of this section of the fleet. Receipts increased in 1964 by 20 per cent. over 1963. Landings increased 914 in value by £1.3 million. In these circumstances we have felt justified in reducing the inshore subsidies broadly by 10 per cent. This is the same figure as for the trawler fleet. It will leave a fair share of the improved profits in the hands of the fishermen. If it had not been possible to make a reduction this year, some of the larger inshore vessels would have received more than the smaller trawlers.
Lastly a word about subsidies to the herring catchers. The bulk of the herring is caught by Scottish fishermen, most of whom also catch white fish outside the herring season. Here again there was an overall improvement in results in 1963 and again in 1964, sufficient to cover the reduction of broadly 10 per cent. in the rates of subsidy which has been made.
Before leaving the subsidies, I should refer briefly to the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (Aggregate Amount of Grant) Order. This increases the total sum of money available for subsidies from £39.5 to £43 million. All sections of the industry—including the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board—were fully consulted before the new subsidy rates were decided. Reductions in subsidy are never as welcome as improvements in profits. But it is fair to say that the new rates have been generally accepted. The reductions are well covered by the improvement in profitability that has taken place, and are fully in accordance with the policy that has been supported by both sides of the House since 1961. Hon. Members will remember speeches made from both sides of the House confirming this principle.
I turn now from subsidies to other developments in policy for the fishing industry. Hon. Members will have seen the Report of the White Fish Authority which contains a very valuable review of the past year. I am sure I can speak for the industry as well as the Government when I acknowledge our debt to the Chairman, Mr. Roy Matthews—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I am glad that hon. Members approve what I say about the able and energetic leadership he has continued to provide.
One of Mr. Matthews' proposals was for a scheme of assistance for improvements to fishing vessels. This was approved by the House this time last 915 year. It fell to the present Government to implement the scheme and provide the funds, and this we have done. In accordance with the views expressed by the House last year, we have thought it right in the early stages to limit the scheme to certain established types of improvement aimed at improving efficiency. This includes re-engining and the improvement of propulsion, improvements to winches and the fitting of shelter decks, all of which improve catching efficiency; and improvements to fish holds and equipment for boxing fish at sea, which improve the handling of fish. Proposals must also offer a clear prospect of a good economic return on the investment. It is a little early yet to assess the response to the scheme, but in the three months 18 eligible applications have been received; six have been approved and two rejected and the rest are being examined by the Authority. These applications have been received in three months.
Another of Mr. Matthews' proposals was for a programme of economic research in fishery matters. The Authority has now established an economics unit which we shall assist on a £ for £ basis in the same way as the industrial development unit. Far too little is known about the economic factors in the catching and distribution of fish. The studies to be undertaken will take time, but I believe they will throw valuable light on future policy.
In the past year the Authority has also tendered advice to the Government on the future policy for grants and loans for fishing vessels. The House will recall that the policy hitherto has been one of limited assistance for the replacement of old vessels without increasing the catching capacity of the fleet. My predecessor announced the intention to review this policy. I am sure that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will confirm this. Such a review has in fact been undertaken.
The near and middle water fleet is now relatively modern. The distant water fleet for which assistance has been available only in the last three years, is appreciably older, but a considerable number of freezer trawlers is now building and they will be joining the fleet in the next 12 months or so. These vessels offer a bright promise for the future of our distant water fleet.
916 The yields on many of the traditional grounds fished by our conventional distant water trawlers have declined seriously. Better yields can be obtained in the more distant grounds of the North-West Atlantic; the freezer trawler has the range to reach these grounds and the equipment to bring back her catch in prime condition. The industry is to be congratulated on its enterprise in investing in these vessels. The difficulty is to judge what should be the size and composition of the trawler fleet in the future. This is not an easy decision which we have to consider. The prospect of increasing international fishing effort and declining yields is a gloomy one. Far-reaching measures of conservation on an international scale are required to meet the situation.
I have listened to every debate in this House on these matters in recent years and quite rightly I have heard every year some hon. Member stressing the need for conservation. This is right. Conservation is vital. The British have always given full support at international conferences on this matter. We shall continue to work for improved measures of conservation through the international commissions, which alone can take effective measures. Much as we may desire to take action ourselves, in the end there must be international agreement. We shall continue to press for this. I do not think that anyone is now in doubt as to the gravity of the situation or of our determination to deal with it.
We have concluded that policy in the longer term must depend partly on developments and partly on a further study of the economic prospects. This includes the likely trend of yields on the fishing grounds. The fisheries laboratories have recently published some important findings, but more work needs to be done on the implications for investment policy and design of vessels to make the best use of the available fishing in economic terms.
Then, as hon. Members know only too well, there are other factors in relation to processing, marketing and distribution. The research to be undertaken by the White Fish Authority will, I hope, help to answer these questions. In the short term, we propose to continue the present policy of assistance by way of grants and loans for the limited replacement of older vessels in the fleet. We 917 propose to give approvals for grants for the rest of this year and next totalling £1.6 million. This will not only enable us to maintain progress with conventional and inshore vessels, but will also allow for some further approvals for freezer trawlers. I have said that many of these vessels are still building. What is now proposed is to give further approvals while the initial programme is working itself out. We shall then have more experience of this type of vessel and we shall have made progress with our review of the future prospects. That will be the time to consider the long-term policy. I think that this is the right way to approach it. This is the only realistic way to approach it.
I want to say just a few words about minimum prices, which were mentioned yesterday in another major debate, and the question of a statutory scheme under existing legislation. I know that there are arguments about this, even within the industry itself. The Authority has told us what are its views on minimum prices, and there have been exploratory discussions with us. There are aspects that need further clarification and indeed only yesterday I was discussing the question with Mr. Matthews. I recognise the importance the Authority, and indeed the industry, speaking generally, attach to the minimum price question and I hope that it will not be too long before I can consider the matter further. But I am afraid that I can say no more today.
To sum up, the industry has had a good year. I believe that the progress I have been able to report and the proposals I have put forward should commend themselves as a sound basis for the still better future we would all wish to see. I have freely admitted that there are unresolved questions of great importance and, I may add, of the greatest difficulty. We are doing and will continue to do our best to resolve them. The country is well served by the progressive spirit of the men who engage in this arduous and uncertain industry, and I cannot end on a happier note than by paying tribute to them.
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
I must start my speech by declaring three interests. The first is having a constituency interest, and this perhaps is the more important. The second is that for 918 the last few months I have been a director of one of the big companies which deals, not only with the catching of fish, but with the processing of fish, even right down to the cooking of fish, and I now have a great deal more knowledge of this subject than I had before. Lastly, I suspect that if an analysis was made of hon. Members on both sides I would probably come out top for the quantity of fish that I eat in our admirable eating places within these walls.
§ Mr. Noble
I am sorry to have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I eat salmon only at home, where it is rather better. Therefore, I have a genuine interest, not only in the viability of the industry, but in the cost and quality of the fish it produces.
As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the industry has in the past played, and must in the future continue to play, a very important part in the national economy. Fish is, whether all hon. Members like it as much as I do or not, a most important part of our food supply, and at a time when we are seeing considerable difficulty in obtaining protein foods in the world as a whole fish will clearly increase in importance as food for the world and not decrease. This can be seen clearly from the tremendous efforts which have been made abroad, perhaps particularly by the Russians and the Poles, but almost equally by the Spanish, the Japanese and others, to compete for what does not at the moment appear to be an increasing amount of fish in the sea.
The House must bear in mind the importance of the catching of fish by our own fleets as an import saving operation. We have had brought continuously to our notice in the last weeks and months the acute problem of the balance of payments. Though it is true that the total value, and in some cases the total catch, of our fish has risen, it is also true that the total amount imported has risen. I have not got the total figures, but this must result in quite a large extra amount of imports. In the white fish industry alone, from the figures that I have been able to extract from its report, it was £24 million. There must obviously be a great deal 919 more fish of one sort or another imported, apart from white fish.
As the House knows only too well, fishing is a cyclical industry, sometimes a highly cyclical industry. Therefore, the results only partly depend on the skill of the men and the excellence of their equipment. It is not in the fishermen's power to command success, however much they may deserve it. It is a tough life and the importance of the skippers and crews to the industry is very great indeed.
The right hon. Gentleman said, rightly, that the industry this year has had a better result than it had the year before, which, in turn, was a little better than the year before that. It is important for the House to realise that even at this level the industry, with the enormous amount of money that it ought to spend, and in many cases is spending, on modern equipment, is certainly not returning as good a profit from which extra improvements can be made as many other industries. The right hon. Gentleman spoke very true words when he said that the industry's receipts were up by 30 per cent. and that it had been able to cover its depreciation. We know that in many past years the industry was not able to cover its depreciation. This is an improvement, but not a sign of great prosperity.
I willingly join the right hon. Gentleman in the tribute he paid to Mr. Roy Matthews and also to Sir John Carmichael, who was Chairman of the Herring Industry Board at the time that the reports were produced. Apart from the very excellent work that these two gentlemen have done for the industry, the House would particularly like to congratulate both of them and perhaps especially, if I may be selective, Mr. Roy Matthews, for the excellence of the annual reports, the way they are set out, and the enormous quantity of information that is available.
It is interesting to study in these Reports the distribution of the catch in different parts of the country. As hon. Members know, England produces in the distant water fleet 97 per cent. of the catch both in weight and value. In the near and middle water fleets the Scottish percentage is 50 per cent. by weight but only 38 per cent. by value. I shall 920 return to this point in a moment. The real difference is shown with the inshore fleet. In that case 70 per cent. by weight and 71 per cent. by value is caught in Scotland. It is therefore easy to see that the identity of interest within the fishing industry is not always as perfectly complete as we should like it to be.
To return to the figures for the near and middle waters, the fact that the Scottish fleet catches 50 per cent. of the catch by weight but gets only 38 per cent. of the price means that the somewhat startling amount of £4 million less for the same weight is obtained in Scotland compared with England. Yet we know that the Scottish fleets are famous for the quality of the fish which they catch. I am sure, therefore, that this is a matter which the White Fish Authority and the Government should think about carefully.
I suspect that part of the disparity is not due to the distance from the markets, because most of the fish caught in these areas are nearer to port than those caught and brought into Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft and so on. The cost of diesel and oil used in steaming to and from the fishing ground is therefore not the main factor, and some thought should be given, as I know the White Fish Authority is already beginning to do, to better processing and perhaps better marketing.
The catching capacity of the fleet has been maintained. The tendency during the past number of years has been for the fleet to diminish in size but not in catching capacity. It is certainly true that the better results which are being achieved at the moment by the trawler division, for which I have immediate knowledge, are due entirely to the price of fish and not to the amount caught. In our own fleet last month the weight of catch was the lowest for that month for ten to 15 years and we were able to maintain our profitability only because of the price paid for the fish.
This is something about which we cannot be complacent. If other food is to be short, the price may maintain the industry's profit but, as the Minister has said, there are real problems in finding new grounds where fish are available. This is an expensive operation. Unless we are successful in it, not only will profitability drop considerably but we shall not be able to provide the quantity 921 of fish that we need and which the country can cheerfully consume if it is of the right quality and at the right price.
The Minister rightly stressed the promise which the new freezer trawlers were already showing and he talked about giving further approvals for freezer trawlers to help with this process. I have spoken to a great many of the people who operate these trawlers. They are all convinced from results already obtained that their employment will be at least part of the solution of the industry's problems in future, but there is still a great deal more to be done in research and experiment and also much to be done on the way the fish is handled within the trawlers.
The House must remember that these freezer trawlers are not things which one can buy for a few pounds. A modern freezer trawler will certainly cost £500,000 and may well cost £750,000. In future years, with extra equipment, the cost may well be over £1 million. If we are to ensure the viability of the industry we must be certain that either with grants and loans the industry is able to support the expense—this may be easy for the big companies but it is very difficult for the small people—or that the industry is able to retain profits to put by money to invest in this sort of expenditure. Even for the near and middle distance waters the price of a modern trawler is running at around £150,000 and well may be more. Therefore, in talking about the profits of the industry we must remember that if the industry is to replace out-of-date trawlers and maintain efficiency and profitability we must see that it is able to retain a pretty large slice of any profit that it makes.
The right hon. Gentleman has taken powers in the Order dealing with grants and loans to increase the total amount from £17 million to £19 million. This gives us £2 million more in the kitty, but I hope that whoever winds up the debate will be able to tell the House a good deal more than the right hon. Gentleman found himself able to tell us in his opening speech. Although I agree with almost everything the right hon. Gentleman said, for actual content of new information in his speech one had to look very carefully indeed.
922 I should like some information, which the right hon. Gentleman did not give us, on how many freezer trawlers the Government are prepared to approve and how much extra they are prepared to do by way of giving grants and loans. Nothing has been said about how the extra £2 million in the kitty will be spent. The industry has been waiting for a considerable number of months for this information. The unsatisfactory result is that a great many people are holding up orders for new shipbuilding while awaiting this information. They thought that they would get it in the early summer and certainly in today's debate. As there is still a considerable amount of spare labour available in the smaller shipbuilding yards which could be most usefully employed in this way I hope that we shall have more information.
In the whole picture of what grants and loans are to be given I am sure that the chairman of the White Fish Authority, and I hope equally the Minister, will make quite certain that careful consideration is given to the viability of the operation when it comes to deciding who shall receive the money. This is absolutely essential if we are to meet the fierce international competition throughout the world for our rather rapidly dwindling supplies of fish.
All of us had hopes that the right hon. Gentleman would tell us something in opening about the statutory minimum price scheme. In Scotland, where people are extremely keen on this, it had been thought from the information given that the Minister would tell us something about it in May. We are now in July. The British Trawler Federation as a whole supports the statutory minimum price scheme, although—I make no bones about it—one or two of my co-directors are solidly against it; but they are the most independent and efficient gentleman and one cannot expect them, perhaps, to agree entirely with these different forms of Government support. However, it is a difficult problem. I have discussed it with Mr. Roy Matthews on many occasions, and I agree that there are great technical and administrative difficulties in setting up a scheme which will cover the whole country.
At the moment, there are schemes in Aberdeen, Hull and Grimsby, and they 923 are comparatively simple, although people do not always realise that the level at which this minimum support price is brought into operation is below the cost of production. If one tries to introduce it into small ports all over the country at that level, fishermen will not necessarily welcome it greatly, and it may be both costly and difficult to operate. I accept that there are difficulties, but we on this side, broadly, hope that they can be solved because we believe that there is a good general principle in a scheme of this sort. We had hoped to hear some details from the Minister on which to judge his scheme and either welcome or criticise it, but we seem to be out of luck.
The new fishery limits have been in operation for nearly a year. Is the patrolling of these limits being effectively carried out? We realised at the time that there would inevitably be some problems. Have we enough protection vessels? Might the Secretary of State for Scotland acquire an addition to his fleet and have another fishery protection cruiser? In the past, even when the limits were rather closer to the shore than they are now, a great many people were worried about poaching of one sort and another. I hope that the House is to have a report on the problem as it stands now.
Now, the question of research. All of us on both sides of the House are very pleased that Sir Frederick Brundrett, a most distinguished scientist, is looking after this side of the White Fish Authority's affairs. I wonder whether the Government are prepared to spend enough money on research in the coming years and whether, if they are to cut the subsidy bill, they could use some of that money to be put back into research for increased efficiency and viability in the industry. Although we have made considerable strides in the last year or two, we are still a tremendous way behind what is being done in research in Russia, Japan and many other countries which realised, perhaps for reasons special to them, the particular importance of the fishing industry rather more quickly than we realised it here.
I am delighted that some research is being done on fish farming because, as I said earlier, the real problem today may not be the ability to catch but whether the fish are there to catch. If we can help 924 our home supplies by developing fish farming in one of many different ways, we may help to ensure the supply of fish we need.
I was particularly interested to note from paragraph 100 of the White Fish Authority's Report that it is the intention to do more economic research and planning for the whole of the industry. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned this, and it is a subject of great importance. Not only have we caught our fish in rather traditional ways, without many changes until the last year or two, but we have handled them and marketed them in a pretty old-fashioned manner. Any help which the White Fish Authority can give in this respect will be of great benefit and will help both the consumer and the fisherman.
While thinking of old-fashioned and archaic things, I cannot fail to mention our fishing docks in the country as a whole, which very nearly rank as ancient monuments. I doubt that the National Trust is yet thinking of taking any of them over, but they are getting into that sort of category, and some of them are little better than ancient industrial monuments. No doubt, the Minister will say that we had a long time to deal with this problem. In fact, we spent a great deal of money year by year on improving docks, ports and harbours. But this must be a continuing process because, with the bigger ships operating and the greater tonnages of fish being landed at a time, many of the docks will simply not be big or modern enough to handle them. This being so, of course, considerable extra cost in handling will be entailed, adding to the cost of fish.
I hope that the training programme will be carried on with even more enthusiasm and money than hitherto. I note from the White Fish Authority's Report that there will be an industrial training board for the fishing industry in operation under the 1964 Act within the next two years. I hope that this project will be speeded up because the amount and success of the industry's efforts will depend largely on the number of people coming into the industry well trained and ready to learn the new techniques. In the last year, 919 men and boys went through the training centres and 714 of them passed their examinations. This is a good start, but the 925 industry does not offer a long working life—not many people stay on trawlers after they are 45—and, therefore, one needs a fairly large intake of young people if the standard is to be maintained.
I have been speaking mostly about the white fish industry because I know that one or two of my hon. Friends are particularly expert in the herring industry and I do not want to be repetitive. However, it is interesting to note that on page 3 of the Herring Industry Board's Report it is said that,With minor exceptions, this was a disappointing season in all areas".I do not guarantee my arithmetic, because I did it late last night, but my addition of the figures in Table 3 in that Report shows that in all ports the realisations last year were £19,000 less than in the year before. If this is so, it is rather difficult to agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that the subsidies should be cut because of the good year that the fishing industry has had.
I notice with some pleasure from the industry's report that it has been doing experiments in pair trawling, a technique developed by other countries. I think the House would wish to express its gratitude, as the Herring Industry Board has done, to fishermen in Holland, Denmark and Sweden who over the last year have taken fishermen from this country to train them in the techniques of this type of trawling for herring. This is a very good example of how in the fishing industry international co-operation can be achieved. I hope that this example of co-operation between the fishermen themselves may be matched with rather speedier and better co-operation between the Governments on problems of conservation and other things.
It is against this background that the House has to justify the cuts in the subsidies which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed. I think he is absolutely correct when he says that in the trawling industry the cut of 10 per cent. was accepted and, indeed, expected. But I found it much more difficult to agree with him when he said that the reductions as a whole had been broadly accepted. I have' had some correspondence from the Scottish Trawlers' Federation and the 926 Clyde Fishermen's Association, both of which say that they accepted the cuts only under great protest and that they were supported by both the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry board in saying that the cuts were not justified this year.
When one is cutting the subsidies of the herring industry—if my figures are correct, it has not had a good year this time—by 10 per cent. overall but the subsidies of the small boats—40 ft. and under—by 17 per cent., I can understand why the fishermen affected have not altogether accepted the decision—in fact, very far from it. I will read what we said in our White Paper of 1961 about this problem of the inshore industry, because I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was quite accurate in what he said about our intentions. In paragraph 12 we said:The Government therefore propose to continue providing assistance to the inshore and herring fleets broadly on present lines both by means of operational subsidy and by means of grants and loans for vessels and gear, but will review the position before the ten-year period ends.We are in the fourth year of the 10-year period, and the Government have decided, because of a good year for the herring industry—as I pointed out, it was not a good year—to make cuts rising to 17 per cent. for the smaller boats. The White Paper stated that the position would be reviewed when the industry was in a stronger position, and I do not think that we can honestly say that it is at this moment.
If the Government want to judge the position solely on the year's results outside the position of herring, their cuts are technically defensible, but I think that this is not a fair criterion, because, particularly in the case of the inshore fleets, we have—I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree—a very definite social problem. This is the first cut that the inshore fleets have had since the 1962 Act came into operation, and I think that in view of the amount that we need to do even in these fleets in modernising and improving the vessels, this cut for the inshore fleet is too severe. I think that all the inshore people agree with me.
There is also the inevitable problem of how one dishes out these supplementary payments. I know only too well how difficult these problems can be. However, I have had a very considerable 927 complaint from Aberdeen on this point. The fishermen there are comparing what they get for their oil-burning trawlers—there are five trawlers between 130 and 139.9 ft., and they are to get nothing—with the substantial figure of £6 a day extra for similar boats in Fleetwood. Yet the surplus in Aberdeen was £1 a day and that in Fleetwood £20 a day. The Government may well have good reason for doing this sort of thing, but it is very difficult, I can see, for the Scottish Trawlers' Federation to justify no subsidy when its surplus is £1 a day and when English trawlers making £20 surplus a day get an extra £6 subsidy. The same remark applies to the five line trawlers in Aberdeen which have had only a tiny surplus and have no subsidy.
In conclusion, the aim of the House in dealing with this industry must be a modern and efficient industry. We have certainly to promote much better marketing and more research. There is an enormous amount still to do. I am sure that Mr. Roy Matthews, who has made a splendid start, knows in his heart that he has at least another five years' hard work to do, if he can take it, and that he will not be able to do it unless the Government and the industry are prepared between them to give him a good deal more money to carry on the necessary work. If it is possible for the Government to save money by cutting subsidies, then they must be more generous with at least part of the money for the White Fish Authority.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Like the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), I must declare my interest. I am not a director of one of the massive firms that he talked about, but in my maiden speech in the main fishing debate of the year I must point out that I am the hon. Member for Hull, West, which has the St. Andrews Dock and the biggest deep sea fishing fleet in the United Kingdom, if not in Europe or the world. Also, I am a member of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, and we have a closed shop—unloading fish on the Dock.
Since last October I have come to have a deep admiration for the courage, intrepidity and sheer guts of the men who go 928 off to the Arctic waters. But I must add that these fine men, who have great faith in their ability to catch fish and no lack of confidence in their modern vessels, nevertheless have a deep feeling of uneasiness about the long-term future of their industry. I find this feeling shared by the bobbers on the docks. I shall say a little more in a moment about the vessels and the changing conditions in the industry.
It is absolutely certain that in our modern world, with its explosive population situation, men and women will have to learn to farm the sea. About 3,000 million of the world's population are said to be suffering to some degree from malnutrition. This is particularly the case in Africa and South-East Asia. I am told that one person in six is clinically affected. Yet the world population multiplies at an appalling speed. Therefore, we must look to the seas, which cover seven-tenths of the globe, and get that amount of the sun's radiation which is the basic factor for organic production.
I have read the admirable Report of the White Fish Authority, and some nice words about Mr. Roy Matthews have been said today to which perhaps I can add in humbler vein. The exploitation of the seas entails effective measures of conservation. This is very difficult. The situation of attempting to tell the Poles or the Soviets or the Japanese not to over-fish the North Atlantic or elsewhere is like the Vietnam situation. One can pass pious resolutions and meet in conference but, at the end of the day, unless one is to go back to the nineteenth century with the big stick and the gun boat, what can one do? We have to accept the situation and hope that wisdom and common sense will prevail and that we shall all work together to conserve the wealth of the seas.
Secondly, there is the application of modern technology. The Report of the White Fish Authority says that the problems of the sea can be tackled by modern methods. I believe that our tradition and experience should enable us to play a leading part. I am also persuaded that we shall have to turn to fish as an acceptable substitute for other foodstuffs which may not be so easily imported in future.
As a Member for Hull, this is welcome to me as it is welcome to other hon. 929 Members representing fishing ports. It is good to see that fish can and is supplying the place of meat. It gives me no joy when Belgians and others come to our marts in Lincolnshire and buy meat at extortionate prices, but it does mean that our housewives can and often do turn to fish. We should do much more advertising to persuade the nation to eat more fish.
Long-term interests are also involved in using food from the seas, but if fish are to be conserved there must be a short term policy today. I applaud what my right hon. Friend said but I shall listen a little more attentively to the reply by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. Like the White Fish Authority, I believe that cardinal in this short term policy must be the maintenance of a vigorous and lively fishing industry. It is not so much a matter of money for this or that project but of getting the country as a whole to look upon the industry as a primary food-producing industry.
An important aspect is that this could save imports which would have to be brought in otherwise. Looking at fishing as a comparative newcomer to the industry, it seems to me that fishing is a Cinderella alongside the agricultural industry.
§ Mr. Johnson
I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees with me. She, like me, belongs to Northumberland, of course.
It seems to me that the people in the fishing industry show more guts and independence in the context of subsidies and State aid than perhaps many others. They have agreed to a tapering off over ten years. I only wish that the agricultural industry had a tapering off system over ten years. I believe that, deep down, our fishermen do not want to have subsidies at all. They want to stand on their own feet if they possibly can. I will say something about that when asking for more money for more deep freeze trawlers, particularly for the deep sea fishing fleet which is mainly based in Hull and Grimsby.
I know that the record of the industry in this financial aspect is somewhat weak. In past debates, the House has taken notice of arrears that have accumulated. There have been delays of up to two years 930 in respect of loans, particularly on Tyneside. However, if the industry were to be subjected to a sharp disappointment now financially, it will be unlikely to stay healthy and to be competitive with those foreign nations fishing alongside us in the North Atlantic. It would be unlikely to make the efforts which are essential for future prosperity. Having said all this, I am bound to say that I find the deep sea fishing industry on Humberside to be almost Victorian in nature. Indeed, it has feudal conditions of labour. Skippers must come back to port successful or face possibly quite ruthless demotion by their employers. The young skippers, particularly, are so full of confidence that they know no fear. If they have any fear at all, it is fear of failure.
This is a hunting industry and the rewards of success can be high. Indeed, I notice that there was success in 1964. The foreword of the annual report of the British Trawlers Federation adds point to what I say:The year 1964 brought a welcome improvement in the earnings of almost all classes of vessels. The near and middle water fleets achieved this through a combination of higher average daily rates of catch and higher average prices. Almost every class of distant water vessel, on the other hand, suffered a decline in the rate of catch so that the improvement stemmed solely from better average prices, which were reflected in all world markets for fish.That is what Mr. Tom Boyd, President of the British Trawlers Federation, had to say. People like Mr. Boyd and others are aware that the old methods will not do. Traditional method ways are not adequate today. Changes are taking place. Talking to the leaders of the industry, I know that they intend that changes shall take place to arrest the decline of the last few years.
I will quote Hull as an example. At the end of last year there were about 120 vessels in the distant-water fleet at Hull and the older oil-fired steam trawlers are steadily going out. The most significant feature of Humberside is the acquisition of the two new stern fishing deep freeze trawlers, "Northella" and "St. Finbarr", which were added in 1964. They freeze all their catches at sea. There are several more such vessels on the stocks. By 1967 there will be an additional 12 of these deep-freeze 931 trawlers. These vessels ply out of St. Andrews Dock.
I was interested to hear what the right hon. Member for Argyll said about national monuments and the National Trust, although I know that he was joking. Modern vessels of this nature cost £550,000 to £650,000 and they need modern conditions in the docks. They need modern berths. The docks themselves need dredging so that some of the old muck and filth lying in them can be removed.
We have, in Mr. Lacey, a dynamic manager at Hull—and I know two new berths are to be built in the dock—but there are constant complaints about the conditions of the docks. I hope that this will catch the ears of someone on Humberside and that something will be done about it.
My right hon. Friend talked about the size and composition of the deep sea fishing fleet. I was delighted to hear what he said and I thank him for it. But new vessels are big investments. It is difficult for the smaller family firm to build vessels costing £500,000 or more. As I said earlier, there is a basic difference between these men and the farmers. Fishermen want to stand on their own feet if they can, but they really must have this 20 per cent. grant or so to enable them to buy these expensive boats. Last year they received a little over £2 million and the supplementary subsidies totalled about £35,000, nearly 10 per cent. of the figure for the year before. This is chicken feed compared with the subsidies for agriculture, and I make the plea on behalf of the deep sea fishing people that at least they need some ten big vessels in the next two or three years and for that they will need grants of about £1 million—if one reckons that they are to get about £110,000 towards the £500,000 or £600,000 which is the cost of a modern freezer trawler.
The Minister may have had some somewhat uncomplimentary welcomes by farmers in the West country and elsewhere. If at any time he cares to come to St. Andrew's Fish Dock in Hull, he will get a real Yorkshire welcome and be given two beautiful haddock—caught off Scotland, of course—at a typical fish merchant's breakfast at 7 o'clock in the morning.
932 The freezer trawler boats are built in places like Selby, Goole, Aberdeen and Lowestoft. These are smaller towns in the North of England and the Eastern counties and Scotland where employment is needed and where jobs are likely to be difficult if there are any difficulties anywhere. It is not merely the fishermen who want new vessels to be built, but also the people who will build them in Selby, Goole and elsewhere will be delighted if the fishing fleet is expanded. These are first-class fishing shipyards which can compete with Japan or Poland for orders of this nature.
Changes in the methods of fishing by the new freezing vessels are also affecting the age-old methods of auctions on quaysides. Although the auctions continue, I am sorry to say that, whereas some time ago we had 400 fish merchants in Hull, the number is now down to fewer than 200 and will decrease to about 50. I understand that modernisation is essential and that these men will thereby lose their jobs. We extend our sympathy to them. But fish merchants are extraordinarily adaptable and, even with the blow which Dr. Beeching gave them when he discontinued rail services to the docks, they were able to adapt themselves and are now sending fish all over the country by road.
Deep freezing will also have a good effect upon the stability of the markets. It will cut down the fluctuations in supply which in the past have led to the wildest fluctuations in prices at auctions. In times of glut, the fish were sometimes not worth landing and simply went along the dockside to the fishmeal factory.
However, to ensure stability in future we must have not merely more deep freeze trawlers, but also a system of statutory minimum prices. Like agriculture, fishing must have a basement to stand on, or the bottom will fall out of the industry. Fishermen may be individuals and perhaps almost Victorian in their attitude towards their men and their boats, but they are nevertheless citizens who pay their taxes and they want as much help and care as other sections of the community.
Fish is a highly perishable commodity. Supplies change markedly from season to season and even from week to week. The demand is elastic and constant ups 933 and downs in quayside auction prices have led to a lack of confidence and will lead to a lack of confidence in the future. I understand that a scheme for minimum prices has been worked out by the British Trawlers' Federation and that the cost might be about £750,000, which would be partly borne by the trawler owners themselves. There is a wide feeling that this is not only a good idea but absolutely essential for the welfare of the industry and I ask the Minister to look at it more than once.
In conclusion, I emphasise again that fishing is a Cinderalla compared with agriculture. Greater publicity about it is needed. I am interested to see that in television advertising of cigarettes—there must be some deep motive behind this—there is nearly always a picture of a cigarette being smoked by a sailor with a beard. The fishing industry must also advertise its fish. We are a maritime nation which depends on its fishermen, has done in the past and will in future, and I ask the Minister to give it all the help he can, and I ask for that help unashamedly.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I cannot share the Minister's satisfaction with the state of the fishing industry, nor with all the particulars of these Schemes and Orders. I speak only about the inshore industry. I do not deny that there are many vessels in the inshore industry which have done well. Nor would I deny that there are certain branches of that industry which have done well. But, as the Minister knows, it is an industry of great diversity and while some vessels and some crews and some fishermen engaged in certain forms of fishing have done well, there are difficulties in other parts of the inshore industry.
The Minister said that these Schemes and Orders were generally agreed with the industry. I do not deny that it is difficult to reach general agreement with an industry of such individual units as this, but I have received some rather adverse comments on some features of these provisions. Doubts have arisen about the future of the industry and I want to detail some of the ways in which fishermen are critical of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals.
934 The Minister spoke of a gratifying increase in earnings. There has been an increase, but, as he knows, we have suffered from two herring seasons which have been poor, to say the least of it. The disturbing feature of the herring industry in places like Shetland is the falling off in onshore employment. We are suffering from a tendency to centralise the processing of herring and that is already causing difficulties.
It has not yet been said how steeply the costs of fishermen have risen. The price of everything has gone up. My own constituents are particularly affected by the extra cost of transport and freight. We have had an increase of 5 per cent. since the winter of this year. Freight has to be paid on boxes and oil and at many fishing ports there must be both sea transport and land transport, and pier dues have to be paid and the cost of labour at the ports has gone up. I ask the Government to think very seriously about the state of the industry if costs continue to rise in the coming year as they have over the past year. I have figures about the effects per cwt. of fish, but, as the figures get out of date so rapidly, they are hardly worth quoting, because figures of a month or two ago prove to have been already overtaken.
In the small inshore ports in the North of Scotland there is no other employment. If fishing runs into a bad period there is great local distress. The Minister will also be aware that, even in a good year, the earnings per hour of herring boats are very much below the national adult earnings. They work out at about 4s. an hour as against something between 7s. and 8s. No one expects all wages to be up to the average but these wages fall considerably below it.
I want to draw the attention of the Minister to an anomaly over the working of the subsidies. I have been sent an example of a boat, registered length 58 ft. overall length 66 ft. The 1964 catch was 6,000 cwt. This was paid on the stonage rate of £3,000. Another boat, 63 ft. registered length and 64 ft. overall length is apparently placed on the daily rate and gets only £1,624. I think that the Minister is aware of these anomalies and I hope that when he replies to the debate he will have something to say about them. They affect several boats in my constituency 935 and I understand they affect boats in other fishing ports.
A serious position has developed in relation to British Railways, about the necessity of hiring a van to carry shellfish. I and other Members have been trying to cope with this matter for some months. We have received help from the Government, but I do not know if the Government are in a position to say anything about the latest development. We got a postponement of these new Regulations and the time of that postponement is very nearly up. Proposals have been put forward, such as that the shellfish merchants should get together, and that air transport or road transport might be employed to a greater extent. This is certainly a most serious matter. The shellfish industry is one of those which has expanded considerably in many of the smaller ports and has been a most useful source of income. This extra freight cost may well cause a setback, which in some cases will be disastrous.
Like a previous speaker, I should like to ask the Minister if he can say something about the extent of the limits, in particular so far as they are being effectively enforced. I should like to know if he can tell us anything about the resultant improvement in stocks which we hope for in certain places. As to fishing methods, one has to distinguish between the present, or short-term condition of the industry and its long-term prospect. I feel very strongly that the industry has got to go in for more powerful catching vessels. This will ultimately affect the inshore industry just as much as the trawling side of the industry.
I hope that we shall be told something about new methods of trawling for herring. They are not new among other nations, which have improved these methods enormously. I should also like to know what is now considered to be the likely future of the drift net. In this regard I still maintain that the present Regulations as to the catching of salmon at sea are a disgrace. I hope that they will be altered. I do not know what the Government's intentions are about a training scheme. As the Scottish Minister should be aware, fishing is one of the industries which can build up a population in the more remote parts of the North. If this was to happen, particularly 936 on self-contained islands, like Yell, such schemes would be of great importance. The last one did a great amount of good and I am not aware of what proposals there are for extending such schemes.
There has been a certain tendency in the industry to centralise marketing. So far as my constituency is concerned, this means a very severe drop in employment. We should process the fish as near the grounds as possible. This means putting capital into existing businesses, and trying to make the best use of existing plant. Again, the Scottish Minister will be aware that there has been great difficulty about certain plant in my constituency. I do not want to go into that in detail because there were many consultations with the Scottish Office, the Herring Industry Board, the White Fish Authority, and everyone else.
Has not the time come when not only have we got to have a much more fundamental review of the future of this industry, of the scale, the size of vessels, the organisation of the crews, how far the dual-purpose vessel is likely to continue to be basic to the industry, but also have we not got to have a look at the future of the H.I.B. and the White Fish Authority? I am one of those who felt for many years that they should be combined. Recent examination of the problems which they face in the North has left me with the impression that they are hamstrung in carrying out their functions. There is a certain doubt as to whether they are entitled to operate, in the full sense, as commercial enterprises. Certainly in many cases they are not and were never intended to be. There is also the question of how far they are to take account of social considerations.
I agree with other speakers that under their present leadership they are doing a good job, but we shall have to look at their powers again in the future. When we do so, as far as the north of Scotland is concerned, we will have to look at them in comparison with the powers of the new Highland Development Board. I hope that these authorities will co-operate very closely. The time has come when the fishing industry is going to face immense competition in catching, processing, marketing, and advertising and from other food producers, and from abroad. I am always astonished to see the enormous 937 foreign vessels and to compare them with the comparatively small catching power of their British equivalent. In the long run, I think that this will be a matter which should be very much in the Government's mind.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I would like to address myself primarily to the position of the Scottish fishing industry, but, unlike him, I do not intend to deal with the inshore fishing industry. I would agree with the Minister when, in his opening remarks, he said that there had been considerable progress in the past year. That is true, but at the same time I would like to reinforce what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), that, although this rate of subsidy has been generally accepted, as far as my own constituency and the Scottish Trawlers' Federation are concerned, they have only accepted under protest. They accepted under protest not only because of this year's measures but also because of what the Minister forecast, that there would be a tapering off over the next two years of at least 10 per cent.
If I understood his speech correctly this morning, he said that there would be a tapering off of 10 per cent. over the next two years, and possibly 12½ per cent. after that, in order to take into account the effects of the early years, when the reductions had only been at the rate of 7½ per cent. We are very well aware that these were the agreements entered into under the 1962 Act. I would have thought however, that, as major changes have taken place since that time, notably in the extension of the fishing limits as far as Aberdeen is concerned round the Faroes, that these have brought new factors into the whole position. I would have thought it would be wise for the Government now to be considering the future of the fishing industry as a whole. If one looks at the position one is bound to be concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland was, I think, the only Member, including the Minister, to speak on the question of costs. This is of fundamental importance to the industry, particularly as under this Government they seem to be rising faster than ever before.
938 If, for instance, we consider the question of the rate of subsidy a specific question arises. My right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) mentioned the fact that there is concern in Aberdeen about why five oil-burning trawlers of a certain length did not get a subsidy while two in Fleetwood did. The trawlers in question are not old or inefficient vessels. They were built between 1946 and 1949 and their poor results are due, in the opinion of the Scottish Trawlers' Federation, to the extension of the limits round the Faroes. They are not due to the fact that they are obsolescent. The boats at Fleetwood, which are, of course, causing this concern, were built after 1955 and they have had better results.
I should like to know the thinking behind these grants, because, as the Trawler Owners' Federation say:We were surprised and shocked that no regard has been taken of our plea.However, there are, of course, certain subsidies of which they approve, notably the increased subsidy to the Granton trawlers, perhaps because there is a certain persuasion on the Parliamentary Secretary from nearing that part of the world.
I should also like to ask him whether the reply which was given to me by the Minister of State to the Scottish Office in a debate the other day in the Scottish Standing Committee concerning the difference in the value of catches was the basic reason for the difference. In 1964, in the near middle water fleets of England and Wales, as compared with Scotland, the difference between the actual catch was very little in round figures—113,000 tons to Scotland's 112,000 tons—yet the difference in value was over £4 million.
The Minister of State told me the reason for this is that in England the near water catch consists largely of flat fish, which are more valuable per cwt. than the round fish, like cod and haddock, which make up the bulk of the Scottish catch. Is that so, because surely a large proportion of the English catch is cod, which also is caught in large quantities in the North? The difference in value of £4 million is very large, and I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would clarify the point a little further.
One has also to remember, in granting these subsidies and considering a tapering 939 off of 10 per cent., or, possibly, 12½ per cent. in the third year, that there are many companies or boats with individual owners, which have not been able to repay the loan interest and the repayment of capital due to the White Fish Authority. Of course, as the House will know, several boats have been taken over by the White Fish Authority, including some in Aberdeen. What is the total number of these boats, what is the total amount of the loan interest and capital which is not repaid in the port of Aberdeen, and could the Parliamentary Secretary also give us information about what the White Fish Authority has done with these boats? Have they sold them at a loss and, if so, at how much of a loss and to whom? It would be interesting to know how they are operating today.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) made a strong plea to his Government that they should get on with producing the statutory minmum price scheme. I should like to add my plea to his. After all, this is a matter in which, although there have certainly been disagreements among certain sections of the industry—I have never known the industry, particularly in England and Scotland, agreed unanimously on everything—nevertheless, I would have said that the bulk of opinion supported this. This is certainly so in Scotland. After all, discussions started way back in July, 1964. We were promised a statement before the House rose for the Recess and the Minister told us this afternoon that he had received suggestions and proposals from the White Fish Authority.
Therefore, even if he had been able to make up his mind as yet, he could at any rate have given us an outline in this major annual fishing debate as to what were the main considerations in everybody's mind. Surely, it is the purpose of a debate like this that hon. Members on both sides of the House should be able to give their views and to do so on facts and information which are officially presented to them.
I should like to turn to the all-important question of conservation. The extension of the limits round the Faroes has been of particular concern to Scotland and to Aberdeen, although, up to 940 date and against all expectations, the fishing has been rather better. That does not mean that, with modern equipment and the fierce international competition which is now the order of the day, we should not try to get other countries together to extend the arrangements under the International Fishing Convention.
I should like to say something in relation to Appendix VI of the White Fish Authority's Report. It concerns a matter which was recommended at the 14th meeting of the International Commission for the North-West Atlantic Fisheries, held in Hamburg in June 1964. The House will be aware that the United Kingdom accepted this recommendation, which concerned giving the Commission the opportunity to determine the equivalent mesh size for some nets or for trawls made of synthetic fibres and to approve certain new forms of mesh measuring. This was approved and accepted by the United Kingdom but, as the Report makes plain, no changes can be authorised until it has been accepted by the other member Governments concerned.
Therefore, I should like to know what the Government are doing on this point. What approaches have been made to other Governments? Is it proposed to have another meeting of the Commission? We know so well from discussions over the years how intensely difficult it is to get agreement and how absolutely essential it is to pursue this with real energy. It has, unfortunately, been the history of the fishing industry that, after wars, the fishing stocks increase because of the obvious fact that there has not been this immense international catching power upon the high seas. We are in very great danger if we do not do everything which is within our power to try to get a greater agreement on international conservation. If we do not get agreement, we shall find that certain countries will take their own measures of enforcement of fish conservation and will seek, perhaps, to extend their limits even further than is the case now.
This was recognised, of course, by the Norwegian Fisheries Administrator, whose country is closely and largely concerned with the fishing industry. He pointed out that conservation measures introduced internationally in accordance with the two conventions for the North 941 Atlantic are not enough, even if they are effectively enforced. He thought that it might be necessary to introduce in certain areas, perhaps by legislation, closed areas, whereby the total catch would be limited in accordance with the natural resources which were felt to be present in that area of the seas. He also urged that the whole question of conservation should be considered and that this should be extended, if possible, by international agreement.
I want to deal with the question of consumption and of quality as it affects the housewife of this country. The rise in the price of meat, which I fear is likely to be with us for some time because of the world demand for meat, in a way helps the fishing industry, but the housewife must have presented to her properly prepared fish of perfect quality. I suggest that, quite apart from the great qualities of freezing, which produces fish at all times of the year on our markets, and which should be able to provide some stability of prices, we should also be paying far more attention to what we can earn for this country by exports. If hon. Members look at the short paragraph concerning exports contained in the White Fish Authority Report they will notice with interest that there has been a slight fall in the export of frozen fish but that there has been an increase in the exports of fresh fish and of fish preparations. In fact, it is 10 per cent. over last year and reaches a total of 29,000 tons, but I submit that 29,000 tons is not very much for what is a premier industry of this country.
Are the Government doing anything to encourage a form of processing of which I can find no reference whatever in the Report—a process which is not popular in this country but which I believe has a great future overseas. I refer to the dehydration of fish. This process was developed in Aberdeen and, together with many others, I did my best to interest commercial firms in this country in exploiting this process commercially. Unfortunately, everybody thought of it as unsuitable for the home market, and as we are rather particular about our fresh fish supplies in this country, no commercial firm in this country would take on the process for development on the home market. In the end it was 942 developed by Armour's, an American firm.
I suggest that we have an enormous potential for the export of this kind of fish all over the world. I need not go into the obvious value of this form of processing except to say that the fish will keep under any conditions for any length of time and in any climate. All that is needed is intelligent reconstitution. As over the years, since this process was invented, I have had a yearly experiment on this form of processing, and I can assure hon. Members that while in the early years it was not very palatable, it is now a very excellent food which contains all the vitamins. I believe that it could bring a significant export trade to this country.
In conclusion, I return to my first pleas. Taking into account the general international competition in fishing and the rising costs, as well as the difficulties of conservation and the extension of the fishing limits, surely the Government should be undertaking a very serious and fundamental review of whether they think it possible for the fishing industry to be viable in the time set for the extension of these subsidies. Surely one of our main industries should at any rate be treated on a par with agriculture.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I very much agree with the plea of my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) for better conservation and more research into the basic problems of the industry. But I want to bring the debate back from Scotland to the Humber ports, for it is at these ports that the vast majority of the fish brought into these islands is landed. These Orders and Schemes, unlike the Annual Price Review for the farmers, have been agreed by the industry. During the past two years the industry has had a cut of 7½ per cent. in the fishing subsidies. The Government have announced that not only is there to be a 10 per cent. cut this year but there is to be a 10 per cent. cut for the following two years. I think this is a reasonable suggestion by the Government, provided that they realise the full implications and the background against which the industry is now operating.
The British distant-water landings last year at the two Humber ports—Hull and 943 Grimsby, the two chief ports in the country—were down by 6.5 per cent. The only reason that the industry is in reasonably good fettle is that prices rose by 8 per cent. at those two ports. Taking Hull alone, the daily yield last year went down from 74.3 per cent. to 72.5 per cent. kits landed. The length of voyages, in spite of the decrease in landings, went up from 21.6 days to 22 days at sea, and the number of voyages between January and June—the latest figures I have—went up from 863 to 923. The average price increased in Hull by 10 per cent. In other words, our fishermen—officers and crew and all concerned with the industry on the docks and the owners' offices are working harder but are catching less. They are able to continue only because last year they had better prices.
The same comment applies to the inshore vessels fishing round our coasts, which are suffering from a 10 to 17 per cent. cut in subsidy. This subsidy cut this year is justified, but the background to the whole industry is sombre, particularly in view of the fact that we hope that all the subsidies will be able to be phased out by 1972.
I should therefore like to spend a few minutes discussing the main problems against which our present trawling fleet is operating. First and foremost, I will deal with the fleet itself. There has been a continual decline in the numbers of the distant water fleet. Those fishing under the British Trawlers' Federation total 478, which is 19 vessels fewer than last year. Five British-built new trawlers were added last year, three of which were stern fishing freezer trawlers. This is to the good, but my right hon. Friend has already pointed out that these new vessels cost an enormous sum of money—anything from £500,000 to £750,000, with a probable future cost of £1 million. In addition, all costs are up—not only wages but dock dues, which went up by £200,000 last year. I understand that, in spite of the increased prices of fish and therefore the increased earnings last year, all but 1 per cent. of the increase in grossings was swallowed up by increased costs.
In short, modernisation is proceeding apace and profits are undoubtedly being ploughed back into the industry, but 944 profits are not very high, and now we are told that building grants may well be less than in the past. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether I have understood this correctly. I understood him to say that building grants in the next two years for the larger vessels will be about £1.6 million. I understand that in the past 20 months the distant water vessels absorbed £2.1 million in grants. It therefore seems that there is to be a considerable cut in building subsidies. I am not sure that I have that right and if not I hope that the Minister will correct me in replying to the debate. In other words, the fleet is being modernised, but this is costing a great deal of money and unless good prices and good catches are maintained in future this modernisation is bound to slow down.
One of the reasons that catches were reduced is the old story of the extension of fishing limits. I want to remind the House, as I have been doing for the past seven or eight years, that there is still agitation in Iceland to put into effect the law which their Government passed in 1948 to extend their control up to the 100 fathom line; in other words, over the whole Continental Shelf. If that ever came to pass it would bring utter disaster to the British fishing industry. Then again the Paris agreement, which our own fishing industry negotiated with the Icelandic fishing industry regulating Icelandic fish landed at our ports, is due for renegotiation next year. We have also had discussions with the Faroese, on whom quotas were imposed by the British industry, the merchants, processers, owners and catchers, all working together to maintain these quotas imposed because of the Faroes unilateral extension of their limits.
It is unfortunate that these agreements have to be made piecemeal. There is a real need for international policies and indeed for international companies operating in both the catching and processing fields. I am quite certain that if we cannot get international agreement about fishing limits, we are not going to make any progress at all.
Turning to the whole question of fish stocks, though limits are going out, this is not necessarily because of conservation measures but largely to give the country which extends its fishing limits the right to fish those waters itself. The 945 report from the B.T.F. this year is gloomy about fish stocks. We are told that there are heavy falls in catches in the White Sea area and off the Norwegian Coast. The only good catches seem to be off the Greenland coast. Obviously, we need greater areas set aside wholly for conservation and agreement over net sizes.
I should like to join with the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South in asking for information about whether we have now got agreement on policing. There is, I understand, general agreement that fishery protection vessels shall be allowed to inspect the net sizes of any ship operating on the high seas. Though they would not be allowed to arrest those vessels, they should be able to report the contravention to the Government of the vessel concerned. Only when this is enforceable will we begin to get a rule of law as far as net sizes are concerned. I believe that that is vitally important for the whole question of the conservation of fish stocks.
It was said by Mr. Matthews in a most important speech earlier this year that only 1 per cent. of sea spawn survives to marketable size. He pointed out that 70 per cent. of the earth's surface is covered by the sea, but at present it only produces 1 per cent. of the earth's food, and that only 12 per cent. of the protein needs of the world come from fish, when it is estimated that fish could provide 10 times the world's need for protein. That shows what an enormous amount could be done, and it must be done if we are to make the best use of fish stocks for future generations.
The Fishing News, in a leading article at the beginning of the year, suggested that our trawling fleet should go southward. It said:What is the alternative? There is only one—to go south. A fraction of the fishing effort now expended in familiar distant waters, if transported south of the Equator, could satisfy the demands of Europe's fish-hungry millions with room to spare.Yet, a little later in the year, we had a report from the South African Government that there was over-fishing in the South Atlantic; in other words, over-fishing is going on throughout the world, largely due to vast fleets from Poland and Soviet Russia, accompanied by factory ships—
§ Mr. James Johnson
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the effect that such long voyages will have on the family life of the deck-hands, if they have to be away from home for so long? He will perhaps have to lobby their wives.
§ Mr. Wall
I quite agree that they will probably have the same recruiting problems that the Royal Navy now has. But, presumably, the fishing fleet could be based on a mother vessel, and the crews could be transported by air to the nearest airport and then taken out to the fleet by helicopter. It is not an insuperable problem.
Though we are looking for fresh fishing grounds, it may be that they will be fished out in the near future unless there is an international ruling on fishing limits, on conservation areas and on mesh sizes. Allied to the problem is the whole question of fish farming. Successful experiments have been carried out at Lowestoft and Port Erin, but the trouble is that if one breeds fish to stock the seas, someone else will catch them. On the other hand, if one rears captive fish, what will the taste be like? The result will probably be something like the hon. Lady's dehydrated fish, with a taste that is unlikely to be acceptable to the housewives of the country. However, those are important and long-term problems, but the main immediate problem, where the Government can help a great deal, is one which has only been touched on in the debate. I refer to a statutory minimum price scheme, a Government supported price scheme.
The Minister was not quite open with the House. He spoke about the possibility of a statutorily supported price scheme, but he gave no impression of urgency. I suggest that there is a great need for urgency. In the B.T.F. report this year we read on page 26:It was reported last year that the Registrar of Restrictive Trading Agreements had issued Notices of Reference in respect of both the Distant Water Vessels' Development Scheme and the Federation's Minimum Price Schedule.I understand that is being taken by the court later this year. The notices concern the voluntary minimum price schemes which are in operation in the ports of Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen. It may well be, though one cannot say, that it will be decided that these are against the public interest. However, if these 947 voluntary schemes are thrown out, I suggest that the financial structure of the whole industry will dissolve in chaos. It is a most important factor, because these voluntary minimum price schemes underpin the whole industry. If it is the recommendation of the Registrar of Restrictive Trading Agreements that these are to end then the industry faces a difficult future, unless the Government come in with a statutory scheme.
We have heard very little from the Government about the details of the scheme. Do they accept that it becomes essential if the voluntary schemes are ended? Would they not agree that it is essential to have such a scheme, because, in effect, the industry is really the only hunting industry left? It is possible to have gluts at some times and very few catches at others. The catch is always perishable and has to be frozen and brought home rapidly. Unfortunately the demand is reasonably stable, though, as catches vary, prices fluctuate. As a result, minimum prices give a stable reference point to the whole industry and encourage better quality fish, fewer supply fluctuations and, therefore, more stable prices and, to some extent, lower prices.
Some formal minimum price scheme is in operation in every developed fishing industry in the world. It must be incontrovertible that some form of minimum price scheme is essential in the country. At the moment, there is a voluntary scheme, but, if that scheme is judicially ended by the end of the year, what is to happen then? That is the problem that the Parliamentary Secretary has to answer when he winds up the debate. I know that he has had many suggestions from the White Fish Authority, the B.T.F. and others. There is a need for a Government scheme to cover all fish landed at the ports with landings above a certain minimum figure. It should be independently administered by the W.F.A., although the present voluntary scheme which is operating is one operated by the ports themselves. Support prices must be near the minimum price, linked with quality control and applying only to quality fish. Such a scheme, based on 1964 figures of landings and sales, would cost something round about £700,000. I understand that it is quite possible that the cost may be shared, partly by the Treasury and partly by the industry itself.
948 It is always unpopular to suggest any form of support price scheme which is open ended. Hon. Members who are interested in agriculture know that only too well. Indeed, both sides of the House have for a considerable time been trying to reduce the open-ended type of support which is given to agriculture. However, the sort of scheme I have in mind would not be open ended in that way because the industry would itself bear any excess over an agreed amount. This would be financed by a levy, as is the present fish promotion campaign.
The need for such a scheme is extremely urgent and I do not believe that the Minister has been frank with the House. He has certainly not told us about the action of the Restrictive Trade Practices Court. There have been arguments against the introduction of such a statutory minimum price scheme. It is said, for example, that it would be difficult to administer at all ports. However, the House will be aware that it would have to apply to all ports which have certain minimum landings of fish. Those ports would be the averaged-sized ones throughout the country. There has been no difficulty in administering the voluntary scheme which at present exists at the major ports, so I cannot see why the minimum price scheme I have described could not be equally well administered by the White Fish Authority.
When one discusses a matter of this sort the cost is bound to arise as one of the first questions. It has already been pointed out that the minimum price at present is well below the cost of production and that there is a fear that if a statutory scheme were introduced the minimum price would be raised to the detriment of the consumer. I do not believe that this theory is justified. To begin with, the minimum prices at all ports must be brought up to the minimum prices now operating at the major ports, and at present the prices at the smaller ports are below this figure and it will take some time to secure the readjustment.
It may also be said that the large ports would not want to have a rise in minimum prices because they could then be undercut by the inshore ports, the fishermen at which go in for quality fish. Greater imports at inshore ports would 949 also bring this about. It should be remembered, when considering this argument, that there are only two large markets for fish—this country and the United States—and high minimum prices in such a statutory scheme would obviously lead to a flood of foreign fish coming here, which could destroy the price structure of British industry. That in itself is a safeguard against minimum prices of fish being raised after the introduction of a statutory scheme and support prices.
An adequate policy of quality control would help the housewife to obtain better fish if the sort of scheme I have described were introduced, and obviously quality control would fall more heavily on the distant water section of the industry than on that inshore section which mainly operates small vessels, which fish for prime fish. Therefore, the inshore vessels would gain as a result of price stability and probably by increased consumption.
I believe that there is no alternative to such a Government scheme and I hope that the Minister will comment on this when he replies to the debate. I accept that there are difficulties, particularly in view of the cuts which have recently been announced by the Government. Indeed, the Government have made such a mess of our economy, as a result of which those cuts have been announced, that this may not be a particularly propitious time at which to ask for a little more money for an essential scheme of this kind.
Only yesterday I was told in answer to a Parliamentary Question that the value of agricultural guarantees for the past year was no less than £1,519 million. The scheme about which I am speaking would cost less than £1 million. As it is, only £2 million to £3 million is being spent by the Government on the fishing industry. This shows that we are not asking for too much.
If this scheme were introduced it would help to ease out price fluctuations and, therefore, maintain cheaper prices of fish for the housewife. It would give stability and viability to the industry and thereby enable the other subsidies to be tailed off by the basic date of 1972. In view of the urgency of the situation, I urge the Minister to make a clear statement of Government policy on this matter. If he cannot promise anything today, I trust that as soon as possible he will tell us 950 about the discussions which the Government have had with the White Fish Authority and the British Trawlers Federation on the question of statutory minimum prices and price support for quality fish.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I will try to emulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who was commendably brief in his remarks, because I appreciate that several of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate. A number of us also have a long way to travel later today to get to our constituencies.
I come immediately to the question of limits, and I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy in his place. We are grateful for the extension, but I would like to know how far we have got with the integration of helicopters into this scheme. I have been asking for this for years. People tend to say that helicopters cannot fix the position of marauding fishermen, so to speak, as well or as easily as a ship. On the other hand, if fishermen see a helicopter circling round and taking the number of their fishing vessel—particularly if they think there is the possibility of a fishery protection vessel being in the vicinity—they might be scared off. I am told that, particularly in the Dover area and places like that, fishermen are still not paying sufficient attention to the limits.
I again appeal to the Government to ensure that people who do not obey the limits and who break the law in this way have adequate fines placed on them. It really is stupid to fine someone £10 or £25 for an offence of this kind. There must be really big fines and their gear must be taken away so that people are discouraged from coming inside the limits.
A great deal has been said about conservancy, and the Minister talked about international agreements. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) also drew attention to what is stated in Appendix 6 of the Report of the White Fish Authority. I am not sure that my hon. Friend is entirely right, because I did not think that there was an agreement on this point. Can fishery protection vessels go right up to any foreign fishing vessel and demand to inspect the size and mesh of its 951 sea nets? This is something which I have preached for years and I indeed hope that what my hon. Friend says is true, for it will help us to deal with this important problem.
Several hon. Members have referred to the worrying problem of over-fishing and intense competition from other fishing nations. Many hon. Members will have heard the interesting programme on the B.B.C. the other day on the fishing industry and, in this connection, will have noted paragraph 76 of the White Fish Authority's Report. The efforts that are being made in fish farming are extremely interesting, and these efforts will be of immense value in the years to come, particularly in places like lochs and other inland waters.
Allied to this is the research being conducted into the habits of shellfish. Much research is now being undertaken, although I appreciate that the final results might take a considerable time to reach fruition. On previous occasions when speaking on this topic I have referred to the activities of skin divers. Until this research has been completed, we must place a limit on the number of skin divers who go in for this type of fishing, because they are creating a real danger to the more conventional forms of fishing.
Shellfish can get out of the pots, but if a skin diver goes down and puts skewers into the pots to keep the fish in that is hardly playing the game. Dragging a crayfish out of its hole is by no means the ordinary way of fishing, and that, too, is not playing the game. I have no objection to free diving, but I trust that when this type of fishing is undertaken the skin divers will leave their air bottles at home.
§ Mr. Howard
I appreciate that, and their rule makes interesting reading. However, the members of the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee consider that the skin divers in their part of the country have not heard about that rule.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) has spoken about 952 archaic conditions in marketing. At places like Concarneau, in France, there are marvellous quays with facilities for water, electricity and fuel points at regular intervals. Next to the quay is the place where the fish are packed. By means of a plug, ice is released from the roof onto the fish, and there are railway sidings adjoining where the fish is taken away in properly refrigerated trucks. In contrast, we have places like Newlyn. I was there last Monday morning on the fish quay. A merchant showed me a consignment of salted pilchards for export to Italy. For a fortnight they had been awaiting a truck from British Railways. When a telephone inquiry was made at the end of a week, the representative of British Railways said that he had just traced the order. Conditions like these are archaic and impossible, and it is no wonder that people leave the railways in favour of the roads.
The railways have, however, been helpful in some ways. They say that if merchants can make up a truck load they will agree to give a special price. In parts of the country like mine, however, the smaller fish merchants send special parcels of fish all over the West Country—not to Billingsgate to come back again, but to customers in Exeter, Devonshire, Somerset and elsewhere in the West Country. Unless they can have advantageous terms by rail, it is no wonder that they turn to the roads. We are then faced with a vicious circle. Because our West Country roads have been terribly neglected, the great refrigerated trucks, which are incapable of going fast, simply clog up our inadequate roads.
The Minister spoke about profitability and agreement among the inshore men. I dare say that there is profitability, but it is something which has to be considered. The other morning, I had a visit from a fisherman who drew my attention to the differences in price between the markets at Newlyn and Milford Haven. I went down to the market at Newlyn last Monday to see for myself how many people were buying and what the prices were like. I must say the prices on that day—perhaps they saw me coming—were rather better than had been quoted to me. This is something which needs to be considered. I would hope that an approach can be made to the White Fish Authority. I 953 add my praise to Mr. Matthews for all that he has done for the fishing industry. We are very lucky to have him in the Authority.
As we all know, as more and more quick-freezing processes are developed, the old-fashioned ideas of auctions will probably go. My noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South spoke about going back to stock fish. I cannot think of anything more disgusting. On page 20 of its Report, the White Fish Authority refers to the representation of the inshore fishermen. I rather regret that there is no representation from Cornwall, and I hope that in view of our problems down there this deficiency might be put right.
We all know the difference in price that the man on the market gets between large and small mackerel, for instance, and the price which he gets in the shop. There are one or two ways in which we could help. On Monday, after going to the fish market, I went to an hotel for breakfast. Having come from the fish market, I was full of enthusiasm and I asked the waiter what fresh fish he had that day. He looked at me and said, "It is Monday, sir. They are fish-cakes." That was five minutes' walk from a market selling turbot, sole, plaice and mackerel. Almost any good fish that one could think of was on sale there in fine condition, and I got fishcakes. I must say, I did not eat them. Many of our hoteliers, especially in areas like Cornwall, could be a little more enterprising and could go out on to the market and buy fresh fish for their visitors. They want visitors to come to Cornwall, but the visitors would rather eat fresh fish instead of fishcakes.
A lot has been said about quick freeze and I am sure that this is right. I have been trying, and I shall continue trying, as we are a development area in Cornwall, to encourage help from the Government to build a processing plant in the centre of the County of Cornwall. In the methods that we have now in horticulture as well as for fish in freezing, this might be a great advantage not only to our horticulturists, but to our fishermen. As is mentioned in the Report of the White Fish Authority, the advance in freezing means that it is possible to cater for gluts and scarcities 954 and that the fish can always be sold in first-class condition. I am ready to go to the Government with the plans on which I am working, and I ask them to consider this proposal favourably when money is available for it.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary and I share the honour of being the joint Presidents, I think it is, of the National Inshore Fishermen's Association. I hope that inshore fishermen will realise that if they want a really representative voice in the affairs of the inshore fishing industry, they must make this National Inshore Fishermen's Association work. I am not being critical of the Sea Fisheries Committee, but we would all agree that bodies like the Sea Fisheries Committee or even the Fisheries Organisation Society, of which I am a governor, which get Government subventions, do not have the freedom of action that the National Inshore Fishermen's Association should have. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will help us to put this over to the inshore fishermen so that by their own active representation they can make their voice heard about the future of their industry.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) will forgive me if I do not comment on his remarks, because we could hardly come from more distant ends of the country. My hon. Friend comes from Cornwall and I am from East Aberdeenshire.
I thought that the Minister was unduly rosy in his speech and in his approach to the industry. The one fact which he solidly latched on to was that there had been a rise in the profitability of the industry over the last two years. There are, however, other sides to the coin, and I should like to concentrate my remarks for a few minutes on the herring industry, with which my constituency is particularly involved.
For many years, there has been a decline in the numbers of our herring fleet. Nineteen sixty-four was the first year when no 40 ft.-60 ft. boats engaged in whole-time herring fishing. Only 13 60 ft.-65 ft. boats so engaged themselves, two less than in the year before, while in the 65 ft.-80 ft. class there was a reduction of 12 boats, only 955 23 being engaged in whole-time fishing for herring.
Now, we face the serious cut in Government subsidy. What effect do right hon. and hon. Members opposite think that this will have upon the herring fleet? The Minister of State at the Scottish Office says that they want a herring fleet, but the Department's needs do not match their words. I believe that this cut will decrease the herring fleet still further, for one principal reason that crews will become harder to obtain.
In January this year the Ministry of Labour estimated that an adult male's average earnings were £18 2s. 2d. for an average working week of 47.7 hours, approximately 7s. 7d. an hour. On a herring fishing vessel a fisherman working a similar length of time can be expected to earn between 3s. 10½d. and 4s. 8d. an hour, depending on the size of the boat. In fact, he has to work at least 80 hours a week in conditions which defy comparison with those of any shore-based industry, not only for discomfort but for danger. He gets home one night a week if he is lucky enough to be fishing from his home port. More often he is fishing from different harbours all round the coast. Through no fault of his own he is not eligible for unemployment benefit.
When we compare the financial and other attractions of life on shore and life in fishing we can understand that it is dedication to a great calling and obedience to a long tradition which keeps these men at sea. I warn the Government that even those qualities can weaken in the face of hardship, adversity and mistreatment. As for development in future, unless there is some change in policy I see little hope.
The Government's case for the cut is that the last two years have been comparatively good ones. It is a very weak case. What about rising costs? From 1st January, 1964, the cost of buoys rose by 4s. 9d., of baskets, by 3s. 6d. and of boxes by 9d. National Insurance is up by 5s. 3d. a week per man. About the only cost that has gone down has been that for fuel oil which is down by a halfpenny a gallon. The White Fish Authority estimated that nine-tenths of the rise in earnings was swallowed by the rise in costs. What is the Government's estimate? May we take it that 956 if next year is a bad year the subsidies will be restored? We need to know more about the Government's policy in this regard. They talk about viability. One way to get viability in the herring industry would be not to have a herring industry at all. That has already happened in the case of the 40 ft.-60 ft. boats. Is that what they want for other classes of vessel as well?
I have spent more time on the herring industry than the white fish industry because, of the two, the white fish industry seems to be in a less critical state. Those who leave the herring industry can still resort to fishing for white fish. That is not to say that the position, especially for crew members, is not equally serious and the cut in subsidy equally untimely. It can be argued that all concerned take the subsidies and the cut in subsidies, but if they did not accept and protested strongly the result would be that no subsidies at all would be granted next year. I suggest that that is unfair. From now on statutory Orders of this sort should be framed to run until they are replaced by further Orders instead of having a fixed termination date, as at present to operate at the end of this month. Only then would effective protest become possible.
I wish to say a word about the administration of the industry. Every cran of herring landed in these days has to pay a levy of 3s. 6d. for administration. The body responsible for administration is the Herring Industry Board. Parkinson's Law has acted on this Board in a most remarkable way. In 1964, when it had 622 boats to deal with it, employed 34 non-industrial staff. In 1963, with 189 boats, it employed 68 non-industrial staff—double the amount of staff to deal with 433 fewer boats. The Chairman at that time, Sir John Carmichael, ordered an inquiry. A reorganisation followed.
The Minister of State at the Scottish Office informed me in a letter which I received yesterday that this included a redefinition of the duties of the principal officers of the Board. I understand that the object was that of preventing an unduly heavy burden resting on any one of those officers. I understand also that the Board's non-industrial staff now numbers 64, not 68. I am grateful for the speed with which the hon. Gentleman gave that information, but it is 957 a dismal tale. Nothing has been done, so now the Minister has to explain and to tell us why there has to be almost double the amount of staff that there was in 1946 to deal with 433 fewer boats and whether he is to do anything about it.
I remind him that on Tuesday this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer urged, among other measures to deal with his latest economic crisis, reviews of the Government's own establishments. So far the exhortations by himself and his right hon. Friends have had little effect. They have forgotten that leadership in any field will fail unless those responsible give an example. Here they have a perfect opportunity to set such an example. They talk of the need to streamline industry and to make the country more efficient. What about the case I have outlined? Why not see that any principal of that Board, any official or employee, who fails to do his job and to win the confidence of the industry should be asked to go into the work of skilled administration in some other field where I understand there is a shortage of qualified manpower?
There are wider implications than those of the fishing industry. Government money and Government participation in many other industries is already a fact and may continue for some time. If it is to be effective and really to contribute to the well-being of the economy the money must be seen to be spent to the maximum advantage of the industry and the participation must be of the highest standard of integrity, efficiency and hard work. If the Government set the right example to the fishing industry they will find an enormous response. It has the background and the potential, particularly in the men who man it on land and at sea, to give an example to many others.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I turn from thinking about the large trawlers and fishing fleets in the North and the Hull area to the South-West where I regret to say we have a decreasing number of small fishing boats. It is important in this debate that we should not forget the smaller men. After all, they make up a large proportion of those who fish around our coasts. We must not forget that these men contribute to the total amount of fish landed in our ports and they play a very real part in this matter.
958 One of the saddest trends in the South-West is the continued decline of the fishing industry. In my lifetime I have seen the number of fishing boats in the South-West drop considerably. Every port on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall used to have a number of small fishing boats—ports such as Padstow and Brixham, to name two. The other day I heard that at Brixham the two largest trawlers have been sold and are no longer to continue in the fishing industry. One of them has the delightful name of "Twilight Waters" and used to be a very successful fishing vessel. Even in my own constituency of Torrington there used to be quite a number of fishing boats. The herring fishermen of Clovelly were famous. Even at Bideford there were quite a number of fishing boats, and at Appledore. These are now all declining. They have gone.
The serious reduction in the industry in the South-West is very sad. It means a drop in the total income of the South-West. We cannot afford this. This is a serious matter, because the industry provided employment, not only for the fishermen, but for all the other men who were needed at the ports to keep the boats at sea. One of our traditional forms of employment has gone. Most of the lifeboats, which do such wonderful work, are manned by fishermen. One wonders what will happen in the future. Who will man the lifeboats if the fishing fleets decline still further in the South-West? We should pay a real tribute to the inshore fishermen, the small fishermen, the men who man our lifeboats. They have done a fine job. I should dearly like to see a revival of fishing in the South-West. I believe that men could be found to man these boats again, if given a little more encouragement. I believe even that the fish could be found with new methods and stricter control of foreign fishing fleets.
What is needed to revive the industry in the South-West? First, we must have continued encouragement by the Government in the form of grants, and so on. On a local point, I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, when it comes to his attention, will consider giving support to the proposed new breakwater in North Devon, which would make a tremendous difference to the fishermen of 959 the South-West. They would then have a port of shelter on that coastline.
Secondly—this is a bit of a hobby horse of mine, but I must state it again—we must seek to have more and more co-operative methods. I believe that the co-operative movement, as it is in agriculture, could be extended to the fishing industry, with particular regard to marketing, grading, the buying of supplies, and the replacement of spare parts for fishing boats. This would be of tremendous help to the small ports. I cannot see how the small fishermen can continue by themselves. They must get together and do things together, as we do in agriculture.
Thirdly, there must be better methods of transport. I believe that the railways must play their part again. They must take a little more interest in the transport of fish. I do not think they do this at the moment. Again, we need better roads, particularly in the South-West, to help to transport our fish rapidly from ports to towns.
Fourthly—this is especially true in the South-West—there should be a much stricter control over foreign fishing boats and their poaching methods. I have been to sea off the coasts of North Devon and Cornwall. We talk about "the Frenchies". This is a sore point there, because they come in and clean up the area.
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will examine the points I have mentioned. I hope that he will give encouragement, particularly to the formation of the co-operative movement in the industry, because we cannot afford to neglect this vital industry, because it is vital even in the South-West. It may not seem very significant, but I believe that it is. We shall need all the fish we can get in the years that lie ahead. Protein is scarce. It will get scarcer, with the demand for protein rising year by year. I know that agriculture can plays its part. So can the fishing industry. I hope that the Minister will give every encouragement to the smaller fishing boats and to those who man them.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
My first observation must be a word of commendation 960 to the Government for having arranged this debate on a Friday and not at midnight or 1 o'clock in the morning, which has been the policy in the past. I am grateful for this change, because it has at least given the chance to the public outside, through the medium of the Press, to hear something about the problems of the industry, which I do not think they had much chance of doing in the past.
I was interested to hear the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food make some happy references to the interjection by one of my hon. Friends yesterday about the problem of white fish. I noted with a certain amount of amusement yesterday how the Prime Minister recovered his position, because he was all set to criticise this side of the House for daring in a debate of yesterday's type to interpolate a word about white fish. The Prime Minister nearly slipped up. I noticed with interest that today the right hon. Gentleman was at great pains to explain, as indeed he should, the needs and problems of the industry.
I do not want to enter into many of the controversies affecting this issue, but I must say how much I agree with the many people, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), who have said that we tend to separate the fishing industry from the problems of agriculture and food. I suppose it is because I come from an area where we have a small fishing port that I take the view that a great deal of emphasis is placed on agriculture in the Department and far too little emphasis on the fishing industry. Any consideration of food production and the problems of food should be allied with a recollection of the amount of food provided by the fishing industry. The Secretary of State for Education and Science, when winding up yesterday's debate, also put in a word about this industry, quite rightly, as he represents a very important fishing port.
I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is to reply, will tell me whether his Department, or he himself, which is much more important, because I am a great believer in Ministers—
§ Mr. Howard
Perhaps my hon. Friend misunderstands me. I said that I was a believer in this Minister, because I believe he is a jolly good person.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Very good. That is exactly what I was going to say. It is important to have Ministers who know something about the subject. So often in government Ministers read briefs and they hardly know what the words that are coming from their mouths mean. I am very delighted that this Minister is to reply to the debate.
The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Education should get together and decide what the Ministry of Education should do to advertise fish as a food in the schools. [Interruption.] I thought that I heard some remarks coming from the Minister. I should like to have it clearly stated that at the conferences of the National Union of Teachers and of those concerned with the secondary schools, technical colleges and universities, minds are occasionally directed to telling the community about the advantages which can accrue from giving fish its proper place in national food production and consumption.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The right hon. Gentleman is very lucky to have had any lunch. I have not been able to have any. I have been here all the time, but if he will tell me what he had for lunch I will have the same.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The fishing industry would do well to change the names of some of the fish. I do not like the name "plaice" and I do not like the name "cod".
I am surprised that the Advisory Council to the White Fish Authority does not include a single representative from the North-East Coast and especially from the 962 fishing port of North Shields, which is the only port in the country where trawlers are owned by the local authority. I wonder who on the Advisory Council points out the real difficulty which can arise at a port like North Shields. The local authority there, for example, has to operate the fleet with the help of money obtained from local authority loans. I am not happy about the arrangements recently made by the Government in the matter of terms to local authorities for loans from the Public Works Loan Board, because there has been a cut in the proposals which were originally put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I greatly hope that we shall hear something from the Minister about the statutory minimum prices scheme. I notice that a great many things to do with the sea, including the nuclear propelled ship, are being abandoned or cut down by the present Government. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) was unable to put a Question on this subject yesterday on the Floor of the House, because we could have chewed up the Treasury. I give full support and encouragement to the present Minister of Agriculture. I believe that he has been arguing with the Chancellor and pleading with him but that the Chancellor replied, "Not on your life until after the debate is over". I want to know whether the Minister is likely to win over the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor certainly does not know anything about fishing. I should like to know how the Minister is fairing in this respect.
I cannot now go into the question of the reference of the fishing industry to the Restrictive Practices Court, but I cannot help wondering how that court will get on in discussing the habits of fish. It will be a difficult problem. The court consists mostly of very distinguished lawyers and I do not think that lawyers will find it so easy to decide how to deal with a voluntary minimum prices scheme when they have to take into account the habits and behaviour of fish, particularly since there is little knowledge of what fish really do in the sea. It is a pity that the fishing industry has been selected for reference to the court when there are so many large and terrifying problems which must be faced if we are to keep 963 our fishing industry profitably alive and we are to ensure that our fishermen obtain a livelihood.
North Shields has been very lucky in the last year or two in having succeeded, after a great deal of trouble, in persuading the last Government and this to permit the building of three modern freezer trawlers. One of the trawlers was launched yesterday at Lowestoft but owing to having to be here to oppose the Government I was unfortunately unable to be present at the ceremony. G. R. Purdy Trawlers Ltd., who are very well known in the fishing industry on the North Coast have had the advantage of financial support from the P. & O. Company. There is here a remarkable combination of modern up-to-date thinking by young engineers. The Conservative Minister of Agriculture told me that Mr. John Purdy, who was responsible for the design of the new trawlers, was a very good engineer. If anybody can persuade a Minister to commit himself to that sort of remark about any individual who is not in the Government he must be doing very well.
I am grateful that North Shields is to have these three new trawlers. I shall now be able to boast about these to my Scottish friends who always have a good deal to say in our debates on the fishing industry and also to those who represent the great ports of Hull and Grimsby who, quite rightly, take up a great deal of our time in these debates. But I am all for the smaller people. I do not like the idea of people being swept into great blocks, whether they be trawler owners, fishermen or whoever it may be. I like the small man, the man with initiative and enterprise, who is prepared to put some of his own money into industry. I like these people to have a fair share, and this is one reason why I am delighted to pay a tribute to G. R. Purdy and Company, to the White Fish Authority, and also to Sir Frederick Brundrett for the technical faith he had in the Purdy family. I hope that, before long, our port of North Shields will be able to give some good lessons to Scotland and the other large ports the interests of which are always emphasised in our fishing debates.
I am waiting to hear what the Minister has to say. I hope that he will give 964 us some real facts and not behave like all other Ministers and tell us nothing.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) will realise that she will have to wait a few minutes before the Parliamentary Secretary replies.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am delighted to listen first to my hon. Friend because he represents a part of the country where these are many small people, not just the big ones.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I thank my hon. Friend for that remark. I shall be coming to that point in her speech a little later on.
We have had a most interesting debate. It is our custom to debate this matter at least once a year and go over the whole subject of fisheries and fishery interests, but this year's debate has been remarkable for the lack of interest shown on the Government benches. We have had one speech from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), whose views I respect and to whose remarks I shall come in a few minutes. But, apart from him, there has been no one present on the opposite benches, save that the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) has recently come in. We are delighted to welcome him to the Chamber to listen to the remainder of the debate.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, will he give way?
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
When I have finished this observation, I shall give way. This is an important industry, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and my hon. Friend have emphasised, an industry which produces a great amount of food and it deserves better attention.
§ Mr. Snow
I was about to say that I have been in and out of the Chamber for almost the whole time, wishing to speak on another subject. My observations have led me to believe that the interests of the fishing industry get more leadership, supervision and helpful watching from this side of the House than from that. But it seems that, in the 965 context of agriculture and the series of Orders which are to follow, we are regarded as poor fish.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
It can hardly be said that the hon. Gentleman, with his sort of size, has been in and out like a fairy, but we are glad to welcome him now.
Certain facts have emerged from the debate quite clearly. The pattern this year, following what happened the year before, has shown that parts of the fleet have done much better. The Minister himself quoted various figures to show how much better certain parts of the fleet have done, and we accept this as being a welcome sign that it is emerging from the bad times it had in 1960, 1961 and 1962. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) said, the fishing industry passes through cycles, and when it is down times are very difficult indeed. At the moment, it is, by and large, on the upswing, though this is not true of the entire fleet. We are delighted to know that the majority have lad a better year than the year before, which in its turn was better than the previous year, but, of course, before that times were very bad, if not disastrous.
The Government have not paid sufficient attention to the individual sections of the fleet. They have made overall cuts in subsidy affecting the entire fleet, the average being 10 per cent., but the incidence of the cut has been particularly harsh on the inshore fleet and on the smaller boats in the herring fleet. The right hon. Gentleman said that these sections had increased their profits in the past year, pointing out that the inshore fleet's results were up by £1.3 million. This is about a 20 per cent. increase, but, because of that 20 per cent. increase, he is making a cut in subsidy of 10 per cent.
This is not a fair argument to use because parts of the inshore fleet have had an extremely difficult time, and there have been substantial rises in costs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) pointed out, nine-tenths of the increase in prices has been absorbed by rising costs. No one will deny that costs have risen considerably during the past seven months, mainly, of course, as a result of policies pursued by the right hon. Gentleman 966 and his colleagues. Catches have gone down and the increased profitability of the fleet has come from higher prices but on a lower quantity of fish caught. In these circumstances, some of the smaller people find themselves hit the hardest, and it ill becomes the Minister to be complacent. I hope that I misunderstood and that he did not mean to give that impression.
In this year, he has been lucky because this hunting industry has done better, but that is no reason for doing nothing while, at the same time, cutting the subsidy by 10 per cent. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he misjudges the mood of the industry if he thinks that it is accepted without a good deal of dismay in some quarters.
Although the Minister said that there had been a 10 per cent. overall cut for the herring industry, for boats under 40 ft. in length it has, in fact, been 17 per cent. I admit that for the others it has been 10 per cent., but the ones suffering the greatest cut are the smallest boats. In part of the inshore fleet the same story applies. It is a pity that the Minister has chosen this year to do it.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that the previous Government intended to cut the inshore fleet subsidy when it was doing well and had announced that intention. In fact, in 1963–64 and in 1964–65 when the fleet was doing better, we made no cut in the subsidy and, in fact, this is the first time since 1962—I am talking about the inshore fleet now—that the inshore fleet has had a cut. Moreover, if the right hon. Gentleman wanted to make this first cut in subsidy, 10 per cent. was much too great. I hope that the matter can be put right. What happens if conditions turn against the fishermen during the rest of this year? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that there will be an increase in the amount of supplementary grant in the second half to run from 1st January to 31st July next year? The margin there is very small, and it is difficult to make recompense for losses which occur.
The Minister should bear these facts in mind and be prepared to look again at this section of the industry. Rather than have an overall cut for parts of the inshore and herring fleets, he ought to have been selective. I agree with him that some sections have done much better 967 than others, and this is a good thing, but not all parts of the industry have done well.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said that we all want to see the industry standing upon its own feet. He was applying his remarks to agriculture as well, but I was not quite sure that he was right in doing so. I can assure him that the agriculturist still wants to be able to stand on his own feet, too. The two industries are not quite the same. But I will not pursue that point.
§ Mr. James Johnson
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the farmers would meet to discuss some tapering off, if only 10 per cent. over the next 10 years?
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
If the present Government stay in office, I do not think they will have much money left to spend on subsidies at all, and probably after 10 years the subsidies will be right down. But this is pure speculation. The hon. Gentleman has led me into the wrong field.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West urged that grants for freezer trawlers should be increased. The Minister said that he would increase the number of approvals for the construction of freezer trawlers. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us what figure the Minister has in mind.
The Minister said that the near and middle water fleets were very up to date at the moment, and also that renovations would be in order. He indicated that the main difficulty concerns the distant water fleet. I understood him to say that the only grants available will be for the freezer trawlers and that the near and middle waters fleets are not in need of grants because they are modern. I am talking about the replacement of vessels. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to clarify that point.
Many references have been made to the minimum price system. The Minister gave a most remarkable performance on this. In one sentence he brushed the matter aside. But I should like to know what he thinks about it. A very interesting speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), 968 who put forward some very constructive thoughts. Some of the difficulties were outlined and underlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll. But all we had from the Minister was a sentence saying that he had not thought enough about it and that in the short time that he has been in office—it seems an awfully long time to others—he has not been able to come to any conclusion about this. But he really must tell the industry the way his thoughts are going and the principles on which he will make up his mind.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice said is true. The Restrictive Trade Practices Court is considering these cases. I would not have expected the Minister to go into details, for that would have been out of order, but I would have expected him to mention this. If the Minister does not wish to intervene on this, I should be grateful if he world listen to what I am saying.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
That is a splendid intervention. If the right hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of listening to me, I will go over what I have already said.
It is only right that in these conditions and circumstances the Minister should give the House and the industry an idea of his thoughts on this matter. He should have done it in his speech. If he wishes to leave this to his Parliamentary Secretary, fair enough, but that is not the correct way to do it. Does the Minister accept the principle of a minimum import price system? He seems always to be behaving rather like a shadow Minister on the Opposition benches, and that seems to be his behaviour at this moment. I wish he would tell us whether he accepts such a scheme in principle. It is of great importance, and it will be of even greater importance after the decisions have been taken by the Restrictive Trade Practices Court. I do not, of course, know which way those decisions will go, but it is only right and proper that we should know the Government's thinking on the matter.
I turn now to the subject of transport and marketing. There is no doubt that 969 the recent increase in freight charges for the carrying of fish has caused a great deal of hardship to the smaller fish merchants. I have particular knowledge of this from what has occurred in my part of the world where the normal practice of the small merchants is to send small amounts of fish to other parts of the country. They have been very adversely affected by the increased freight charges. Some of the railway regulations concerning the carrying of fish have also affected them severely. We ought to review the marketing systems. Perhaps the carriage of fish by the railways is not as modern as it should and could be these days. We ought to look into this matter very carefully to see how we can improve the marketing systems and the transport of fish from the markets to the consumers. This is all tied up with the new policies and outlooks which are so important if the industry is to make progress.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) spoke about the setting up of co-operatives to market fish. I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman about this recently, and had a very courteous reply—he seems better on paper than when he is speaking—saying that at the moment there is no legislation which enables him to assist in the setting up of fish marketing co-operatives. However, the White Fish Authority has certain powers to give financial assistance to co-operatives once they are set up on a voluntary basis. This is not on all fours with the position in horticulture and agriculture. Although the Minister can channel a certain amount of assistance from the White Fish Authority to those who want to set up fish marketing co-operatives, it might be a good idea to look into this matter again to ascertain whether legislation would not be an advantage to enable the Government, as it does in agriculture and horticulture, to take a direct hand in promoting desired co-operatives.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll made a valid point about the money to be saved by the Government through the 10 per cent. cut being devoted to increasing research. I welcome the setting up of a research economic unit and the Government's contribution of £ for £ This will go quite a long way in helping the industry, for a great deal still remains to be found out.
970 My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) put forward several interesting suggestions about developing marketing and made other points concerning the West Country, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington. In the West Country, we are all anxious to see the small inshore fishermen in a position to carry on and not being forced to resort to the type of work which is not really in the best interests of fishing—such as taking out tourists. All the fishermen I know want to devote their time to fishing as a full-time occupation.
Controversy has been raging about shell fishing. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives that, until research has gone much further and the difficulties experienced with the old traditional types of shell fishing and the new skin diving for cray fish commercially have been thoroughly explored, the present position should be held.
Finally, I want to say how much Mr. Matthews and the White Fish Authority have done for the fishing industry. The Minister will be the first to admit, however, that a lot remains to be done. It is difficult to see the way forward and we should be told clearly just how the Government view the future, including subsidies and trawler grants. How do the Government see the future of the industry in the round? Are they in favour of a minimum prices scheme? Will they investigate and bring forward measures to improve marketing? 'What do they intend to do about the transporting of fish from the market to the consumer? These are all vitally important questions.
Just as important are the questions as to how the industry itself is standing up to the conditions of the times. The Minister has made a mistake in some of the cuts. On reflection he will agree, I think, that the 17 per cent. cut on the smaller and perhaps the weakest brethren—those of the herring fleet—is wrong, for instance. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us a few of the answers to our questions, particularly on how the Minister sees the future of this very important industry.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)
This has been a very interesting debate and, as usual, not very much party politics has played a 971 part. I must say, however, that I cannot altogether understand the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). I think that he gets just a little abusive without knowing what he is doing. Otherwise he was all right today. The hon Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) made a fairly good speech but could not finish without putting in what we in Scotland would call a "wee sleekit" touch of party politics. I suppose that he thought that his speech must be hardened somewhere.
However, it has been a good humoured debate on the whole. I shall do my best to answer at least a large proportion of the considerable number of questions put to me. First, however, it is a very sad reflection that we never seem to have a fishing debate without some tragedy having overtaken people in the industry. At Lowestoft in the last week or two we have had a further two tragedies because of winch accidents. I am sure that every one would like me to extend the sympathy of the House to the bereaved. Of course, the accidents will be examined to see if anything can be done to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
The question of a minimum prices scheme is of fundamental importance to the industry. The only dispute I have with the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) on this is about who consumes the most fish and I am willing to challenge him on it. I am ready to welcome him as a pillar of the fishing industry—perhaps I should call him a "slab". [HON. MEMBERS: "That is abusive."] I do not think that the word "slab" is abusive in this context. We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the very balanced view he takes about having a minimum prices scheme.
However, such a project brings enormous difficulties. It is not quite as simple as one would think looking at it from the outside. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that, even within the industry, there are different views about the value or otherwise of such a scheme. I have given a great deal of thought to it and we have held considerable discussions. Only yesterday I was present at a meeting with the Chairman of the White Fish Authority.
The House will understand that, when a scheme is introduced, it will not be 972 produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but by the White Fish Authority. Whether it is approved by the Minister is another matter. In that respect the Minister will be acting in a judicial capacity. He will either approve it or otherwise.
§ Mr. Noble
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to mean that, if the Minister agrees with the White Fish Authority about the form of a scheme, it will be put into operation without Parliament having the opportunity to discuss it? Is it the Minister's intention to lay a White Paper so that we can consider the scheme and see how it can be improved?
§ Mr. Hoy
What we are hoping to do is to get a much more positive paper—if I may put it that way—from the White Fish Authority on which judgment can be made. Of course, there would be expenditure involved, both by the industry and by the Government, and we shall both want to know exactly what is involved before deciding whether we are prepared to pay for the scheme or not. Even within the industry there is a difference of opinion but we have held this further meeting and I hope that progress will be made.
I thought that it would be apparent to the House why my right hon. Friend did not deal with the Restrictive Practices Court. It is not for us to comment on what should happen in that court. We do not even know whether the case will go before it. The industry itself will have to make up its mind about whether it wants to defend the case in court.
I agree it would be for the benefit of all concerned if we could come to some agreement as to whether there should be a minimum prices scheme or not. The present voluntary scheme covers about 70 per cent. of the landings, and so we are concerned with adding about 30 per cent. at the smaller ports. We would have to face the great difficulties involved. We are actively pursuing this matter in the hope that we can carry out this scheme.
I was asked how this scheme would be discussed. If we reached agreement and a minimum prices scheme were introduced, it would be done by an Affirmative Resolution. It would then be for the House to consider whether it liked the scheme and the House would have 973 control over it in that way. This is not a matter which has been discussed for six months or nine months. It is more than two years since the White Fish Authority put up the scheme. Our predecessors had a go at it for 15 months and we have been looking at it for the last nine months. I hope that by the time we have equalled their length of time we shall have found the answer.
§ Mr. Hoy
I did not say quite that. I said that the present voluntary scheme covered 70 per cent. I would not say that if it broke down the whole industry would totter. I do not underestimate its importance, but we do not do the industry any good by exaggerating the difficulties.
I was asked about the grants to be made available for building. The sum of £1.6 million which my right hon. Friend mentioned is not quite comparable with the figure of £2.1 million which the hon. Member for Haltemprice mentioned. The latter figure was for the start of the programme and what we are hoping to do with the sum of £1.6 million is to cover the remainder of this and the next financial year.
The money made available is not limited to any one section of the industry but covers the three, herring, in-shore and middle, and the distant water fleet. It is not for any Government to lay down to the White Fish Authority that the money is to build, say, two freezer trawlers and one conventional trawler or anything of that kind, and that has never been done by any Government. What we have done is to make money available for new building, and we are saying that within that sum there will certainly be money for the provision of new freezer trawlers. It is true that provision was made for the freezer trawlers, but completions are only beginning and they have to be paid for. It is quite easy to say that permission will be given to do something—and in 1964 there was a considerable amount of that—but at the end of the day it must be paid for. While 974 that provision is tapering off, this money will be making provision for new building.
I am a little surprised to hear hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite always asking for more money. The extraordinary thing is that they are always saying that we have to provide more money for subsidies and so on, but then when Budgets come along they urge the Government to restrict public expenditure. What my right hon. Friend has done this year has been comparable with what has been done in any period recently.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not apply to the amount of money to be made available for future grants in the next six months? Will applications for starts on freezer trawlers during the next six months be postponed for six months?
§ Mr. Hoy
I will deal with that at once because that is an important question. Any ships to be built in development areas will not be held up, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there would be extensions of that exemption and I certainly hope that one of the exceptions will be the industry for which I am responsible. I think that I can promise that none of the new ships will be held up by the Chancellor's statement.
It was a little glib of the right hon. Member for Argyll to say that the money saved from subsidy cuts could be devoted to research. These cuts were laid down by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends, and the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) was a Minister at the time. If I can claim nothing else, I can claim the credit for having had doubts about whether the scheme could be accomplished in ten years, although the industry agreed that it could be done in ten years. Having laid down the cuts, I do not think that hon. Members opposite have the right to complain.
I contrast their complaint today with what was said by the Opposition spokesman in another place when, only 48 hours ago, these Orders were introduced there. The right hon. Gentleman's counterpart welcomed them. He clearly understood them, because he said that although they 975 represented cuts they should be welcomed because they had been expected.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that since these agreements were made, a new and very important factor has emerged, namely, the extension of fishing limits?
§ Mr. Hoy
I agree that that has occurred, but I am bound to tell the hon. Lady that when the matter was raised about three years ago I had something to say about the distant water fleet and the noble Lady did not pay any attention to what I said.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the money saved from these subsidies cannot be transferred to research or anything else. This was an agreement about subsidy rates. The estimates for research for this year will be thousands of £s up on the previous year. I do not underestimate the importance of research in this industry. I have said before that one of the great weaknesses of the Fleck Report, which has been reiterated by many hon. Members today, although the Fleck Report has not been mentioned, was that it failed to outline what the future pattern of the industry ought to be. I agree that when we are dealing with these things we are dealing with the day-to-day working and management of the industry.
In the Department there is an inquiry to try to decide what the future pattern of the industry should be. It involves not only the catching side, but marketing, distribution, and ancillary trades. That is why I say that hon. Members opposite have been a little unfair to British Railways. It is not for me to take over the job of the Minister of Transport, but everybody knows that more and more the fishing industry has been sending big loads by road. The right hon. Gentleman knows that from his personal experience of the last few months. Hon. Members have been asking that the railways should be carrying the small packets of fish, but that is very expensive. That, too, has to be considered.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) spoke of herring fishing. I have looked at it once again because I could not understand the figures which he delivered with tremendous 976 religious fervour. Not always with much Christianity, but with fervour. I looked at these figures. I find that on both counts, on the boats and on the men's earnings, they were very much better last year than the previous year. I do not understand the hon. Member's figures. I do not claim too much. I hesitate even to give the average earnings per man per boat in case I start a quarrel between a man and his wife as to what he did with his earnings. But I can give an assurance that the earnings are up.
I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeenshire, East said that herring fishermen did not get unemployment insurance. That is not so. All share fishermen, that is those who share in a vessel's proceeds, can qualify for unemployment insurance. I do not quite understand his point, because the hon. Gentleman himself said that they were having to pay increased insurance contributions. Quite obviously if they are paying increased insurance contributions, they are qualifying for the benefit which these contributions provide for.
§ Mr. Wolrige-Gordon
On that point, I think that the hon. Gentleman must have been misinformed. The point I wanted to make is that they are not eligible for unemployment benefit. Would he deny, for example, that this year, for the first time, no 40 ft. or 60 ft. boats are engaged in herring fishing?
§ Mr. Hoy
That is quite a different question. It is very much better to make a comparison about the catch of the whole fleet this year and the previous year. The hon. Member would be comparing like with like if he did that. I am not belittling the difficulties, and I have never sought to do so.
The other question raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Argyll was the enforcement of British limits. There are a considerable number of protection vessels in our waters. The hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) raised the question of whether helicopters were used. These are used together with Shackletons, and it might interest the House to know that since 9th September, 1964, when the new powers came into operation, ten offences have been reported—five French and five Belgian. Fines were imposed on nine boats. They were not just £10 fines. 977 The total amounted to £1,135, with costs and confiscation of gear in some cases. I do not think we need ask the courts to increase sentences. I would hesitate to intervene in the workings of the court at this time.
As to the inclusion of special subsidies for oil burners, I am a little surprised at the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South, because she provided more than half the answer to her question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Argyll, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, imposed these cuts. The noble Lady made a comparison between the nine boats at Aberdeen and the English ports. The old pre-1948 oil burners were first excluded early in 1964.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I hesitate to interrupt again, but I think that the hon. Gentleman may not have heard what I said. These particular oil burners, based on the port of Aberdeen, were not pre-1940. They were built between 1946 and 1949. What I want to know is, if there is this distinction now between boats built after 1955 and those built between 1946–49, is it the policy of Her Majesty's Government to drive these oil burners out of business?
§ Mr. Hoy
I said the pre-1948 oil burners. The special subsidy was introduced to meet special needs over which people had no control, such as a bad season. The right hon. Gentleman for Argyll, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, came to the conclusion that all oil burners were not in this category and some ought to be excluded. He did this early in 1964 and later. I do not know why he or the noble Lady should object, because they agreed to this. If it is any consolation to them, I think that I am on record as having supported the decision. I thought it was a sensible thing to do. One cannot go on having vessels which are old, and getting older, and hope to keep pumping subsidy into them merely for the sake of keeping them going. I think that was the view I took then. I do not know why the noble Lady should complain about this now. It does not do the constituency any good.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised the question as to whether stonage or daily rates subsidy ought to be paid. I think he realised that when one is fixing 978 these limits on the size of boats there are always some which just go outside and some which just come inside. This has caused great trouble and we have looked at it and are still looking at it. It is terribly difficult to find a solution giving satisfaction to those who are just outside. I am reminded of one of the decisions we made in a recent review on hill subsidies for farms. We took in an awful lot more than had previously been in, but by so doing we left a few out and we have had such great trouble from the few who were left out and so little thanks from the many whom we brought in as to make one realise what a difficult problem this is.
In the Orkneys and Shetland, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are very valuable fishing grounds. One of the troubles which confronts his constituency is that the bigger vessels are taking their landings direct to Aberdeen, to the markets there. If there could be some guarantee of contract fishing, in the sense that we could give some assurance to the merchants or to the processors about the availability of supplies, something might be done. I can assure him that we will not overlook this problem. I also take his point about the part which this plays in connection with the Highlands Development authority. Quite obviously it will have to consult the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board as to the part which it can play.
There are naturally social implications in this. Not only in the Orkneys and Shetlands but in other parts of the country people are dependent for their livelihood upon fishing; to take that away could produce serious trouble. What we have been doing is attempting to get the industry into a viable state. I have tried to cover the broad sweep of what has been discussed this afternoon, and the questions put to me. If there are any questions to which I have not replied, in a purely personal sense, I shall have a look at them again and communicate with hon. Members. I would like to conclude by thanking hon. and right hon. Members for the part they have played in the debate today. We want to see a really viable industry and we have to do a considerable amount of thinking and work, on such things as the minimum prices scheme. I would like to convey my thanks to Mr. Roy Matthews, 979 the chairman of the White Fish Authority and to the chairman of the Herring Industry Board. My duties bring me into more regular contact with Mr. Matthews, and I have had nothing but help and assistance from him. I hope that that will continue.
It would be ungracious to finish without saying a word of thanks to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) for the kind things she said. We have tried to be helpful. It is true that we have had to take away some boats from her constituency, though I will not go into that now. It was not a very pleasant story, so we relieved her constituency of them in the best way available. We did the same in Aberdeen, and I will not go into that now, because when people fail they know that they have failed without our rubbing it in. We have taken boats back and sold them, but I cannot disclose the price at which this business deal has been done. It would be wrong to prove that the people who had the boats first handled the situation badly.
Over a long period, we have dealt with them as decently as possible. It is only when the final conclusion has been reached—when no matter what assistance we gave them, they could not pay their way—that we decided that we should not insist on their living in poverty. We have taken their boats over and disposed of them. We found a sale for them and they have been put to good use.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1965, dated 5th July 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.
That the Herring Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1965, dated 5th July 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.—[Mr. Willis]
That the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (Aggregate Amount of Grants) Order 1965, dated 5th July 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.—[Mr. Peart.]
That the White Fish and Herring Industries (Aggregate Amount of Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Order 1965, dated 5th July 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.—[Mr. Peart.]