HC Deb 15 May 1968 vol 764 cc1307-55

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McCann.]

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

Although this will necessarily be a short debate, it is about a matter of immense gravity and is held on the initiative of the Opposition. I will confine my remarks solely to the facts and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) will comment on what I hope will be an important statement which the Minister will make.

At this stage I merely repeat that it would have been more convenient for the House if the Minister had found it possible to answer a Question earlier so that we might have had time to reflect on what he has to say. First, however, I do not believe that any hon. Member can sit in the comfort of this Chamber without thinking of what a lot of very brave men suffered off Iceland not many months ago.

The fishing fleets have been having extremely difficult times for many years. In 1967—the last year for which results are available—in not one port where trawlers are based and in not one section of the fleet was a surplus shown after depreciation had been deducted—even at the modest rate of 6⅔per cent.—and a heavy, I would say staggering, loss per day was made by all sections.

This is the season when the heaviest supplies of fish come on the market, and I believe—I do not want to appear an apostle of gloom—that things will get worse rather than better in the immediate future because imports in the first quarter of this year were up by 18 per cent. on the same period of last year and because vessels are going out of commission at what I regard as an alarming and, alas, increasing pace. The searchlights have been playing on the situation in Hull and Grimsby. For their sake, I wish that it was not so. In July of last year, when we had a debate in the House, the British Trawler Federation's memorandum contained a paragraph saying: To all appearances at least the Scottish fishing industry, especially the Scottish trawling industry, is relatively prosperous. It might have been more realistic had it said "is relatively less depressed". Perhaps what was said then was true, but we should tonight take a cool, hard look at the position now. This is not a time for wishful thinking or blinking at unpleasant facts. I am against presenting an exaggerated case and therefore, if I spend a while dealing with the Scottish fleet's problems, this may serve to highlight those of the distant water section, the plight of which is even worse.

In 1967 the Scottish trawling fleet, the bulk of which is based at Aberdeen but a section of which is at Granton in my constituency, showed a "profit" of £863,000, of which the subsidy came to £206,000, and therefore, without the subsidy, there was a "profit" of £657,000. But the "profit" of excluded any depreciation, so that the figure of £657,000 was a paper one. Charge the depreciation of £770,000, even at the modest and unrealistic rate of 6⅔ per cent., and the real, hard facts show a loss of more than £100,000. That was the true commercial figure which was turned into a profit only by the injection of £206,000 of subsidy.

It would be foolish for me to condemn subsidies in principle, and I should be laying myself open to all sorts of attack if I were to do so. However, I have always pointed out the flimsiness of a structure the very foundation of which is subsidised, for the good reason that subsidence can only too easily take place.

I have no doubt that there are isolated instances in farming where the subsidies drawn amount to twice the figure of the commercial loss incurred without them, but the figure I have given is for the whole Scottish trawling fleet last year and not for a few individual vessels—and this at a time when the haddock brood has been far better than anybody expected. One can only wonder what the position would have been if the haddock catch had been what it was four or five years ago.

As for the industry's debts, in March, 1968, the arrears brought forward from October, 1967, were £346,000, and for the half-year up to March, 1968, a further £338,000 are due, making a total of £684,000.

I return now to the industry in the United Kingdom as a whole. What are the prospects for it? First, there is, I think, the inevitable reduction—if I am wrong about the inevitability of this I am sure that the Minister will correct me—in the subsidy each year of between 7½ per cent. and 12½ per cent. By 1972 the subsidy element is scheduled to have disappeared. We are half way through the period—from 1962 to 1972—with only 42½ per cent. of the subsidy so far gone. In other words, we have been running under the average rate of reduction. Will the cuts in the next five years of necessity have to be at the maximum of 12½ per cent.

The conception of eliminating subsidies might have been possible if all the other circumstances had played fair with the industry. Let all know that the fishing fleets of this country are as efficient as any others in the world. However, they are faced with the inexorability of rising costs. Crews are entitled to receive higher wages—and I am glad to say that they are getting them—and insurance premiums are now going up by about £900 per vessel, and there is also what is described as an almost doubling of the excess. This, in motor car terms, means that where the first £15 of any damage had to be paid, you are now going to have to pay £30. There are inevitably to be additional costs imposed on the industry by the Transport Bill. No Minister has yet been able to give the House an assessment of what those costs will mean.

We have to face the fact that the proceeds from first-hand sales are now turning against the catchers. It is significant that the imports of white fish were down in weight between 1961 and 1966, but they were up by over 50 per cent. in value. That, I suspect, was due to the increased importing of frozen processed fillets. Do the Government think that we can go on spending money in this way when, to put it bluntly, those imports are knocking hell out of our fleets?

The Parliamentary Secretary made a very categorical remark on the subject of subsidies in the debate on 26th July last year. He said: If countries abroad are undercutting our own industry in certain ways by subsidies, we shall take action to protect it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1967; Vol. 751, c. 691.] I hope that one of the things he will tell us tonight is that he will put those words into action because the operating subsidy in 1967 for the British fleet was £1,500,000—less than 4 per cent. of the value of the output of the catchers. Compare that with the subsidy given to the Norwegian fleet. It is between five and 10 times as much in proportion. When the 1967 drop in prices took place the Norwegian subsidies were jacked up to the equivalent of £3 per head of their population, which presumably must have brought them into the vicinity of £15 million.

I therefore await anxiously but expectantly as a proverbial optimist what the hon. Gentleman has to tell us. The review has been in progress for a very long time. It is not unfair to say that its initiation is shrouded in the mists of time long past. Whatever action the Government propose, it must not be of the same tempo as the review has been. The Government have to mount a rescue operation with great urgency. There must be nothing leisurely about it. If legislation is required, I hope the Government will bring it speedily to the House. I should have thought they were bound to do so, as I understand that the next cut in the subsidy will fall due at the end of July. I do not think the industry can stand that.

I suggest the following four possibilities. First, action must be taken against imports unfairly subsidised. Secondly, the situation whereby this country allows imports utterly and completely ad lib while all our competitors impose restrictions quite rigorously, must come to an end. Thirdly, the supplementary subsidies, amounting to £350,000 a year, are inadequate and much too rigid. We want them to be much more flexible. Fourthly, there has to be an injection of subsidy to arrest the decline.

Hon. Members may think, after what I have said about subsidies, that that may sound contradictory, but I believe it is the only remedy available, short-term, in a very desperate situation. There has to be a long-term look with the industry at the contribution it is to make to the nation's economy. To make that contribution it must be allowed to earn the return which is necessary on a high risk investment—which, goodness knows, this is. Britain without its fishing fleets does not bear contemplation, but unless action is taken swiftly that is what will face the country before long. Therefore, in what I hope has been a non-partisan spirit which has characterised all the debates I have attended on the fishing industry, I call on the Government to act urgently tonight.

7.45 p.m.

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

Far be it from me to introduce party politics into the fishing industry, but I must remind the House that every complaint made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) tonight was a complaint against the policy for which he was responsible. If the industry is suffering—and I do not deny it—that flows from the policy laid down by the hon. Gentleman's Government in 1962. The hon. Member has spoken about the industry being in a bad way, but I remind him that in 1962 it was in an equally bad way. The writing was on the wall then. The hon. Member conveniently forgets that the Government of the day had to grant a moratorium on repayments because the industry was in such a bad condition. The hon. Member cannot deny that for it is a fact.

We are faced today with the policy laid down in 1962. The hon. Member has spoken about cuts over a 10-year period. That also was laid down in the Act of 1962, which said that the subsidy would have to diminish and run out by 1972. The industry was then regarded by the party opposite as becoming self-sufficient. It may be that that referred to the fishing industry as a whole, but the hon. Member will agree that the industry and the Government of the day agreed on that.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

And the Opposition of the day.

Mr. Hoy

No. If the industry and the Government came to that conclusion who am I to dispute it although I did not have great faith in it? I am on record as saying that. I want to put this matter in its proper perspective. We might well have made a statement earlier, but it might have been equally convenient to have delayed a little longer. Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West I want to make as comprehensive a statement as possible. I also associate myself with what he said about the disasters in the industry. If anything happens to the industry in any part of the country it affects the industry as a whole.

Many hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, I shall therefore not take much time, but I wish to assure the House that the Government fully realise the pressing problems of the industry, notably those of the deep sea fleet. We have been in close touch with the various sections of the catching industry. We met the leaders of the trawler owners only yesterday and I know their anxieties. I also accept that it has taken a long time to carry out the review of policy. It was undertaken by my right hon. Friend some time before the present difficulties arose. We have reason to be grateful for his foresight.

When the Estimates Committee made its Sixth Report at the beginning of 1967, it did not expect the industry to run into the problem it now faces. These have come to a head and they have to be reckoned with. No one who knows the industry and the way in which its fortunes fluctuate would suggest that its problems admit of either quick or easy solutions. It was necessary to study the problems in depth if we were to find the right solutions and we were faced with a rapidly changing situation. To assess the effect of devaluation alone was a major exercise.

I propose now to give the House a brief account of the problems identified in our review of policy and the measures we have in mind to meet them. First, the industry as a whole, and the deep sea industry in particular, is subject to adverse conditions of competition. These are beyond its control and very largely beyond the control of this or any Government. Yields have declined with the pressure of foreign competition on the fishing grounds and the deep sea fleet has been excluded by the extension of foreign fishery limits from many of the richest grounds for which its vessels were built.

Secondly, other countries even more dependent than Britain on fishing have developed their coastal fisheries and they find here an open market for their export surpluses. This is a consequence of our general trading policies, not only during the years of this Government, but over all the years. I do not want to say more about it tonight. I merely want to record this fact.

Thirdly, the development of quick freezing has led to a build up of large stocks of fish in frozen form which would have gone for fishmeal a few years ago. Not only do these stocks exist, but they enter far more readily than wet fish into international trade. They have severely depressed the major consuming markets of the world including our own.

This depression has applied particularly to the market for deep sea cod with which frozen fish is directly competitive.

Although the volume of deep sea landings in 1967 was maintained at the average level of about 520,000 tons achieved in 1965 and 1966, prices have fallen and the value of the catch has declined from £41.2 million to £39.4 million while costs have been rising. There is a serious risk of a decline in catching capacity. The inshore industry has suffered less than the deep sea industry, because it depends more on varieties and qualities of fresh fish with which frozen fish is less competitive. It is no accident that the deep sea industries of our neighbours are in a similar plight to our own.

As I said, our predecessors in office cannot entirely avoid the responsibility for the trading conditions with which the industry is now faced. But I do not blame them so much for that. The only regret I have is the policy they handed down to us.

Much of the writing was on the wall in 1962. But they chose to rely on the hope—it was no more than a hope—that, despite all the signs, the deep sea industry could dispense with Government support by 1972. What is more they went on, despite our warnings, to pass into a law a programme of automatic subsidy reductions for 10 years ahead.

It is this obstacle that has frustrated us in trying to help the industry and compelled us to consider not merely the policy but the legislation that is needed before we can help. Hon. Members opposite should reflect on their responsibility for the present impasse before urging the Government to resolve it.

I come now to the measures we have in mind to deal with the problems I have outlined. Some we can take immediately; others, for the reason I have given, require legislation. These will be the subject of further consultation with the industry; and I cannot, therefore, announce final decisions on them tonight.

It is clear that in present circumstances the continuation of the present policy laid down in 1961 following the Fleck Report is inadequate to prevent a decline in the deep sea industry's contribution to the nation's fish supplies and therefore in its contribution to import saving. We are satisfied that the industry could make an increasing contribution to our supplies and to import saving, given the assurance of an adequate measure of Government support, in conjunction with a continuing improvement in the industry's efficiency.

We therefore propose to bring to an end the automatic reduction year by year of operating subsidies to the deep sea fleet imposed by the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1962, and to give the industry an assurance of continued support for a period of several years. The precise form and level of operating subsidy, the method by which it should be adjusted from year to year, and the basis of payment, will be determined in the light of our usual analysis of the industry's profitability, which is now proceeding, and after consultation with the industry.

The House will know that legislation will be required to give effect to the change I have mentioned in subsidy arrangements; and we will make a further statement about the timing and substance of it at the first opportunity.

Mr. Stodart

The hon. Gentleman said—I thought quite deliberately—that this would affect the deep water fleet. Does he exclude the middle water fleet?

Mr. Hoy

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to wait. Obviously we are talking about the middle, deep water and inshore fleets. I shall say something about them later.

I recognise the desirability, in view of the situation in the fishing industry, of bringing this legislation before the House with the least delay so that action may be taken as soon as possible. Meanwhile we want to encourage the investment that is required to achieve increased efficiency and import saving. We therefore propose to remove the scrapping restrictions on the approval of grants for new deep sea vessels. This was recommended in the Sixth Report from the Estimates Committee.

I turn now to the inshore and herring fleets. We look to this section of the industry for a substantial contribution to import saving. To this end, we propose to remove existing restrictions on grants and loans for inshore and herring vessels in line with the policy for the deep sea fleet. We also propose to increase the overall limit on the value of these grants and loans from 85 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the gross cost of a vessel. This will mean an immediate increase in the maximum loan from 40 per cent. to 45 per cent.

The operating subsidies to the inshore and herring fleets are not subject to automatic reduction and will continue to be reviewed annually in the light of their profitability, their importance to local economies, and the import-saving objective.

I should like to say a little more on the question of efficiency. There has been much criticism of the industry in recent months, much of it based on superficial impressions and much of it far from constructive or realistic. Our fishing industry does one of the most difficult, risky and unrewarding jobs to be found anywhere in the country. It makes for its size an exceptional contribution to the balance of payments, both on exports and on import-saving. So far as the evidence exists for making meaningful comparisons, it is as efficient as any comparable fishing industry in Western Europe.

Having said this, I would go on to say that there is room for improvement and a need for improvement, if the industry is to meet succesfully its conditions of competition and justify the support of the taxpayer. I do not believe there is any failure in the industry to recognise this fact. There is also an increasing recognition of the value of research and development into catching and handling techniques. There is a readiness to invest in new and more efficient ships and to improve old ones, given the prospect of a reasonable return, which is essential to any investment.

There is also a need for improvements in the structure of the industry to secure more effective management and training, and for further economic research, particularly into the marketing and distribution of fish. The measures we propose are intended to encourage progress on these lines. We want them to have the maximum impact on efficiency, and this is one important purpose of the discussions I have mentioned.

I do not under-rate the urgency of all this and the House must not under-rate the difficulties. But we must be sure that when help is given it is effective. We expect that the measures we are taking will give the industry the support and confidence it needs both to increase its efficiency and its vital contribution to the national economy.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I realise that the debate is chiefly concerned with the deep water fleet, but I wish to speak very briefly about the inshore fishermen. I also realise that a Committee is sitting, and I hope that the Government may be able to tell us a little of what sort of report they hope to get from it. No doubt the answers to some of my questions will have to await that report.

The industry will be grateful for what the Minister said. It will welcome his assurance that the subsidies for the deep water fleet are not to be run down any further, and that there is to be support after 1972. The removal of restrictions on the inshore fleet will be very welcome. It is very necessary in the North of Scotland to build up a fleet, and this will be a help. The announcement of increased loans and grants will help the industry.

The Minister is on the right lines in stressing that the smaller boats are partly a social problem; they are very important to the local economy in certain parts of Scotland. But they can also, as can the bigger boats, make a substantial contribution to our balance of trade.

In the north of Scotland we have been fortunate in some of the schemes promoted by the Highlands and Islands Development Board, both in the Hebrides and Orkney, and we look forward to an increase in general employment from inshore fishing, both at sea and on shore. But so far this has very usefully brought in a certain amount of fairly small boats and has done some very useful training of crews. These boats must look for part of their income to shellfish, including molluscs, and I wonder whether the Government have any further information about the stocks of shellfish. It is very difficult to find out what is happening to lobsters and some sorts of molluscs, and any information on that will be welcome.

There are still complaints about trawling on certain grounds fished by inshore vessels on the west coast of Scotland. Can we hear anything about further measures of protection?

There has been the enormous development of the purse net, which greatly increases the catching power of the herring fleet. In the season one can now see off Shetland many Norwegians who catch and land great quantities of herring. What is the Government's latest information on the effect of this on stocks? Is it having a serious effect?

Nearly everybody would agree that there are objections to industrial fishing. In a world which is very short of food there is something slightly distasteful about dragging enormous quantities of herring from the sea and turning them into meal to feed broiler chickens for the better-off. If any method could be found of adding this protein to the general world food stocks it would be very welcome. But industrial fishing is going on on a large scale. We must face that, and take part in it if it is to continue.

We are importing large amounts of fish. I think that I am right in saying that our annual requirement is about one million tons of herring, and we are landing in our own boats only between 150,000 and 200,000 tons. This is largely brought in for fishmeal. This seems to mean that we could expand the herring fleet and usefully expand the facilities, the reduction plants and so on, although I believe that there are large unsold stocks in South America. The Minister mentioned this question of fish stocks in connection with white fish.

If we are to encourage the herring fishing, we shall have to look to a bigger boat to prosecute purse netting successfully. One needs a boat of upwards of 100 feet, and it must be very highly equipped. Not only with herring fishing but with fishing generally, equipment is costing more and more. It costs more to have gutting machines on board, and it is very expensive. We may soon need freezing facilities on the ship, even on the inshore fleet, which were not thought of some years ago. The Minister announced increased loans and grants, but one needs a great deal of money now to equip fishing boats. Finance will pose a considerable problem.

So far we have a certain number of boats—there is, for instance, the "Selma" which I have seen off Shetland—experimenting with the Norwegian methods. We must go into this matter. They mean a relatively small crew but a big income. I wonder whether the Government have any further information about some of the experiments going on, particularly in the north of Scotland.

The Minister also rightly mentioned the need for more outlets and more processing. Here again, certainly in Shetland, we have been fortunate in getting grants from the Highlands and Islands Development Board, and have considerably increased the local market for fish. Nevertheless, we suffer to some extent from low prices. There is still in general throughout the inshore fishing industry, which I am glad to say is relatively much better off at present than some of the trawling ports, a great need for more processing and more outlets. Have the Government given further thought to a minimum price scheme? If that is something which the Committee, which I believe has been set up by the Scottish Office, is looking into, that will be popular in the industry. It is the sort of thing we should look to in the future.

Mr. Hoy

It is at present being discussed between the White Fish Authority and the industry. We shall have to wait until they have reached their conclusions and sent them to us.

Mr. Grimond

I am glad to hear that, because it would be a popular move in the industry.

I am also glad that the Minister takes the view that the industry could make a very substantial contribution to our trade balance, and that we should not need to go on importing about £100 million worth of fish a year. I am glad that he realises the potential of the inshore industry, which can now deliver very good prime fish, for which, I am glad to say, there is a growing taste throughout the consuming public of Britain.

8.8 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

My hon. Friend the Minister, who has given us such encouraging news, is well known as an old friend of the industry. What he said tonight about future support and guaranteed support will please and satisfy the industry and hon. Members who represent fishing ports. I do not know whether we should call this the post-Fleck era, but certainly a new era is opening. Perhaps one might call it the pre-Hoy era. People in the industry will look forward to a change in their circumstances, which is badly needed.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) said that he was not an apostle of gloom, but he could justifiably have been one because of the statistics he quoted from the Humber ports. We are visited in the House by civic deputations concerned about the depressed state of the deep sea fishing, fleet. A Cabinet Minister now has his mayor and town clerk coming to see him. We are all complaining—owners, deckhands and the trade unions—all together in a most unusual alliance for this industry in putting the case for Government assistance. Perhaps not all fishermen need it. The inshore fishermen are doing very well.

A few days ago I was at the Council of Europe, where, as Chairman of the Fisheries Committee, I argued the case for our trawler men with our E.F.T.A. colleagues. The Norwegians contend that they are not dumping in the G.A.T.T. sense of the term, but, if not, they are certainly undercutting us. We had a job to convínce them that this was so and of the difficulties of our fishing people in the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend emphasised the need for a radical change in the structure of the industry. Despite the great virtues of fishermen—courage, independence, initiative and stamina—this is an antiquated industry. It is a highly individualistic industry. God—or at least the Labour Government—helps those who help themselves. There are still far too many Victorian aspects of the industry. There is too little industrial democracy for the men who sail the ships. There is a feudal attitude by owners towards skippers. There is still an atmosphere of "hire and fire". There are worries and insecurity in my constituency about conditions in the industry.

The British Trawler Federation, the Conservative lobby in this House and the Transport and General Workers' Union—an unusual alliance—are asking for a simple cure by a massive injection of money by the Government. My hon. Friend has spoken generously about this. But it is curious, as he said, that it is almost always a Labour Government who are asked to give people help. Not merely my hon. Friend saw these difficulties coming. The White Fish Authority for five years has been saying the same. The Fleck Committee's policy was not viable. The writing has been on the wall for years, The Fleck policy was that of the Tory Party which has now disowned it. The policy is not viable and we must face a completely new situation.

In deference to hon. Members opposite, I shall not quote at length but I have here an interesting booklet by Jeremy Tunstall published by the Fabian Society, which goes into many details about marketing, and the need for the much more efficient industry which must follow upon the financial help to be given in the years to come. My hon. Friend has pledged that there will be continuing support for the industry.

We are told by the White Fish Authority and others that there is no confidence in the industry, that no orders are being made and that there are too few applications to build new vessels. Now, we can begin a new page in the ledger and think in terms of building up the fleet.

How much state aid does the industry get? It is about £5 million a year as compared with about £270 million or £280 million given to the agricultural industry. That makes fishing a Cinderella alongside its elder sister. The farmers have a very powerful lobby in the N.F.U. and I only wish that the fishermen worked together as tightly knit as the farmers, with as good a political leadership. There is no unity in the fishing industry compared with the agricultural industry. So again I say to the leaders of the fishing industry, "Unite and do the job shoulder to shoulder". Measuring subsidies in proportionate terms, I suggest that the farmers have an advantage of about 13 to 9, taking into consideration the comparative sizes of the two industries. I have said many times that there should be more parity between the two industries. I accept that we cannot have complete parity in the context of the tens of millions of £s involved, but the present proportions are unfair. The proportion of 13 to 9 in favour of the farmers should be narrowed even if equality is not possible.

In view of the depressed conditions on Humberside, I desire to see some attempt to control imports. It is sad to see the amount of foreign fish being landed compared to the amount our own people are selling. I have seen at Hull a Norwegian boat with 1,100 tons of cod on board. The cod was bought—whatever one might say about dumping or undercutting—by British trawler owners and taken off the boat and put into cold storage. The trawler owners, acting on behalf of the industry and asking for help, must really put their house in order if the Government are asked to help, as I am sure the Government will.

The next thing to emphasise in any stocktaking of the industry is the vital matter regarding the quality of the fish and what I would term its "quality control". Our wives will tell us that they will pay good money for good fish, but they and all those catering for hotels and institutions like schools and canteens will not buy fish which has lain in ice, 10 or 12 days in a wet fisher and is not in the best condition on the quayside at the auctions. It then has to travel perhaps 17 hours by lorry to get to distant parts of England and Wales. Quality is all important in the sale of fish that we catch. The modern housewife is choosey.

Again, we must take a good hard look at where we are losing money in the industry. Some vessels are suffering a loss of from £5 to £68 per day each in cash alone. These are oil-burners which are 15 to 17 years old. They total perhaps 90 vessels in the deep sea fleet of approximately 180 boats.

But our job is not merely to ask for a checks on foreign landings and for increased subsidies. We must replace old inefficient oil burners by modern vessels. This can be done over a period. If there are 90 vessels which have to be replaced in the next eight or ten years, and reckoning the cost at £500,000 each, with the Government giving 40 per cent., it means that the Government will be asked for about £12 million. This is not an impossible amount over eight or ten years to re-equip our fleet with modern vessels. This re-equipment is not only necessary for the sake of efficiency but for the sake of giving the men decent, safe and more attractive working conditions.

The situation in relation to the number of men and their quality coming into the industry is not unlike that in deep coal mining, it is deteriorating. The standard is not of the calibre it was. This is taxing the minds of union leaders on Humberside. If we could get better men in better ships, it would mean better catches and better quality of fish. There is no doubt that, if we do not give the industry this aid, we will not get the new vessels built, and that, unless we get the new vessels, we will not get the right quality of men to man them.

Finally, I ask that the owners on their side should give a quid pro quo. We have talked ad nauseam in this Chamber about productivity agreements, saying that wages will go up if workers can show a number of criteria that a pay rise is justified.

Money given by the State, whether it is to an aircraft company, a motor car firm or, as in this case, the fishing owners, must show results. Therefore, the industry should become more efficient in every way. I hope that the Minister will agree that future subsidies should be tied to efficiency. It is very important that we should have a profitable fleet and an efficient fleet. I would give more subsidy to owners of those vessels which are more efficient and more profitable so as to encourage efficiency. In addition, more company mergers are necessary. There are too many small inefficient units. I am not here talking about family firms, which are often very efficient. We need more mergers and larger units in this technological age, giving savings in overheads, and a much more efficient organisation for the industry.

First, give the industry the financial help which is so badly needed, and then link this to efficient working by means of operational subsidies. I ask the Minister if some efforts be made to check imported fish which is now being landed and which is under-cutting home fish? Given these things, the industry can look forward to an era ahead which is much better than the one we look back to over the last eight or 10 years.

8.21 p.m.

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

The hon. Gentleman's speech was at least a good deal more agreeable than that of the Minister who spoke for the Government, who, I though, got off on a party political note which my hon. Friends and myself strongly resent. The Minister has been Minister in charge of fishing for three and a half years. When he used to stand at this Dispatch Box he held himself up to be the saviour of the fishing industry, yet, since he has been the Minister responsible, the industry has got into a worse position that it has ever been in. He had better remember this when he criticises this side of the House for the 1962 Act. In 1962, and up until 1964, there was no lack of confidence in the industry. They were still re-equipping, still building new trawlers, but they are not doing to today. That is the condemnation of the Minister and of the Government's policy.

We have always had an all-party approach to this problem, and this is right for the industry. So why has it taken the Government, when they knew they would get the co-operation of this side of the House, three and a half years to bring forward their proposals? They said that they started work on the proposals in November, 1964, and they still have not produced the full proposals. Had we not asked for this Adjournment debate tonight we would not even now have got anything out of them.

The Government must take responsibility, and they know it only too well. It is no good the Minister coming to the Dispatch Box and producing the cheap points that he has produced today. The Minister has not said a single word about the near and middle water fishing. He has talked about inshore and distant water fishing, but we have heard nothing about near water fishing. We must have an answer to this by the end of the debate, otherwise that part of the industry will not know where it stands.

The effect of the last two years on the fishing industry has been disastrous, there is no other word for it, and on that both sides of the House agree. We also agree that many of these problems are world problems and not just the problems of Britain.

One of our gravest problems is that Britain is the only market in the world which is open to every country, and the dramatic change in the holding of frozen stocks throughout the world has made the British market much more vulnerable than before. This has happened only in the last three or four years. Some people say, "Let the fishing industry go; we can get subsidised cheap imports which are of advantage to the consumer, and we should let our fishing industry die." All hon. Members in the House would utterly refute that, but we probably have an axe to grind. The impartial judge in the Restrictive Practices Court a few months ago said that having no industry, or no support for the industry, would result in a very short time in prices going sky-high and the import bill rising correspondingly.

It is in the interests of the consumer and of the nation that we should have a healthy, viable and prosperous fishing industry. How should we support it? The hon. Gentleman who spoke last produced a document written by Jeremy Tunstall. His idea is that we should have a form of price guarantee subsidy. The Minister tonight has talked about continuing with the same old subsidy systems we had before, perhaps at different levels, but the same system. I do not think that either of these ideas would work.

We have had a subsidy system now for a good many years, and the purpose of the subsidy system was always to get the industry into a state where it could stand on its own feet. This has not happened, and there is nothing to show that it ever could happen. Whilst we remain the only market to take surplus fish from the world, whatever we try to do to help our fishing industry will be under-cut by imports coming in. If we adopt Jeremy Tunstall's method, we will have a rising subsidy bill and because fish is still coming in the price will fall, and the subsidy will increase. This would be an open-ended commitment, just as we have had for many years with agricultural subsidies, and which we are now trying to get rid of. I do not believe that is a starter either.

One must look further than those two ideas for a solution. There is only one method left to us, and that is a form of protection for the industry. People do not like the word "protection", I know, but we must do something to enable the industry to stabilise, and to know that it will have a market at a reasonable price.

Mr. James Johnson

How will we then get over our G.A.T.T. commitments and agreements with E.F.T.A.?

Mr. Prior

I am just coming to that. It is, of course, the stumbling-block.

Let me deal with E.F.T.A. first, because it is from the E.F.T.A. countries that most fish comes. Norway, for instance, is a very poor country, and it is not in her interests to have to subsidise her fishing industry to the extent that she does today. She cannot afford it. She is bitterly upset at the price that she gets for frozen fillets landed here and would like a higher one.

My suggestion about the E.F.T.A. countries would be to talk to them about some form of market sharing arrangement. We have done it with bacon, and I think that we shall have to do it with fish. It will be more difficult with fish because we have a wider variety of products. However, if it could be done with frozen fillets of cod, haddock and plaice, we should largely overcome the problem. I would like the Government to say that they are willing to enter into negotiations on the point and, because Norway gets such a bad price at the moment and has to subsidise her industry so heavily, now is the best time to do it.

Mr. James Johnson

Is it not a fact that there is already a working party discussing the possibility of a fisheries policy in E.F.T.A. and that we are engaged in it? As I have said already, I have attempted to fight this practice at Strasbourg, and I am told that it is happening.

Mr. Prior

I am delighted to hear it, but I would like to see more action from the Government than we have seen so far. We have been told nothing about it in the House. It is a matter of great consequence and, with due respect to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), it wants fighting a good deal harder than anything that could be done at Strasbourg, because I do not think that that would convince many of us that much effort is being put into it.

Holland is another country which sends us fish. It is plain that the Dutch are heavily subsidising their fish in order to send it here. We should take action against these people under the anti-dumping duties. It is no good leaving it to the industry to put in the necessary applications, because it has not the resources to obtain all the information. This is a job for the Government. The Government should get on with it and encourage the industry to put in applications, and they should begin talks with the Dutch to stop fish coming in. It is only by that type of measure that the industry will regain the confidence that it has lost.

All this will enable us to stabilise our share of the catch and of the market. I do not see anything else doing that for us. The Minister has announced the changes that he will introduce, but I am not sure that they will be made in time. Then again, we do not know the level at which the subsidies will be brought in, and that is the key to the problem.

It is my information that, unless the industry has an immediate injection of a considerable amount of cash, within the next six months a lot of firms will go out of business. Nothing less than the sort of policy which I have tried to outline will restore the confidence of the industry. Anything else will not restore the confidence of the crews and will not give the industry a chance to adopt modern methods and the safety equipment which we all know to be necessary.

The confidence in the industry is not there. There are criticisms about the way in which it is run. It is always easy to make criticisms about that, and there is plenty of room for improvement. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not always the big companies which are the most efficient, though there are grounds for thinking that bigger units operating together as fleets can achieve rather more than some of the existing arrangements. If confidence returns to the industry, however, I am certain that it will adopt many of the suggested improvements. It is because the industry feels let down and very depressed that we call upon the Government for action.

I do not believe that the scrapping concession announced by the Government means anything. There will be any number of boats taken out of commission in the next few months. The job will be to persuade the industry to build new boats, not to scrap old ones. There is a very good chance that, unless a heavy injection of cash is made immediately, the scrapping rate will be far too high for the health of the industry. Even as it is, there will be very few new boats coming into the fleets over the next two or three years, and we shall need to maintain some of the older vessels until the new flow comes in.

The industry is in a very serious state, and the Opposition have performed a useful function tonight. I hope that the Minister will take it from us that, unless we have something more definite than the Government have given us so far before we adjourn for the Summer Recess, we shall come back for another debate, and all semblance of inter-party unity will have disappeared.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

May I first of all welcome this debate and thank the Opposition for having provided the time for us to have it. May I also thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), for his opening statement. He said a large number of things that echoed many of the arguments made in fishing debates over the past few years. The Fleck Committee has been seen to be outdated and to be no more than a kind of unrealistic essay in the optimistically inflexible. I think we are glad to see that it is being largely dismantled.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said about the scrapping ratio. At the present time and in the present uncertain state of the industry this is a doubtful concession, but if we get the help from the Government we all want it may again become of great importance, particularly to a fleet like Aberdeen's. We have now got away from the strict and rigid rules of subsidies, a 7½, per cent. to 12½ per cent. reduction, and I think we should all be grateful but, as the hon. Member for Lowestoft said—and this is true and cannot be challenged—the fact that the Government have sensibly got rid of these restrictions and inhibitions does not mean that we applaud a success story as such. What is vital and what we must wait anxiously to hear is exactly what kind of money is going to be made available, particularly in the short term, to restore confidence in the industry. That is the first essential. In my part of the world, if people are being anything like honest with me, there is precious little confidence at the moment. Boats are being laid off in the deep sea fleet in England. In Scotland the debt of the White Fish Authority has gone up again this year and a large number of boats must be in danger of repossession. Responsible people tell me in cold blood that, if something is not done quickly, about a third of the boats in the Aberdeen fleet may be laid off in the near future. It frightens me to think of the effect that could have on the economics and the general prosperity of my constituency.

I hope that the Minister, when he gets up to talk about the level of the subsidy, will be extremely generous. Obviously, time will be an important factor. The new subsidy rates have to be legislated for before 1st August and if we are also going to put through a Bill to amend the 1962 Act then the amount of time left for consultation must be strictly limited. We cannot allow the industry, caught as it is with rising costs and falling prices, to go on with hopes ebbing in an uncertain situation which tempts them, on any normal commercial criteria, to lay off boats and dismantle the fleet.

I should like to see some of the supplementary subsidy which has accumulated—because we have been using, over the years, much less than the £350,000 maximum we have annually, and there is some £1½million left from this fund—thrown in as an emergency financial measure to do something about the immediate situation. Once we have this injection and have managed to allay the immediate fears, we have the possibility of building a long-term structure which will inspire continuing confidence and allow prosperity to grow.

I am pessimistic about one major factor of instability, and that is the increase of imports into this country. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) will have no illusions about the difficulty of negotiating within the framework of, for instance, E.F.T.A. and I should not imagine that there were any great hopes of achieving a satisfactory quota system or a satisfactory negotiating system. However, if the Norwegians take their pound of flesh in terms of the construction of aluminium smelters I hope that in return the Government will take a very beastly line indeed on fish imports into this country. But the general picture must be one of caution.

As regards the minimum price scheme, I hope this will be part of the long-term plan for the fishing industry. There was quite an interesting exchange during question time today when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary made it perfectly clear in reply to a challenge from the Opposition benches that the thing on which previous plans had foundered was not the principle of the provision of Treasury aid but lack of support from the industry.

I have been a little sceptical about this lack of support. Perhaps I have been shortsighted or have taken a narrow view. In Aberdeen we have always supported the principle, and recent contacts in Hull and Grimsby suggest that they are now very solidly behind at least the outline plan for a minimum price scheme. I get the same impression from a few people in the inshore fleet. I hope that the implications that I am drawing from the answers this afternoon, saying that it was lack of support which was the stumbling block, means that the Minister would not be opposed, at least in principle, to putting in some Treasury support for a minimum price scheme in future.

Such a scheme, efficiently run, including and giving some sort of benefit to the shore crews and the men generally, must be an essential feature of all future plans. I also hope that we will have much more regular consultation in future and much better liaison between the industry and Government. Too often in the past we have seen an ad hoc meeting hurriedly summoned with people, with the very best of intentions, scrambling to stave off imminent disaster and financal ruin. This will not do, and I hope that when we manage to get some kind of system, we will have a continuing dialogue ensuring that both sides can contribute to forward-planning and civility.

Too often in the past, under the pressure of events, such as the kind of catastrophe that threatened when the supplementary subsidy was disbursed in 1967, we have had an arbitrary plan drawn up, an arbitrary line across the fleets, includ- ing some sections, excluding others. This cannot be a satisfactory way in which to proceed. It cannot allow of sufficient analysis and preparation before these schemes are introduced. The Scottish fleet was excluded when the supplementary subsidies were last paid out. I know that on a simple basis of which was doing worst—because no one was doing well—this may have been a defensible decision. I recognise the very real difficulties of the English deep water fleet but we must never forget that the Estimates Committee reported not so very long ago that it had doubts about the 1972 viability date. Its doubts were not with the deep water fleet, but over the middle water fleet, that it could not possibly meet that date.

This illustrates the tremendous variety of circumstances, and how quickly the scene in the fishing industry can change. While we may not be in such acute difficulties, there is no doubt that even in the bèst period, the four months from July, 1967, which was used to judge who should get the supplementary subsidy, the Scottish middle distance fleet, based at Aberdeen and Grantham, was making a very substantial loss—I am informed something about 72s. a day. If one looks at the figures closely the position was even more serious than that, because this includes depreciation at 6⅔ per cent. and almost all the Aberdeen boats are modern enough to have depreciation in a meaningful sense, while a large section of the Hull fleet are time-expired in every sense of the word. To include depreciation for them was to give them the benefit of a very considerable doubt indeed.

Take the record of the Aberdeen middle distance fleet over a period of years, say 1961–65, when I am told the loss was averaging out at about £3 a day. We have had a much longer period of depression and difficulty, even though we may temporarily—and I hope it will last for some time—be in a slightly more fortunate position than our neighbours south of the Border. We must get a system which will give sufficient flexibility to adjust to these changing circumstances.

I should also like to see a system doing something about the structure of the fleet. If one looks at the boats which benefited from supplementary subsidies in 1967, as far as I can make out, over one-third were oil burners, built before 1950. They had to be helped in the short-term. But in 1965 Aberdeen made an application for supplementary subsidy for five boats of rather similar age, oil burners built before 1950, and was refused on the grounds that they were obsolete. That was perfectly true, but if one applies that rule it has to be applied consistently, at least in long-term planning. I hope that this will be looked at and taken into account.

If one takes the White Fish Authority's figures at the ports and looks at the catch in hundredweights per 100 hours trawling, one sees some quite astonishing figures. In 1966—the most recent figures I have seen—the fleet in England was coming in at 270 cwt. while in Scotland it was 810 cwt. I do not accept these figures as they stand, because they seem to show such an amazing differential. They need a lot of further explanation and a great deal of further analysis. Whatever distortions there may be, they are sufficiently remarkable and suggest, in terms of efficiency, that the Scottish fleet is doing very well. I hope that the encouragement of efficiency will be a principle which will be kept very much in mind when the new system is evolved

I do not wish to bandy figures or statistics with the Minister, because I know that his advisers would beat me to the punch every time. I am sure that they have all the facts and figures before them. All I can do—and it is my duty—is to reflect local opinion as I find it and as it is conveyed to me by the representatives of the Aberdeen fleet. There is a considerable state of crisis in the Aberdeen fleet and, it would seem, a certain amount of well-founded alarm.

The fleet is of immense importance in my constituency. It employs directly 2,000 people, and it probably employs in the fish houses, ice-making factories and ancillary trades another 6,000. It is, in the real sense, the basic industry of Aberdeen. Aberdeen is the centre of a development area which sometimes, because of geographical factors and so on, finds it difficult to compete with other areas in the central belt of Scotland. If the kind of disaster which appears to be imminent came to pass, it would have the most serious repercussions on the whole general economic climate in the North-East of Scotland, and particularly in my constituency.

I hope that we will get generous and quick action. If we are not offered a real prospect of a stable future for the fishing fleet, I am afraid for the results which may occur in my part of the country.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) has stressed the importance of the fishing industry in Aberdeen. I agree with his sentiment. I would only add that that industry is of extreme importance to the whole area around Aberdeen, both south and north. It is an essential industry to our development and economy.

We have known that the state of the deep-sea fishing industry has been, and is, very serious. The figures have been put before the House and they make grim reading. There is much to be said for the theory that, provided emergency aid had not been granted, Britain might have lacked a trawler fleet altogether in a few months' time. Therefore, I am glad about the changes which the Minister announced tonight. My only concern is whether those changes will be enough. Will they do the job of salvage which they will have to do?

I should also like to consider, in common with some of my hon. Friends who have spoken, some of the alternative and additional proposals which the Government will have to consider in deciding what to do about the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) pointed out that the most obvious one is the question of foreign landings of fish. We import roughly £100 million worth of fish and fish products. We are the world's second biggest importer of fish. That situation needs very careful examination.

For example, our fishermen can not land in Norway. They ask with real and understandable feeling: why, then, should foreign vessels be allowed to land here when they are often at an advantage over our boats and our industry due to the significantly larger margins of Government support which many receive in their own countries? I personally think this question of foreign landings ought to be considered very carefully, and considered in conjunction with the merchants and processors of the fish in this country. I do not believe it is impossible for our boats to catch what is required for the British markets and for the British processing firms, and to provide it at reasonable prices instead of expecting it to be supplied by foreign boats. But shore firms and fishermen alike need to have confidence in each other's operating if this is to be carried through successfully and if the present availability of foreign supplies is to be controlled in this way.

The next question is whether anything more can be done to economise and make still more efficient the operating of the distant and middle water fleets. It is not for me to comment on that in one sense, but I can say that in the part of the world I represent, where inshore fishing is important, there is considerable and I think justifiable pride in the method of financing and working the local fleet. Any man can have a share. A whole crew can own a boat together. The skipper is the boss, but he gets the same wage as the cook or deck hand. Those men have to make their boats pay. There is no alternative. Nobody else carries the can. That is the way they want it and the way they think it should be. There are other factors as well, but the present position of the inshore fleet in Scotland is good compared with the deep sea industry to the extent that at least they are at this point paying their way. But let nobody be mistaken; the achievements of that fleet are hardly won, and much depends on the initiative and responsibility of the individual crews.

As I understood the Minister's remarks—and I hope I understood him aright as I welcome this aspect of his policy—the treatment of the inshore fleet and the deep sea fleet is going to be comparable at this time. I am particularly glad about that. It seems just to me.

I am also glad that the scrapping policy is apparently now clarified. There has been doubt in my part of the world as to whether there was a replacement policy or not. We understood there was a one for one basis for a time, but it seemed recently that there was no such policy and I am glad we know that the scrapping policy has now ended.

What is the Government's aim for the industry in the future? I was in Norway the other day and the fishing people I talked to there are seriously contemplating a time where the catchable fish in the sea will either have to be rationed internationally or extinguished altogether. The Scottish herring fishermen have the same fear about the herring, and I would take issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) because with the enormous catching power of modern methods there are not the markets which can cope with the supplies of fish that may appear as a result of these methods. Already on the east coast of Scotland and on the east coast of England the herring have disappeared, and the main catch of the herring fleet now is concentrated on the west coast of Scotland. What guarantee is there that, as these pump-seine boats extend their fishing operations, herring will not be swept up in such enormous quantities that the industry will disappear? That is a real fear among practical fishermen in my part of the world. They fear that this may happen rather sooner than many people think.

If the quantity of fish in the sea decreases, whatever the scientists say, and whatever the doubts and arguments may be, at some point the Governments concerned will have to get together to make some sort of agreement about who is able to catch what. The Norwegian Government are spending an enormous amount of money on their fishing industry, I believe because they want to ensure that when the time comes to ration fishing they will have an industry of a sufficient size so they will have a large stake in whatever scheme is worked out. I do not want us to have a minor position compared with Norway. It is of great importance that we establish as large a stake as possible in the fishing industry of the future.

This country will get the fishing industry that it deserves, the industry that it pays for, and the industry that it earns, by the care and attention that it gives to it. I hope that the present crisis will mean that the Government will pay more attention to the industry, and that we shall have a better and more prosperous fleet.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I very much welcome the preliminary announcement by my hon. Friend about the help to be given to the fishing industry. It is true that this debate is being held at the behest of the Opposition, but there is a great deal of substance in what one of my hon. Friends said, that it might have been better to have waited a week in order to have a full-scale debate to deploy the many problems of the industry, and to discover all the Government's plans, both what we have heard today, and what will emerge as a result of further discussions with the industry. I appreciate that the Opposition have pressed for this debate because the problems of the fishing industry are of considerable concern to everybody connected with the industry.

I welcome, too, the fact that my hon. Friend decided to highlight what he regarded as the particular problems, the question of the adverse competition, the open market here, the quick freezing techniques, and so on. What I am sorry about is that we have to wait to hear how he proposes to deal with those problems.

I think that we can deal with the problem of the open market here, and meet competition from abroad, with the exception of that from Norway. The imports of fish and fish products have remained reasonably constant from most countries. The real increase has been from Norway both in fish for eating and for making into fish meal and fertiliser. The value of what she sends here is considerable.

When we are discussing the fishing industry, we often tend to concentrate on the catching side and the economics of the trawler fleets. That is proper, because that is the origin of the commodity. Rarely do we explore what happens to the fish after they have been landed and sold on the quayside.

I want to discuss the organisation of the industry, and the marketing techniques that we employ. There is insufficient integration in the industrial structure of the firms concerned in quayside sales, wholesale and retail distribution. The question of distribution from sea to table has not been considered in sufficient detail and with sufficient attention to market demands. I think that my hon. Friend gave a hint that this would be part of the discussions with the industry. There is a great fragmentation of ownership of the wholesale and distributive outlets and also, to some extent, in catching, although the main firms are getting larger and taking more staff.

However, perhaps with some hindsight, I think that the Monopolies Commission recommendation on Ross and Associated was, in the long run, not in the industry's interests. We also lack aggressive marketing techniques for this important food, since we tend to assume that the majority of the population eat fish out of paper. The variety of ways in which fish can be cooked—I was about to say, "the adventure of eating fish", but that might give the wrong impression—is something to which the industry has never paid much attention. We have tended to be conservative in the type of fish which we are prepared to eat, although, as Tunstall points out in his book, when abroad, we are prepared to eat different fish in different ways, in soups, stews and pies.

Besides this lack of aggressive marketing, there is considerable insecurity for the future. I think that my hon. Friend's statement will go some way towards minimising that fear; certainly, his promise of continued support will be welcome. But there are other things which the industry needs. For instance, it needs a minimum prices scheme.

There was, for a time, a good deal of opposition in the industry towards such a scheme, but they have now conceded it. To be fair, not only did they not want it, but the Treasury did not offer financial support. A combination of the two resulted in the failure to reach agreement: we must be objective about this. But we must also examine carefully what kind of Treasury grant or subsidy the industry would want in a guaranteed or minimum price scheme.

Also, the existence of two main boards, the White Fish Authority and the Herring Fishing Industry Board to cover the industry's needs tends to fragment it. What we should have is one marketing board for the whole industry, to organise the marketing as well as to be responsible for the areas of research now covered by the White Fish Authority.

But Tunstall had a point in saying that there is too much fragmentation among the different Ministries which deal with the industry. It is, of course, possible to give reasons why, for example, the Foreign. Office should be concerned, but there are parts of this industry which would be better under a separate Department of fisheries as such. With a minimum prices scheme and one authority for the industry, we would go a long way towards getting the flourishing and efficient industry which we want, as well as a cheap and highly nutritious food on our tables.

It is not without significance, when discussing the doldrums facing the industry at the moment and the poor price which wet fish commands at the quayside markets, to note that the price at which that fish comes to the housewife is not markedly lower than that which she was paying before we had this trouble. This is particularly significant at a time when the price of meat has been rising rapidly, for a variety of reasons outside our control, when fish has not dropped in price and when the amount of fish being consumed does not bear comparison to what should be available in the market.

We also tend to think of fish as a food when we should be thinking of its important by-products. This has a fundamental part to play in import substitution for fish meal and fertilisers. The figures have increased considerably in recent years, and although I believe that the value in cash terms has gone down, the amount of fish meal that is being imported has gone up in quantity terms.

What appears to be lacking in all these factors is a clear goal at which the industry should aim. I hope that, as a result of stabilising the situation following the Minister's statement, when we reach the rest of the findings and decisions of the Department, this goal for the industry will be evident so that it may know what share of the market British caught fish can expect to have, both as a food and for its various by-products. The industry should also know what sort of help it will be given to enable it to shape and organise itself properly and to achieve the vertical integration that is needed.

This whole matter is of importance not only to the fishing industry but to the shipbuilding industry, and particularly to small shipyards. When we have been considering the building of fishing vessels there has often been criticism that the introduction of new techniques has been behind that of our foreign competitors. We must, therefore, consider the organisation of our shipbuilding teams and yards. Ships are being built in small yards and we are producing good modern vessels to the latest designs, but there is tremendous fragmentation in the industry. Great difficulties are faced and we are constantly being lobbied on this score. Yet there appear to be no common marketing agreements, no common study of what is available, no common design teams and no common management teams.

There is great potential for our shipbuilding industry, working in conjunction with the catching side of the industry, to create tremendous opportunities both for us to have an efficient and modern fleet and to export these vessels abroad. I hope that something along these lines is being considered, if not by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, then by the Ministry of Technology.

I would like to see a strong common design team and an efficient management structure considering the market, deciding future developments, deciding where in future the fleets will fish and how far abroad they should go; for example, to the South Atlantic and elsewhere. I would like to see them preparing designs for ships, not only for our immediate but future needs so that in, say, 10 years' time we are not found wanting for the efficient fleet which we deserve and need.

I do not have time to go in detail into the other problems that exist. I hope that when we have the overall report of the Departmental Committee—and since we have now started to throw Fleck overboard and we have the Report of the Holland Martin Committee on safety in the industry—the industry will be able to make a new start. I want it to lose its antiquated image of the 19th century. The Minister has gone a long way towards preparing the ground for a thriving industry to be achieved. I hope that when we get the rest of his statement we on Humberside and those in all the other fishing ports will be able to look forward to a thriving and prosperous fishing industry.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)

I do not want to detain the House very long. Naturally when one rises at this stage in a debate of this nature most of the matters one intended to cover have already been dealt with by earlier speakers. It has been an interesting debate, far-ranging and to me most interesting, covering as it did the deep sea fleet, the middle water fleet and touching on the inshore fleet.

In the part of the country I come from, Northern Ireland, we have only an inshore fleet. The main part of that fleet is based in my constituency in the very up-to-date harbour which was provided partly with Government support somewhere about 1954–55. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has the remaining part of the fleet in his area in two harbours, Kilkeel and Annalong. He is not so happy because those harbours drastically need to be modified and brought up to date.

The subject of this debate is sufficiently wide for me to touch first on some of the features which have not been covered so far, the protection of our fishermen in the waters of the United Kingdom. Year after year nets are cut by vessels coming in from other countries and we have interference with our fishermen in their own waters. Perhaps it would be possible for the Government, through their usual offices, to supply some better protection against this nuisance, which is more than a nuisance to our fishermen. We have called for assistance on a number of occasions for our fishing ports, but unfortunately that assistance takes some time to come and damage has usually been done before the fishery protection vessel arrives. This is a very important matter for our fishermen.

I intended this evening to refer to subsidies and an increase of grants, but now that would be a sheer waste of time because we must await the publication of the full statistics to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred in his opening speech. I was sorry that he introduced party politics into the subject. I forgive him for that. I realise his anxiety in these days with polls and other things going the way they are. Apart from his introduction of party politics he spoke with a real interest in the fishery industry.

It is not a subject which causes great blazes of patriotic fervour among the electorate. I know this because I made my maiden speech on the fishing industry 13 years ago. When I made my maiden speech the fishermen were facing rising costs, increased prices of fuel, increased cost of nets, increased cost of repairs of vessels and all the other costs which we see rising today. I do not blame that on the party opposite for it happened when there was a Conservative Government. It is happening now. Indeed, I think that it is happening more rapidly now. These are things with which fishermen have to contend.

I am glad that so many hon. Members referred to the dependence of large areas of our constituencies upon the industry. It is not only that the fisherman must provide security for himself and his family. Shopkeepers, ancillary industries, and residents in the area of fishing ports also depend upon the industry's wellbeing. I very much hope that when the statistics to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred are published fishermen will be given confidence that their livelihood is assured for the present and for the immediate future, provided that they are prepared to put the effort into the industry which they do—I believe that there are no better types of citizens throughout the length and breadth of Britain than fishermen; they are honest, straightforward, hard-working and courageous—and will be able to see their way sufficiently far ahead to plan for future years and, if they need them, be able to make arrangements for the provision of new vessels with the increased grants.

One of our big problems in Northern Ireland is in connection with the marketing of fish. Recently in South Down there was a heavy rainstorm. The merchants waiting on the quayside departed before the fish were unloaded. There is a need for harbour facilities for sheds, for unloading facilities, and for access so that vehicles can get down to the quayside to take the loads of landed fish away. I do not know how far the Ministry is able to contribute towards meeting the cost of these necessary facilities.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred to the question of advertising the beneficial effects of eating fish, the advantages of buying it, and the saving which can be achieved across the foreign exchanges if we use our own fish. It occurred to me whilst listening to the hon. Gentleman's interesting speech that I have never yet seen on sponsored television an advertisement for fish, apart from the celebrated advertisement for fish fingers. More publicity about fish is required.

Mr. McNamara

Although I strongly criticise the lack of marketing techniques, in fairness to the industry it must be pointed out that it advertises other things than fish fingers.

Mr. Currie

I accept that. I have no great experience of television on this side of the Irish Sea. The industry is not totally lacking in public relations. I am very happy to say that on Saturday of this week in South Down there is to be held, under the auspices of the White Fish Authority, an open day in the port of Kilkeel, where the public will have the opportunity of inspecting the vessels and attending discussion groups so that they may be persuaded to take an interest in the industry. That is a very good sort of operation, which should be encouraged.

In particular, I ask the Minister to give what help he can in the way of protection against the invasion of foreign fleets, and in the provision of proper harbour facilities and facilities for marketing fish.

9.21 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

The question the House must ask itself is whether it wants a trawling industry in this country. I say "trawling industry", because I think that we are generally agreed that the inshore fisheries, although they have problems, are by and large reasonably proficient and efficient and reasonably profitable.

Hon. Members have already made clear that the House does want a trawling industry. It is important to many parts of the country—for example, both the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) made it clear that it was vitally important to Aberdeen.

The industry lands £60 million-worth of fish every year. It is an import-saving industry and it could save many more imports. It has already been said that we buy from foreign sources over £100 million-worth of fish or fish products, so there is plenty of scope for further import-saving. If we had no trawling industry of our own, foreign prices, which are now subsidised and cut to the very minimum, would rise immediately, and the British housewife would have to pay.

I suggest—and I think that the Minister agrees, because he so indicated in opening—that the industry is as efficient as any of its foreign competitors, but it faces unfair competition at home as well as abroad. The subsidies paid to the fishing industry last year were some £1½ million, but 200 times as much was paid to its agricultural competitors. I do not grumble about that, but there is a disparity that could be redressed.

The foreigners subsidise their fishing industry by up to about 40 per cent., as has already been said about Norway. Our operational subsidies represent 4 per cent. of output. We should start putting this right when E.F.T.A. gets down to discussing these matters. If the Six and the Seven ever combine, this will have to be looked at very closely. Traditional British fishing grounds have been denied to us, and we have the largest open market in Europe.

The Fleck Report has stood the test of time, but there have been new developments since the Committee reported. Most of the Icelandic waters and the Faröes have been shut to us. Norway, Iceland and Italy have increased their subsidies to a phenomenal extent. The actions taken seven years ago were justified, but events have changed the whole outlook of the industry.

The problem facing the industry and the Government today are that the prices of fish are now about 12 per cent. below the cost of catching. The losses this year, which I understand the Ministry has agreed, are £12.8 million on the near water vessels, £17.1 million on the middle water vessels, and £24.2 million on the distant water vessels. There is an average loss of £18.6 per vessel per day at sea. Obviously, no industry can stand that rate of loss.

One can go even further as this is the general picture, but the nub of the problem facing us is that of the 90 conventional trawlers belonging to the British Trawler Federation 55 were built in 1951 or earlier. They are therefore 17 years old now, and it is clear that about 55 to 80 trawlers will have to be replaced within the next ten years. It is equally clear that they are not profitable to operate today. This is a problem of the subsidy.

Evidence seems to show also that the quality of the fish landed by the conventional trawlers is suspect. I saw recently that an Icelandic trawler landed in Hull and made a profit of £21,000 because it landed very good cod. It is therefore clear that good cod can be sold. One wonders whether that vessel managed to catch its cod within the limits denied to British vessels? I do not say that that is the case but it may well be so.

The problem is to replace these 70-odd conventional trawlers in a period of about ten years. I presume that they will be replaced by stern fishers at a cost of about £500,000 each, which means a total bill of some £35 million over 10 years, which is, therefore, £3½ million a year which is not excessive.

The Minister must recast his subsidies policy. He must produce a subsidy which will keep these inefficient conventional trawlers going for a time, but he does not want to subsidise inefficiency too long. He must recast the system so that it will be based on some form of efficiency—I think that he has this in mind—whereby the old trawlers will be replaced by more efficient modern vessels, at the same time giving those who work hard and use their brains reasonable returns.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes)

indicated assent.

Mr. Wall

Probably it is a pity in some ways from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view that we have had this debate now. I was disappointed to hear what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary had to say about the fisheries review. I was not clear whether this was or was not an announcement of the review which has been in gestation for three years. He said that the Government will end the automatic subsidies out of a minimum of 7½ per cent. which comes every year. How much will this give the industry? The subsidy would have been cut 7½ per cent. this summer but not now. This is a nega- tive statement. The industry is asking for £3 million a year to keep its vessels going and to re-equip the fleet on the lines of the recommendations of the Fleck Report. How much is it to get this year?

We are also to see the end of scrapping restrictions. The Minister is wise to do this. I wish that he had done it two years ago when we asked for it. It is not now just a question of scraping one ship for one but possibly a question of scrapping a whole fleet. The hon. Gentleman spoke of greater efficiency, market research and higher standards, and we are with him in that. But what are his thoughts on the matter? This subject has been in gestation for three years, so presumably all these matters have been discussed. Admittedly, factors such as devaluation have made the situation more difficult, but I hope that we shall be able to have a full and clear statement before the end of this session and that we shall be able to debate it.

What is so exasperating to everyone in the fishing industry is that other countries seem to be able to land their fish here but we can land fish nowhere else in Europe. There is no reciprocity. We cannot set up a fish meal plant in Norway. We cannot land in France or Norway. Perhaps France is the wrong example to give, however, because she is in the European Economic Community. But there might at least have been some reciprocity between the members of E.F.T.A.

The foreign fish imported is three times by weight the landings of British trawlers. This shows how serious the situation is. The key is frozen fillets. The import of cod fillets went up by 20 per cent. last year and by 48 per cent. in the first quarter of this year, and this is a serious matter. The Minister should consider the whole question of consultations on imports.

The E.E.C. system of agricultural support is different from ours, but it is one which the Conservative Party is advocating—although I am not clear whether we advocate also that it should apply to fishing. It seems to me that the E.E.C. itself does not know whether it applies to fishing as they have as yet no clear fisheries policy. But I hope that the Government will, however, think along these lines because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) seemed to indicate, this could well be the answer in getting over the problem of dumping.

The Minister's main problem is to continue in operation these 70-odd conventional trawlers for the next 10 years while realising that he must not go on subsidising inefficiency and that he must devise some way of bringing in new ships, which will be the best way to increase the efficiency of the fleet. I believe that, with the need for protein in the world, there is a great future for our fishing industry. The experts tell us that the catch of the world will be doubled in the next 10 or 20 years. We must take our share.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Godber.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I have not had an opportunity—

9.30 p.m.

Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)

Although I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), I must intervene at this stage if I am adequately to wind up the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I hope my hon. Friend will have an opportunity another time.

This debate, which has been held on the initiative of the Opposition, has at least brought agreement on the very serious state at the present time of the fishing industry, particularly the distant water section of the industry. It has also elicited a statement from the Government, after many delays, which I will touch on in a moment.

First, I must make passing reference to the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary. It was very unfortunate that he sought to engender political heat at that stage, and I am very glad that other hon. Members have not followed him in this.

The argument that he sought to adduce of our criticisms now being out of place because we brought in Fleck was quite absurd, if he will forgive me for saying so. It certainly was not the type of intelligent argument I would have expected from him. Obviously, the conditions which obtained at the time of Fleck have since changed materially in a way which neither Fleck nor anybody in this House could have anticipated. The way in which the frozen fillet has come to dominate the international trade has completely changed the picture, and it is quite absurd for him to seek to blame this side of the House for the conditions of the fishery industry at the present time.

What he should have acknowledged was the need for a flexible approach. It has taken a very long time indeed to get from this Government a change in policy. The change which has been announced tonight is one that we shall want to look at very carefully indeed to see just how far it goes. We on this side have not been told nearly enough to satisfy us.

This debate has clearly established that there is a desperate state in the distant water section of the industry. It is one that has to be faced up to very rapidly indeed if we are hoping to maintain an adequate distant water fishing fleet. It has also established the very low price levels that exist in this country.

Many of my hon. Friends have touched on the problem of the world surplus of frozen fish and the fact that most other European countries either subsidise their fishing or protect their own markets from imports, or, in some cases, do both.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. WolrigeGordon), my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) and my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) all referred repeatedly to the problem of imports, which has dominated our debate. I am sure they had the support of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) as well. There is very real concern felt by members on this side of the House, and it has been referred to by hon. Gentlemen opposite as well, about the problem arising out of imports.

The Humber ports are the main ports which are affected in the distant water section of the industry, and I have obtained the latest figures for actual landings and sales of fish over the first 17 weeks of each of the last three years. The figures are quite startling and show how the position has deteriorated during that period.

If one takes the grossed-up totals of the quantities of fish sold for the first 17 weeks in each of the last three years, one sees that the figure has gone down. In 1966, it was 93,496 tons, in 1967 it was 83,902 tons, and in the present year it was 79,776 tons. While the actual quantities sold were dropping in that way, and the quantity unsold and going for fishmeal and other products was rising at the same time, naturally average values fell as well. The price per kit in 1966 was 101s. 11d., it was 103s. 2d. last year, and it fell to 93s. 1d. this year. So we have this definite falling off when everyone knows that the costs of the fishing industry has gone up enormously. I am sure that the Minister will realise that that is an important aspect and one at which he will want to look carefully in relation to the subsidy that he is to provide.

I gave figures for the first 17 weeks. However, this year, the eighteenth week reveals the worst story of all. Sales on the Humber totalled 5,141 tons, but there were 2,553 tons unsold which had to go for manufacture. In other words, one-third of the total catch in that week had to go for manufacture, which meant that the realised value of the catch came down to 83s. a kit. No wonder the industry is demoralised. Having studied the figures, I see that the number of tons unsold is the highest in any one week in any of the first 18 weeks in the last three years, and that is the picture up to date. Hon. Members representing those ports have already expressed their concern. These figures endorse and strengthen everything that has been said.

The whole picture is coloured very much by the problem of imports, which have been coming in at very high levels. Indeed, the levels of imports have been rising steadily. In the first quarter of this year, they were 18 per cent. higher than in the first quarter of last year.

The figures mount up to a devastating position in relation to the distant water fishing industry, with a fall in prices, a rise in imports and a general position which has destroyed confidence completely.

Most of the largest firms in the distant water business are thinking of laying up large numbers of trawlers, and, once laid up, there is little prospect of any of them ever seeing service again. I understand that one large firm is talking of laying up no less than 30. There are no new vessels being ordered, and there are no prospects of any. The concession over scrapping will not matter very much in present conditions.

In the light of what a number of hon. Members have said about the changing pattern of fishing, it may be that, to some extent, the traditional trawler is on the way out. At some stage, it may be that the factory ship will be the only economic unit in the distant water industry. However, we cannot allow these vessels to disappear overnight. If we do, we will hand over the business completely to our foreign suppliers, and what that will mean in terms of the intolerable burden that it will place on our fishing ports, to say nothing of the intolerable burden that it will place on our balance of payments, is a matter that we cannot contemplate at the present time. That is the background against which we have heard the statement from the Government, for which we have been waiting for a very long time indeed. Now that we have had it, what does it amount to? That is what I and my hon. Friends are very concerned about. I do not wish to be discourteous to the Parliamentary Secretary, but I hope we can get a clearer explanation. It is difficult to grasp, as he said, and I hope we can get some clarification.

As I understand it, it means that for the distant water section the automatic reduction subsidy is to stop and the subsidy each year is to be determined in the light of the circumstances of the industry at that time. If that is so, it is largely a reversion to the system that operated before Fleck and can only be a very temporary expedient unless it is accompanied by Treasury measures as well. I have already referred to the restrictions on scrapping, but it seems to me that although it will be necessary to do this it will have no effect at all.

This is being done for the distant water fleet. What is the position as regards the middle and near water? This was not clarified and I hope that the Under-Secretary will clarify it. I want clarification as to where we stand in regard to both these sections. We have heard about the inshore vessels and have noted with satisfaction what has been said about them. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East welcomed that particularly, as did the hon. Member for Down, North, but as regards the position of the middle water, near water and, in particular, the distant water, it is not sufficient to tell us that this change is taking place. The industry must know the sort of level of subsidy that is going to be given to it this year, and must know at an early date. Therefore we ask the Government to clarify not only the position as stated here but what the actual level of subsidy is going to be.

We want to take that up at a very early date and I think that the Government ought to take time of their own in the near future so that we may have at least another half-day debate to clarify some of these issues. I hope that as soon as the Minister has been able to clear his mind he will press the Leader of the House for at least another half day.

Dame Irene Ward

A whole day.

Mr. Godber

A whole day, my hon. Friend says, and I pass that request on to the Government Front Bench. We shall require new legislation to facilitate this and we on this side of the House will certainly give every assistance and any help we can. We want to see it on the Statute Book as soon as possible if it is going to do something which will help the industry, and I gladly give the Minister that assurance.

It seems to me that the real issue, which has not been clarified, is the whole question of imports. This is the point which has dominated the thinking of many hon. Members representing the fishing ports. The Parliamentary Secretary did not respond to the invitation of my hon. Friend who opened the debate when he reminded the Parliamentary Secretary of his own words spoken on 26th July last year, when he said: If countries abroad are undercutting our own industry in certain ways by subsidies, we shall take action to protect it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1967; Vol. 751, c. 691.] That was a definite pledge. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us what the action is going to be, because it has been clearly established that there is need for action and that that action has not been taken. Therefore it is on the import side above all that I ask the Minister to say what can be done so that there may be control of some sort. Various of my hon. Friends have suggested different methods, but it is for the Government to come forward with clear proposals in that field.

It has been made clear again tonight that it has been the tradition over the years to try to maintain a bipartisan approach to fishery problems. We have been very patient with this Government over fishery policy in recent months. I must say to the Minister that the statement we have heard so far this evening is really not adequate in any sense. I would like the Minister to make a fuller statement as soon as he can, making quite clear what is intended, because until he does so the industry will have no confidence at all to go ahead. There may be an easing of anxiety, but it must have clear confidence.

I invite him to make a further statement. He has this clear responsibility, which I know he has no wish to avoid. We do not wish to divide the House tonight, but we expect something much more specific, and I hope that we shall get it, because if not then we shall take stronger action at a later stage before the Summer Recess.

9.45 p.m.

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

Fishing debates seem to have a strange mixture of bi-partisanship and party politics injected into them. In reply to the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, made at an earlier stage by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) and the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), to some extent, I must say that I do not feel that he injected party politics into the debate. On the contrary, I thought that he merely corrected the views of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West in reminding him that the problem with which we are coping is one which we inherited. It is not sufficient for hon. Members opposite to excuse this by saying that these were decisions and policies adopted six years ago, and that the situation has now changed. Written into the policy was an inflexible projection into the next 10 years.

This was the problem with which we had to deal—a problem of a compulsory band of reduction year after year. It is not sufficient to refer to the situation in Norway and elsewhere. I think that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) accepts this to a large degree. Despite the intervention of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) I have to say a word about the Scottish position. With respect to the North-East of England—[Interruption.] I make no apology for this, I am merely understanding her point of view on this. We have dealt at great length, correctly, with the problem facing the distant water fleet, particularly in England and Wales. I want to make a brief comment about the important rôle of the inshore fishing fleet, especially the Scottish inshore fleet. As a Scottish Minister, there is every reason why I should.

As with the deep-sea section there has been some decline in net profitability compared with 1966. The 1966 inshore figures, as everyone knows, were particularly good, and the situation is, I want to avoid a provocative phrase, not unhealthy. The Scottish figures for demersal fish landed by inshore vessels in 1964 were £7.7 million; 1965 £8.8 million; 1966 £9.4 million; and 1967 £9.6 million. During this period we have seen the further merging of the white fish with the herring fleet, and an even more interesting phenomenon, to which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred, an increase in the nephrops shellfish industry. This has contributed enormously to import saving, and, on the shellfish side, has increased our exports. We must not overlook the fact that the United Kingdom total of operational subsidy assistance to the white fish and herring vessels under 80 ft. was of the order of £1,250,000 last year. This was no insignificant sum in relation to the total for the industry.

The major points are concentrated around imports and secondly "how much?". There has been a general acceptance of the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend in his speech. It has been a notable advance which will be accepted by the fishing industry a little less grudgingly than it has been by hon. Gentlemen opposite today.

I want the House to be clear on what my hon. Friend said. Therefore, I propose to quote from his speech: We therefore propose to bring to an end the automatic reduction year by year of operating subsidies to the deep sea fleet imposed by the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1962, and to give the industry an assurance of continued support for a period of several years. The right hon. Member for Grantham and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) asked what we meant by the deep sea fleet and what was happening about the distant and middle water fleet. The answer is that when my hon. Friend referred to the deep sea fleet, it included the middle and distant water vessels. I am sure that the slight grudge which the right hon. Gentleman had will now be discarded and he will welcome the proposals with much more enthusiasm.

The second point was when my hon. Friend said: The precise form and level of operating subsidy, the method by which it should be adjusted from year to year and the basis of payment, will be determined in the light of our usual analysis of the industry's profitability, which is now proceeding, and after consultation with the industry. It has been of great interest to me to hear in the debate how many hon. Members have come round to the view of looking ahead to a possible method of working this out and linking it to the question of efficiency. I hope that hon. Members on both sides will contribute to the kind of thinking that is going on in our Departments and in the industry along these lines to see how we can best assist in this direction. I hope this makes the position a good deal clearer for the right hon. Member for Grantham.

I cannot accept that there has been delay. Words have been bandied about regarding a three years gestation period and so on. It has hardly been that. We have come forward in fairly difficult circumstances over the last few months. I suggested last year we would be bringing it forward by the end of the year. There have been certain reasons why there should have been delay, but here we are presenting the principle evolved.

Along with the other kind of assistance is the question of grants and loans. I have taken points made by hon. Members on both sides whether the scrapping ratio is meaningful. This will depend on the success of the industry. We have not written into it something which of its nature would prevent any developments regardless of what happens to the industry. This has been the position since 1962. If our methods succeed and the industry goes forward we shall be happy to have removed this restriction at the present time. It will be of immense benefit to the inshore fleet particularly in Scotland, not excluding Orkney and Shetland.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) graciously referred to the assistance we have given. He made particular reference to the work done by the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I know that in his area and in the Highlands and Islands there will be pleasure that we are raising the maximum level of grants and loans to 90 per cent.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the problem of industrial fishing. This is a real problem. I have been giving a good deal of attention to it. It involves a number of things: not only breaking away from traditional methods of fishing, but also traditional attitudes, marketing problems, and so on. It has not been easy to find a solution, but I take his point that we should be devoting attention to this matter. We pay about £20 million a year on imports, and anything which can be done to reduce that figure is helpful. However, it is not an easy problem. We are examining the economics of the whole process involved and all the other industrial and fishing factors. I must strike a fairly cautious note on this.

Stocks of most kinds of shellfish are localised and of course the abundance varies both with species and area. Generally in Scotland we think they can bear greater exploitation. There has been a steady rise in the value of Scottish shellfish catch in the last five years. Some reductions in the lobster catch recently have been offset by the increase in newer kinds of shellfish like nephrops and escallops. He also raised the question of the need for larger vessels. This would be tied up with our grant and loan arguments.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolridge-Gordon) again raised the question tied up with the conservation of stocks of herring and other fish. Ever since I was a small child playing round the herring barrels I have been asked by fishermen and fishwives "where have the herring gone?"—a popular cry in the North-East and Orkney and Shetland Islands. The herring do not seem to have gone—in fact there is no indication that they have gone in this sense.

It is interesting to know that the United Kingdom belongs to International Commissions on both sides of the Atlantic involved with international regulations for conserving stocks and we are continually looking at this problem. There was a meeting in Iceland only this week of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission which, on the initiative of the United Kingdom, invited the countries interested in North-East Arctic haddock and cod fisheries to carry out special studies on measures of limiting fishing to increase the yield. We are keeping a watchful eye on the haddock. There has been this development this week which should be of value to us in the future.

Coming now to imports, the hon. Member for Haltemprice quoted the figure of £100 million for imports. He must be reminded, in fact all hon. Members must be reminded, and this has been said before, that something like £30 million is for canned salmon and £40 million for other similar products which will not compete with British landings. The value of imports for human consumption we should be looking at is something of the order of £21 million. We all know the seriousness of this but it is wrong to bandy around inflated figures which do not give any proper concept of the problem.

In the statement made by my hon. Friend last July evidence was brought forward regarding our position. We are still looking at that. There are problems involved in agreements on imports—my hon. Friend brought in the dramatic example of the smelter, as a reminder to hon. Members opposite that we should not push too hard on the import question at the present time. We are aware of the seriousness of the position, but Britain is a trading nation and must survive in the coming years in that way. The healthiness of the fishing industry will depend on the healthiness of the British economy. I would have thought the better solution to this was to go along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Kingston up Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) in his interesting comments demanding an aggressive marketing policy. Without doubt there is a bigger market within our own country. This is true of Scotland where we produce the best fish in the world but do not eat nearly enough of the British landings. Aggressive marketing policies would help in that.

Hon. Members who have referred to the earlier statement are now a little bit more satisfied. The Government has taken a decision in principle to move forward from the position we have by removing the statutory requirements that the subsidy to the deep sea fleet must be reduced and we have assured the industry of support over the years. We believe that we have the confidence of the industry. We recognise the importance of the industry to the economy and we are determined to give it all support. I am sure my hon. Friend's statement will help to bring back that confidence which has been lacking for so long in the industry.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.