HC Deb 03 March 1965 vol 707 cc1453-72

9.58 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 84), dated 21st January, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th January, be annulled. The first comment I should like to make—

Mr. Speaker

I called the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) in error. I see that only one name appears on the Motion and only the hon. Member whose name appears can move it.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I hope that hon. Members opposite will not crow too soon.

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) (Amendment) Scheme 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 84), dated 21st January, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st February, be annulled.

Mr. Stodart

Despite that false start, I should still like, as my first remark, to say this. Although the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) has answered Questions on fishing since October, I believe that this is the first occasion on which he will have taken part in a debate from the Government Front Bench. I should like to tender to him the congratulations and good wishes of many of my constituents, of whom he is one, on the honour which has befallen him. I hope that his voyage will be not too uncomfortable, but not over-long.

The special rates of grant which we are discussing form part of the £2½ million which are to be spent over 10 years up to 1972, and they, in turn, are an integral part of the whole system of fishing subsidies, which include the tapering basic rates and also the grants and loans. Therefore, when this Scheme comes before the House, it provides a good chance for asking the Minister for a progress report on the advance of the industry towards the viability which we all hope awaits it.

The special rates were designed to meet what have been described as particular short-term difficulties. The expenditure in any year is limited to £350,000. The 1962 Statutory Instrument, I think, was made for the whole year, as is usual in cases of this kind. But in the summer of 1963 the British Trawler Federation asked that these supplementary grants should be adjusted every six months so as to provide the maximum impact where it was most needed. So it has been ever since.

I think that I am right in saying—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that in the six months from August, 1963, to January, 1964, these supplementary grants ran at £160,000. Between February and July, 1964—that is the subsequent six months—they ran at £170,000, making £330,000 for that year. I also think I am right in saying that that figure of £330,000 was a little up on the previous year. From August, 1964, until January this year—that is, the six months period which has just passed—the sum of supplementary grants amounted to only £25,000, which was based on the profit and loss account, as it were, of the industry between October, 1963, and March, 1964.

The first question which I should like to ask the Minister is, how much do the grants listed in the Scheme come to? I presume that, whatever the figure is, it is based on the fortunes of the industry during the summer and possibly the latter half of 1964. It appears from the Scheme as if this series will be even lower than the £25,000 of the last six months.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The hon. Member is giving a great deal of ancient history about the fishing industry, but he has not indicated the relevance of that history to his objection to the Scheme. Will he come to the point and tell us what his objection is?

Mr. Stodart

It is not a bad policy to spend a little time painting the background, because this is not a short-term policy. It is all part of a policy that operates until 1972. I hope, therefore, that the hon. and learned Member will allow me merely to sketch in the background into which the Scheme fits.

Secondly, if I am right in saying that the amount for the present six months is to be less than the £25,000 of the previous six months, I should like to know from the Minister whether what is saved this year can be banked up and held in advance for the next year. I suspect that it can, but I should like the Minister to confirm this.

I have no desire to be pessimistic. I hope profoundly that the results which the fishing fleets enjoyed in 1964 were not a flash in the pan. Everyone who knows anything about the fishing industry knows, however, that these bright spots happen and that one can then so easily descend into a trough. It may, therefore, well be that if we can bank up what has been saved this year, it will come in useful in the future.

There is no more hazardous work than that which is done by the fishing fleets. It is a matter of great regret and sorrow to us all that during the last 12 months lives have been lost among these gallant men who have gone out to do this hazardous and dangerous work.

It is interesting to note the decline which has occurred in the distribution of these special subsidies. Only a year ago, there were 14 categories which enjoyed a special subsidy and these were based upon 11 different ports or harbours. Last summer, when we last debated the matter, the 14 categories had fallen to five, based upon seven harbours. The present Scheme gives these special grants to only three categories, based upon five harbours.

There are one or two interesting features of the various classes in the Scheme. The first is that oil-fired vessels, no matter what is their port, have dropped right out of the list. A year ago there were seven classes of these, which benefited up to a maximum amount of £10 a day, and they came from six different ports.

Secondly, when one studies the Scheme, there are obviously considerable difficulties in the class which deals with the 120–130 ft. boats or motor fishing vessels from Milford Haven. A year ago this class received £8 10s. a day. Six months ago the special grant dropped to £8. Tonight the Scheme before us tells us that the grant has gone up to £10.

The third figure which I think is worth comment is that the 100 ft. to 110 ft. class of vessels berthed at Fleetwood and North Shields are still in the list whereas for most other ports that size of vessel has dropped out altogether. The Fleetwood boats get the same grant as they did in July of last year, whereas at North Shields the grant for these vessels has risen from £3 10s. to £4 10s. and I wonder if the Minister is able to tell us what problems are facing these boats and these ports which have made them rather distinctive from the others in that they have obviously fared worse.

Without a doubt this marked decline in the special subsidies reflects the better results which the white fish fleet as a whole has had and which nearly all sectors of it have had, and in a year, let us remember, when troubles were by no means absent and when extensions of the limits, for example at the Faroes, loomed very large indeed. For these better results I think we have got to be grateful on at least two counts. First we must be grateful to Nature, for, by that mysterious way in which she moves, and nine times out of ten declining to reveal her secrets to us, more fish than were ever expected have been around. Secondly, we must be thankful for the enterprise and the hard work of the fishermen who went out to catch fish in different grounds and on many occasions from those to which they had been accustomed.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that, though there has been a decline, quite clearly, in the need for special grants, and this must, I think, mean that there must have been improved results, the improvement, let us say from zero, or possibly an improvement even from a minus position, does not mean that all is well in the fishing industry. I am quite certain that the hon. Gentleman, with his experience particularly with the fortunes of the Scottish fishing fleet in recent years, will agree with me in that observation. Therefore, I wonder if he would give us a little information about what is happening to cause the decline in these special subsidies.

My information is that in 1962 the white fish catch by the home fleet amounted to just under 700,000 tons and produced £46 million in value. In 1963 the total catch was just over 700,000 tons and produced £48 million. Could the Minister tell us what the catch, both in weight and value, has been in 1964? I think I am right in saying—I do not have the up-to-date figures which I am sure are available to the hon. Gentleman—that there were improved values in the first part of the year, but perhaps he can tell us how the year ended, and how it turned out generally.

In 1962, the white fish catch of the home fleet formed 86½ per cent. of the total amount of white fish landed in this country. In 1963 the home percentage rose by 1 per cent., to 87½ per cent. In 1964 we experienced the extension of the limits of the Faroes with all the difficulties which followed, particularly for the fleet based on Aberdeen. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us what percentage of the whole the British fleet cost in 1964. One would expect it to show a further increase.

These subsidies form only one part of the whole structure of support which the fishing industry enjoys, and I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if, as a Scottish Member, with a Scottish harbour in my constituency, I ask the hon. Member whether he can tell us something about the results which have accrued to the trawler fleet based on Granton and Aberdeen, and also how they stand now that we have regard to such things as the burden which they have carried on mortgage rates, and so forth.

I could not conclude without mentioning the name of Mr. Roy Matthews. I do not think that in his inquiry into the white fish industry he can have avoided taking notice of the special subsidies and in the last debate on this subject on 15th July, 1964, both the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend, who is now the Minister of Agriculture, were anxious to have Mr. Matthews' report published. Does the Minister feel able to rid himself of his anxiety by allowing this report to see the light of day?

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

Which one?

Mr. Stodart

Mr. Matthews' report on the white fish industry.

Mr. Hoy

Mr. Matthews has presented two reports. Is the hon. Gentleman talking about the report presented to our predecessors?

Mr. Stodart

I am talking about the one which, last July, the hon. Gentleman was anxious to see published. At any rate, can he tell us whether any positive action is being taken on that report and the various recommendations contained in it? In particular, has any progress been made in the scheme for either the minimum or reserve price system on white fish?

One of the great features of the fishing debates in the past has been the lack of political controversy. Every hon. Member, no matter where he sits, is anxious for the well-being and the prosperity of an industry which is manned by very fine people indeed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity tonight to give us some good news about the advance of the fishing industry towards viability and profitability.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

The normal method of subsidising the fishing fleet has been through the basic subsidy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) has pointed out, this basic subsidy is increased for certain types of vessel by the special subsidy that we are now considering. In recent years the special subsidy has been altered every six months. I have made a table of the alterations that have taken place in the last three years. They all show a decreasing trend.

The basic subsidy has dropped from £13, 17s. 6d., in 1964, to £12 15s. 0d. in respect of distant water oil burners operating from Hull and Grimsby. In 1964 these vessels also received a special subsidy under an order similar to that which we are debating. They now receive nothing. Subsidies for distant water vessels have, therefore, decreased every six months. I make no complaint about it. It is a good thing. It shows that the fleet can support itself and that the object of the subsidies is being achieved.

The smaller motor vessels, of between 135 ft. and 140 ft. operating from the same ports used also to receive a special subsidy, but that subsidy has now been ended. We are left with the three major types of vessels affected by the Scheme. In respect of the 120 ft. vessel operating from North Shields, the subsidy has been reduced from £7 to £2. There has been a strange variation in respect of the 100 ft. boat operating from Milford Haven— already mentioned by my hon. Friend. I hope that the hon. Member will comment on it. In January, 1964, the special subsidy was £3 10s. It then suddenly leapt to £8. Now it is down to £2. This is a rather unusual variation, out of the normal trend for this or indeed any other type of vessel operating out of the smaller port. Lastly, in respect of 90 ft. motor vessels operating from Brixham, the normal trend is followed, in that the subsidy has fallen from £4 to £2. Generally speaking, therefore, the trend both in respect of basic and special subsidies, is gradually downwards.

When we last debated these matters, in July of last year, I pointed out that under Conservative Governments £40 million had been given to re-equip the fishing fleet by various forms of subsidy, and I said last year that it was a good thing that, by agreement with the industry, we were able to reduce the general subsidy by 15 per cent. Having spoken of this 15 per cent. I went on to say that I was not clear whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) who had spoken before me thought that this general trend of reduction—15 per cent. in the last year—was a good thing or not. I said: Every hon. Member who has spoken so far has accepted that this reduction in subsidies is justified. The hon. Member for Leith then intervened and said: I had better put the hon. Member right. I made it quite clear that I did not agree. He referred to the speech of the then hon. Member for Banff, who had said that to talk about phasing out was nonsense. The hon. Member for Leith commented: That is what I think about it, too."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 1964; Vol. 698. c. 1329.] Now we see that he and the Government are adopting the same policy of phasing down these subsidy schemes. We hope that the re-equipment, replacement and modernising of the industry will be such that phasing out can be completed within the given period, namely by 1972. This would be in accordance with the wishes of O.E.C.D., whose Fisheries Committee made a strong report on the whole question of fishery subsidies last summer, and particularly castigated Britain and Norway in this respect. Perhaps I could just add, in passing, that, if we could get a reasonable agreement with the Faroese, we might be able to further reduce the subsidies. After all, subsidies are basically needed not only to modernise a fleet but in some way to compensate for the loss of traditional fishing grounds and traditional rights, particularly off Iceland and the Faroes.

May I make another point which has not been dealt with so far. The Minister will recall that in the last Report of the White Fish Authority, dated March last year, the loans and interest on loans due to the White Fish Authority which had not been repaid amounted to £1½ million. There was a moratorium on these repayments, starting in 1962 to run for two years. I believe that it expired in September, last year. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman could say what has happened about the moratorium. This is relevant because we are discussing subsidies designed to cause the fleet to operate efficiently, and probably many of the owners of these ships are in debt to the White Fish Authority. I should like to know what is to happen to these debts—whether or not they will have to be repaid immediately. We all agree on both sides of the House that these subsidies are necessary and justified. They are producing a more efficient fleet and that fleet is capable of catching many more fish.

I am sure that we are all extremely worried about over-fishing. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Fisheries Minister in Norway was talking only the other day about the extinction of the Arctic cod. As we often extend these fisheries debates beyond the actual subject of the subsidies, perhaps he might have a few words to give us about the Government's views on the whole problem of over-fishing, which is a vital one.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Charles Loughlin)

That would be out of order.

Mr. Wall

Finally, to return to the point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West, what is happening about the discussions which the Chairman of the White Fish Authority has had with the Government? We all know that he submitted a report some time ago, and when the Parliamentary Secretary was sitting on this side of the House he helped me to try to get the Government Front Bench to divulge what was said in those recommendations. There has now been another series of recommendations made to the hon. Gentleman opposite, and I should like to hear his views on those recommendations. After all, they affect matters of vital importance to this industry, quality control, statutory minimum price schemes, guarantee payments for fish not sold and improvements on the distributive side. These are matters of great importance to the industry.

It has been traditional for your predecessors, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to allow this debate to go wider than the actual subject of the Scheme. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will find time to answer some of these questions, because they are of great interest to the industry. He will remember that we are unlikely to have another fisheries debate until June or July this year, and these matters arouse a great deal of public interest.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

When I look at the Front Bench opposite and I hear the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin)—the Parlia-liamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health—making remarks about my hon. Friend being out of order, I remember his behaviour in the last Parliament and I wonder how he dares to open his mouth.

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) on what he has said. He made a first-class speech and dealt admirably with most of the points in this Scheme. He has not left a great deal for any of us to say, but I should like to join with him, first of all, in saying how must we regret the losses which have occurred in the last two months amongst our fishermen at sea. I join particularly in the regret expressed at the loss of the "Blue Crusader", as I remember the loss of the "Boston Pioneer" from my own port of Lowestoft. In the last two months, we have lost 30 fishermen at sea in one way or another, either through the loss of the ship or through the loss of men washed overboard. I know that all hon. Members will join with me in paying tribute to the wonderful work done by our fishermen and express sorrow to the next of kin of the men who lost their lives.

We are, while discussing many aspects of the fishing industry tonight, also discussing the price of fish, which can sometimes be a great deal higher than the actual £ s. d. it costs. Hon. Members with knowledge of this subject will know what I mean. The Scheme is remarkable not so much for what it contains but for the number of ports not mentioned in it. When one considers the plight of Aberdeen two years ago and thinks of it now, the fact that Aberdeen is not in the Scheme speaks volumes for the improvement which has taken place in the fishing industry there.

I am equally delighted that the port which I represent, Lowestoft, is also not in the Scheme. The fishing industry in 1964 had the best year for a good many years. Long may that state of affairs continue. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) pointed out, nothing is more chancy than fishing. In a year or so the industry may need extra help. In view of what the Minister said in the past, when in opposition, I trust that any calls for supplementary help from the industry in future will not fall on stony ground.

Is it possible for the supplementary provisions to be carried forward from year to year? As has been pointed out, this year we are not spending a great deal of money out of the supplementary fund, although more may be needed in future. Is it possible, therefore, to carry this unused money forward?

The Schedule, which gives the rates of grant, reveals that most of the ports requiring supplementary payments are the small ones at which the marketing facilities for fish are not as good as at the larger ports. I recall that some time ago a three-man team carried out a marketing study, the aim being to improve the marketing facilities at fishing ports. Has that study been completed and, if so, what action is to be taken? This is an important matter because the Schedule shows clearly that the ports requiring assistance are those at which the marketing facilities need improving.

It is also interesting to note that the larger vessels, fishing in the near and middle waters, do not appear to be making a great deal of money. The under 90-footers from Aberdeen, Lowestoft and Grimsby seem to be doing reasonably well, while once they get over, say, 100 feet—the 120 to 130-footers from the smaller ports—they do not do particularly well. I suppose that this has something to do with the fact that it costs a great deal more to run the larger vessels and that they are not making so much money from the fishing they are doing.

I should like to know how the 90-footers are doing in the other ports; at South Shields, for example. I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) is not in her place. She would undoubtedly have a lot to say about the activities in her part of the country. Is the Minister satisfied with the position at that port, and has South Shields got over its difficulties in the same way as other ports have tackled theirs?

I think that the real success of the past year has been an increase in the price of fish, which has been brought about by a number of factors, not least by the increase in the price of meat which has raised the level of prices all round. We on this side of the House may take credit for having done this—

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May we be told what is the relevance of the price of meat to this Scheme?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

I do not think it has any relevance, but I think the hon. Gentleman was dealing with the price of fish in relation to these subsidies. He must confine himself to the desirability or not of continuing the subsidies.

Mr. Prior

Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your protection. It comes ill from an hon. Member who represents one of the Woolwich constituencies to intervene in a very ill-informed manner in a fishing debate. No doubt, if I am out of order, you will not hesitate to tell me so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. So far I think I have related what I have to say to the Scheme which is before us.

I was saying that the increase in the price of meat in the last year has helped the price of fish to rise, which in its turn reduced the need for a supplementary susbsidy such as we are discussing this evening. I went on to say that I thought that this side of the House could take considerable credit for having the courage to allow prices of food to rise a little so as to give our fishermen and agriculturists a chance to obtain a larger share of the market.

These supplementary funds that we are discussing are small, and no one would be more pleased than I if they could be done away with altogether. This is a good sign for the fishing industry and one that we welcome. I am glad to think that the improvement relates to a period under a Conservative Government and we hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who has spoken up well for the fishing industry in the past, will do the same in future as he did when in opposition. If he does so, he will have our support. If he does not, he knows what to expect.

10.37 p.m.

Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, happily, represents a Scottish constituency and, therefore, we are particularly glad to see him taking an interest in fishing, which I know he has always done. I am sure he will not be surprised if I ask why Aberdeen is not included in the supplementary estimate. I know the main reason for this; it is because the figures to date on which the supplementary estimate is based are generally and, indeed, rather surprisingly good. However, we realise that this is a supplementary estimate for only a short period, and I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to give me two sets of figures.

First, I should like to know what are the total catching figures to date of the fishing fleet operating from the Port of Aberdeen. Secondly, what is the position concerning the debts still owed to the White Fish Authority by several companies or owners, and what is the position of the moratorium? As I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will be the first to appreciate, the fact that it is not necessary during this short period to give a supplementary subsidy to this northern port does not mean that it does not conceal a financial situation which is far from satisfactory. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Price) made the same point concerning his port.

I should like to join with him and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) in the tributes paid to all the fishermen who lost their lives during the period which has elapsed since we last debated the fishing industry, and I would refer particularly to the "Boston Pioneer" from Lowestoft and the "Blue Crusader" from the Port of Aberdeen, which was lost with a crew of 13. The "Blue Crusader" was a modern ship. It was believed that if she was held up to the wind nothing could sink her, nevertheless in a force-10 gale she disappeared with all hands. This is a reminder that this industry is not only, like agriculture, dependent upon the vagaries of the weather but is the most dangerous and difficult of occupations.

It is for this reason that I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has taken a personal interest in these debates in the past, whether now that he has the responsibility of office he is still of the opinion which he expressed in opposition. He then doubted whether phasing out the subsidies over 10 years was correct. This is very important in relation to the supplementary estimates. The hon. Gentleman has often expressed the view that it is a mistake to expect an industry such as this to be viable in such a period. Has he changed his mind?

It is true for Aberdeen. Despite the loss of the Faroes fishing ground, the introduction of new methods of catching, great experience in finding new ground, and achievements in conservation have resulted in good results to date, but these mask a situation which is far from healthy. I should like to know whether the supplementary estimates allow the hon. Gentleman to build up a bank to carry over to the next period when returns might not be so good. Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman feel it necessary now, in the light of information available to him, to consider whether the 10-year period is still a viable proposition?

Lastly, and with respect to my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), I cannot help feeling that the fishing industry has certain divergencies of interest among those who fish north and south of the Border. It is for that reason that I am glad to see a Scottish Member in the position of Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I hope that he will remember that Aberdeen is the prime port of Scotland.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

In my constituency we have the fine fishing port of Bideford. Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in agreement with the new idea of group marketing that is taking place at Brixham, and not only group marketing but group purchasing?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. Group marketing does not come within the terms of this Scheme.

Mr. Mills

If I may be allowed to continue a little longer, you will see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, where it comes in. I am asking for a subsidy or some help in connection with group marketing.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. All we are discussing is whether or not these particular subsidies should be continued.

Mr. Mills

I see that the port of Brixham is mentioned in the schedule, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so I turn now to its affairs. I wonder whether the Minister is aware of what is going on in Brixham. I hope that he will encourage this port not only with the subsidies provided for under the Scheme but in its marketing and various other activities now going on. I feel that what Brixham is now doing could well be a pattern for the future of our ports in the South-West. I should like the Minister to go into this and see whether he approves of what is now going on there. I hope to see it extended because it is high time that there was a great revival of fishing in the West Country, and this could well be a way of achieving it, apart from the method of subsidy covered by the Scheme. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer my question and do as I ask in encouraging fishing in the South-West.

10.45 p.m.

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

First, I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of sympathy which have come from the benches opposite with regard to those who have been lost at sea. This is always a tragedy in the fishing industry. It is one of the hazards which fishermen run, and, unfortunately, these things happen too often. We are very sorry for the loss of life, and we should like the relatives of those who have gone to know how much we feel it in the House.

I thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) for his congratulations to me. I congratulate him on making his first appearance at the Dispatch Box on that side in a fishing debate. The only difference in the congratulations is that I hope that his stay on the opposite benches will be a long one. I shall look forward to discussing fishing with him on many occasions.

The Order setting out the Scheme is a short one. I have never objected to widening the purpose of a debate, but this debate managed to range rather wide on this fairly narrow Scheme. Hon. Members will recall that we had a rather wider debate when the more general Order came up last July. However, I shall try to reply, within the bounds of order, to the points which have been raised.

This Order is the latest in a series which have been made regularly since the passing of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1962. The Act itself provides for basic rates of subsidy for all vessels and for special supplementary subsidies for particular classes of vessels which need extra help because of special circumstances. The basic subsidies are dealt with annually, and those at present in operation will come up for review in the summer; but we have found it more convenient to deal with the supplementary subsidies at six-monthly intervals, although, I remind the House, the Scottish section of the fleet would rather it had been done annually. The present Scheme, therefore, deals only with the supplementary subsidies payable in the period 1st February to 31st July, 1965. This is what we are discussing.

When the House last debated the fishing subsidies in July, on the Motion of the former Minister, it was pointed out that fishing results had been better than for the previous period, and, for that reason, the need for special subsidy was reduced. I am delighted to be able to say tonight that the improvement has continued over the past six months and that these subsidies can again be reduced. The hon. Gentleman asked what they were likely to cost, and I can now tell him.

We estimate that the new rates specified in the Scheme will cost approximately £10,000 in the six months. For the previous six months, they were £25,000, as the hon. Gentleman said. So a total of £35,000 for special subsidies will have been spent in the course of 12 months. This is to be compared with the maximum permitted under the Act of £350,000 for any one year. The actual expenditure in 1963–64 was at the rate of £321,000. This is a measure of the difference and, of course, a measure of the improvement that has taken place in the industry because if it had had a bad year these subsidies would have been very much greater.

The rates provided for in the Order have been agreed after consultation with the representatives of the industry. They take account of the results of the vessels concerned in the six months up to September, 1964. As the House will see, they cover only six classes of vessel in England and Wales, at Milford Haven, Fleetwood, North Shields and Brixham, which have been encountering special difficulties.

Fortunately, there were again no classes of vessels in Scotland in sufficient need to justify any special payments. We cannot very well claim credit for having got into this position and then ask why we did not get extra subsidies. It is because the economy has been very good that no extra supplementary has been required and this should be a matter of great satisfaction to every hon. Member.

One of the objects of the special subsidies was to help those sections of the industry, which may encounter special difficulties, in maintaining progress towards the target of being able to stand on their own feet by 1972. This was laid down a considerable time ago and I expressed some doubt then as to whether the objective might be achieved. It might achieve such a position in the meantime, but who knew what the position would be in 1972. Who could have forecast a dramatic fall in the special supple-mentaries? If I am still in this House then, I shall be saying pretty much what I have said all along—that we have responsibilities to this industry as we have responsibilities to others.

I was a little surprised by the attitude of hon. Members opposite. I suggested at the time that, though they would opt for wiping out all the subsidies, letting them decline year by year, for the fishing industry, they would not be prepared to take that view of other industries with which many of them are closely associated.

Mr. Prior

Through the Sea Fishing Act, this was done entirely by agreement with the industry. It agreed to these reductions in subsidy. The Government did not try to impose them.

Mr. Hoy

I remind that hon. Gentleman that I made that point at the time. I do not dispute it now. The industry agreed. At the time Sir William Duthie, then the hon. Member for Banff, and I said that it might be wrong, but I am not seeking to say that it did not agree.

Since the subsidies were first introduced, the aim has been, with the agreement of representatives of the industry, to discourage some of the older and obsolete vessels from continuing to fish beyond their economic capacity. As a result, there are now no coal burners left in the fleet and only a few oil burners outside the distant water fleet. That is why these changes have taken place.

The special subsidies for the period to 31st January last covered a few oil burners fishing from Hull and Grimsby. These payments have now been discontinued and no oil burners are provided for in the present Scheme. I think that it is unlikely that we shall agree to a special subsidy for any such vessels in future. The whole effort was to modernise the fishing fleet and take vessels regarded as obsolete out of the industry. I think that aim has the wholehearted support of all hon. Members.

The Government are glad to note the improved financial position of the industry over the past year. We realise that fishing is an industry of ups and down, but the continued modernisation of the fleet and the increasing number of freezer trawlers which are now in operation or being built mean that it is keeping well in the van of technical progress. Since the present Government took office we have been reviewing, with the White Fish Authority, a number of proposals for assisting the industry towards viability. These are under consideration and it would not be possible for me to say anything about them tonight, even if it would be in order to do so. These supplementary subsidies are only a very small part of the total help available for the fishing industry, although it is extremely important to the sections of the industry that have had special difficulties.

With regard to last year's catch, both the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West and the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) asked what were the fortunes of the trawlers from Granton and Aberdeen. In 1964, the trawlers from both Aberdeen and Granton had improved results. Their catch was greater than in 1963, as was its value. Taking the two together, the catch went up from 1.64 million cwt. to 1.88 million cwt. and the value from £5.67 million to £6.43 million. The average proceeds per day at sea rose from £158 to £183. As we do not yet have the complete figures for the whole of Britain, I cannot give further details.

In reply to the question about savings, everybody knows that this special supplementary grant was laid down when the Act was first introduced. The total amount for supplementation was £2½ million. The maximum to be taken in any one year was £350,000 and whatever is left in the fund after withdrawals is there to meet the needs of the future.

I was asked why certain boats were singled out. There have been poor markets at North Shields, which has also had other particular difficulties, and some of the boats that were built there have not proved suitable for that market. Changes are being made, but that is why those boats are being helped. For Fleet-wood there has been a change of ground. Because of this, fishing has not been as good as it was before and, therefore, the supplementation is available to help out. Vessels from Brixham and Milford Haven are included in the Scheme because fishing from those ports has not been as good as from other places.

I do not want to be out of order in replying to the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills), who dealt with co-operatives. Perhaps he would like to tell me more about them later. I cannot deal with the question at this stage because it is not included in the Scheme.

The reason why the rates have varied from port to port is quite simple. The supplement depends upon the losses which may be incurred by any part of the fishing fleet anywhere in the country. Obviously, where the need is greatest, these special supplements are available to meet the difficulty. That is why there are variations between one port and another.

As to the moratorium, although it does not come within the Scheme, the position has improved considerably. With the improvement in the industry, some firms, who were grateful for the moratorium, have been able to resume payments to meet their commitments. I am certain that this gives pleasure not only to the White Fish Authority, but to the people who are now able to make the repayments.

Mr. Wall

Can the hon. Gentleman say, therefore, whether the moratorium is being extended beyond September this year?

Mr. Hoy

It has not been extended, because the same situation does not arise. It was following the appalling conditions in which the fishing industry found itself two years ago that the moratorium was introduced to meet the situation then prevailing. The situation has, however, improved completely and for that reason the moratorium is not required.

Now, a quick word about the proposals. Two sets of proposals were put forward by Mr. Matthews from the White Fish Authority. One set of proposals was under discussion for a considerable time. The previous Administration sent it back so that the considered views of all those concerned could be obtained. A year then passed before we got the proposals, and in July last year the White Fish Authority was asked to reconsider them. At the turn of this year we got the new proposals and we shall certainly examine them, and, indeed, are examining them. I do not want to go into the proposals, but they were put in such a way that one could not publish them.

I am surprised at the hon. Member raising the matter, because at that time his right hon. Friend said to me that, if I would only take Mr. Matthews out to dinner, I might be able to get the information from him. I will not ask the hon. Gentleman to do the same. All I will say is that when we are able to give any information at all we shall certainly give it. We are discussing the matter with Mr. Matthews and with all concerned.

I think that I have explained the Scheme and answered all the questions, and in view of the explanation I hope that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), who formally moved the Motion, will now be prepared to withdraw it.

Sir Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

I do not want to embark upon these stormy waters for more than a moment, but I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his courtesy and for the fullness of his reply. There seemed to be a certain amount of objection on the Government benches that my hon. Friend should have put down the Prayer, but there are so many subjects which do not have full opportunity for debate in the House that the Opposition have to take every opportunity that presents itself. We on this side of the House never had any intention of dividing on the matter and, as I say, we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the very full reply which he has given us.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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