HC Deb 07 November 1974 vol 880 cc1232-3
5. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the possible reintroduction of operating subsidies for British fishing vessels.

Mr. Bishop

I have received an application from the British Trawlers' Federation for the reintroduction of some form of operating subsidy. This poses a number of difficult questions which need to be examined in depth. I cannot anticipate the outcome.

Mr. Wall

Will the Minister bear it in mind that many of the long-term fuel bunkering contracts end in December, when the industry will be faced with the full effect of the increase in fuel prices? This will lead to ships being either sold or laid up this winter, which will mean a shortage of fish next spring, when we will also be short of meat and poultry. If the Minister does not wish to be the first Minister to introduce food rationing in peacetime, he has to do something about it now.

Mr. Bishop

I recognise the problems to which the hon. Member has referred. We are looking at the matter with a sense of urgency. He will know that, after a couple of years of profitability, there are special problems this year, including fuel costs, and we shall bear that in mind.

Mr. James Johnson

I do not deny that confidential figures submitted by the vessel owners to the Ministry may justify some form of subsidy under the old set-up, but is the Minister aware that the public in Hull and Humberside, working on the dock, and businessmen in the city, feel there is far too much secrecy about subsidies? Is he also aware that Mr. Charles Meek, Chairman of the White Fish Authority, whom no one can doubt on the subject, has been to Hull within the last few days? He says that although there may be need for some injection of money, he is not the man to say, as the owners are saying, that there will be a multi-million pound deficit next year. He says the opposite— that there will be an upturn in the industry next year.

Mr. Bishop

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern for the industry. We are prepared to receive representations not only from the British Trawlers' Federation but from any other source, including those he has in mind.

Mr. Beith

Will the Minister confirm that he has also received representations from the inshore fishing industry? Does he realise that more inshore fishermen are facing escalating fuel and gear costs on a scale which, without the capital backing of the trawler industry, they will find it very difficult to meet? Is he considering this matter with equal urgency?

Mr. Bishop

Representations have been made by other authorities, but we have to take care that we consider those aspects which are national and those that are sectional. I recognise the sectional aspects to which the hon. Member has referred. If he wishes to suggest representations to us we shall consider them urgently.

Mr. Prior

When will the Minister act? The Department has had knowledge of figures from the port of Lowestoft and from one or two other ports since last June and it has done nothing. Are we to wait for months and months on both agriculture and fishing—until we have rationing by price and by quantity—before the Department takes the matter seriously? Is it a fact that the Minister of Agriculture no longer has any power within the Government, that power has been taken over entirely by the Ministry of Food, which no longer has any interest in agriculture? When will he do the only honourable thing in the circumstances, which is to resign?

Mr. Bishop

I surely do not have to remind hon. Gentlemen that my right hon. Friend and this Government have been in power only since March of this year—[Hon. Members: "Too long."] Hon. Members may say, "Too long," but we have been given a resurgence of power in the last few weeks. We are pursuing the matter urgently; there are real problems which have to be considered.

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