HC Deb 08 March 1967 vol 742 cc1437-77

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [1st March]: That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) Scheme 1967, dated 8th February 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th February, be approved.—[Mr. Peart.]

Question again proposed.

10.21 a.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

Having just given approval to the International Eisteddfod Bill, it is clear that the House is taking an increasing interest in music. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that, owing to the leather lungs and power of endurance of the agricultural "beat group", we were unable to complete our debate of this scheme last week. The Adjournment was moved when I had just congratulated the Minister on introducing the Scheme with his customary ability and pointed out that it springs from Cmnd. 2874 of January, 1966, on investment incentives, which replaced the 40 per cent. investment allowance.

The present rate of grant, which is made effective by the Scheme, was announced on 9th March, 1966, when the Minister in answer to a Question by the right hon. Member for Kingstonupon-Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) said: The detailed conditions attaching to the new rate of grant and methods of claiming it will be announced as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 578.] I wonder why it has taken nearly a year to bring this matter forward. I recognise, of course, that the industry has not suffered, because, in some respects, the Bill is retrospective, in that the grants are back-dated to 17th January, 1966, but I am curious about the reason for the long delay.

In our annual fisheries debate last July, the Minister, in reply to a question which I put, told us that the grants under this Scheme would apply to improvements as well as to new vessels and that ceilings on individual grants and on total expenditure would be removed and that, for the moment, the scrapping ratios of two old vessels to one new vessel would be maintained.

Now, when the Scheme appears, seven months later, we find that, in addition, herring vessels are to be eligible for improvement grants, that vessels built abroad will attract a grant of 20 per cent. or 30 per cent., that grants will be available for owner improvements and that there is special provision to improve safety and seaworthiness. It is clear that this has considerably strengthened the Scheme and the period of gestation has been well used.

The Scheme will commend itself to both sides of the House, but I have a few questions to ask. The first relates to competitive tendering. Both the British Trawler Federation and the Select Committee on Estimates suggested that competitive tendering should not be a condition for the grant, yet I understand that it is still included in the White Fish Authority's administrative order. The Minister will recall that, in paragraph 35 of its Report, the Select Committee said: Your Committee recommend that the Fisheries Departments should examine with the Authority whether it is necessary to continue to require competitive tenders to be put in before a grant can be made for building a vessel. Has this examination been completed? If so, what is the result?

Then there is the hoary question of scrapping ratios. The Minister knows that the British Trawler Federation feels strongly about this and that the linking of grants with scrapping, which started I think in 1962, should now be ended. I can find no direct reference to this in the Scheme, but in introducing it last week, the Minister said that he must obviously maintain a balanced fleet—we understand that—and that therefore the current ratio of two old vessels scrapped to one new freezer and one and a half for each new conventional trawler would remain for the time being.

He reminded the House that this matter had been raised by the Estimates Committee in paragraph 33. What the Committee said is important and bears out opinion in the industry: With the benefit of hindsight it seems that the fears of overbuilding which the scrapping requirements were designed to allay were exaggerated The Federation suggestion that they were no longer appropriate to a situation where the proportion of the market supplied by landings from British vessels was falling and the percentage of imports has doubled over the last ten years. It continued: To abolish the scrapping rules would be an invitation to the industry to expand. It added in the following paragraph that it was …impressed by the arguments which have been advanced against the scrapping rules for grant. In other words, it came down on the side of the British Trawler Federation and the industry as a whole, in believing that the scrapping ratio could, perhaps, now be ended.

The Minister, in opening last week's debate, said that they were giving serious consideration to this question. I am repeating it merely to emphasise that the industry would be very relieved if the investigation resulted in the ending of the ratios, which are now somewhat out of date.

Another point which we welcome particularly is the reference in paragraph 11(3) to standards of accommodation and that in paragraph 13(c) to safety at sea. These two subjects have been attracting a good deal of interest lately. I appreciate that they cannot be debated at length now, but I know that the whole House will agree that, as our fishermen face arduous and sometimes dangerous duties, everything reasonable should be done to ensure their comfort and safety. We welcome this addition to the scheme.

We should remember, however, the long hours worked on the fishing grounds. They could come to as much as 158 hours a week, compared to about 50 hours a week in ordinary industries. This means that, to obtain a fair comparison of accident rates, we have to divide the fishing industry's figures by three. Weariness must, of course, increase the element of risk and I understand that the Federation is pressing for a working party to study the matter. I hope that this will be supported by all sides of the industry.

This matter particularly interests the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

before the hon. Gentleman leaves paragraph 13, which deals with the restrictions on grants in certain cases, would he say whether he is arguing that these restrictions should be increased and more difficulties put in the way of the grant scheme?

Mr. Wall

I believe that in the way in which the Scheme will apply, when grants are made, we should take notice of the degree of safety and accommodation offered, particularly in the deep water fleet, which is already in many respects second to none. Certainly, the accommodation is good, and hon. Members opposite have made their views known on safety and I am certain that anything which can be done to improve safety at sea will commend itself to this House—

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

If the hon. Member is arguing that, by comparison with coal mining, which is equally dangerous, men at sea are working 18 hours getting in the fish, instead of a shift of six hours at the coal face, does not that make it even more imperative to turn our minds to safety? Does it not mean an increased need for vigilance by the skipper and by the Board of Trade?

Mr. Wall

Yes. I go a long way with the hon. Gentleman. I was saying that long working hours induce weariness and that weariness induces accidents. On the other hand, I was saying that, to be fair to the industry, if the accident rate in this industry is being compared with that in other industries, where an average of 50 hours a week are worked, the figure must be divided by three to get a fair comparison.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

The hon. Gentleman makes the interesting point that the accident figures should be divided by three to get a fair comparison. Presumably, in that case, the wages should be trebled so as to reflect the time at risk. On the assertion that weariness produces accidents, is not this an argument for improving the manning scales and not seeking to reduce them, as seems to be the present trend?

Mr. Wall

These are technical subjects which concern the industry and which both sides of the industry know how to solve far better than we do in this House. I was merely saying that long hours induce weariness and that therefore we welcome the inclusion of the provisions relating to safety at sea and standards of accommodation. There have been, perhaps, certain exaggerated stories about the accident rate. I was indicating one method of maintaining a reasonably fair comparison between this industry, where intensively long hours are worked, and other industries, where not so many hours are worked. The wage rates depend on the annual amount of work, not on peak periods. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's argument holds water.

Mr. Hector Hughes


Mr. Wall

I think I have already given away enough.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members want to take part in the debate.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman must realise that he has not answered the question I asked him about paragraph 13. I ask him plainly and frankly: does not paragraph 13(c) cover the point he is making?

Mr. Wall

I should have thought that the working conditions of the officers or crew did cover it. However, this is a question which the hon. and learned Gentleman should address to his own Front Bench and not to the Opposition, who are not responsible for the Scheme, though we support the additions which have been made during the period of nine months gestation to which I have referred.

Paragraph 16(I,b) refers to insurance against all marine risks and war risks". Risks must surely to some extent depend on the degree of protection afforded. I want to refer very briefly to the proposed change in the composition of the Fishery Protection Squadron, because this is obviously a factor which is taken into account when computing risks. I am alarmed at the report which appeared in last Monday's Yorkshire Post that all four frigates are to be laid up and that the replacements are unlikely to remain on fishery protection work for more than six months at a time.

I will not labour the point, but I shall quote one germane paragraph from the Yorkshire Post: An officer who recently commanded a fishery protection ship told me at the weekend: "This new plan is complete nonsense. It would take any officer at least six months to learn fishing methods and then his ship would be ordered elsewhere. When you start on fishery patrols you do not know in many places where the territorial limits base lines are drawn. You do not know anything about the various kinds of fishing vessels and the nets they use'. It therefore, seems that the replacement ships are unlikely to be manned by officers with experience in this form of specialist work.

The Minister is responsible for the protection of fisheries, although I appreciate that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence of the Royal Navy is responsible for supplying the protection vessels. Is the Minister satisfied that the new arrangements will not lead to a considerably reduced efficiency in the scale of protection given to our trawlers? In spite of the assurance given by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy in the debate on the Navy Estimates, I have grave doubts.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are a little wide of the Scheme now.

Mr. Wall

Those are the positive questions I should like the Under Secretary to answer when he winds up the debate.

There are however, certain other problems relates to the Scheme. First, there is the question of the 20 per cent. grant. Te Minister will recall that I said in the debate in July of last year that many in the industry would prefer a straight grant of 20 per cent. of the cost, with no ties, as is afforded to the shipping industry. it pointed out that large companies paying Corporation Tax receive a much reduced net grant under the Scheme. The Select Committee did not agree with me on this. I shall not pursue the point except to ask whether the alternative of a straight grant as is given to the shipping industry was discussed with the representatives of the fishing industry?

The next point is the question of the additional investment grant. The 20 percent. investment grant to manufacturing industries, including shipping, is to be raised by 5 per cent. for two years from 1st January, 1967. The Minister made it clear that the Scheme did not provide for this additional 5 per cent. and that additional legislation would have to tie brought forward. If the Government definitely intend to introduce legislation to implement this 5 per cent. increase, can the Minister give us an idea of when this will be done? More importantly, will it be retrospective to 1st January, 1967, so as to bring this industry into line with shipping generally?

Then there is the question of financing these grants. Is there enough money in the kitty to finance a rebuilding programme under these grants? The fund for building grants ran out in November, 1964, and a further £1.6 million was provided in July, 1965. That sum had to cover the period from November, 1964 to April, 1967. This meant that the White Fish Authority was unable to approve grants for a considerable period and this caused considerable inconvenience in the industry as a whole. I understand that this Scheme is financed in a rather different manner. Perhaps the Minister would enlarge on this later and assure us that the Scheme is backed by adequate funds.

Finally, there is the question of the general fisheries review. It was announced in November, 1964, that a review would be made of the whole fishing industry and that it would be completed by the end of 1966.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot discuss on this very limited Scheme the whole state of the fishing industry.

Mr. Wall

I appreciate that, Sir, but it was mentioned by the Under-Secretary last week when he referred to the possibility of abolishing scrapping rates. I was about to ask him when he thought that the result of the review would be announced in the House. I will leave it there.

To sum up our views on the Scheme, we approve it. The House has had to wait a long time for it. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an explanation for this and give us some answer to the questions I have asked. I know that some of my hon. Friends will wish to probe the Scheme a little further, but it is clear that it implements promises made by the Government and I am satisfied that it will commend itself to the whole House.

10.39 a.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Usually when I follow the hon. Member for Haltemprise (Mr. Wall) I do not agree with him. However today, like him, I welcome this debate, particularly in contradistinction to last week, when we were kept all morning listening to the modern "Turnip Townsends" discussing the dust bowl in Norfolk. This morning we are on more serious business where men's lives are at stake in deep waters. The future viability of the fleet will depend on the finances which we put at its disposal to enable it to compete with, for instance, the Norwegians and other E.F.T.A. and Common Market people.

The complaint of many of our constituents is that we do not often debate fishing. This is an important debate. As the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West, I speak with a large fishing dock behind me containing many workers. I shall seek to put their point of view. The House has just listened to a point of view put, I presume, mainly on behalf of vessel owners. I shall keep in order as best I can and speak briefly about the conditions in the industry, which I think is allowed, Mr. Speaker, because you kindly said last week when the Minister was speaking that this was possible.

The industry faces stern competition. I know from my colleagues on the Council of Europe, from E.F.T.A., and the Common Market, exactly what they are doing to help their vessels, particularly the Norwegians. Those vessels are heavily subsidised and so are those of the Communist state fleets. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has been to Murmansk, where, he told me, there were about 2,000 boats in the harbour.

Anything like this Scheme which leads to better conditions, such as the provisions in paragraph 13(c), is to be welcomed. It is a good thing that the fishing fleet should be getting better and more modern vessels, thus helping deck hands in particular to lead less spartan and safer lives. When fish are being caught in Arctic latitudes it is no good anyone making comparisons between the 18-hour shift or working days in those conditions with six hours stint at the coal face. Indeed, this should make us more deeply concerned to look after our fishermen. Comparative statistics mean nothing in this context, whether we divide by three or multiply by three. We want better and safer working conditions and less danger in the catching, the fetching of fish on board over the side. I therefore welcome this financial aid to the industry so that we build more modern boats with stern catching facilities. I suppose it is the ultimate stage that we should bring fish in at the stern rather than as in the past, over the side. But I am told by skippers and deckhands that it is not the end of their difficulties, because the working conditions, such as the Arctic darkness, high seas and shifting deck are so elemental that there will always be hazard in the industry.

This legislation stems back to Command Paper 2874 of February, 1966. I too would like to ask how much money is in the kitty. My right hon. Friend the Minister was recently asked how many vessels were built last year, how many qualified for financial aid, and how many were scrapped. Last weekend I was talking to bobbers, deck hands and others at Hull Fish Dock. They pointed to two vessels consigned for scrap, one of which was an out of date boat which should be scrapped. But the two-for-one scrapping requirement can be wrong because the other vessel was first-class. These men asked why a vessel like that should have to go on the scrap heap. There is no need for it, in my opinion.

The results of that policy also apply to the work on the dock. The merchants will have less wet fish to sell. Fewer deck hands will go to sea if we have fewer boats, even though modern deep-freezer trawlers carry more men than the old type of vessel with side fishing. We should carefully examine this problem, and I hope that the Minister will tell us something about it and definitely say that vessels should be scrapped on merit. An efficient boat should continue to be used for fishing and we should not have that old mystical formula of two for one. It is no good to the industry and the men who get their living in it. They want a formula which is not sacrosanct, as this one appears to have been in the past.

I do not wish to sound a note of pessimism, but I must when looking at the figures which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave us a week ago when he talked about landings of fish. He said that total landings in 1965 were 935,000 tons, the highest since 1956. The value of these increased to £61.8 million. But what bothers us on Humberside is that he then said: The earnings of the distant water fleet failed to keep pace with rising costs, and this is a matter for concern"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 463.] It is fair to say that there is much concern in Humberside about the future. I hope that whoever replies to this debate will add further to what my hon. Friend said last week about this.

We all regret that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be in Luxembourg and not with us this evening at the Silver Cod dinner. But we shall hear something there, I hope, from his deputy, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, about the industry's future and the significance of these investment allowances, which mean so much to the building of the future fleet and the lives and working conditions of the men on board.

The important paragraphs of the Scheme, to me, are 11 and 13, laying down the conditions which are essential before Her Majesty's Government consider that a ship can qualify for Government aid. Paragraph 13(c) speaks of the working conditions of officers or crew. I believe that that is the first time that that sort of language has been put into a scheme of this kind. It is very important that a Labour Government, unlike any other Government before, should put in such words, and they deserve special mention for it.

The safety and seaworthiness of the vessel are very important. I object to comments sometimes made about the quality of our vessels and their design, compared with others. I have heard vessels which would qualify for this money being compared with the Norwegian vessels. When I go to Strasbourg and talk to my colleagues there from E.F.T.A. and the European Economic Community I find that our vessels and their design, stability, buoyancy and layout are more than equivalent to those of any other European nation. This includes the Communist states such as Poland with her fine shipyards at Dansk and cmynia. We have had comments in the Press and elsewhere from academics like Professor Schilling and others. I feel that the Board of Trade officials and with them the designers and builders of our boats are first-class. I look forward to the Scheme being just an additional nudge to the excellent work that has been done in the past. We need invigilation and care when we are spending public money, but we have first-class boats and have been building them for a long time.

Reliable and full statistics are difficult to get hold of in the matter of safety at sea. Would the Minister elaborate on what is meant in paragraph 13(c) about the working conditions of the officers or crew? In what way is there an intention to double-check the safety and seaworthiness of the vessel? I believe that the National Physical Laboratory is doing first-class work on this, and Members, both those who serve on the Shipbuilding Committee and on the Fisheries Committee, have been to see its work. The words used in paragraph 13(c) dot the "i"s on this matter of design of boats and their stability. There must also be a check by Lloyds insurance in addition to the testing by the Board of Trade.

It is impossible to speak about this subject without giving 100 per cent. welcome to the Order—given, of course, that there is sufficient money in the funds to guarantee that far-sighted owners, with their designers and others, who have built first-class boats, can apply for the money in the knowledge that they will get the 35 per cent. This will enable them to go on building boats good enough for the fine men who must go to sea in them.

10.50 a.m.

Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough and Whitby)

I welcome the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). He has naturally discussed the Scheme in relation to deep sea fishing. I want to deal with the problem as it relates to my own constituency where, as he well knows, having had some experience in Scarborough, we mostly have inshore fishermen working small boats in a very individualistic trade. Many of the boats are single manned boats working along the shores.

The needs of these men are special and I support the welcome given my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) to the Scheme. The needs of the fishermen of my constituency differ markedly from the needs, in many respects, of the deep water fishermen. The inshore fishermen need no minimum price scheme or anything of the sort to assist them in the selling of their produce. Their skill is such that they catch only the fish they know they can get a good price for and I am assured that they never fail to sell the whole of their catch. But assistance is. nevertheless, needed—as indeed it is granted to the other sections of the industry—by way of grants for the purchase of new boats and improvements as set out in the Order.

These inshore fishermen are strong individualists. They run their own boats in all sorts of weather at a high cost in gear. The first factor to understand is that they are not members of a large combine with big resources behind them. They are individualists owning their own boats and incurring a high cost of replacements and repairs. It must be accepted that, when grants are made from any Government Department, it is usually easier for a bigger concern to get one than it is for a smaller concern. The bigger concern usually has more backing, more resources and more skill in presenting its case. It has better records and very often gets better guarantees. Here. however, we are dealing with small men and it is vital that they should have the same opportunities to acquire grants. It would be unfair if it were more difficult for them to get grants than it is for the big concerns. I would like an assurance that this Scheme will not be administered too rigidly.

Paragraph 6 of the Scheme says: Applicants for grants under this scheme in respect of the acquisition of a vessel shall he required to satisfy the appropriate authority with regard to the prospect of their being able to operate the fishing vessel successfully and that they have the ability to manage, and sufficient financial resources for the purposes of. the business in which the fishing vessel will be employed. I give the example, first, of a man whose boats need replacing. He will probably have a record showing that, over a number of years, he has fished successfully. He will probably have the record of a successful business at the bank or somewhere else. He can produce evidence of sufficient financial resources. But in this business new men are coming along all the time—men who have worked for a number of years with a boat owner, learning the trade, and who now want to set up on their own. The problem here is that such men have not records of successful business behind them in applying for a grant to assist them in the purchase of a boat. In theory, of course, they are entitled to a grant but, in practice, problems can arise because they have no records or balance sheets to show, although they will probably, I hope, have the good will of a bank. Let us say that their background is sketchy and cannot be presented in the normal way.

I am sure that such men will have the sympathy of the Minister and I ask him to express that sympathy and assure us that he will do all he can to see that the safeguards are applied flexibly and that new entrants to this highly individualistic but greatly valuable industry are not kept out by lack of assistance through grants of this kind.

10.58 a.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I welcome the Scheme and I intend to address myself to only one point. Notwithstanding the speech of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), I take a somewhat different view of paragraph 13.

The Scheme is to be welcomed because it is a further recognition of the great service which the fishing industry renders the community. The builders of fishing ships are mentioned, as are the owners, the crews and the workers in those ships. But there is little reference in the Scheme to the workers in the fish markets and it is to this aspect that I wish to address my few remarks. Paragraph 13 deals with restrictions on the payments and profits in that No grant shall be payable under this scheme in respect of an improvement unless … it … is likely to result in an increase in the efficiency or economy of the operation of the vessel … Then, under headings (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) the paragraph mentions different types of persons who contribute to the efficiency of the fishing industry. It mentions the catching of fish and then, under (b), the handling, processing or storage of fish, and I want to ask the Minister what that phrase includes. Does it include the workers in the fish markets? It is not clear whether it does. The following part, sub-paragraph (c), refers to the working conditions of the officers or crew but there is no reference to the working conditions of the workers in the fish markets. I want to ask the Minister [Interruption.]—the hon. Gentleman the Member for Haltemprice may laugh—perhaps he takes no interest in the work of the fish markets. I want to know whether this sub-paragraph (b) referring to handling, processing or storage of fish includes the workers in the fish market. This is a very important element in the Statutory Instrument, and it is a point which the Minister should make abundantly clear.

11.1 a.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

In common with other hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who have already spoken I should like to welcome this Scheme. There are one or two questions of detail which I should like to put to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who I imagine will be replying to the debate. The first point relates to paragraph 2(1, a) which speaks of improvement of or for a vessel. Can the hon. Gentleman say whether that means the conversion of, say, a seine-netter to a light trawler, or the conversion of a seine-netter to rear trawling? This is particularly important to the inshore fishing industry in the Moray Firth which has great potential.

Paragraph 4(b), lists: …installation, modification, renewal or replacement … Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether this will include the installation of lifesaving equipment under the Statute which came into force last year? We are all concerned about the safety of fishermen. Will this large increase in the cost of the vessel be included for grant purposes?

In the Report of the Select Committee of Estimates, during his questioning of Mr. Meek of the White Fish Authority, the Chairman reported a considerable decline in the inshore fishing fleet in Scotland. Has the Minister any figures to reassure us on this point? Page 282 of the Select Committee's Report deals with grants for replacement. It will be seen there that the number of applications for grants from 1962 until 1966 showed two rather alarming factors. I am now referring to the inshore fleet.

There were altogether nearly 573 applications in those four years, but only 202 were approved. This shows first of all that there is a great demand for inshore boats, but the number of approvals seems to indicate that the money is not there, or was not there during that period, to make these grants to the fishermen. The loan position is even worse. The total number of applications for loans was 887 and the number approved was only 165—about one-fifth. Paragraph 11(3) says that "due allowance" having been made for the age and kind of vessel concerned, the provision for the accommodation of officers and crew shall conform to the best modern practice.

I would have thought it would be possible to obtain some standard of conditions applicable to all vessels, of whatever age or size, laying down the conditions under which men are expected to live and work. One of the most important aspects of this Order deals with the seaworthiness of the vessel. In paragraph 2 the Merchant Shipping Acts are quoted. I have taken the trouble to look up the Merchant Shipping Act, 1964. Section 2(1) of that Act requires …any such ships registered in the United Kingdom to be surveyed to such an extent, and in such manner and at such intervals as may be prescribed by the rules". Section 3(b) deals with sea-going ships of not less than such lower tonnage and such description as the Minister may by Order, made by Statutory Instrument, specify. Among the ships not covered by that are passenger steamers, troopships, pleasure yachts and fishing vessels below 80 ft. in length. In other words, there is no regulation whereby the inshore vessels are inspected for seaworthiness. This is of vital importance. The Minister should take some action to make sure that there are certificates of seaworthiness, in everyone's interests, for vessels under 80 ft.

Then we would have some kind of standard and there would be some protection and people would know whether or not a boat was fit for sea. I know that the surveyors of the White Fish Authority inspect very carefully the specifications when a boat is being built, and no doubt the insurers made a periodic inspection. So far as I can discover there is nothing in the Statutes to ensure that these boats are seaworthy.

I should now like to turn to the speech made by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture last Wednesday. Among other things, he said that legislation is required for the extra 5 per cent. grant. Will he let us know whether this legislation will be retrospective to 1st January, as are the general provisions of this Order? He gave figures for last year. Can he say whether they were for the United Kingdom, or for England and Wales only? If they are for the United Kingdom, can he give us the break-down for Scotland, particularly with relation to the inshore fleet? He also said that the distant water fleet failed to keep pace with rising costs. Are we to infer from that statement that in future the rest of the fishing fleet has to keep pace with rising costs? If that is the hon. Gentleman's contention, I can tell him now that when he comes to negotiate the review for the current year, he is in for a rude shock from the inshore fishermen. There has been a vast increase in costs. For example, six years ago to rewind a dynamo cost £53; last year it cost nearly £97.

One must then consider the cost of vessels. I have made inquiries in my constituency and the figures I have been given are alarming. For example, a 70 ft. boat cost £20 in 1960 and a boat with almost the identical specifications today costs £39. The boatbuilders are as worried as the fishermen about these alarming figures and I have been told that there have been four increases in the last 12 months for vessels of almost exactly the same specifications. There are a number of contributory causes. One is the increased price of copper.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

Did the hon. Gentleman say that it cost £20 to build a 70 ft. boat in 1960?

Mr. Baker


Mr. Rankin

I heard the hon. Gentleman say £20 and I was so startled that I mentioned it to one of my hon. Friends, who also heard £20.

Mr. Baker

I apologise if my diction is not as good as it should be. The cost was £20,000 in 1960 compared with £39,000 today. These increases are causing grave concern, particularly since they affect the taxpayer in that any large increases will be proportionately borne by the taxpayer because of necessary increases in the grant.

11.11 a.m.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

There is a pleasant, though rather uncharacteristic, unanimity in the Chamber this morning and this I think gives me the excuse for only the briefest of contributions. Certainly I add my voice to the general consensus of support for the Scheme. In the months that have preceded its arrival here on the Floor of the House the outline of the Scheme has been generally known and received with approval by almost all the interested parties.

The problem of vessel replacement is one of particular interest to an hon. Member who represents a constituency like Aberdeen. In the mid and late 1950s our fleet was very much out of date and badly in need of widespread replacement. With the sympathetic and welcome aid of the Government, we carried through that process in the late 1950s and early 1960s. However, that has carried with it the inevitable disadvantage that when one modernises in such a short space of time and all at once, the fleet becomes redundant again en bloc, and probably by close to 1975 we in Aberdeen will be in exactly the same position as we found ourselves in the mid-1950s. It is obvious that a large number of keels must be laid down if we are to have what the Parliamentary Secretary described on 1st March as a balanced age structure in the fleet.

We in Aberdeen are faced with the difficulty of creating such a balanced age fleet and, in this connection, the point made by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) is particularly important, for we must have a stable financial structure—but that cannot come about if there follows the somewhat erratic financial support which has characterised the history of this matter in the last few years. This Scheme will help to secure a more stable structure and it is, therefore, welcomed by my constituents, but it must be generously financed.

We of course welcome any increase in the grant for the replacement of fishing vessels. The figure of 35 per cent. is justified, if only because it will reduce the amount of loan which the individual owner must seek from the White Fish Authority. The owners of the middle distance water vessels which operate out of Aberdeen are often finding it difficult to cover even moderate depreciation rates and we appreciate that it is important to reduce the burden of interest rates which they must carry in the future. I urge the Minister to remember that the Aberdeen owners even so will still be faced with a considerable problem if they must find about 15 per cent. in cash for these large-scale replacements. I trust that this problem will have the Government's sympathetic attention and that there will be adequate consultation should a crisis arise.

We want a balanced age structure, as the Minister said, but we must accept that for certain sections of the fleet, because of the history of replacement, the attainment of such a structure has been made largely impossible.

We welcome the inclusion in the Scheme of the safety requirements and the conditions applying to seaworthiness. Nobody will quarrel with these provisions and I thought the hon. Member for Haltemprice was being a little less than reasonable on this issue. It is fair to remind him that to speak of the industrial injury rate being three times greater because three times the number of hours are being worked is to take a complacent view of the matter although I have no doubt that he was giving a slightly false impression of his real feelings on this issue. All hon. Members will hope that the Government will ensure that rigid standards are applied when it comes to matters like safety and seaworthiness and that every encouragement will be given to owners to introduce these improvements.

We recognise that the Government are intimately concerned with research into these matters at the National Physical Laboratory, where such matters as winch safety, the stability of trawlers and so on are investigated in great detail. Nevertheless, cash grants are the best incentive that can be introduced and are more valuable than any verbal encouragement.

I welcome, too, the provisions concerning the condition of quarters of officers and crew. I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Baker), who pleaded for the laying down of precise standards. There is no reason why this should not be done and we should ensure that before new boats are built the owners include adequate quarters; and prototype plans for such quarters should be made available. I certainly think that certain basic provisions should be laid down about size, amenities and so on. If people are not prepared to conform to those standards the grants should not be made available to them. Of course this matter must be considered in consultation with the industry, and I hope that the Minister will give it his attention.

Mr. McNamara

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the Government have already accepted the I.L.O. Convention which covers shipping, quarters and so on?

Mr. Dewar

I am aware of that, but I am interested to ensure that it is being enforced and correlated with the present Scheme.

We have had a lot of talk in this debate, and in the previous one on 1st March, about having a general review of the industry and it has been alleged that such a review is under way. There has already been a great deal of talk about scrapping and competitive tendering. We have been told that these matters are under active consideration. What is meant by "active consideration"? I hope that we will soon have some concrete action because if the scrapping ratio is to be maintained in a rigid fashion, then, in the context of the replacement of fleets, particularly the Aberdeen fleet, considerable difficulty will be found and there will be a sharp contraction in the number of boats in the port. I hope that the Government will look at this matter sympathetically and will not consider a one-and-a-half to one ratio for conventional trawlers an entrenched provision because that would mean a sharp cut-back in the industry before long.

The Minister said last Wednesday that this Scheme would run until 1972 and that this brings it into line with the date by which we hope that the industry will be viable. Presumably the view of the Government is that provision must be made to cover and answer a large number of the points which were made by the Estimates Committee in its recent Re- port. I hope that those points made by the Estimates Committee connected with the replacement of the fleet will be considered in the general review which, we have been told, is under way and that we will have action not only in regard to scrapping but also covering a minimum price scheme and the suggested variations in the cut-back of operating subsidies.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is embarking upon a general debate on the industry, which is not admissible on this Motion.

Mr. Dewar

I was aware that I was walking a dangerous tightrope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I now retreat to safer ground.

It is obvious that the industry must do a great deal of reorganising to capitalise on its opportunities. Forward planning is necessary if we are to have a phased and adequate replacement policy in the face of the difficulties which now exist and which are bound to arise in future. We welcome the Scheme because it provides a basis for this forward planning and it guarantees that the Government are sympathetic to the difficulties facing the industry and are willing to co-operate. I hope that it will provide the foundation for real advances to be made in the fishing fleet.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I think that I am the first hon. Member to be called in this debate who comes from the West Coast, though I have listened with pleasure to the views of the wise men from the East.

I, too, join in the general welcome to the Scheme, and it is good for the industry generally that the matter of safety has been brought in. However, I have some reservations about the wording of paragraphs 11(3) and 13, because they may be rather restrictive.

In paragraph 11(3) one sees the words: &for sleeping and messing accommodation, sanitary accommodation, medical or first-aid facilities, store room, catering facilities and other accommodation. I should have preferred some specific reference in that sub-paragraph to the safety of the crew—

Mr. James Johnson

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that both the I.L.O. and I.M.C.O. are working on this very matter, and there is also a working party, which has been set up by the Government to go into all these problems.

Mr. Clegg

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I am saying that I would like to see included in paragraph 11(3) as a separate factor some provision for safety, so that there can be no doubt that any measures to increase safety on board would be included. I agree that the matters set out there should be included, but they are more concerned with the comfort of the crew than with their safety.

Mr. James Johnson

I am sorry to intervene again, but would the hon. Gentleman not accept that paragraph 13(c) refers to the working conditions of the officers or crew, and the day-by-day terms of service which cover the actual work of catching fish?

Mr. Clegg

It is possible that paragraph 13(c) covers the point. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not misunderstand me. What I am saying is that it should be made clear that safety is included. I look at this from the point of view of someone administering it. From my experience, I can say that something specific is better than something which is left general, and I should have preferred to see this specific point included.

To follow what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) was saying about sleeping and messing accommodation and sanitary accommodation, I agree that improvements are absolutely vital. It is in the owners' interests to improve those conditions. In my own fishing port of Fleetwood, although there is a general level of unemployment of 8.3 per cent., if anything there is a shortage of men to make up crews. If we are to attract men to sea, the conditions under which they operate are tremendously important, especially now when our trawlers are going further afield. In Fleetwood, our first trawler will he fishing out in the Atlantic shortly. They are going further away than ever before, and men are spending a much longer time at sea. It is even more important, therefore, that we have good living conditions so that we can compete with industry for our fishermen.

As has been seen, this will be equally a factor in getting the good attendance of men on the ships, especially since it looks as though the penalty of imprisonment for disobedient seamen is going. It should go, because in my view it is in this sort of provision for working conditions and wages that the future lies. We cannot make men go to sea by threatening them with imprisonment. It is a question of trade union co-operation as well.

If I may turn to the subject of scrapping, it is important that we should know about this quickly. Scrapping distorts the pattern of the trawling fleet, and obviously the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South feels much the same. The problems of Fleetwood are very similar to those which he has mentioned, in view of the size of trawler that we have. Certainly the fish merchants would like to see the scrapping ratios go, because they are concerned with wet fish rather than with frozen fish. If the ratios were done away with, a balance might be found for what the market wants.

Another important matter is the actual efficiency of the ship for catching fish. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) said, we are facing increased competition, and the fishing methods adopted by some other countries are quite ruthless. Unless we can catch fish efficiently—though I hope not ruthlessly, because in that way we shall all suffer in the end—our fishing fleet will find it increasingly difficult to compete. We must have ships which catch fish efficiently and safely.

The problems of inshore fishermen have been referred to by several hon. Members. I am particularly perturbed about the safety factors on some inshore fishing boats, having handled claims arising out of accidents. On certain small boats, there is not even the consolation of a decent employer's liability insurance when a man is injured. Improvements to boats and machinery, such as winches, for the protection of crews should be encouraged by the Order. The inshore fishermen will be increasingly an important factor because of the greater area in which they can now fish free from foreign competition, particularly on the wet fish side. We must have an efficient inshore fishing fleet, and I am sure that the Scheme will help towards that end. I, too, want to express concern about whether the funds will be available, because it would make an entire mockery of the scheme if funds were not available as they are to other industries which are getting investment grants. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the reassurance which we seek.

11.27 a.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) has now left the Chamber, but in the course of his speech he mentioned the matter of not giving a minimum price scheme to inshore and herring fishermen. On this matter the Opposition have turned completely about face. At one time they were for a minimum price scheme, but now they are against it. One would like to know where they really stand in relation to it. However, as it was introduced only as a side issue by the hon. Gentleman, I do not intend to develop it.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) in his comments about the new provisions in the Scheme for accommodation. I agree, too, that the way to get people to sea is to make the industry an attractive one for men to want to belong to it, and not one in which a man can be penalised by the old Merchant Shipping Act to get him to obey orders. Self-discipline induced by self-interest is better than harsh discipline imposed by recourse to the penal system.

It is obvious that the Scheme is welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, it is apparent from comments which we have heard today that there is a need to have a thorough look at all the premises upon which these schemes and the treatment of the fishing industry are based at present, and to see whether the conclusions of the Fleck Committee, upon which so much of the industry is based, now need careful examination in view of the alterations which have taken place in international trade and competition.

I want to deal with paragraphs 11, 13 and 16, particularly with paragraph 13, which deals with working conditions and safety measures at sea. Figures supplied to me by the Board of Trade for nonfatal accidents at sea show that in 1960 125 men were struck by ship's equipment and 148 in 1966; in 1960, 156 men were caught or wedged in ship's equipment and 209 were so caught in 1966. The accident rate in these two categories is increasing, although the number of people employed in the industry declined by almost 2,500 between 1960 and 1965. The non-fatal accident rate has averaged 4.6 per cent. But for a good year in 1963 it would have been higher. This is why paragraph 13(e) is so important. There is now provision for a proper examination.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Has the hon. Gentleman any break-down between different sections of the industry, or are these figures global figures for the whole industry?

Mr. McNamara

These are figures supplied to me by the Minister of State, Board of Trade for fishing accidents in the following categories—slipped, fell or thrown; struck by ship's equipment; caught or wedged in ship's equipment. This covers fishing generally. I have figures for the distant water fleet, but not for the near or middle distance fleets.

As for the fatal accident rate—this is tied up with the question of safety and seaworthiness of vessels—the rate per 10,000 men at risk for all United Kingdom fishermen was 7.4 in 1960 and 11.1 in 1966, with an average of 9.8 for the period. For Hull and Grimsby fishermen it was 20.3 in 1960 and 33.3 in 1966.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into too much detail on the question of safety. It is related to the Scheme, but it should be incidental to it and not a major part of his speech.

Mr. McNamara

An average over the period of 20.6 per 10,000 men at risk for the Hull and Grimsby fleet is a terrible figure.

Mr. Dewar

My hon. Friend says "per 10,000 men at risk". I should have thought that there would not have been 10,000 in the whole of the Hull and Grimsby fleets.

Mr. McNamara

The basis I am working on is the normal statistic used when accident rates in industry generally are considered. One speaks in terms of 10,000 men at risk. If it is divided by two, it is 10.3.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind what I said.

Mr. McNamara

I think I can justly say that I was provoked, although not by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Scheme refers to the handling, processing and storing of fish. Many of the provisions contained in paragraph 13 will help to reduce accidents in a general sense. The research and development which are being conducted into the prevention of accidents and many of the improvements which are being made are being done from the point of view of economies in manning and finance rather than from the point of view of direct safety. The Government and the White Fish Authority should spend money to deal directly with safety.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

We have had a long and interesting debate. Almost everything that can be said on the Scheme has been said. I, too, recognise that the Scheme represents a very generous addition of help for the building of fishing vessels and especially herring fishing vessels. As such, I welcome the Scheme.

This is a field in which costs have risen greatly, even in the short time in which I have been a Member of Parliament. It is also an industry of human endeavour in which the energy and initiative of the country should be encouraged to expand, with profit, if hon. Members opposite will excuse the word, for everybody. In this connection, I was glad to hear what the Under-Secretary said last week about considering the possibility of abolishing the scrapping ratio.

I regret the fact that this Scheme has taken such a long time to produce. The delay has caused uncertainty and difficulty to anybody making plans to invest money in the industry.

The one point about which I am particularly concerned is the recommendaation, to which the Government are apparently paying some attention, that the costs of building should no longer be exposed to the discipline of competitive tender. Paragraph 11 concerns "Conditions for Payment of Grants", but I cannot find a word about competition. Plenty of authority is given for inspec- tion and control. There is no shortage of that under this Government. However, the Government cannot control or enforce efficiency, particularly where Government money is concerned.

Without some form of competition, I do not believe that inspection and control will be adequate, more especially because I am not even now satisfied about the present methods for inspection for grant-worthiness in certain sections of the fishing industry, where public money has been known to be provided without consultation with those best equipped to judge whether it would be wasted.

If I am correct in my doubts about the effectiveness of the measures proposed in the Scheme, the danger is that costs will continue to rise, perhaps even more steeply after the Scheme. Who, then, will be better off? Those whom we want to help this morning—that is, the fishermen—certainly will not be. I hope that the Government will explain in more details their ideas on the subject and tell us how they will ensure that costs will not increase out of all proportion.

Will the Government explain their policy on foreign vessels as set forth in paragraph 10? I do not at the moment see how the Minister can satisfy himself about the cost of the expenditure abroad comparing fairly with the cost of construction in the United Kingdom. What criteria will the Government use for fairness? How will they decide? What will happen when they do?

I have been interested in and pleased by the amount that has been said about the need for ensuring greater safety. The debate takes place after what has been a very had month for the number of men lost at sea prosecuting the fishing industry. I sometimes wonder whether one of the reasons why hon. Members on both sides are so comparatively united in their approach to the industry does not arise from the respect we all feel for those who prosecute the industry, because it is beyond doubt a very dangerous living, whatever can be done to increase safety on board the boats. It is true, and I am glad of it, that advances in design and technique can make the work marginally safer, and it is wholly right that anything that can be done to do that should be done. I would not grudge the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) congratulating the Government on introducing this provision into the Scheme; they get little enough congratulation at present.

11.40 a.m.

Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)

It is natural that the major issues in this Scheme should deal with the larger ocean-going vessels, but I am concerned about the shellfish section of the industry, because many of my constituents, from Wells-Next-The-Sea almost down to Great Yarmouth, derive their livelihood from the shellfish industry. I should like a definite assurance, which I am sure will be forthcoming, that those who own small boats, which mean so much to the economy of the small fishing villages and towns along our coast, will be able to obtain grants from this provision.

During the period in which I have been privileged to serve my constituency, I have taken up many instances of grants under the appropriate authority, and I have always received helpful co-operation. I am sure that this co-operation will be forthcoming under the provisions of the Scheme now before the House.

The shellfish industry is an expanding industry, despite the fact that very often families lose all their equipment the first time their boats put out to sea, owing to the rough nature of the North Sea.

There is little encouragement for the younger element to enter the occupation of their fathers. In this regard I should like to refer to the comments made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) relating to paragraphs 6 and 7 of the Scheme. I hope that there will not be too rigid an interpretation of the words in the latter part of paragraph 6 …and sufficient financial resources for the purposes of, the business in which the fishing vessel will be employed". If we wish to encourage the sons of older fishermen to enter this occupation, we must accept that many of them have not the financial means at their disposal to enable them to do so without assistance. Therefore, I hope that there will be a fairly liberal interpretation of those words.

Many of us have failed to recognise that these people are engaged in small family undertakings and that they are very independent of mind. They are devoting their lives to the service of this country. It would be unfortunate if this section of the fishing community were to disappear because there was not the financial means to aid fishermen in re-equipping their small boats and in providing the new engines which they require. New engines are often required after the boats have been out in a bad storm when fishermen sometimes lose all their equipment and find themselves on their beam ends.

It will be a sorry day for our country if this section of the fishing industry were to disappear, because we would lose the services of those who perform heroic deeds in saving life at sea. I therefore make this plea. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that grants will be available for this section of the fishing community, as they will help to maintain a section of the industry that plays a very great part in the saving of life at sea.

11.44 a.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I had not previously sought to catch your eye this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I am fortunate in having obtained the Adjournment, and I thought that it was not fair to impose two speeches on the House this morning.

However, it is very difficult when matters of great importance to one's own constituency are debated on the same day. Therefore, I will make a very brief speech on the Scheme, upon which, like everyone else, I have the greatest pleasure in congratulating the Minister. The fishing industry as a whole has had a great deal of success, which is borne out by the fact that this subject is always regarded as an all-party matter and is not one for division between the parties. This has been of great advantage to the fishing industry, even if it has not always been of great advantage to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

I want to ensure that we have a definite statement from the Minister this morning on the question of financial support for the industry. I should like to have from him, quite definitely and without any prevarication, a statement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has in no way imposed any restraint on what may be done for the fishing industry.

In my own fishing port of North Shields there has already been a slight withdrawal on the part of the White Fish Authority to assist one firm to obtain financial support for the building of new vessels. I have a very suspicious nature, because, having been in Parliament for a very long time, I know the ways of Ministers. This applies to the Ministers of my own party, when they were in power, as well as to Ministers who occupy the Government Front Bench today. They have a clever way of eluding answering a straight question from any backbencher. I wanted to say this, so that the Minister will understand that I will be listening very carefully when he replies to the debate.

For many years all Ministers of Agriculture, particularly those Ministers who deal with the fishing industry, have been saying what great anxiety the port of North Shields has caused them—and rightly so, because for a period we did not seem to be attracting any new vessels or any owners who were prepared to build up the fleet at North Shields. Fortunately, we now have a very active person in the son of an old trawler owner, who has been doing the most magnificent things in association with the P. & O. In recent years, this particular firm, the Ranger Group, has sent to sea three new types of trawler, which have operated with very great success.

We are very proud of this development in North Shields, and are grateful for the financial assistance and encouragement given to us. This firm has already applied for more financial assistance to increase its fleet further. It received a very charming letter, couched in the most wonderful Parliamentary language. but one can hardly make out from the letter whether the Ministry is for us or against us. At any rate, it glues an indication that the kitty may nÓt be as financially solvent as we would hope. But not only has it to be solvent; it must also have a little money to spend without getting itself into financial embarrassment.

The firm received this letter, and we shall all fight to the death to get support to increase the number of trawlers for North Shields. and fór the middle fleet. We have not really talked about the middle fleet. We have talked about the far distant fleet and the inshore fleet, but I want to know whether we will be able to get this money, or whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been sitting on the Minister responsible for fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. I hope we will hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not even paid him a visit and that the money will be provided to support the lifeboat service, and what is done by our fishing fleet to man this service. It is tremendously important that the whole of the fishing industry should know where it stands financially.

I have said my say, and I am grateful for the opportunity of having been able to do so.

11.50 a.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

So far this debate has dealt entirely with the point of view of the trawler owner, the boat owner, the fisherman, and the operator of these craft. I should like briefly to intervene from the point of view of the boat builder and those who supply the craft.

Although I need not by the normal convention of the House declare an interest, I should perhaps explain that I am a director of a company which builds boats, though not for the fishing industry. I am a director of a company of marine engineers, and I am also a director of a company which lends fairly large sums of money on the security of vessels, so I have kindred interests, though not direct ones.

From the point of view of the boat building industry, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said last week, this is the first time that grants are to be payable under the grants and loan scheme to vessels built overseas, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrioe-Gordon) rightly made the point that we must be sure that the prices quoted for overseas boats are on all fours with the prices quoted by our own British yards. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply to the debate. I hope that he will take particular note of this, because many of the smaller boatyards in Scotland depend largely on the United Kingdom fishing industry for their orders, and it is essential that these yards do not suffer from unfair competition. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary very kindly drew our attention to the fact that for the first time the do-it-yourself man will have an opportunity to take part in the Scheme. The boatbuilding industry, perhaps more than the marine engineering one, welcomes this and realises that it is reasonable and fair, but one hopes that there will be a proper tying-in of the safety aspects which hon. Members on both sides have mentioned this morning. I hope that when the Minister replies he will reinforce the point that before any grant is given to a do-it-yourself man there will be absolute certainty that the work will be on all fours with a proper professional job.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) said that the cost of a vessel had gone up from £20,000 to £39,000 in a very short time. I must tell him that the yard with which I am associated was building frigates at the end of the Napoleonic War at £9 a ton. Costs do rise! I do not think that the figure quoted by my hon. Friend is nearly as alarming as he implied. I am not criticising the figure given by him, but after the last war British boat building and small shipbuilding yards were quoting incredibly cheap prices, and I do not think that the users, and perhaps the Government, realised the wonderful bargain that they were then getting. Labour in some of these small yards was very cheap, and some of these yards were scarcely profitable. This brings me back to my point about foreign competition. With the increase in prices in United Kingdom yards, I hope that there will not be some false undercutting from abroad.

Paragraph 2 of the Scheme refers to the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1894 to 1964. Various hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), touched on the absurdity of seeking to drive a man to sea by compulsion as it were, and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) reinforced my hon. Friend in this plea.

It is essential that the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and the subsequent Acts referred to in this interpretation paragraph should be rethought in the very near future, not only from the point of view referred to by my hon. Friend, but from the point of view of the registration of vessels, because fishing vessels and many others are traditionally registered under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which is not really in accordance with the requirements of today, and the registration provisions which enable any lending body, or grant-giving body to say that the title to the vessel is a good title are not entirely satisfactory. I hope, therefore, that when the hon. Gentleman replies to the debate he will give us an assurance that the registration provisions contained in the Merchant Shipping Acts will be looked at again in new legislation to be brought in fairly soon. If the hon. Gentleman is unable to give us an assurance on that this morning, perhaps he will look at it and write to me before too long.

I have one final point to make about the Scheme as it affects the boatbuilding industry. In the past the boatbuilding industry received considerable support from the Government through small orders from the Admiralty. Since the last war the principal support for the small boatbuilding industry has come from grants and loans under the predecessors of this Scheme. During the last few days we have seen criticisms of Admiralty orders to shipyards being too widely spread, and failure to allow the shipyards to specialise in the provision of the proper sort of vessels.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am trying hard to understand how the hon. Member is relating his remarks to the Scheme. I have not been able to discover it yet. Perhaps he will help me.

Mr. Wells

I was about to in the next sentence, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Bearing in mind the examples which I have given of the criticism of the Admiralty spreading its contracts too widely, and the inability to specialise, I hope that in giving grants under this Scheme the White Fish Authority will see that the grants arc paid in such a way and to such yards as will enable those yards to specialise in giving the cheapest possible service to the industry. This is of great importance, because if the grants are scattered far and wide the fishing industry will not get the best possible service from the boatbuilding industry.

I hope that we will be given an assurance that the safety regulations, or the safety thoughts which hon. Members have touched on this morning, will be fully considered. I hope, too, that when the hon. Gentleman winds up the debate, the point of view of the boatbuilding industry will be borne fully in mind, just as much as the fishermen and the boat owner.

12 noon.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

There has been a general welcome for this Scheme. This is what makes fishing debates such particularly pleasant operations. I was reminded by something said by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazel]) of an occasion which was so pleasant that I found myself voting in the Opposition Lobby of that day on the subject of Government permissive approval to the shellfish industry.

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)

On a point of order. Is it in order, even for an hon. Member on this side of the House, to be reading a newspaper?

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Further to that point of order. This is not a newspaper in that sense. I am preparing notes in case I have the opportunity to get in on the Adjournment debate so that I may ask that the position about traffic parking in Peterborough may be looked at, as it is causing great concern.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member's explanation is ingenious, but I think that in terms of order it would be valid only in the debate in which he intends to speak.

Mr. Stodart

I have two or three points that I wish to put to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Can he give us the figure of actual applications and the way in which these have been received for the newest of the schemes we are discussing, the scheme for improvement of vessels? My mind goes back to 30th July, 1965, when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was introducing the Scheme. He said that in the first three months during which applications had been coming in, it was naturally too early to assess the complete response. but there had been 18 eligible applications, six of which had been proved, two rejected, and the others were being looked at. Could the hon. Gentleman give us some guidance as to how that particular scheme is going now? Could he also break down the figures so that we may have the Scottish ones?

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) made an extremely valid point when he raised the question whether the conversion of a vessel from one type to another would qualify. I thought there was a fair analogy with the occasion when the then right hon. Member for Bedford, Mr. Soames, said that this would apply to freezers.

Much attention has very rightly been drawn by hon. Members to the dangerous life which fishermen live. It is dangerous enough, goodness knows, without there being accidents. I support hon. Members on both sides of the House who have referred to the inevitably long hours which fishermen have to work, and which leads to tiredness. Tiredness possibly leads to carelessness and that is the way in which accidents at sea happen just as it is the cause of many accidents on the roads. I am delighted to know that the British Trawlers Federation is seeking the setting up of a working party on this question. I hope that this move will be extremely successful.

Mr. McNamara

Is not the hon. Member aware that the Board of Trade has set up a Departmental inquiry into the causes of accidents on trawlers and that this was announced a week last Friday?

Mr. Stodart

I understand that the Federation is seeking an inquiry about hours worked. I hope that the two inquiries can work closely together to solve the problem. I also ask the Under-Secretary when we are to expect the new legislation which is necessary for the 5 per cent., and can he assure us that it will have retrospective effect?

Lastly, I return to the point made by my hon. Friends arising out of paragraph 16(b), on the question of insurance and the extra risks which I believe will be involved, or could be involved—let us not be pessimistic—in the transfer of responsibility for protection of fishery vessels. How long is it likely for any one vessel and its crew to be on duty on fishery protection before being transferred to some completely different job? Is it not absolutely essential that for work of this kind one must have experience of a very particular nature? Can the hon. Gentleman say whether consultations took place with the industry, which itself is closely involved in this matter? Can he tell us whether the position over fishery protection in Scotland is precisely the same as it was, or has it also changed as a result of the recent announcement?

12.5 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Norman Buchan)

It is customary when a fishing Order is before us, no matter how small it is, to find a tendency for it to extend into a widespread fishing debate. On two occasions since I have been a Minister, when I have had to put through two relatively minor Orders, I have ended with notes fit for a three-hour speech. I shall not attempt to deliver that speech today because I know that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) is anxious to speak on problems in his constituency.

The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) was very concerned that she should get a straight answer. I can plead that I am too young to give a distorted answer; I will give a straight answer. There is no problem as to financial backing and no limit on the grant expenditure by the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. The total capital equipment involvement is still a matter under review in the review which is proceeding on the present position, but in the grant legislation there is no barrier whatsoever.

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) and others asked for some indication of the Scottish fishing situation, having asked whether last week's figures referred to the United Kingdom. The answer is yes, and it would perhaps be useful to say a word or two about the Scottish position. The year 1966 was a very good one for Scottish fishing and it marked up new records. In addition to the improvement in the value of landings in the main categories of white fish, shell fish and herring, it was an important year because for the first time the total value of marine fish landed in Scotland by British fishing vessels exceeded £20 million.

By inshore vessels the catch of white fish went up in value from £8,853,000 to £9,450,000 and the weight showed an increase as well as the value. Part of the record total catch was due to heavy landings of sprats. The increase in landings of sprats was from 930,000 cwt. to 1,400,000 cwt. Nevertheless, the landings of demersal fish continued at a high level and the weight of herring landings was also greater than in 1965. All over this shows that the Scottish fishing fleet is in reasonably good fettle at present.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about sprats? Has he any plans for making research into the sprat fishery in Scotland, which is such a new and important development?

Mr. Buchan

Research is going on all the time and we are intensifying it, but that does not come under the discussion of this Scheme, which is concerned with the review of the financial situation of the fishing industry.

Dr. Bennett


Mr. Buchan

I will not give way. I have a lot to say, and I do not want to delay the House.

I come to the specific questions which hon. Members have asked. Having dealt with the financial aspect, I turn to the important question of scrapping, which was raised by a number of hon. Members. I assure the House that their remarks have been noted. I regret that I am not in a position to give a definite answer to various questions that were asked on the issue. The whole question of scrapping is being looked into in the review which we have established. All the arguments, for and against, will be examined.

The delay which has arisen was the subject of a number of questions, particularly on the part of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). I was surprised that the delay caused so much comment, since two factors are involved: first, the need to consider what one eventually gets at the end of the delay; and, secondly, the fact that instead of there being simply a straightforward increase in the grant, we have also brought into operation a number of new benefits. Hon. Members should reflect that for the first time herring boats will be allowable for improvement grants. Also included are such things as safety measures and the "do-it-yourself" aspect to which the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) referred; the question of foreign-built boats also needed careful consideration.

A large number of hon. Members made great play with the question of safety. It is important to make it clear that, for the first time, this aspect has been taken into consideration with the object of all needs being covered. When safety appliances are introduced, they will qualify for the grant. I will not go into detail on the subject or comment on the striking statistics quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).

A good deal has been said about the cost of fishing vessels and the position of the boat building industry. We must consider, when thinking in terms of increased boat building costs, such things as the increased scale of engine power and the addition of ancillary machinery. When one considers the introduction of the purse seine net one must think not just of the net but also of the machinery that is necessary. When seeking to improve efficiency one must expect increased costs, as long as those increases pay off with increased production. There has also been the introduction of electronic navigational equipment, fish finding equipment and other developments, which have all added to the cost. I assure the House, however, that the White Fish Authority, the Herring Industry Board and Departments are keeping an eye on the situation.

When the question of competitive tendering was raised we found ourselves in the surprising position of hon. Gentlemen opposite beginning to challenge the value of competition, an unusually pleasant happening on a mid-week morning. I assure the House that this is another matter which will be considered in the review. I am aware of the Report of the Estimates Committee, in which this matter was discussed, and the review will take these points into consideration.

Mr. Wall

The hon. Gentleman has several times referred to the review. Is he aware that it was to have been concluded at the end of 1966? We are now well into 1967. When does he expect it to be finalised?

Mr. Buchan

I hesitate to lecture the hon. Gentleman and to urge upon him the need for patience. Hon. Members have been patient in waiting for this Scheme to come forward, and they have expressed pleasure at what it contains. If the hon. Gentleman has the same patience about the conclusion of the review he may find that his patience is profitably rewarded. We hope that it will be concluded this year, but I cannot give a definite promise.

The hon. Member for Banff asked whether a changeover to another method of fishing would be eligible for the grant. The answer is "yes"—so long as the changeover complies with the conditions laid down and the relevant authority, the White Fish Authority or Herring Industry Board, is satisfied that the proposed improvement is likely to lead to the increased efficiency of the vessel. In this connection, the Herring Industry Board was recently authorised to make hire purchase arrangements for costly improvements, namely, the introduction of purse seine nets. This is a useful step forward and these new arrangements will be of particular interest to hon. Members who represent places like Aberdeen.

Dr. Bennett


Mr. Buchan

No, I will not give way.

Dr. Bennett

On a point of order—

Mr. Buchan

The hon. Gentleman does not need the protection of the Chair. With my usual generosity, I give way.

Dr. Bennett

Not being familiar with the hon. Gentleman, I do not know what is his usual standard of generosity. His generosity did not show up very clearly a few moments ago. With appropriate gratitude, however, I ask this question. Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to be announcing that the Government will use the taxpayers' money as hire purchase funds for these boats, so that the taxpayer is becoming involved with the industry in this way?

Mr. Buchan

I am astonished at that intervention. To start with, the hon. Gentleman has not been present throughout the debate and he also does not seem to be aware that we are concerned with an important part of the British economy. In other spheres of the economy either the payment or subvention by the British taxpayer is involved. I see no reason why, in this important sector of the economy, he should not be equally involved. Considering the question the hon. Gentleman asked, I regret that I extended my usual generosity to him and allowed him to intervene.

Dr. Bennett

I take it that the answer is "yes".

Mr. Buchan

That is correct.

In addition to the question of safety, the standard of quarters on boats was also the subject of a number of questions. It should be remembered that not only did the Board of Trade make an announcement on the safety aspect on 24th February last, but that this is an international problem which is receiving a great deal of attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) raised this matter shortly before last Christmas with the Board of Trade. Three organisations are concerned with this issue. They are the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, the F.A.O. and the I.L.O. They intend to collaborate in the preparation of a code to cover all aspects of the safety of fishing vessels and their crews. Having been brought up in a fishing community, I assure the House that the question of crews' quarters and the safety of fishermen is close to my heart.

The hon. Member for Maidstone raised the important subject of foreign boat-building. As he is aware, the grant is to be 20 per cent. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. WolrigeGordon) asked what we meant by "unfair" when we referred to foreign boat-building. The answer is that we have particularly in mind things like direct subsidies which place foreign yards in an unfair position vis à vis British yards. We believe that the 20 per cent. grant will show that we are not allowing a direct and beneficial advantage to foreign yards. There are, of course, many other aspects of this matter which will need straighten- ing out, but we have tried to cover some of the details.

I was asked what types of standard equipment would be allowable for grant. They will include fire fighting equipment, fitted as standard equipment, and other types of safety equipment. In this connection, since reference was made to do-it-yourself equipment, I trust that the hon. Member for Maidstone was not suggesting that the necessity to comply with the rules laid down might be avoided.

Mr. John Wells

I was seeking an assurance that the inspection would be adequate and that adequate standards would be maintained.

Mr. Buchan

That point will be considered before the grant becomes payable. The White Fish Authority or Herring Industry Board will want to be sure that the nature of the improvement is such that it should be allowable.

The question of the additional 5 per cent. was raised, but since this is awaiting general legislation, I am unable to give a precise date. I can only say that we cannot introduce it into the fishing industry until it is brought forward in a general way. However, we have thought it right to go as far as we have gone now. After all, hon. Members have criticised us for the delay that has taken place. The key question that is involved is: will it be retrospective to 1st January, 1967, and the answer is quite straightly, "Yes, it will be", without any quibble which the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth is always watching for.

I think that this covers most of the points about which I have been asked. I cannot think of any basic one which I have missed. A number of points have been raised; a number of arguments have been adduced, at least one or two of which I shall deal with by letter—for example, the rather complicated question raised by the hon. Member for Maidstone.

I will end by saying that I am glad that the Scheme has had general acceptance on each side of the House, because, although it does not embrace any great matter of policy, it gives a useful extension to the existing grants aspects of the statutory body, and I would commend the scheme.

Mr. Michael Shaw

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, would he say some- thing about his attitude towards the small man—in particular, the fisherman setting up for the first time?

Mr. Buchan

Yes, of course. I should have referred to this point. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), as well as the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw), raised it. This is really a matter for the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Boad. I have taken a note of their views, but the allocation of grants is not a ministerial matter. I understand and sympathise entirely with the argument. I was asked to express my sympathy and I take the chance of saying, "Yes, of course". We hope that this aspect will not be over-weighted by the big man. I agree entirely with that view. The point which was made on records and so on was a valid one. Of course, the big boys have all the valid statistical arguments, and we have to look at the question in another way for the new man coming in on a small scale. I accept this, and I am quite sure that the Authority and the Board do, too.

Dame Irene Ward

Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the fishery protection interests?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not in order on this Scheme.

Mr. Buchanan

I am grateful for that piece of fishery protection. Perhaps we can leave it at that. Again, I am pleased that there has been a general acceptance of this Scheme on both sides of the House, and I commend it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) Scheme 1967. dated 8th February 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th February, be approved.