HC Deb 22 January 1973 vol 849 cc165-84

10.0 p.m.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

I beg to move, That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Amendment) Scheme 1972, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th December, be approved. It is wholly appropriate that this scheme should follow immediately after the final stages in this House of the Sea Fish Industry Bill. I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and his hon. Friends as well as my hon. Friends for their help and co-operation in making such rapid progress with that Bill. I suspect that the length of its Committee stage must qualify it for a place in the Guinness Book of Records, if the authors of that volume are not too busy doing something else at the moment.

I say that it is appropriate for this measure to follow that Bill because it seeks in relation to fishing vessel grants to achieve what the measure we have just deals with aims to accomplish for vessel loans, which is, of course, a closely related area of capital support to the industry.

The effect of the scheme can, like that of the Bill, be stated simply. Its purpose is to extend the availability of grant assistance to applications approved by the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board during 1973. This in itself could not be more straightforward, but I should perhaps explain briefly and by way of background why it is we need an extension in our grant arrangements just now and why this is being achieved through a scheme.

It arises because, in common with these items of support such as loans and subsidies which feature in the Bill, our powers to make grants available to the industry were originally set in 1962 for 10 years as recommended by the Fleck Committee. As a result, they were due to expire at the end of last year.

The effect of this scheme will be to extend them for a further year, and just as this same aim was generally welcomed in the context of the Bill, so I believe the House will agree that this is the right course to take here. This point apart, I think the scheme hardly calls for any detailed explanation.

The scheme maintains the present administrative arrangements governing the approval and payment of grant. This, too, is consistent with the approach adopted in the Bill, and I think it is the right course in all the circumstances. Certainly the indications are that the existing scheme is fulfilling its purpose and that the rate of capital renewal in the various sectors is running at a satisfactory level.

The House may like me to give two brief examples of this last point. First, there is the number of approvals issued by the White Fish Authority for deep-sea vessels—those over 80 ft.—and for the smaller inshore vessels. In the first six months of the present financial year—in other words, between 1st April and 30th September last year—11 approvals were given for deep-sea vessels and 75 for those less than 80 ft. This compares with annual averages—I stress those words—over the previous 10 years of 10 and 82 approvals respectively. On that basis we are well up to past performance in the white fish sector, and the same pattern emerges for herring.

In the first nine months of 1972 the Herring Industry Board approved no fewer than 18 grant applications for vessels, compared with an annual average of 10 during the previous decade. The scheme will help to maintain this trend during 1973 while leaving open the provision to be made thereafter.

As one who has listened on many occasions in his parliamentary life to speeches by the right hon. Member for Workington, I can say that one policy of which he is a strong advocate is the gospel of flexibility.

At this moment when in certain parts of the fishing seas our men are enduring the most appalling conditions and are showing the most splendid spirit in resisting them—an episode in which I cannot have been more grateful for the support shown by all sections of industry and both sides of the House—I hope that this scheme will commend itself to all hon. Members here tonight.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)

The Minister mentioned our attitude towards the Sea Fish Industry Bill. It was right to allow it to proceed as it did. After all, it was supported by both sides and I see no reason for delay or talk if we are to have something which will help the industry. I am glad that we allowed it to go through, and I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said.

The instrument itself deals with grants as distinct from loans. The Minister has been nostalgic about 1962 and the Fleck Committee. I remember the distinguished chairman of that committee, a distinguished chemist who worked for ICI, a man whom I knew personally. His report helped the industry considerably.

We are tonight dealing with grant arrangements and the Minister has given us examples and figures dealing with deep sea vessels. He said I had always accepted that we should be flexible. I am glad he appreciates this, since Ministers are often too doctrinaire. Although he has never been doctrinaire on fish the Minister has been so on agriculture—but I will not go into that now. I would say to my colleagues that I am flexible. I would love to have a debate about our attitudes on other matters, but I should be out of order. We have had questions today.

I accept what the Minister said. The industry has been facing a difficult situation and our seamen deserve our support. Fishermen from all our ports are affected. I hope that we shall have a peaceful solution to the cod war but I want to help the industry and I believe that this instrument will do so. Therefore, I hope we shall proceed with it quickly.

10.9 p.m.

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

I do not wish to comment on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) except to endorse what he said about Iceland. I wish to raise two points with the Minister concerning two fishermen in my constituency.

The first point concerns the grants for glass-fibre-hulled fishing boats. There are obvious advantages in having glass-fibre hulls—for instance, ease of maintenance and cleaning the bottom—and there is also the possibility that the danger of electrolysis, which has an adverse effect and can create havoc with copper piping in vessels, may be alleviated.

I understand that the White Fish Authority, in approving grants for vessels, will not allow glass fibre hulls to be used for vessels over 45 ft. in length. I do not know the reason for that, and perhaps my hon. Friend could tell us, but it should be looked at in detail and at some length, because if advantages were to accrue to our inshore fleet in that manner we could only become more efficient, and that is exactly the purpose of the scheme.

My second question is about the payment of grants. As the House knows, there are six instalments in paying for fishing vessels. There is a first instalment of 10 per cent. of the contract price, which is paid with the order. There is a second instalment of 10 per cent., paid when the hull is laid. The remaining four stages, each of 20 per cent., are paid on completion of framing, completion of planking, on launching and finally on completion of the vessel. The first two instalments are payable by the prospective owners, and it is only at the third stage that the White Fish Authority, the Herring Industry Board or, indeed, the Highlands and Islands Development Board comes into the picture. Before any payment can be made by any one of those three statutory bodies, all the papers relating to the building of the vessel have to be signed by all who have any share in the vessel.

One particular case has been brought to my attention where a one-sixteenth share owner failed to sign the requisite documents, and the boat had been hulled, framed and planked. The boat builders had outlayed £33,000 on the vessel in about a six-month period, and no grant could be paid by the WFA because this one-sixteenth share owner had not signed the papers. There was no statutory power available to the WFA to get these signatures and the boat builder was consider- ably out of pocket, having to find a great deal of bank interest to keep himself going.

It would be possible to tell the boat builder to lay off and not to continue further working until the money had been paid out, but that is not looking the facts in the face. Before another instrument is laid before the House the Government should take a further look at this. Although it is an isolated case, it could conceivably happen again. If there is to be another instrument of this nature in a year's time, which I devoutly hope there will be, perhaps this point can be looked at.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I have never known such a pleasant occasion, when the Minister and the Shadow Minister at the Dispatch Box have spoken so modestly and for so short a time, setting such a good example to back benchers.

The Minister has said that the scheme is a somewhat mundane effort. By definition it must be. But it is extremely important to deep sea fishing fleets in Hull and elsewhere. It is vital that we should have confidence for next year and the year after, and we have here a definite assurance that we can look to the future and build our vessels.

The Minister said that in the last six months 11 deep sea vessels had been given the go-ahead in the sense of finance. I do not know how many of those are in Hull, but I assure the Minister that our firms have confidence. They are building vessels, and they look to the future with a good deal of confidence.

Fishing is a hunting industry. The future is unpredictable, at least for a long span ahead. We live from year to year. We have had, however, at least two good years if not a third good year in the industry.

Regarding the Hull deep sea fleet, although the Minister has given us hope in the scheme that we can go ahead with building, nevertheless, when I talk to firms, skippers and others in my constituency I find two big question marks. Perhaps the Minister will deal with these when he replies. First, I hope I am in order in asking whether we shall be able, next year at this time, still to fish in Icelandic waters. I know that the Minister is not a fortune-teller. This is very important, particularly if 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. or even more of our catch is coming from the Continental Shelf off Iceland. This is so important that I shall be obliged if the Minister will say a word about it later.

My other point is this. We have this sum of money, whatever it is—30 per cent. or 35 per cent.—which is being given for building a new vessel. But we in Hull are perhaps in one of the oldest and most difficult docks to work in. I am thinking of the members of my own union, the bobbers and filleters on the dock. We are thinking of moving in next door from St. Andrew's Dock into the old commercial dock, the Albert and William Wright Dock. Perhaps the Minister will give a hint of the Government's view on this, because we shall need some help in moving.

We come back to the same question: what is to be the level of the fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic? It may be that despite building these magnificent new vessels, costing well over £1 million each, we shall have to go beyond the Equator and into the South Atlantic, to South Georgia and elsewhere. We face severe competition. Even with this instrument enabling us to build the finest of modern vessels, we face intense competition from Soviet Union, Polish and Japanese vessels. This is a most competitive industry and this scheme is therefore vital to us. We welcome it in order that we may modernise our fleet.

Mention has been made of the Fleck Committee. The 1962 Act did not work, and it must be said that the measures following Fleck were the work of my own party when in government. The industry has taken advantage of this instrument and welcomes it. Our deep sea fleet in Hull has increased confidence. We have increased efficiency, and the only fly in the ointment in the debate tonight is the position of the White Fish Authority. We all welcome its move north to Scotland. It could not come to Hull, where it should have come, but it went to another good place, Edinburgh. Nevertheless, not all the staff are going north.

This is a good measure; we welcome it, and on both sides of the House we give it our support.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough and Whitby)

I too welcome the scheme which carries out much the same objects as the Bill we have already passed. While we have had support for it from the distant water fleet, I support it from the point of view of the inshore fleet. The prosperity of both fleets is much more interdependent than is often recognised. For the first time we have a measure of stability and prosperity for the inshore fleet and a very welcome expansion in that fleet arising from the confidence that now exists in the fishing community.

Great tribute should be paid to our negotiators in the Common Market negotiations in making sure that our limits were preserved. This has——

Mr. Peart


Mr. Shaw

The right hon. Gentleman says "Baloney". That shows how little he knows about the fishing fleet.

Mr. Peart

Vast sections of an industry not dealt with in the Bill—the inshore industry—have expressed deep concern. The hon. Gentleman has taken up the argument from me, and he is right to do so. But I assure him that there is concern.

Mr. Shaw

I spent the best part of last week with constituents of mine who are concerned with the inshore fleet. Of course there is anxiety. This is one of the reasons for the Bill which we have just passed. However, I repeat that there was a great deal of increased confidence and satisfaction at the fact that the limits were preserved. It is because of new factors which have arisen that the feeling of instability has returned. It is therefore very desirable that we should make sure as far as we can that the conditions under which prosperity and confidence had been built up are maintained until the future can be seen more clearly.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) spoke about Iceland. I shall not refer to it in detail. But undoubtedly until that question is resolved there is bound to be considerable cause for concern not only in the distant water fleet but in the inshore fleet as well, since what happens to the distant water fleet to some extent affects the future of the inshore fleet. So until we get these problems sorted out we must welcome wholeheartedly the introduction of this scheme following as it does so closely on the Bill we have just passed.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

If I may take up one matter referred to by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw), in my view the inshore fleet would be building on sand if it did not realise that all it has under the Brussels negotiations is no more than a derogation for 10 years, after which there is no certainty about what will happen——

Mr. Michael Shaw

There is certainty for 10 years.

Mr. McNamara

Yes, but 10 years is a short time in the lifetime of the average fisherman and such a period holds out no hope for posterity. The hon. Gentleman should watch carefully what he says about the Brussels agreement.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

May I remind my hon. Friend that it is a terribly short time in view of the fact that, especially for inshore fishermen, the capital investment in vessels presents a great deal of uncertainty if they have no more than a 10-year security of tenure?

Mr. Michael Shaw

The figures which my hon. Friend the Minister of State has given indicate that there must be increased confidence. Vast sums are being spent on the inshore fleet in the purchase of boats, which indicates the underlying confidence that exists.

Mr. McNamara

I make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The first is that this is partly a reaction to the uncertainty that existed before getting the guarantee of 10 years. Secondly, it might be described as an investment of achievement. Having got a 12-mile limit, those in the inshore fleet think that they will have a favourable time for 10 years. These two factors affect a situation where in the past investment had been slow.

I take up one other point on the general fishing situation. In common with other hon. Members, I deeply regret that people regard the proposal for a 50-mile limit purely and simply as a fishing issue. It is not. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) knows that the fishing industry is the core of many other industries concerned with frozen food and its derivatives. Many of our vegetable markets have come to Hull, Humberside and other fishing areas because of the all-the-yearround freezing facilities which have been said down for fish. Therefore, what prosperity we have in those areas would go if the frozen fish were to go.

There are people who are foolhardly enough to regard the Icelanders as having a case of some sort. They take the view that it is a big nation against a small nation. However, they do not understand what it at stake not only from their own food prices but for the prosperity of large parts of England and Scotland, quite apart from the actual terms of the blackmail adopted by a small Power against a large Power. However, I shall not take the point too far, otherwise I may get out of order.

I want to put a number of points to the Minister of State. First, can he give us a guarantee that with the transfer from London to Edinburgh of the White Fish Authority there will be no delay in the processing of applications for grants, whether they be for the deep sea fleet or the inshore fleet? We have been concerned about reports that we have read that for quite real and personal reasons people have decided not to move from London to Edinburgh. Obviously this will lead to difficulties in the processing of applications and in the work and efficiency of the White Fish Authority. We accept that there will be teething troubles, but may we have an undertaking that they will be overcome as rapidly as possible?

The Minister of State has given us an approximate number of orders which have been received for vessels seeking approval under the scheme. He spoke of there being 11 from April to September of last year. Is the Minister in a position to give us this information in terms of capital investment as such?

Will the Minister also say how the picture has developed since September last when the cod war started to intensify? I believe that trawler firms are still placing orders, but I wonder to what extent the capacity of the catching fleet has held out, not so much because we have kept the ships in the sea but because of the number of vessels that have been going through the survey which are per- haps 20 years old, or older, and which in the past might have been sold. I would understand it if companies were hedging their bets, but I nevertheless regard this as an important point.

The Government are carrying through a policy which was hammered out with great difficulty by my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and my noble Friend Lord Hoy in the other place. The way the subsidy system works at present is sensible, but on some occasion—perhaps this is not the right one because we do not know what will be the outcome of the dispute with Iceland—we should have an indication of the Government's contingency planning for the future of the deep sea fleet and what hopes there are for other areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West mentioned the South Atlantic, but we know the attitude of many of the Powers in South America and the way they are pushing out their limits. This again is not the right time, within the confines of this narrow scheme, but we should like to have some information on how the Minister sees the Law of the Sea Conference going in a year or so's time. It will obviously be of importance to our industry and to the employment of our people in Hull and other areas.

I hope the Minister will emphasise that it is wrong for the people of England to regard the present situation simply as a fishing dispute. There is more at stake for the future of our fishing industry, not only in regard to the state of international law but also in terms of the price of food, the future of our food industry and employment prospects for our constituents.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)

While welcoming the scheme, which extends the existing provisions for a further year, I must express disappointment that the Government have not seen fit to give effect to the cogent submissions made to them by the Scottish Trawlers Federation to the effect that the existing loan scheme for vessels of 80 ft. and longer should be improved and that they should qualify for facilities of loans from 25 per cent. to 40 per cent. of total costs, and with loans of 35 per cent. repayable over 15 years at a reasonable rate of interest.

These arguments were put forcibly on behalf of the trawler fleets based at Aberdeen and Granton but no adequate reason has been given by the Government for turning them down. This is important for these trawler fleets because, unless arrangements of this nature are forthcoming in the near future, the industry will face considerable difficulties in renewing its fleet.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has said that we have a guarantee under Community arrangements for only 10 years. This again emphasises the need to carry out renewal of these fishing fleets. If encouragement were given to the building of vessels of 80 feet and over as well as those under 80 feet, there would be every prospect that the fleet could be more adaptable to fish in places where fishing is open to it.

I strongly press the Government to think again about this matter and to come forward with orders which will give effect to the arguments which have been put to them by the federation and by others.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

I hope that this scheme will pass rapidly through the House and become effective. There is concern in the industry and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) has mentioned the difficulties of those who fish with vessels of 80 feet or longer and the representations made on their behalf by the federation. Some years ago I was a member of the Estimates Committee which investigated this subject. I recall the concern of the fishing industry generally in terms of the Government's attitude to subsidies and financial control.

I have a deep suspicion that when Governments indulge by fits and starts in any proposals for grant, fears are created in the minds of those who are affected in ways which politicians perhaps cannot fully appreciate. The large fishing units which deal in deep freezing and which fish at long distances for long periods of time do not perhaps face these problems to the same extent as do the inshore fishermen; it is the inshore fisherman, the small man who helps to make up the character of the fishing industry, who has not the accountancy facilities and legal advice behind him. Indeed, this is often the sort of fleet in which father hands the trawler on to son, and the son in his turn hands it on to his son. These are the people who face all the problems involved in the procedural requirements of making grant applications and the rest. A year in the life of this industry is not long.

There are no apparent differences between the two sides in this debate, although if we were allowed to go out of order we might find some differences. When I served on the Estimates Committee I was made very aware of the fear felt by fishermen with limited capital investment. Such men must meet what is to them even now a great capital outlay on modern, sophisticated navigational equipment. Although a year is a blessing at this stage, it must be seen in the context of the worry that the vast majority of fishermen have.

Hartlepool has a substantial and effective fishing industry, although compared with other ports it is relatively small, because to the north there is North Shields and to the south there is Redcar. These small ports are part of an industry which renders a remarkably good service to the consumer; or, to use the vernacular of my area, the fish and chip shop is still a very good supplier of good food at a very reasonable price, although in my area that price appears high because the level of wages is relatively low.

In this harmonious debate I make two appeals to the Minister. First, the Government should present a White Paper about the fishing industry, outlining the generality of the problems as they affect in particular the smaller and the inshore fisherman. Secondly, the White Paper should set out the Government's long-term policies, thus allaying the fishermen's fears arising from the fits and starts of annual instruments on this subject.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

I thank the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) for the support he gave to the scheme and I certainly agree with him in describing the late Sir Alexander Fleck as a very great man. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) raised one or two slightly technical questions which included the machining of bottoms and glass fibre hulls. Those are both matters for the White Fish Authority and the other bodies concerned, including the Herring Industry Board, and I shall pass on to them my hon. Friend's comments. I cannot give him any undertaking that I can interfere in the decisions they reach.

I was naturally pleased to hear, and I agree with, the views of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) and also my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) about the confidence which exists in the industry and which it is the Government's duty—and in the case of Iceland the duty of the whole House—to foster. This is being done splendidly. As for the docks at Hull, I believe that that goes a little wide of the subject of grants for fishing vessels. All I can say therefore is that, as the hon. Member probably knows, I have been having talks and I hope that those talks may bear some fruit.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) must have been desperately unhappy throughout this evening's debate because I recall his saying during the course of a fishing debate some time ago how much he detested bipartisan approaches to subjects because this made him feel uncomfortable. He asked about the possible effect of the move of the White Fish Authority to Edinburgh and whether this would cause a delay in the processing of applications. There has for some time already been a staff there which has serviced the Scottish and North Sea Committee of the authority and I am confident that there will be no delay as a result of the move.

Mr. James Johnson

Does it not disturb the Minister, as it disturbs me, that there are a number of first-class men who do not feel able to go north of the Tweed? This is a great loss of expertise for the authority.

Mr. Stodart

That is a matter of great sorrow to me, particularly as the offices are not far from my constituency. But I can understand that people are a little hesitant to pull up their roots and move 400 miles. That particularly applies to wives and we must face the fact. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) will support me in saying that in other spheres of activity, particularly the motor car industry, there may have been misgivings to begin with but that once they are there people realise that Scotland is the marvellous place that it is. I am very sad that quite a lot of people have not moved north, but I can assure the House that the efficiency of the organisation will not suffer.

I was asked about capital investment. About £10 million in total capital or approximately £3 million in grant is accounted for by the 11 deep sea vessels. For the 75 inshore vessels the figures are about £6 million investment and about £1,500,000 in grants. These are fairly good figures. If I can get them I will give the figures since the Icelandic episode blew up. These figures were up to September of last year. The Icelandic difficulties were then in full swing, because I went to Iceland for the first round of negotiations in July. If I can I will find out whether later figures show any tailing off in investment.

I was also asked whether I could predict the result of the Law of the Sea Conference. Again that is just a tiny bit wide of fishing vessel grants. I hope that the conference will come to a conclusion that will be satisfactory to all concerned, if that is not being too optimistic.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful for those undertakings. The point I was really concerned about was that while I want as much expansion as possible, I wonder to what extent people are selling off their old vessels which they may have kept in commission or putting them in for extended surveys, which has therefore tended to inflate the figures unrealistically.

Mr. Stodart

I cannot give that information now. I will if I can, include it in the letter I will send. The hon. and learned Member for Leith raised the question of the availability of loans from the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board for new vessels and the representations that had been made by the Scottish Trawlers Federation. This is a facility which in recent years has been available only for vessels of less than 80 feet, with larger vessels having to rely on more broadly-based loan guarantee arrangements operated by the Department of Trade and Industry. Fishing interests in Scotland have for some time been urging that direct loans should again be made available for all vessels, irrespective of length. I assure the hon. and learned Member that these representations were given careful consideration. There is little or no evidence that the availability of either White Fish Authority or Herring Industry Board loans has been a key factor in determining the actual rate of building.

The rate of building and the level of grant do not coincide as the figures over the last 10 years show. By the same token reliance on the Department of Trade and Industry does not appear to have inhibited trawlermen. What is significant is that the differences between the direct loan and the loan guarantee are a good deal less than is sometimes supposed because, for example, the lower interest rate applicable under the latter scheme compensated at least in part for the shorter periods over which the loans have to be repaid.

The hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) raised the question of family firms. I am sure we would not go far wrong if we said that they were what we mean when we speak of "The fishermen of England." The inshore section is more confident and has been, relatively speaking, getting a better return. Who would blame it? I certainly would not. I regard fishermen as being among the hardest workers in the world. They thoroughly merit a jolly good return for their efforts.

I conclude, with great caution, on the subject of Iceland. I was asked "Shall we be fishing in Icelandic waters next year?" I do not think it would be advisable for me to say anything off the cuff in a debate like this, particularly when the negotiations are being conducted primarily by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; but we have offered catch reductions of 25 per cent., and no one can say that that is an insignificant offer or one that lacks good will.

I have been to Iceland. One night I went out with the Minister of Fisheries who is often portrayed as not perhaps the easiest of persons. I got on famously with him, telling him various heckling stories that had come my way. I really felt that if we had had another half-hour together we might have had an agreement signed. We must realise that the Icelandic Ministers are perfectly ordinary, genuine people like ourselves. I am firmly optimistic enough to think that common sense will prevail and that an agreement will be reached without taking the ultimate step, which nobody within the fishing industry wants, of having to use force by sending the Navy in.

Mr. Leadbitter rose——

Mr. Stodart

I should like to conclude these remarks on Iceland. Within a fortnight we hope to have not only the interim ruling but the final ruling of the International Court. That is yet another reason why I should not put my foot too deeply into Icelandic waters tonight.

Mr. Leadbitter

Unfortunately the Minister has put his foot into Icelandic waters, and I am surprised that he has introduced the subject at all on this scheme. But, having done so, arising from the nice little meeting which he has described of ordinary people, the Fisheries Minister of Iceland and himself, may I ask whether that sort of tête-à-tête is how the Government arrived at the very pertinent action of sending a tugboat to defend our fishermen up there? Or was there another reason for it?

Mr. Stodart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not sneer at the sending of a tugboat, which I believe——

Mr. Leadbitter

I am serious.

Mr. Stodart

I am sorry if perhaps I took an implication which I should not. The hon. Gentleman should not deprecate the sending of a tugboat—I saw that tugboat off from Leith on Saturday afternoon—because I believe it may prove to be the answer to this very difficult situation. I do not know, but I am hopeful. It was rather scornfully described the day before as a baby being sent to do a man's job. I think that, with its 11.500 horsepower, it may do an extremely effective job. I hope that no one in the House will give the impression that these people are going off to do something which is not worth while, because I think they have a great job to do.

Mr. Leadbitter

I think that the Minister has got this wrong. I was quite serious about a very serious matter. I warned the hon. Gentleman that he should not have introduced the subject. Nothing less than tact is required on this subject. The Minister used the word "scornfully" when referring to outside reaction. In fact, it was the fishing industry expressing its very deep concern about the Government's action. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman would make a useful contribution to this subject by saying no more.

Mr. Stodart

That is all very well, but I have always felt that it is courteous to the House, if points are raised by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, that I ought——

Mr. Peart


Mr. Stodart

The right hon. Gentleman must allow me to make this point. Two of his hon. Friends have raised this matter in considerable depth. The Chair having allowed the matter to be raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite, it would have been discourteous of me if I had not attempted to give what I hope was a diplomatic reply. If it was not diplomatic, I am sure that in the morning I shall get a severe rebuke from my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. I shall leave it at that.

The last thing I wish to do is to end this debate on a discordant note. As I have been accused of putting my foot in it I had better bring the debate to a rapid conclusion by saying that a fishing debate always finds both sides of the House very much in unison. I believe that fishermen and hill shepherds are the salt of the earth, and they deserve all the support that this House can give them.

Mr. Peart

With permission, I should like to comment on the hon. Gentleman's speech. He should not rebuke my hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) who merely responded and put a point of view. I understand the difficulty. I do not propose to deploy arguments about whether a tugboat is better than a fishery protection vessel. I shall not embarrass the Government in any way. If they think that this is the right course, we shall help them, but it cannot be acceptable to certain sections of the industry. That is all that my hon. Friend was saying.

There has been joint agreement about this scheme. We are here to help the industry. Hon. Members have gone rather wide of the subject under debate, but that is not their responsibility. I understand the Minister's difficulties. Having said that, I hope that we can approve the scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Amendment) Scheme 1972. a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th December, be approved.

Forward to