§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Joseph Godber)
I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We have before us today a straightforward and short Bill. Nevertheless, I suggest that it is an important one for the fishing industry, about some of whose problems we have just been hearing. I believe that this Bill will commend itself to the House. At its simplest its effect is no more and no less than to relax the time limits which Parliament originally imposed upon certain enabling powers to support the industry. It does not alter the powers themselves.
The main powers in question are those relating to the supply of funds for vessel loans by the White Fish Authority and Herring Industry Board; the grant aiding of the research and development financed by these two bodies through levies on the industry; and the operating subsidies. But, before saying more about how the Bill achieves these objectives, it might be helpful if I were to begin with a few sentences by way of background.
The items covered by the Bill are, of course, in no sense newcomers. The middle, near and inshore fleets have received a measure of assistance on both current and capital account for 20 years or more. These facilities have also applied to distant water vessels since 1962, following the recommendations of the Fleck Committee. Indeed, it is because that Committee saw the fleet becoming self-supporting within a period of 10 years that we now find, with an exception which I shall mention in a moment, that unless we pass this Bill the enabling powers whose duration was set by the Sea Fish Industry Act 1962 will cease to be available at the end of this year, or in the coming year.
The exception—and a very important one—relates to capital grants for vessels where, as a result of the Industrial Development Act passed by the last Gov- 646 ernment in 1966, the terminal date now appears only in the relevant subordinate instrument. This also expires at the end of the year, and we are currently considering, in the light of the views which the industry and the two statutory authorities have given us, what future provision should be made. This, of course, is something which hon. Members will shortly have a chance to discuss when we lay a new Grants Scheme before the House for approval, but I wanted to explain why the Bill does not mention the provisions under which vessel grants are paid.
Let me now explain in more detail what the Bill does. All the powers which it continues are set out in the Sea Fish Industry Act 1970, which was a consolidation Act. That brought together two kinds of power, the first exercisable only through a statutory scheme requiring an affirmative resolution of both Houses, and the second available to Ministers provided only that this House was prepared to vote the money.
For the first type of power we see no point in substituting some later expiry date for that originally set. Under this head we are concerned only with operating subsidy schemes, the duration of which is best settled as they are made. So Clause 1(1) simply repeals the time limit in the enabling power under which operating subsidy schemes can be made.
For the second type of support power, the type which in its present form does not require a scheme to be brought before Parliament fairly frequently, we have not thought it right to ask the House for an entirely open-ended extension. The Bill in Clause 1(2) provides for an extension to the end of 1973 of provisions that would otherwise run out at the end of this year. If, however, they are wanted after that there will have to be an order subject to affirmative resolution of this House. That is provided in Clause 1(3). The order could be for a year, or less, or more; and there could be successive extensions if necessary.
There are two main enabling powers covered by this procedure. One authorises lending to the White Fish Authority and to the Herring Industry Board so that they in turn can provide loans for vessels, and in certain cases for smaller operators of processing and icemaking 647 plants. The other enables grants from public funds to be given towards the research and development work carried out by the Authority and the Board, so supplementing what the two bodies devote to this from their levy income.
Before I turn to the future use of the main powers, let me dispose quickly of one of the minor ones that for drafting reasons gets disproportionate mention in the Bill, and may therefore seem more important to the House than is the case. I refer to the White Fish Marketing Fund and the Herring Marketing Fund, mentioned in Clause 1(2) and again in subsection (4). These were set up to provide working capital for any Authority or Board activity that called for it. Only the Herring Fund has been used and that in a modest way, but until the time comes for substantive legislation on the future of the Authority and the Board there seems to be no good reason for leaving out particular items when enabling powers generally are being extended.
If I were to sum up this Bill, I would say that it relaxes the present restrictions on the powers in question whilst retaining a wide measure of flexibility as to their future use. I believe this to be a sensible course for a number of reasons. In the first place experience over the last 10 years, that is, since many of these powers were first taken, illustrates so very clearly how difficult it is to attempt to predict the fortunes of what is still essentially a hunting industry. Profitability and capital renewal have both been running at a high level over the last couple of years and this of course is something to be welcomed. But experience has shown that this, among all industries, can be subject to short-term fluctuations. Consequently, the Bill, which is in any case a purely enabling measure, makes no attempt to prejudge what will be needed by way of financial assistance in the future—or for how long.
The answers to both these questions will clearly be affected not only by factors nearer home, but more particularly, as is all too evident at the present time, by international developments as well. Much will depend upon the level of fish stocks and their availability to those in pursuit of their lawful activities on the high seas, and here we shall continue to work for 648 equitable solutions. I do not think I need to add more about Iceland in the light of what the Foreign Secretary said I was glad to note the support which the House gave on this serious issue. Then there is the question of the way in which the structural and marketing aspects of Community fishery policy will affect our own support policies from next year. This is the other international factor we have to take into account, and the position here is open. There is, of course, a system of Community withdrawal prices, which it will be open to our industry to use: it is a voluntary system, calling first for the establishment of producers' organisations and their official recognition and then for decisions by them to use Community withdrawal prices. So one cannot say now what assurance in practice this system may be found to give to our industry.
Any support of the industry under the withdrawal price system would come from the Guarantee Section of the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund—FEOGA—which is the basis of such payments. There may also be benefit to this country under future measures to be financed from the Guidance side of this Fund
The point I want to stress is that from now on we shall be playing our full part in the decision-making processes of the Community. We shall obviously make it our business to see that what is done takes full account of the circumstances of the British industry, as well as of the wider interest in the use to the best advantage of Community funds to which we shall be a major contributor.
Clearly there will be changes in our existing support arrangements, but it is impossible today to say precisely what they will be, or when they will be made. The Community regulations expressly provide for member States to grant financial aids in so far as the operations to which they relate contribute to the achievement of certain broad objectives with which we have little quarrel. There is a further provision, not so far used, for laying down common rules in this field—rules, that is to say, which would apply equally to the aids granted by all other member States as well as to our own. Obviously, therefore, the right course is to participate to the full in the shaping of these policies, and in the 649 meantime to ensure that there is no risk of any gap or discontinuity in our own familiar support measures in this country.
The Bill is a small but legally essential contribution to that course, and I invite the House—
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
It might have been useful for us to see a brief statistical breakdown so that we could know whether the extension is justified in financial terms. In fishery debates it is customary for information to be given of the economic situation in the industry in terms of production, landing value, and so on. Is that possible?
§ Mr. Godber
I will see whether in winding up the debate my hon. Friend can seek to provide such information. As the Bill provides primarily for the continuation of the existing arrangements, with no fresh proposals, I had not thought to weary the House with too much detail. It is a measure for extending existing powers which are well known to the House. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and ask for a Second Reading.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)
I agree with the Minister that the Bill is short and straightforward. I thought at first that he would be brief in introducing it, but when he concluded his remarks I thought that we should have a long disertation about the effect of our entry into the European Community. I should like to debate that at great length, but not this evening. I think that we should make our speeches relatively brief, although that does not preclude my hon. Friends from pursuing other matters if they so wish. I shall ask the Minister a question about the EEC.
In view of the nature of the industry, the Bill is essential, as the Minister said. After all, fishing is a hunting industry subject to short-term fluctuations and, as sensible parliamentarians, we should make our legislation fit the needs of the industry. There is general agreement and no controversy on the Bill. I was enabled to have an excellent Press notice from the Department which gave full information about the effects of the Bill. No doubt the Minister will see that this information is put out to the industry and 650 to those who are affected. I congratulate those who are responsible for it.
The Minister in explaining the measure said that the Bill relaxes certain time limits currently imposed upon the financial support available to the white fish and herring industries. It extends until the end of 1973 the availability of loans for vessels, processing and ice-making plants and also grant aid for the research and development financed by the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board through levies on the industry. The Bill provides for subsequent use of these powers to be exercised through orders. The Minister was right to emphasise the clause which deals with the affirmative order procedure, which makes the orders subject to the approval of the House. The Bill removes the present time limit of 1st January, 1974, governing the payment of operating subsidies made under schemes previously approved by the House.
The Bill also refers to the support powers contained in the Sea Fish Industry Act 1970. That was a consolidation measure, and I am glad of that consolidation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) in 1969 speeded up legislation in the interests of the fishing industry and there was general agreement that the Act was a good one.
The 1970 Act consolidated earlier legislation containing powers first granted in 1962. It covered a 10-year period, which we all accepted that the industry needed. The aim of many fishery Ministers and hon. Members who took part in our fishery debates was to allow the industry 10 years in which to develop and to modernise the fishing fleet because of competition from Europe, Poland, the Soviet Union and even from Japan. Any legislation which enables the industry to modernise and to develop should be welcomed by the House. I never accepted the original "lame duck" theory of the Government, and they have now thrown that theory overboard. They have a bit more sense now than when they came into power. Here we have legislation to enable the industry to have resources at its disposal and we are arguing only about timing. No doubt some of my colleagues will develop the theme of the excellent research which is done in our research centres.
651 Some of the enabling provisions will expire at the end of 1972, and the Minister has given an assurance that nothing will be affected here. I assume that the loan facilities will apply to England, Scotland and Wales. According to the Press notice there will be separate arrangements for Northern Ireland. However, the operating subsidies are on a United Kingdom basis. Capital grants for the acquisition or improvement of fishing vessels are not covered by the Bill, but as the Minister said, previous legislation caters for this.
The Minister went on to argue about the European Community. When the Minister's predecessor made an announcement to the House on 18th July this year—I referred to it in my speech in the debate on 1st August—he warned the House that there was a problem about our entry into the European Community. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be too starry-eyed about Europe. Parliament has made its decision, but we shall still be in a minority in the Community and we shall still need to fight our corner, if I may put the matter in that way. We must not assume that when we go into the Community everything will be good for the fishing industry.
We have already discussed the uncertainty that faces inshore fishermen, and I should be out of order if I were now to deploy that argument. Today we are dealing with the White Fish Authority, the herring fleets and that section of the industry which is concerned with fishing in more distant waters.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be apathetic about these matters, and I am sure he will not ignore them. We wish him well and, if he has to negotiate in Europe on these matters, he will have our support in standing up for British interests. This is what the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said on 18th July:In considering the future of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board my right hon. Friends and I have had to take into account not only the position in his country but also what form of organisation will best serve our fishing and fish-using industries within the enlarged European Community.The Community regulations foresee the establishment of a network of producers' organisations which, if fully achieved, would 652 leave no separate regulatory rôle for independent national bodies like the board and the authority. On the other hand there are functions for which continuing provision may be needed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1972; Vol. 841, c. 64.]Therefore, there was uncertainty about the effects of our entry into Europe. It is all very well to say that some marketing structures may evolve or that producer co-operatives may come into being. The simple fact is that we have the White Fish Authority and the Board.
The Minister also seeks to strengthen the administration through amalgamation and also through dispersal of the centre of this activity to Edinburgh. This may be necessary in bringing about a measure of devolution to satisfy a measure of Scottish nationalism, and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) no doubt will speak on that matter when he winds up the debate. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that the Authority, which is so important to the industry, could be jeopardised by our entry into Europe, especially in the transitional period. I should like to have Governmental assurances on this matter. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West, agrees or disagrees with that statement.
§ Mr. Peart
I am glad to have my hon. Friend's agreement.
I raised with the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor the matter of staff transferred to the White Fish Authority's headquarters in Scotland. I have received many letters from people who work in the Authority, and it is obvious that some of the older staff members are anxious about their position. It is not always easy to be faced almost overnight with a transfer from London to the North with all the major commitments relating to family and other matters. I should like to have seen that decision deferred for a period of five years, but that suggestion was not accepted. However, I asked the Ministry whether it was possible to find suitable employment for any of the Authority staff within the Ministry. I should like to ask whether there have been any new developments and whether this matter is still being considered sympathetically. The Minister wrote me a sympathetic 653 letter and I know that he is aware of the problem. I trust that the Government in replying to this debate will be able to give me an adequate and suitable reply.
Let me conclude on this note. We are anxious to develop our fishing industry for we believe that the industry plays a major part in our economy. The importance of fish in our food supplies has been stressed so often in the past, and I have always stressed the importance of the industry to our defences. We tend to forget that in time of crisis our sea fish industry provides admirable personnel for the Royal Navy and the Forces which protect our shores. It is all very well to acquiesce in all that is going on and to hope that everything will be all right and that we shall never in our lifetime face another crisis. I trust that we never shall, but I believe that we must have adequate defences.
The sea fish industry plays its full part in our society. It not only provides food for our people but provides work in the industry itself and in the associated processing industries which are situated near our fishing ports. Above all, it is an industry which is an important part of our life and it makes major contributions in many ways. We shall support this measure, and hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I should like to begin by welcoming my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to our fisheries debates. It is nice to see him back on the Front Bench in these debates.
This is a short Bill, it has been well introduced by both Front Benches and there is little to say about it. It is a conservation measure which seeks to continue the support for the fishing industry for another year or more.
I should like to put one important question to my right hon. Friend. He spoke of further legislation which, presumably, cannot be presented until we are in the Common Market and which will have to take account of the EEC regulations. Can my right hon. Friend give any idea when that legislation is likely to be presented to the House? Will it be early next year or towards the end of next year?
654 On the question of the EEC regulations, I think it can be said that we have had a satisfactory solution over fishing limits, but there are two regulations in the Common Market which are worrying the fishing industry to a considerable extent. The first regulations relate to grading and I understand that they came into effect on 1st February and are mandatory—which means that we shall have to accept them. However, those grading regulations are rather absurd. My inquiries have shown that there are three quality grades and five size grades, which makes a total of 15 grades. If a vessel fishes in two different grounds during its trip, it must produce another 15 grades for the second ground—in other words, fish from that trawler would have to be divided into about 30 different grades. This is an absurd situation and it will require an immense amount of skilled manpower to administer. I know that this matter is being raised with the EEC, but I hope that when the Government spokesman winds up the debate he will be able to assure us that we are making some headway. Surely these regulations are as absurd for the French and the Germans as they are for us.
There is a further worry in relation to the regulations on withdrawal prices, which are also complicated. Those regulations are not mandatory, but we shall have to accept them if we are to have any help from EEC compensation funds.
I understand that there are now more regional variations in withdrawal prices than there were when the EEC first propounded the doctrine, but I gather that towns far from the main centres of population, such as Aberdeen, will suffer under the EEC scheme of withdrawal prices. I hope that this point also will be dealt with in the Government reply.
I hope that I shall be permitted to say a few words about Iceland because we are discussing a Bill which provides money for operations of the fishing industry in the coming year. Those operations will be very much affected by the solution or otherwise of the dispute with Iceland.
There are two points I should like to make on this topic. The first relates to conservation. It is clear that we shall go as far as Iceland wants to go in terms of conservation. If genuine conservation is 655 to take place, then we shall accept any suggestions—provided that the conservation applies to Icelandic ships as well as to our own. However, recently the Icelandic propaganda machine has been saying that it is the view of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission that cod stocks are in danger round the coasts of Iceland and from this they draw the conclusion that Britain is over-fishing.
I want to make it clear to the House that the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission is a very important organisation and has expressed its views. My noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said earlier this year:…but noble Lords will also recall that the international organisation that is responsible for fishery conservation in the Icelandic area is the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission.She went on to say:It was decided at the last meeting of the Commission, in May, 1971, that the condition of the Icelandic cod and haddock stocks was not such as to warrant any special conservation measures. This conclusion was reached on the basis of the latest available scientific advice, which had been agreed internationally by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 2nd March, 1972; Vol. 328, c. 1259.]It has been said that this year the Commission has tended to reverse its decision and that it has implied that cod stocks are in fact in danger. I have made inquiries about that and I understand that the views of the Commission this year are based not on biological conservation but on economic effort. It has said that if the industry is properly organised it could catch the present amount of fish with half the effort or half the number of vessels. It has not implied in any way that cod stocks are being over-fished off Iceland, but merely that the fishing effort could be more economically organised. The House will agree that the Icelandic fishing industry is itself responsible for the over-fishing of herrings. It has also endangered its haddock stock and I hope that the same thing will not happen to cod.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will find that the Continental Shelf Convention 1964 states clearly that the coastal State has a right to gas or oil in the ground of the Continental Shelf, but it specific- 656 ally excludes the sea above the Shelf and all resources in the sea, including fish.
It is clear that the claim made by the Icelandic representative in The Times this morning, that it is now accepted that the sea goes with the Continental Shelf, is wholly incorrect as the law stands. The position may be changed at the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, but at the moment it is an illegal claim and the Icelandic Government is also acting in contravention of the decision of the International Court.
I am sure that every hon. Member regrets the breakdown of the talks which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. My right hon. Friend said that we agreed to limit our catch by 25 per cent. less than the figure given by the International Court, which itself was less than our average over the last ten years. We have gone a long way in trying to reach a compromise. I hope very much that the Icelandic Government will realise that we can go no further and that we genuinely want to reach a settlement based on conservation.
We know the difficulties faced by the Icelandic Cabinet. We know who are the hawks and who are the doves. The trouble is that the hawks control the Icelandic gunboats. It would be disastrous if the Ministry of Fisheries authorised its gunboats to continue harassing British trawlers. Only yesterday they attacked two German trawlers. If that is to continue there can be no alternative but to send in the Royal Navy. One knows what effect that would have on Iceland. We do not want it and I am sure that the Icelandic Government do not. The answer is to stop the harassment until the talks continue and to try to reach some interim agreement which will last until the Law of the Sea conference convenes at the end of next year or 1974, when I hope very much that a final solution will be reached which is satisfactory to all. This is an interim problem which may exist for up to 18 months and if the Icelandic Government believe—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not continue for too long on this topic.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I trust that I shall not step outside the fishing limits if I say a word or two about Iceland. It has been referred to and it is a matter of great concern to the fishing industry and, therefore, to the Bill, because the future of the industry is very much bound up with the Bill.
I shall not conceal that I have some regard for the Icelanders' wish to protect what is one of the most important industries in a small country. Equally, I am glad to support the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) in emphasising that we have made a generous offer to them, and that it is on an interim basis.
I raised the question of oil as a matter of equity. It is constantly put to me by Icelanders and they must get an answer. But the answer is now clear that there is a legal distinction between fishing and oil. It may be altered and perhaps it should be altered in equity. But our having made a reasonable offer to Iceland, the right policy will be for them to accept it as an interim measure, as the hon. Member for Haltemprice said, until the whole question of conservation, oil and fish can be thrashed out.
The right hon. Member for Working-ton (Mr. Peart) is right in thinking that I very much welcome the fact that some decisions about the fishing industry are now taken in Scotland. Workington is closer to Edinburgh than London. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will not wish to be absorbed into a Scottish community. If it sets his mind at rest, I am sure that we would be happy to offer Cumberland associate status with Scotland. We will welcome him if he likes to come to Edinburgh and discuss fish. It is a great success that we have at last prized one industry out of London. I consider it very satisfactory that it has gone to Edinburgh.
This is an enabling Bill which continues generally satisfactory legislation. No doubt people will have detailed criticisms of various parts of it, but it is 658 comparatively inexpensive. The fishing industry is one of the most valuable industries. Legislation has been continued by all parties for a considerable time, thereby giving stability and assurance to the industry. That is a very good thing. It is an excellent industry because not only does it give a lot of employment and good food to the country, but it has great social advantages in my constituency at least. It is an industry which retains people, which draws them back, and which offers employment to young people which they welcome. There are now 15 or more processing plants in Shetland. The Shetland fleet has been greatly improved over the last 10 years and fishing is now starting up in a big way in Orkney. It has important social aspects as well as economic ones and we are glad that we are to continue this general policy.
As the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office well knows, and as he agrees, the real danger about the Iceland situation is that it may divert very heavy fishing to other fishing grounds nearer home. Candidly, I take a selfish view about that. Some of the fishing grounds to which the heavy fishing will turn will be off the North of Scotland. There are already vast fleets from Eastern Europe and other places which are fishing heavily in those areas.
I am told by some experts that there is not a serious danger of over-fishing because fishing becomes uneconomic before stocks are reduced to a level at which they will not replace themselves. But I have some considerable anxieties. There is now an enormous catch of fish in the North Sea. In addition, there is heavy industrial fishing which must affect the food stocks of the ocean. I hope that the Government will give the maximum attention to this matter and undertake research and keep the situation closely monitored to see whether there will be heavy diversion of catching from the Iceland waters into those nearer home.
The next question is the discovery of oil. Again I am assured—and to some extent I accept the assurance—that there is not a major danger of pollution. The oil companies seem fairly certain that they can control it. But we would be unwise to think that there is no danger. 659 Heavy pollution in a small area could have a disastrous effect upon certain fishing communities. If there is any anxiety about pollution, it may make them hesitant about building boats and taking advantage of the various aids which are now given to fishing. The Government are accepting some responsibility. But I hoped that they would have introduced some sort of insurance fund, because I am not clear who would be liable if there was heavy pollution. In any case, I doubt whether inshore fishermen could undertake the heavy legal proceedings which might be necessary to establish liability. Therefore, I think that there should be a fund available to fishermen in the event of pollution and that the Government should again assure themselves that the maximum is being done to safeguard the coast and the inshore waters against the possibility of pollution by oil.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
What kind of pollution does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind that the inshore fishermen may encounter?
§ Mr. Grimond
I have several in mind. First, there is danger of rupture of pipes. Secondly, if we are to have offshore terminals, there will be considerable transfer of oil to tankers by a method which in other parts of the world has occasionally led to pollution, the extent of which may be arguable. Thirdly, there will be many secondary industries which could cause pollution. I was talking about pollution in general terms.
There are two other aspects to the influence of the oil industry. The fishing industry, particularly the inshore section, depends a great deal on comparatively few people. It is the expert skippers who really make the industry. It is conceivable that they may be seduced by the oil industry into heavily paid employment elsewhere. I do not suggest that the Government can do anything about that, but we should keep in mind the social effects. Secondly, what happens after the oil is finished? Fishing is of immense economic and social importance to many parts of the country, and we do not want to be left after 20 or 25 years with a fishing industry disrupted and oil finished. The Government cannot look 660 too far ahead, but they should look to the aftermath of oil.
I turn now to the question of the European Economic Community. We only have 10 years grave on limits. Everyone building a fishing boat is looking some years ahead, and the industry will soon want to know the next steps over limits. I hope that we shall press for the retention of the existing limits. It may well be that after the general conference on the sea the existing limits will have to be extended.
But perhaps the more immediate matter is the question of marketing. The concentration of discussion on limits has tended to make people forget about the marketing aspect of joining the Community. I was glad to hear the Minister refer to this matter. But are the Government satisfied that there is sufficient information to begin with? If not, should they not publish a paper of some kind about the choices which will face the industry and the steps it should take?
There is the position of producers' organisations. It has been pointed out that the main organisations are the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. There is also the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I suppose that the latter would come into this to some extent as it is concerned with financing. There are other fishermen's organisations. The question is whether these organisations should be strengthened a great deal, and if they are they must be financed. The Minister has indicated that it is possible to provide finance under the Bill. I hope that money will be made available, therefore, for the strengthening of fishermen's organisations in accordance with what appears to be necessary in the Common Market. Apparently, any such sums would come out of the guarantee fund and there is no reason why they should not.
It was also indicated that there were regulations about size and grade, which will be of importance to the North of Scotland. There is also the question of the withdrawal prices, even if it is at present a question whether one accepts voluntarily this system or does not. All these matters will be of immediate importance to the industry and I hope that the Government will consider publishing further information and taking steps to 661 back up whatever decisions the industry itself may make.
Lastly, there is the question of fish farming and research into it. This is so far a hunting industry and will remain so for the near future. But there are signs that fish farming of various sorts may grow. There are places in Scotland, such as the lochs and voes, where it might well be carried on and this process may have great effect on the fishing industry. There is considerable lack of knowledge as to how far fish farming is practicable. If it is practicable, how far is it desirable? If it is desirable, how far is it to be financed? If fish farming is to be a major part of the fishing industry—although it will not take its place—I hope again that we shall have the support of the Government and the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board in informing fishermen about the situation.
I welcome the Bill. I draw attention to these new factors which have arisen and to the fact that the fishing industry can help us greatly. I hope that the all-party agreement on support for the industry will continue. Broadly speaking, with some reservations, we have so far been on the right lines.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I am glad that the Bill has been introduced. I am sure that it will be helpful and effective in giving necessary assistance to the fishing industry. I am also glad that apparently it is in order for me to refer to the White Fish Authority. It is well known to hon. Members that it is extremely difficult by Parliamentary Question to get any details about the Authority or how it makes up its mind or what it does, and when one represents a fishing port the fishermen and others connected with fishing want to know a lot about the Authority. But, as I have said, it is extremely difficult to find out about it.
I have recently had one or two very strong conversations in the fishing port of North Shields with those interested in fishing, and this is a heaven-sent opportunity to raise what I wanted to raise. For instance, the White Fish Authority has done a very good job but, having dealt out through the taxpayer's money grants for building fishing vessels of one 662 kind and another—in North Shields we are extremely grateful for this—the Authority, as far as I can make out, is not interested in the least in whether the fishing fleet it has helped to create is adequately assisted by the ports from which these vessels fish.
In my constituency is the small village of Cullercoats, which is well known in the fishing industry. It has had fishing families for centuries. For example, the Lisles and the Donkins have been very well known for generations in the fishing world. Last Saturday at my surgery, a member of the Lisle family came to see me. He told me that he had a very good grant from the White Fish Authority for building a coble. Incidentally, when I tried to include the word "coble" in a Parliamentary Question, no one seemed to have heard of it. People thought it was my peculiar writing.
At any rate, my constituent has a very satisfactory coble, of which he is very proud and which he is putting into operation. But he complained that he has been denied by the Port of Tyne Authority a safe mooring for it. This is quite ridiculous. The taxpayers' money is involved, and I think that the Port of Tyne has the responsibility for seeing that safe moorings are available for the fishing fleet's vessels of various kinds which are supported by the taxpayers' money through the White Fish Authority. I was highly indignant to hear that this fisherman, a member of a fishing family of many years' standing, should be wondering what he ought to do, because the instructions which appeared to have been issued by the Port of Tyne Authority were quite ridiculous.
I telephoned my right hon. Friend's Department this morning. His officials did not seem to know much about the White Fish Authority or, for that matter, about the Port of Tyne Authority. My right hon. Friend's Department, after all, is responsible for the operations of the White Fish Authority. But once it has granted public money, does the Department take any interest in ensuring that those who get the advantage of grants are properly serviced and provided for by the authorities which have these subsidised craft within their ports? I am referring specifically, of course, to the Port of Tyne Authority. I am very annoyed with it, and I hope that someone 663 will take the members of that authority and hit them hard on their heads. It is quite ridiculous for a fisherman to have a new coble and no safe mooring.
My second point refers to the fact that, thanks to the Ranger firm, we have a very important trawler fleet now. That firm has had long experience and knowledge of fishing. It has done extremely well with freezer trawlers. I hear suddenly that the Port of Tyne Authority is insisting that those trawlers go higher up the river. This will take them right away from the area where they can be properly maintained. It is quite ridiculous, and I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will have a proper inquiry into the actions of the Port of Tyne Authority.
Our Ranger trawler fleet is a growth industry. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was right when he said that thanks to our men, to our direction and to the assistance that we have had, fishing in the Port of Tyne is a growth industry. But now along comes the Port of Tyne Authority and says, "There is no place for you to moor anywhere near where you normally get your maintenance done." It is in the public interest as well as that of the taxpayer that the trawler fleet should be properly maintained. But the Port of Tyne Authority does not seem to mind. It simply says, "You must move up the river." The two big firms of fishing trawlers in the port are highly irate, and I am irate on their behalf.
The next matter which I wish to raise relates to marketing. We intend to build a new fish quay. It is very important that it should conform to what is required by the people who will use it. I am sure that the Port of Tyne Authority has some very good directors. But they are not fishermen. They know nothing about fishing. They know nothing about what the fishing fleet wants. What is even worse, they do not seem in the least interested in what it wants.
I gather that we have a grant. However I had a most extraordinary answer to a Parliamentary Question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Apparently the grant comes out of the funds of the Port of Tyne Authority. This 664 must be some new alteration to financial arrangements. Apparently the Port of Tyne is to finance the new fish quay. I believe that it bought the old one. The new quay will cost well over £2 million. We are grateful to the Ministry for increasing the grant. We are to get a 60 per cent. grant to build the new fish quay. But it is no good building it if it does not enable fish marketing to operate properly and if it does not enable the trawler fleet and the cobles to have what they want if they are to carry on an efficient industry. The Port of Tyne Authority is not providing sufficient moorings for the trawler fishing fleet. That again is quite ridiculous. I cannot understand why it cannot. I do not know who is responsible for the Port of Tyne Authority.
The next thing that happened was that I received a letter from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries, who seems to control our ports. I do not know whether he knows anything about fishing. I rather doubt it. But he has written to me saying that he is doing his best to help. Of course, all Ministers try to help. The question is whether they stretch their powers and have the imagination to know what goes on when two or three different departments are involved. In fact I had a Question down to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asking whether he was satisfied that there was proper cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the department of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries on matters relating to this very important industry. I have no idea whether my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries could crack the members of the Port of Tyne Authority on their heads, but I want their heads cracked, because the whole situation is deplorable.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries announced that the Port of Tyne Authority is extremely short of money. One reason is that trade on the Tyne has dropped. It is part of our unemployment problem on the Tyne. I do not know whether the Port of Tyne Authority is going bankrupt. No one tells me. I have to try to find out for myself, and that is very difficult. However in view of the shortage of money in the Port of Tyne Authority, my right 665 hon. Friend says that he hopes that the fishing industry will find the balance of the money required for the new fish quay. That is all very well. I think that the fishing fleet will be prepared to look at what it can do to help. We have the P. & O. helping us with the Ranger group. But the fishermen do not get any help from the Port of Tyne Authority. The Authority seems to think that it has no responsibility.
I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about the situation. I believe in making use of every Minister. I do not care whether he has the powers. If he has not got the powers, he may as well take them. It was a heaven-sent opportunity. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is always very helpful. Perhaps he can find some money out of the Industry Act funds.
It is no use spending 60 per cent. of £2½ million on a fish quay which will not serve the interests of the trawler fleet and provide the necessary marketing facilities. At the moment we have a very good marketing set-up. In fact it is a very good industry in North Shields. But it is no good if the new fish quay does not serve the needs of the trawler fleet.
When these very distinguished bodies of trawler fleet owners talk to me, I think that my only contribution in this House is to stimulate Ministers to action and to say where it is needed. Certainly I think action is needed in the Port of Tyne.
The Government have said that everything will be done to help the development areas. I believe them. However I cannot think that it is helping a development area if the Port of Tyne Authority builds a new fish quay for an industry which is subsidised very substantially by the taxpayer if the money is not available to build a proper fish quay.
I do not know whether it is possible within the Bill, but as everybody has talked about all kinds of things, I am talking about all kinds of things.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries said that the application for the building of the new fish quay had to be in very early next year and must be completed within six months. Of all the idiotic things! Is it not known that on Tyneside one cannot just pick 666 up builders of fish quays and expect them to build a fish quay within six months? I have never had to make a contract with anyone for the building of a fish quay. However, I hope that the Bill—it seems to extend everything—will extend the powers of the Minister for Transport Industries so that, if builders can be found—it is difficult to find sufficient builders to carry out work covered by improvement grants—the time may be extended. It is ridiculous to say that a new fish quay can be built within six months. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend has discovered whether there are any builders available who can build fish quays. If they have other work, good luck to them, because we are short of work on the North-East coast. But what is the use of saying that the fish quay must be built within six months without knowing whether the best, most appropriate and competent of firms which carry out such work is available. I hope to goodness that the Bill, which extends to all kinds of things which are almost Greek to me, will enable the time to be extended because there is not a suitable builder of fish quays available.
This is an absolutely marvellous occasion. I have never had such luck to find a day on which I can raise all these controversial points.
I want to know what all the Ministers of all Departments—the Prime Minister, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, the Minister of Transport Industries, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and so on—are going to do to support what we believe is a growth industry, provided that Iceland does not wreck all our plans. We have done jolly well with the Ranger trawlers. In some way one of our firms is mixed up with Aberdeen. I do not know how that comes about, but apparently that is the position.
I want to know which Department is responsible for doing what is essential to support our fishing fleet, the people who work on the fish quay, the merchants who sell, and so on. I want to know to which Minister in future I should address Questions in order to get answers. Which Minister has responsibility in this matter? I am sick of rushing round from one Minister to another. I am tired of putting down Questions to Ministers who have not the slightest idea of what is 667 happening in other Departments. They do not seem to know about employment in my area. I know that everybody says that North Shields is a small fishing port compared with Hull and the other great ports, but it is just as important from the point of view of the people who work there and the contribution that it makes to the country's economy. We are jolly good contributors on the North-East coast. The men who served in either the Merchant Navy or the Royal Navy on minesweepers and other vessels during the war should have everything possible done for them.
I do not know why the Port of Tyne Authority should say that it has not got the money. Somebody must find out why it has not got the money. I do not know whether it is a competently run Authority. It is not for me to say. Sometimes the Authority is very nice to me; at other times it cracks me on the head.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has recently said that the Authority, through the White Fish Authority, I think, spent £16,000 on something. That is no good to a fishing fleet which requires a new quay. We want a great deal of help.
I should like to know why all these Government Departments are concerned. I do not think that the Minister for Transport Industries knows anything about fishing—I do not see why he should—but the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should know about fishing.
I am delighted with the Bill because it has given me this opportunity to say what I think. However, if the Port of Tyne Authority cannot do its job properly because it has not got the money, I hope that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will find the money under provisions in the Industry Bill. We have spent masses of money on all kinds of things. I want to be quite sure that this important fishing industry in North Shields, which gives consistent employment in which has always been a fishing port, is properly treated.
I am grateful to the Minister for bringing in the Bill. If its proposals are acted upon by the people who can act upon them, it will be very successful. But, for 668 heaven's sake, I hope someone will let me know what it is all about and whether the Port of Tyne Authority will do the job that it ought to do. Otherwise, we must have a new Port of Tyne Authority.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has referred to a number of matters effecting the fishing industry in her division. It occurred to me as she was speaking that only a foolhardy man would venture to trespass in her territorial waters, and I certainly do not propose to do so.
I agreed with the Minister when, at the commencement of his speech, he said that, notwithstanding its brevity, the Bill is extremely important for the British fishing industry.
I have a particular interest in the Bill, not only because I share the concern of all hon. Members for the anxieties of the fishermen of Britain at this time but because it continues the policies started in the Sea Fisheries Act 1969 for which I was responsible. The House will recall the report of the Fleck Committee and the Sea Fish Industry Act 1962 initiated by the then Government and which was based upon it. That Act did not work well, for reasons of which hon. Members will be aware, and as a result the industry found itself in increasing difficulty.
We decided that the industry needed continuing support on a new basis—namely, an annual subsidy related to profitability. We also saw the subsidy as an instrument to encourage efficiency and related it to the efficiency of each individual vessel. I am glad to think that the policy has been successful and that this is recognised not only by the industry, but by the Government.
I recall that when we debated these questions in detail in November 1968 right hon. and hon. Members opposite were very tardy in their acceptance of the new principles. The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), whose speech today was on the whole a good contribution, called the 1969 Acta stop-gap rather than a cure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1968; Vol. 772, c. 922.]The Bill seems to indicate that the Government now regard it as having been 669 a cure rather than a stop-gap. That is certainly the view of the industry.
At that time we were concerned with the difficulties created by imports of frozen fish fillets and we reimposed a tariff of 10 per cent. on them. Perhaps the Minister will say something about the present import position when he replies.
What is significant is the way that the industry has taken advantage of the policy. It has created confidence, it has increased efficiency, and it has not been costly to the country.
Section 4 of the 1969 Act, consolidated in the 1970 Act, improved the financial resources of the White Fish Authority, to which several hon. Members have referred. I should like to ask some questions about the Authority and its future.
The then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now Leader of the House, obscured matters in his statement on 18th July when he referred to a provisional five-year period for the White Fish Authority. He may not have intended the word "provisional" to convey the doubt that it did, but I can confirm what my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said—that his statement has created uncertainty and insecurity in the minds of those employed by the White Fish Authority. The Leader of the House made a critical attack on the Authority in 1970 before he took office, and that gave his use of the word "provisional" rather darker undertones.
My first question relates to the removal of the headquarters to Edinburgh. Will the Minister say precisely what effect this will have—this is to repeat the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington—on the staff now employed in London? I understand that the move is to be made early next year. Is there not a danger that a good deal of valuable expertise will be lost to the industry as a result of the move? I am in favour of the dispersal of Government offices, even to Scotland, but I am also concerned lest the industry in England and Wales suffers as a consequence of the move. The presence of the Product Development team at Epsom is a contribution, but it is not a sufficiently strong 670 guarantee, and some assurance is required from the Minister.
We should be told more about the future rôle of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. I return to the words used by the Leader of the House, "a period provisionally set at 5 years". What is to be the rôle of the Authority and the Board in the EEC? Other countries, for example Ireland and Holland, have decided that their statutory boards have a clear rôle in the EEC. What about the Agriculture Intervention Board under the Chairmanship of Sir Con O'Neill? Will it have any responsibility for fish?
We are also concerned to know who is to form and administer producer organisations responsible under EEC regulations for important activities such as determining the levels of withdrawal prices, which have been referred to, and claiming financial support for unsold fish from Community funds. The Minister referred to this very sketchily. I can imagine what he would have said if my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington or I had made that kind of skimpy statement from that Dispatch Box. The right hon. Gentleman has been less than candid with the House on this important matter, and we need to know more about it.
Another vital question is whether the present grant and loan scheme for building new vessels and for improvements will continue within the Community? Who is to be responsible for administering all EEC regulations? Is it to be the Ministry, or will the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board have a part to play in relation to the regulations in the EEC? Otherwise, what functions will there be left for them to perform? The Minister must apply his mind to that issue and give us some fuller explanations today.
The Minister should say whether or not there is a rôle for the statutory boards, as otherwise the agony and uncertainty which they have suffered since June 1970 will continue for another four or five years. Make no mistake about it. The White Fish Authority has not been a happy authority since the Government came to power. It is the Minister's duty to set at rest the minds of those who work conscientiously on the staff of the 671 Authority today. It would be better if today the Minister were to say clearly to them that their term of life is four or five years, instead of leading them up the garden path as his predecessor has done for the last two years. I have said enough to show that the position is highly unsatisfactory and that some clarification is urgently needed.
In the final analysis the Bill and the previous legislation make sense only if the industry is given fair treatment in the broader international context. There are two critical developments which loom large over our debate, and right hon. and hon. Members have referred to them. The first is the unilateral action of the Government of Iceland, and the other is our imminent entry into the EEC.
On the first, I am sorry that the talks with the Iceland Government broke down. As the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, one significant point in the context of the Bill is that the compromise proposal made by this Government to the Icelanders envisaged a drop of 25 per cent. in our deep-sea catch. That is a substantial concession, and if it had been accepted by the Icelandic Government it would have been necessary for us to have been told more today about its effect on the industry and what additional measures the Government had in mind to help the industry to meet a new and grave situation.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
I do not wish to put words into the mouth of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but I think he said that the offer was a 25 per cent. reduction on the 1971 catch.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is correct. I accept the qualification.
I understand that the British Trawlers' Federation and the Transport and General Workers' Union were represented in Iceland and that they subscribed to those terms in an effort to secure a settlement with a country which is a friend and ally of many years' standing. It seems to me that to reject the kind of proposal that was made by Her Majesty's Government over the weekend is to strain that friendship. It is distasteful to the British people to see British trawlers harassed on the high seas in what has been their traditional fishing ground, especially after 672 the British Government have conceded the possibility of a substantial fall in our deep-sea catch.
I hope that there will be searching second thoughts in Iceland, as no one here wishes to see a deterioration of the excellent relations that we have enjoyed with that country. No country has been more anxious than Britain to effect good international rules governing fishing operations, both as to conservation and as to conduct on fishing grounds. We played a leading part in bringing the Convention on the Conduct of Fishing Operations in the North Atlantic into being, and this was signed by us and by 17 other countries which fish the whole of the North Atlantic. I hope, therefore, that Iceland will reconsider the proposals put forward by the Government, and will do that very soon, so that there can be a resumption of the talks on the reasonable basis which the Government have offered.
The general position of our fishing industry in the EEC is the other critical factor. The Governments of the Six help their fishermen in various ways—perhaps not in precisely the same way as we do, but in ways which are at least as effective in money terms. I hope that our fisheries policy within the EEC will not be less effective. Given parity of treatment the British fishing industry can compete with any comparable industry anywhere in the world, and I hope that the expertise which the White Fish Authority has built up will be used by the Government when we are in the EEC. This is what creates anxiety. Will our policy be as good, as effective and as constructive when we are in the EEC as it is under the Bill? I hope that we shall get a positive answer from the Minister.
Our fishing industry makes a most important contribution in terms of providing food, of saving imports and, not least, of providing employment for some of the most stalwart members of our community, and for those reasons I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
I would not wish to follow the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) in any great detail, but he talked about withdrawal prices and the price paid for unsold fish. As I understand it—perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to confirm 673 this—FEOGA will be responsible for 75 per cent. of whatever price is paid, and the producers' organisations will be responsible for fixing the actual price paid for unsold fish. In the final analysis, the producers' organisations might have to find no money at all, and the whole of the amount paid might come from FEOGA.
I certainly join other right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming the Bill. As has already been said, it is a continuation. Possibly its most important provision is the facility for the operating subsidies to continue to be paid for the foreseeable future. That future includes our entry of the Common Market, and to that extent it is almost open-ended. When my hon. Friend replies to the debate, I hope that he will be able to give us some indication of how he sees negotiations proceeding for the continuation of the payment of these operating subsidies when we are a fully integrated member of the Common Market. At the moment, the inshore fleet particularly is doing very well. We can all welcome that, but these operating subsidies are an integral part of the individual boat's economy and they cannot do without them.
The Minister mentioned research and development, which is of course administered by the White Fish Authority. When the various producers' organisations have been set up—for the inshore fleet, the middlewater fleet and the distant-water fleet, or whatever the interests in the industry finally decide on—most of the operating subsidies, if not all, will be administered by the producers' organisations themselves. I understand that they will also administer the grant and loan system.
In other words, immediately these organisations are set up, there will be a large erosion of the sphere of activity of the White Fish Authority and indeed of the Herring Industry Board. We must ask the Government to give us—today if possible, but if not in the near future—some indication of how they see the White Fish Authority developing or continuing.
It is all very well to say that producers' organisations can administer the matters that I have mentioned, but they obviously 674 cannot deal with such things as research and development. Things move very fast these days. That is a truism, but they move particularly fast in the realms of technology. Television cameras now go down in the cod end of the net to watch the behaviour of fish.
No one can expect producers' organisations to carry on where the television camera left off, as it were. A good deal of research has to go on into what is actually happening, so there must be a continuing rôle in research and development for the White Fish Authority. I should be grateful to know how my hon. Friend and the Government see this developing.
The mechanism for paying these operating subsidies will be the producers' organisations. When do the Government envisage the takeover, as it were, the change of function between the Authority and the organisations? The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked about the setting up of these organisations and the grants available. Again, as I understand it, FEOGA will be responsible for 60 per cent. of the running costs in the first year, 40 per cent. in the second, 30 per cent. in the third and 20 per cent. in the final year. That is the four-year subvention to running costs.
That again is all very well. Provided that the thing is working efficiently, undoubtedly, after four years, they will be self-supporting, but that does not take into account the very important questions of research and development. At the moment, Her Majesty's Government pay a grant of £ for £ with the White Fish Authority for its research and development programme, with an annual limit of £300,000. Is it envisaged that this process should go on? It is not covered in any detail in the Bill, although grants generally to the Authority are covered. The Herring Industry Board at present gets a 50 per cent. grant for the same purpose.
If the producers' organisations take over the administration of various schemes for the herring industry, presumably the scope of activity of the Board will be reduced, like that of the White Fish Authority. Again, the Government must give us a clear indication of their thinking on developments here.
675 Obviously, the producers' organisations and the White Fish Authority—or something to take its place—and indeed the Herring Industry Board, must go hand in hand and must be developed in tandem otherwise we shall be in vacuo—if one can be in vacuo at sea—for a long time. That cannot be good for the fishing industry.
I very much hope that the House will give this excellent Bill a Second Reading and that it will continue to do the work for which it is proposed—continuing a viable fishing industry in the United Kingdom.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I doubt whether any industry in this land has so much good will as fishing, because of our insular position, our past history and many other factors. I am sure that the Minister knows that whatever is said on the Opposition benches is not vindictive. There is no animus towards the Government as a Government. Whatever we say is directed towards the future welfare of the deep sea or inshore fishing industry. He will accept today that all exchanges upon Iceland are absolutely at one. It is a bipartisan team here in the sense of looking after our own people who are our constituents: we know them from meeting them in the fish docks.
Deep-sea fishing is an important industry. Fish is a protein source. The Minister of Agriculture, who is a Lincoln man, knows that if fat Belgian farmers, our future partners in the Common Market, come to a Lincolnshire market and buy large amounts of beef, that has a corresponding effect on the auctions and markets for fish on the Humber. So there is an intimate connection. In the post-war situation, this industry has been an invaluable saver of exports.
The dangers of deep-sea fishing weed out the slackers. At this stage in our history and our overseas relations, it is important to have men of guts, particularly in the coming winter in Icelandic waters. December comes in this week; we shall have 24 hours of darkness and 40 degrees of frost, and men out of Hull and Fleetwood will be fishing in conditions like that. If they are harassed by people who in the past have been our 676 colleagues in international fishing, as the Icelanders have been, we expect our people to be looked after.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) is a man of many parts. Today he is a Daniel come to judgment. He was the architect of this measure. Leaders of the industry have nothing but praise for the measures he introduced, for the welfare of the industry is based upon what the Labour Government did in 1968. Let us not forget my right hon. Friend's faithful lieutenant, the former hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith, now Lord Hoy and in another place. No one has done more than the former hon. Member for Leith as a Labour watchdog in the past.
This is an enabling Bill and it continues the course of events. In 1962 we were in difficulties, so the Government of that day, now the present Government, listened to a man called Fleck. In 1968 we thought Fleck not so good; hence we introduced a Bill. I remember the debate vividly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey talked about a subsidy geared to efficiency—which is the basis of the present measure. A fellow Welshman had another saying which I couple with that. Morgan Philips talked in Copenhagen of "Methodism before Marxism".
Today we extend these measures until 1973. They have been an absolute tonic and have been welcomed not only by us but by the unions, too, because if the owners are doing well, so are the men on the deck who catch the fish. The measures have stood the test of time. It would be utter folly to discard anything like this now, especially when we are entering the EEC and in the light of our difficulties in Icelandic waters.
We are building up a modern and efficient fleet on this financial basis. For the Minister's benefit, I give a short quotation from Fishing News International about a famous family firm in Hull, just to show how this measure has benefited our men in Hull and many other places.The whole fish freezer stern trawler St. Benedict was launched in August from the yard of Ferguson Brothers (Port Glasgow) Ltd. The 245 ft. long vessel is the sixth trawler to be built by the yard for the Hull firm, Thomas Hamling and Co. Ltd.677 These are Class J vessels, and we have had four built over the last four years. That is an indication of the health of the industry, and it has been based upon a measure of this nature.
In the light of what I have to say later, I mention that another famous firm in Hull, Tom Boyd, had a boat called the "Boston Lincoln" which, since last September, has been off Patagonia fishing for hake. I shall ask a question later about the Government's activities and what they are doing in the light of giving finance of this nature to build vessels and enable them to function efficiently against other fleets such as those of the Soviet Union and Japan. What is the Government's policy, if they have one, for the next 10 or 20 years for the deep-sea fishing fleet?
It is important that we still have these family firms. I see in the industry not only a beginning but a well-developed tendency towards monopoly, towards larger fleets owned by public companies. I have advocated nationalisation for a section of our deep-sea fleet, but that has not met with my party's approval—at least, it is not in our manifesto.
In the light of the history since we passed the previous Bill and of the success of these financial measures, it is in no vindictive spirit that I say that on winding up our debate in 1968 the present Minister of State for Agriculture said that he had misgivings about our measures. This induced a waspish comment from my right hon. Friend that this was a qualified welcome in sour tones. Perhaps my right hon. Friend has forgotten saying that. He was correct to say it at that time.
The logic of all this is that we hold on to and increase all these measures, especially when entering the EEC. They have given stability to our workforce. I say that because the Minister talked earlier about international factors. The EEC is one such factor. We shall be coming into what is termed a common fisheries policy, a CFP. It would be out of order to go into detail about that, but in view of what has been said about the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board, and other bodies, I should like to know what will happen to them. We should hang on to the instruments we have because next year 678 we shall have a tough period of bargaining about them and about the changes inside the Common Market.
We had an example on this last night in the bipartisan debate in which both sides of the House were united on the matter of the weight of lorries, 10 ton axles and goodness knows what else. In our fishing industry I want to see an equally bipartisan, united fight inside the EEC on the whole matter of defending it and giving succour to it. Last night's debate was a foretaste of what is to come. We shall need all the weapons in our armoury when we are debating these matters inside the EEC. If we have to make concessions, will the Minister say what they are likely to be? The more I listen to Ministers, the more I think of the famous sledge in the snow and the wolves which were pursuing it. Occasionally a body left the back of the sledge. That was a sort of hurling off of hostages. We shall hurl off our hostages when we begin discussing within the EEC a number of institutions which have previously served us so well. Obviously, some concessions will have to be made.
Without asking the Minister to be a fortune-teller, I should like him to say what our difficulties will be and what concessions we are likely to make next year when we are bargaining in the EEC about the common fisheries policy.
I turn briefly to Iceland. Whatever our views about over-fishing in the northeast Atlantic, conservation measures and the dubiety of Iceland's case, I remember the Icelanders telling me, last September when I was in Iceland, that of their total exports 92 per cent. was fish. I do not accept that for a moment. I should have thought that it was well under 50 per cent., because the Icelanders forgot in their estimate to put in tourism and exports of aluminium, which come here, and other items which could be legitimately within that total.
The fleets of all nations are steadily fishing out the Barents Sea, Bear Island, the Faroes and elsewhere. Sooner or later in New York the conference on the law of the sea will take place. It will begin next year, and may take two or three years to finish. New limits will then receive an international imprimatur, and we must accept that in two, three or four years' time the developing nations, perhaps, will say that they want 25-miles 679 or 50-mile limits. We must be honest and not say that we shall fight with gunboats continually to safeguard limits if the International Court in future decides on deeper and wider limits. For example, the Polish mackerel fleet has for many years fished off Senegal. Senegal has now imposed a limit of 200 miles, so the Polish deep sea fleet is in enormous difficulties off Cape Verde and Senegal.
All this means for the deep-sea fleet diminished catches, longer voyages, increased overheads in wages and fuel and, at the end of the day, the "added value" factor will diminish for the fleet in Hull. Hence, the Bill is vital to ports like my own.
I have talked about the weather that is coming next month in Iceland and the need for the Minister to think about this. If the Icelanders behave as some fear they will—I hope they will not—and if they take the law into their own hands, we must safeguard our own people. It is imperative that we protect the lives and limbs of our constituents.
Is the door closed completely with Iceland, or is there a possibility of talks being held later in London? I have heard a whisper that this is not impossible. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about this. As I said earlier, naval action between 12 and 50 miles would aggravate the situation, but we must wait and see what happens.
What is Government policy for our deep-sea fishing fleet over the next 10 to 20 years? Are the Government thinking about this. Is the Bill just a stopgap to carry us over 1973 and possibly 1974? It is important for those of us who represent fishing ports to know this.
I said earlier that the Tom Boyd line is conducting a successful fishing experiment off Patagonia in conjunction with Argentina. I know that this is probably a Foreign Office matter, but in the matter of fishing limits it is important for the next several years that we maintain our claim, if it is a claim—our possession, so to speak—to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. If we are to see over-fishing in the North-East Atlantic, with fishing limits going against us, and the North Sea becoming an EEC lake, we must think in terms of going to the South Atlantic. Over a six-months voyage the 680 Soviets caught 240,000 tons of South Atlantic cod. The Russians are fishing in the South Indian coast off Kerguelen There is plenty of fish in those waters.
We must think in global terms if in Hull, Fleetwood, Leith, Aberdeen and Grimsby we are to maintain work for the men who work on these vessels. I believe that our men of Fleetwood and of Hull are as good as any fishermen from Murmansk. If the Russians can catch 240,000 tons we can catch more. Our fishermen are as good as any.
I give the Bill my full blessing and express the hope that the Government will attempt to work out in the near future a positive, clear and definite policy for our deep sea fishing fleet.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
I believe that all hon. Members will agree with what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) said about a bipartisan approach to the Common Market fisheries problems, in the same way as we achieved a bipartisan approach to the question of lorry axle weights yesterday. Fisheries was one question which united people of all parties in the Common Market negotiations to seek to achieve one end. I hope that this approach continues.
I have been in touch with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office about one or two anomalies which have operated against a special class of vessels—the line fishing vessels—in my part of the world. I hope that this opportunity of an extension of the financial arrangements will be taken to consider if there are any anomalies and, if there are, to iron them out.
One of the most important aspects of the extension of this legislation is research and development, because of the approaching Conference on the Law of the Sea. A real problem is developing arising from the high and increasing cost of protein, which is encouraging everyone to go in for industrial fishing. We must get the right balance between industrial fishing and fishing in our own waters for human consumption.
I hope that we can ensure that the money for research and development is 681 spread evenly between all sections of the fishing community.
As Norway has not acceded to the Common Market, it is likely that her pressures will be to extend her fishery limits. If at the same time we have pressures from Iceland and other countries, we are in for a very difficult time. This may strengthen our hands in our negotiations in regard to adapting the present Common Market fisheries policy.
The importance of the Conference on the Law of the Sea cannot be over-stressed, and I greatly hope that all the necessary preparatory work will be done and all the finance will be made available to ensure that we are able to take the best advantage of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) mentioned difficulties being experienced in her constituency. In Aberdeen considerable difficulties are arising from the landing of inshore fish. I hope that something can be done to resolve the difficulties.
I warmly support the Bill.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) have expressed the disappointment which is felt throughout the House at the breakdown of the negotiations with Iceland. Our primary concern at this stage is for the safety of the crews and of the vessels fishing in that area.
We must ensure that there is a close and continuing discussion with the trawler owners so that they maintain constant radio communication. At this time of year it is essential that this be maintained. While there is a possibility of harassment, it must always be a temptation for a skipper to go off the air to keep his position quiet so that he can fish in comparative comfort at this time of year. I hope that the importance of constant radio communication being maintained will be drawn forcibly to the attention of all skippers fishing in Icelandic waters.
The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) said that the question of extending limits is not confined to Iceland and that there are already possibilities of Norway extending her limits, 682 primarily because of her decision not to join the EEC, although I believe that she would have wanted to do so, anyway.
I have been in touch with the Norwegian Ambassador. He gives me the categoric assurance that what the Norwegians are thinking of is a positive development for the Conference on the Law of the Sea. The Norwegians are indicating their views publicly, but we are not to be faced with what we have been faced off Iceland, namely, a unilateral declaration of an extension of fishing limits.
Almost every hon. and right hon. Member who has spoken so far has given a totally unqualified welcome to the Bill. They have all said what a marvellous Bill it is and how well the system is working. I find myself, perhaps not unsually, not agreeing completely with some of their sentiments. I give the Bill a qualified welcome because there is a lot to be said and a lot to be discussed about the future of the fishing industry. I was disappointed with the Minister that he did not take the opportunity of giving a wider view of the state of the industry, how it is developing and how he sees it developing. The Bill merely extends existing legislation and in one way or another goes back over 10 years. But after 10 years one would have thought that (here would have been a close examination of the industry's development and of the kind of direction it should develop in during the coming 10 years.
No one doubts that one of the main intentions in the original Act of achieving an efficient fishing industry has been achieved. One has only to look at the fishing ports to see what has happened. In Aberdeen over the past 10 years, the number of fishing vessels has dropped dramatically. It is fair to say that the fleet has been almost decimated and yet more fish are being caught. That is a measure of efficiency and we welcome it. It means that the vessels which are sailing out into these wild waters are bigger and safer with more crew comforts. As the total amount of money paid for the catch has increased so the earnings of the fishermen have increased correspondingly. Again, that is something we welcome.
There is one vital element in this series of policy discussions which has never been 683 mentioned and that is the effect upon the consumer. Where does the consumer enter into this? How far is an efficient industry based on the gross of the catch not in terms of the value but in terms of the volume? It is possible, and it has happened, for the annual catch to decrease but, because of scarcity value and other factors, for the total value of the catch to increase. The volume could go down yet under the previous legislation the greater the value of the catch the lower the subsidy.
The lower the subsidy the more the Government are pleased, because this has proved to be a very economic scheme to the taxpayer. But it is only economic to the taxpayer at the expense of the consumer who is having to pay more in the shops. There is evidence in figures, for which I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), that the price of fish in the shops is increasing rapidly. We do not know what is to happen over the next few months when we shall be faced with an inevitably smaller proportion of the catch coming from Iceland.
It is interesting that the hon. Member for Fife, East had a reply to a Question by the Secretary of State for Scotland about the volume of fish landed in Scottish ports. The figures show that in 1972, compared with the corresponding period in 1971, there was an increase of less than 1 per cent. in the amount of fish landed. With the exception of February when there appeared to have been a dramatic rise of 145,000 cwt. in one month over the same month in the previous year, there was a general decline in the catch landed in Scotland.
I do not wish to quote too many figures as the House has a great deal of business before it tonight, but in the debate on 1st August on the inshore fisheries orders we were told that earnings were up by 30 per cent. Those earnings were made on a smaller volume of catch and therefore I would have thought that the Minister should examine what is happening. Is the trend since 1969 towards a very big increase in the value of the catch and an increase in the profitability expected to continue? The Minister told us in August that gross profits had doubled in the last 10 years. This rise was after deduction of operating cost including men's wages, 684 so there is a great increase in the profitability of the industry.
It may be that profitability is linked with stability and that as long as the fishermen are able to get increased profits they will be happy. As long as they get increased profits the Government are happy because that reduces the amount of subsidy to be paid by the Treasury. I am not sure, however, that the consumer will be happy. The figures for the last two years—and I quote those two years simply for a convenient period—show that between August 1970 and August 1972 the price of cod fillets rose by 50.7 per cent. In August they were fetching 31.8p a lb. There was an increase in the price of haddock fillets of 36.4 per cent. and the price was 34.5p a lb. Smoked haddock went up by 36.1 per cent., plaice fillets by 27.5 per cent., halibut by 32.9 per cent.—which meant that it was fetching 60.6p a lb—herrings by 46.4 per cent., and kippers by 38.1 per cent. In view of that, the Minister should tell us how he intends to stop that trend because it is clear that there is nothing in the legislation on subsidies—operating subsidies, building subsidies or call them what we will—that will protect the consumer against price rises.
The figures are, of course, average figures throughout the whole of the country. My friends in the fishing industry in Aberdeen and further north tell me that the price of fish has never been so high and that they are facing great difficulties in buying fish on the quayside because of the cost. It would be ironic when the price of meat is rocketing—I was told last week that in Aberdeen the price of some cuts of meat were up as much as 10p a lb—if in the north-east of Scotland, home of the finest beef cattle in the world, people were unable to eat meat. If the situation continues the people in the north-east of Scotland, where the freshest and finest fish in the country is landed, will be unable to eat fish, and that would be a fitting epitaph for the Government.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
I hope to be brief as other hon. Members have been brief, and I do not want to cover the whole subject as we did on the last discussion on fisheries. In any case, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) 685 has already used the figures which I intended to argue about today. He rightly raised the point that we should sometimes stop and look at what is the function of the industry. It is not good enough to be told, as we were told by the Minister in August on the last occasion we discussed the subject, that it is a sufficient for the industry to be profitable. Of course we want the industry to be profitable and we want our fishermen to earn the maximum possible, but the fishermen would be the first to say that it is the people for whom they catch the fish that also matter. Therefore, my hon. Friend is right to say that in looking at the extension of the Act we have to relate it to the purpose and function of the industry, which is to provide our people with protein, with good food.
Therefore, it is unsatisfactory to get the kind of answer we received on the last occasion. I interrupted the Minister in the hope that I would get at least part of a statistical outline on which we could correlate these matters. I had to do a little correlation myself instead. With the mass of statistics, particularly the monthly statistics, we always wonder whether we understand the position correctly.
In replying to a similar point in our last debate, the Under-Secretary said of my speech:His figures of consumption were of doubtful origin and not based on fact, he mixed up questions concerning the European Economic Community and he did not really understand the industry.The hon. Gentleman was careful not to say how my figures were wrong. The only concrete example he gave was when he said:One must be very careful not to confuse figures of earnings and figures of profit, to which my right hon. Friend rightly referred."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 517.]Therefore, when we examine the hon. Gentleman's speech in the cold light of HANSARD, we find that his real anxiety was about his right hon. Friend's figures. Mine came from various Government publications, including the Department of Employment statistics and the family income and expenditure surveys.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
During my speech I said that the profitability of the fleet 686 doubled in 10 years. In fact, the Minister's figures show that it doubled in three years.
§ Mr. Buchan
The function of the industry is the first thing we must establish. That is why I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising the point so sharply. I shall deal with more figures later.
Of course, we welcome the Bill. We are always pleased to acknowledge it when the present Government recognise that we have done something good and want to continue it. At least they have done something useful in continuing some good legislation.
I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) paid tribute to Lord Hoy. My hon. Friend was very coy in referring to him as the previous Member for Edinburgh, Leith. My right hon. Friends the Members for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) and Workington (Mr. Peart) also worked when in office to bring about this form of support for the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North was right to say that because of other changes in the Government's attitudes to food an undue proportion of costs is falling directly on the consumer rather than the taxpayer, because of the linking of the deep-water and middle-water subsidies with the economic formula. That can mean only, in line with the present Government's general policy, that the poor pay more. That is the real significance of the Government's agricultural policy and their general attitudes towards subsidies. They always force the poor to pay more, by shifting the burden on to the consumer. This can be spelled out in great detail. It is not just an abstract point but something very important that we must consider.
The industry increased its return in 1971. There was an expenditure of £243 million by customers in this country compared with £213 million in 1970. But despite that £30 million increase in expenditure the landings on which it was based 687 were down. There was a decrease in landings and consumption, but the cost went up, and as always in such a situation the poor suffered.
Between 1970 and 1972 there was a 19 per cent. increase in expenditure on fish compared with a drop of 4.4 per cent. in consumption. The poorer section of the community, those low wage earners with incomes of less than £17 a week, suffered a 14 per cent. drop in consumption in the second quarter of 1972 compared with the second quarter of 1970. The consumption of fish by pensioners dropped by 10 per cent. in the same period. Yet fish has always been regarded as one of the sources of a cheaper form of protein in place of beef. When the Government have forced beef prices through the ceiling, we find that pensioners and low wage earners are also cutting back on their fish consumption, a serious situation.
It makes us want to look again at the formula used. We must see whether it can be changed in a way that looks rather more towards Exchequer support and less to the consumer, because the present system means that the poor pay more, I had hoped that some of the facts might be brought out by the Minister. I hope that the Under-Secretary will not say in reply, as he did last time, that my figures are inaccurate If he does, I hope that he will show me how I have gone wrong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North gave specific figures, including the striking example of a 507 per cent. increase in the price of cod fillets between August 1970 and August 1972. We are haddock eaters in Scotland, and the people in England and Wales tend to be cod eaters. That means that in England and Wales particularly the cost of the basic fish consumed has doubled in two years. That fact must be considered along with what the Government are doing to beef prices. I shall not repeat the other figures that my hon. Friend gave.
General anxiety was expressed on both sides of the House about the continuation of the kind of assistance for which the Bill provides. It was expressed not only by those of us who might be seen as traditional anti-Marketeers but those of us who have been seen traditionally as pro-Marketeers. I am reminded of Dr. 688 Johnson's saying that the prospect of execution concentrates a man's mind wonderfully. I am interested in seeing just how many anxieties are developing about the Common Market as we come closer and closer to reality.
The Ministry's Press notice about the Bill says:This extension of the enabling powers leaves open the question of their use after entry to the European Economic Community. This will depend upon the need to promote continued stability and prosperity in the industry, and the developing structural and marketing provisions of Community policy.The Government are saying that they do not know what the future of the fishing industry, its various grants and supports, its structure, will be in the Common Market. We have bought a pig in a poke, and not only in regard to the general financing and structure. There are the marketing problems—
§ Mr. Buchan
Along with chips, that is a very good place to be.
My own anxieties about the Common Market's policy of open access were expressed almost exactly a year ago. We have had no satisfaction on them yet. The Government did their best to sell Norway down the river. We were already putting pressure on the Norwegians to come to an agreement, but they—all honour to them—stuck out more doggedly than we did for the protection of their shores, in spite of the unfair pressure the Government put upon them. At the end of the day, the Norwegians decided that they did not want to join anyway.
We were told that one of the arguments for accepting the derogation until 1982 was that we should have the right to veto developments of Common Market policy. We exposed that, despite the assurances given by Ministers. All we can do if we attempt to use the veto is to allow the position to revert to what it is under the basic Common Market regulations.
We have no possibility of achieving anything if the other countries say "No". We were told that it would be not the Six but an extended Ten. Yet the biggest fishing country which would have been in support of this, Norway, will no longer 689 be there. Our arguments have been weakened and nothing has been protected. The Government's argument rested on the fact that, once inside the Community, we would be able to advance our own case. Our major ally—no doubt the Danes will be on our side—will no longer be there, following the Norwegian decision. So the guarantees and goodness knows what other vague declarations that we have had are no longer enough. We have less than two months before we enter the Community and clearly everyone wants a guarantee satisfaction.
We are also concerned about the future of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. I am glad that the authority is also to come to Edinburgh. It is a beautiful city. We might not be able to beat the All Blacks as they did in Workington but we welcome the dispersal of civil servants to Scotland or to any other development area as a matter of general policy.
The important question is: what is the continuing future of these bodies? Have the Government considered their rôles once so many of their functions are taken over by producer organisations? We have had little guarantee on this and it must be as worrying to the staffs as any move.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) correctly argued the case for more information to be provided to fishermen. The Government ought to spell out more clearly the prospects and what they are doing to improve the guarantee of security.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the grants and loans for fishing vessels. The ten years of the derogation is a short period when considering the guarantees for the scheme.
Almost every speaker has mentioned the Iceland situation. I am slightly disturbed when I hear the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) referring to the use of the Royal Navy. I hope it is clear when such a comment is made that from this side of the House we are 'talking in terms of the protective rôle of the Navy. A good deal of understanding has been shown by all sides about the Icelandic problem. We understand the difficulties and agree with the Government Front Bench that the final sug- 690 gestions made by the Icelandic Government are not good enough.
This kind of cut in our potential catch cannot be accepted. Our aim should be to get the right kind of total catch arrangements that would square with the conservation objectives of the Icelandic people. This is their main concern and it must be ours. I hope that we shall be more than ready to continue negotiations after having had today the opportunity to express our views on both sides of the House.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)
We have had a useful and wide-ranging debate. It is always a great pleasure for me on these occasions to wind up the debate because this is a subject on which, although there may be differences on certain points such as fish prices, it is clear that everyone has the interests of the industry at heart. Party lines are cut across in these debates.
It will be helpful for those who have to take part in international negotiations on such matters to have behind them the united view of this House as well as the united views of the industry. On the external matters which may affect the future prosperity of the industry it is true to say that we are all united over the action which should be taken by the Government.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) and the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) raised a number of points about the price of fish and the effect on consumers. They were right to do so because any productive industry has two sides. We must consider those who buy the product as well as those who profit from their occupation in the industry. I will not go into the figures produced by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West although I must take exception to some of them. He referred to a doubling of the price because costs had gone up by 50 per cent. It is slightly slipshod phrases like that which mislead people. When the cost of fish goes up 50 per cent. it does not mean a doubling of prices. I am sure that it was a slip, but we are dealing with an emotive subject and I hope that we can deal with it responsibly.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am glad that after four months the hon. Gentleman has managed to find one flaw in my statistics. I should not have said that it was a doubling of the price; it is up by 50 per cent.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
Such flaws are not difficult to find.
Hon. Gentlemen must remember that fish prices started from a relatively low level. They were particularly low in the period 1967–70. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North should bear in mind when making his comparisons that when doing so he is using a very low price period. My contacts in the industry felt that the kind of prices they were getting then did not reflect the effort they were putting into what is a dangerous occupation.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I hope the hon. Gentleman is not saying that I am suggesting that the amount of money going to producers should be cut. That is not my argument. My argument is that while this goes on the consumer should be protected.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I accept that. I was trying to put it into perspective so that there should be no mistake. Hon. Gentlemen must also remember that there is this built-in enabling factor. When prosperity increases in the deep-sea industry the Treasury commitment is affected. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West is honest about this. He said that in such circumstances he might have thought again about looking at the mechanics of the scheme, and that is a fair point.
The Government are conscious that the less-well-off have to bear higher costs. That is why we increased pensions and why today, in terms of buying power, pensions are higher than ever before. Hon. Gentlemen must pay attention to what the Government are doing to help those sections of the community about whom we spoke. We have gone out of our way through direct Government action to help those who may be affected by higher prices.
The hon. Gentleman was wrong when he said that the Government put beef prices through the ceiling. It was not the present Government. If it was anything it was the failure of the agricultural policies pursued by the hon. Gentleman's Government. The Labour Government 692 failed to give the beef industry the financial support it needed, so that in a period of world shortage there was insufficient home production to meet demand; that was of course related to the world situation.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? It is true that many aspects of the Price Reviews introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and myself between 1964 and 1970 were criticised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, but what was never criticised and was accepted as a favourable part of our reviews was the increased guarantees for beef.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I accept that the right hon. Gentleman increased the guarantees on beef, but through many of their other policies the Labour Government failed to get the confidence of the industry; it is not just a question of prices.
To return to fish, the debate has been marked by its international context. I will deal in more detail later with the EEC, but in passing I will mention Iceland. There is not much I can add to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. I emphasise one point which should be helpful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). The Government have full support in what they are doing from the fishing industry, particularly at Humber-side. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs consulted the Joint Action Committee of the fishing industry on 24th November, before going to Iceland. Two members of the industry, Mr. Charles Hudson, President of the BTF and Mr. Dave Shenton, Regional Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, accompanied the delegation to Iceland. I put on record our gratitude to those representatives for the help and support they have given throughout the negotiations.
I cannot emphasise too much that the' door is still open. The British Government have not withdrawn from the negotiations. The door is open for the Icelandic Government to come back, and they know where we stand.
§ Mr. James Johnson
The Icelandic Government have not withdrawn. They say that they have asked to study our proposals. Is not that so?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
That is correct. There has been a suspension of the negotiations rather than withdrawal. I repeat, the door is open for them to come back.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) raised the question of the Law of the Sea, and I agree with what he said. It is the Government's wish that every fishing nation shall take part in the conference that is being arranged under United Nations auspices. I hope that all countries will co-operate in reaching agreement. We shall be playing a full part in that conference, which is of far-reaching importance to the fishing industry throughout the world.
The right hon. Member for Working-ton (Mr. Peart) mentioned Northern Ireland. I confirm that there are separate loan arrangements in Northern Ireland, but the subsidy is the same as it is for the remainder of the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised the general question of industrial fishing and conservation. I have had correspondence and, in the last few days, discussions on this question. The right hon. Gentleman is right. We must at all times be mindful of conservation. In a Scottish context I should be delighted for him to visit our laboratory in Aberdeen which monitors stocks. Shortly after I took office I paid the laboratory a visit and I was fascinated to see the work that was being done. It helped me to a much greater understanding of the problem. I see the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North indicating his agreement; I hope he has availed himself of the opportunity to make a visit. I shall be pleased to arrange for any hon. Member to visit the laboratory to see the work that is being done there.
Both nationally and internationally more concern about and interest in industrial fishing are now being shown. The United Kingdom Government certainly play their part in keeping industrial fishing under review, and we shall not hesitate to introduce measures to control this form of fishing should they be necessary.
§ Mr. Buchan
The Minister has mentioned industrial fishing. Will he comment on possible fishing off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides and its relationship to Common Market boundaries?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I do not see the relevance of that question to industrial fishing. The west coast of the Outer Hebrides is not more at risk from industrial fishing than is any other area.
Fish farming—which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland—has been included in the research programme of the White Fish Authority. Research has been carried on into farming marine species, not rainbow trout, at Ardtoe in Argyll. Progress has been made but the stage of commercial development has not yet been reached. The authority will keep industry informed of progress. Representatives of industry are members of the WFA Committee which advises on research and development, so there is opportunity for information to be fed back.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward), in her usual independent spirit and not wishing to let any opportunity pass, raised several questions. I am sure she will forgive me if I am unable to reply to them in detail. I will bring them to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends whose concern they are. From inquiries I have made this evening, I can tell my hon. Friend that the Port of Tyne Authority, like other harbour authorities, is charged by Parliament under Statute with a range of duties inside its harbour limits. After listening to my hon. Friend's strictures of the Minister for Transport Industries I hesitate to confirm the position. It is for him to say whether the Government have powers to intervene.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Yes, but surely the Port of Tyne Authority is not charged with not providing sufficient moorings for Cobles and proper moorings for the trawler fleet. That cannot be laid down in an Act of Parliament. If it is, I had better get it removed as quickly as I can.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
My understanding is that the provision of such facilities is one of the functions of a harbour authority if it is properly constituted. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries will take note of what my hon. Friend has said.
695 The Port of Tyne Authority has been offered a 60 per cent. grant towards new works, provided that a scheme is agreed between the industry and the harbour authority, provided that the scheme is put up to the Minister before May next year and provided that it is started within 12 months of the original announcement last May. I hope that will put my hon. Friend's mind partly at rest. The grant goes to the authority because it is the authority which must carry out the work and pay the builder for it. The fishing industry is benefiting from this, although the matter of harbour dues may have to be looked at in helping to pay the other 40 per cent.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) raised a number of points and I, like other hon. Members, pay tribute to him for the part he played in bringing the parent legislation which the Bill seeks to extend. The right hon. Gentleman raised points about the EEC and the White Fish Authority. His main points related to the future of the industry within the Community and in particular to the position of our operating subsidies and other subsidies. I must emphasise that we shall be negotiating on these matters from within the Community. These matters have not been decided, and when they come up for decision we shall be able to play our full part in the negotiations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) mentioned grading and the withdrawal price system. Grading is a matter which gives great concern to the industry because of the multiplication involved and the suitability of such grades as applied to our industry. We are consulting our industry about it and we believe that practical common sense will prevail. We are not pessimistic about finding the correct answer.
I entirely agree that the question of the withdrawal price system and the question of limits are of vital importance. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also referred to this topic. It could have a terrible effect on our industry and it must be pointed out that in a strange way—and this is not always appreciated in the industry—if the intervention price is too high, we might find first-grade fish from Shetland being taken 696 off the market at an intervention price, thus denying the processing industry and also consumers of the quality of fish to which they have become accustomed.
The implementation of the Common Market regulations following our negotiations for entry are still being worked out and we are in close touch with the industry. However, I must point out that our difficulties were accepted during the negotiations, and I feel sure that a solution can be found on the lines of some form of regionalisation of withdrawal prices.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also mentioned financial aid for producers' organisation and related it to the money which the Bill seeks approval to spend. The items covered in the Bill refer to domestic support measures and not to measures of a Common Market nature. As my right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned in opening this debate, the establishment of producers' organisations will introduce a new element in our policy in the Common Market regarding common fishing. The question of financial arrangements must be a separate matter to be covered by the EEC regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) and others mentioned operating subsidies after 1st August, 1973. At this stage I cannot make any statement about the decisions that are likely to be taken on the payment of such subsidies after 31st July. Before that date we shall review the situation with the two sections of the industry concerned, and we shall take fully into account the usual criteria of profits, economic prospects and developments which may take place within the Community.
My hon. Friend also asked about the type of financial assistance which might be available to the industry in future after our entry into the Community. The EEC has not yet drawn up common rules on financial assistance in the fisheries sector and we shall be taking part in those discussions. What matters to us is that when those rules are drawn up our present form of grant and loan assistance will continue. Recently, because of the increased profit levels, the operating subsidies have been of relatively 697 less importance for the industry. Nevertheless, this matter will be much in our minds in any negotiations.
I wish to correct my hon. Friend on one point. He mentioned—perhaps I did not fully follow the point—100 per cent. reimbursement from FEOGA in withdrawing fish from the market. In case there was any misapprehension about this matter, I should point out that the way in which FEOGA will contribute to the rates will vary according to species of fish and it will work out at around 60 per cent. Our own producer organisations will have to meet the other costs from their own equalisation funds. I hope I have given hon. Members the information on these topics which they require.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked what steps we were taking to inform the industry about what was happening in the Community. We have been active in keeping in close touch with the industry, particularly the inshore fishing industry, in terms of the EEC. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I personally met the fishery organisations in both Orkney and Shetland about six weeks ago, so that I hope that those in his constituency are fully informed on these matters. We intend to continue the consultations, and even today officers of my Department are in Edinburgh meeting representatives of the processing side of the industry to discuss the impact of any EEC arrangements upon them.
I turn to the last main area which has been dealt with in the debate—the question of the White Fish Authority, its future in the EEC and indeed its future in general. There are certain functions which are at present exercised by the authority and the Herring Industry Board which could continue under the EEC. One particular function relates to research and development. Another function which should continue is the use of the White Fish Authority as a vehicle for the collection of funds for the industry in financing industrial contributions for research and development; and there are one or two other functions involved.
I should like to deal with the questions which have been raised on the statement made earlier in the year about waiting for perhaps a period of five years to see how things will develop in terms of pro- 698 ducers' organisations. Under the EEC rules the operation of the withdrawal price system depends on the establishment of producers' organisations. This refers strictly to producers' organisations—and I must emphasise that neither the Authority nor the Board is a producers' organisation. It is in respect of this function of the Authority that the rôle of the producers' organisations must be taken into account. It is in this respect that we must consider their future.
I wish to reaffirm what my right hon. Friend said in the summer of this year—namely, that we believe that the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board have an important rôle in helping the industry to adjust to the new situation within the Common Market. Both these organisations have been of great assistance to the industry already in helping it to adjust to the new situation which is likely to prevail.
Several other questions not directly connected with the EEC were raised regarding the future of the two authorities. The right hon. Member for Workington asked about the staff and in particular whether some of the staff might find employment in my right hon. Friend's Department. I am not aware of any individual approaches having been made from members of the WFA staff for employment in the Ministry, but the position remains as it was stated in the letter which my right hon. Friend sent to the right hon. Gentleman, and if any requests were received they would be considered. I cannot at this stage give a categorical assurance on how matters would work out in relation to any individual.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey referred to the possible consequences of moving the headquarters to Edinburgh. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was a little pessimistic about the move and its implications for the industry in England and Wales. It should be remembered that the authority itself wished to move out of London. There was the question of higher costs in London as well as—I know that the right hon. Gentleman supports this, as I do—the question of dispersing public offices out of London. We shall give careful consideration to the position of staff in these circumstances. One realises that 699 any policy of dispersal involves a human element, and we shall watch the position closely.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Could the hon. Gentleman give the proportion of the present staff who will move to Edinburgh and the proportion who will move out of the employ of the White Fish Authority and look for work elsewhere?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I could not answer the right hon. Gentleman without notice. I shall look into the present position and write to him explaining how matters will rest, so far as that may be known.
I apologise for a somewhat piecemeal reply to the debate, but there have been many questions raised on a variety of topics. I turn now to the present economic position of the industry. Earnings have been steadily rising over recent years. In 1970 total landings in the United Kingdom by British vessels were £76 million. Last year they were £93 million. We expect them to exceed £100 million this year. These are tremendous achievements and they have been reflected in the profits of the fleet. Deep sea profits in 1971 were about £7 million, compared with just under £5 million in 1970. We are still waiting for the 1972 results and it is as yet difficult to forecast what the position will be, but there seems to be little reason to expect profits to have fallen.
As the House will recall, our debate on the inshore and herring subsidies last year took place against a background of substantially increased profits, particularly in the Scottish fleet. I think that the prosperity of the industry today is best reflected in the confidence which it is showing in investing in new vessels. This is, I believe, the best measure we can have of the view which the industry takes of its future. Here are the figures regarding the number of applications to the statutory bodies for grant and loan assistance in building new vessels. In the last financial year, applications in respect of 157 new inshore and nine new deep sea vessels were approved. That is to be compared with 89 inshore and 18 deep sea applications approved in the previous year. In the first six months of this year, however—I emphasise that it is only the first six months—applications 700 in respect of 110 inshore and 11 deep sea vessels have been approved. It is against that background of the confidence which the industry has in itself that the Bill should be considered.
It gives me great pleasure to commend the Bill to the House. The Government are extending the means at their disposal to assist the industry and the industry has shown by its record that it is confident in itself and in the Government by investing its own money, backing success with success.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).