HL Deb 30 July 1957 vol 205 cc278-82

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to move that this Scheme, which was reported from the Special Orders Committee on July 24, be approved. There follows a similar Motion on the Order Paper about the Herring Industry Scheme, and it may be acceptable and convenient to your Lordships if I deal with both Schemes together. The Schemes replace the two subsidy schemes at present in force and, subject to your Lordships' approval, will each run for a period of twelve months, beginning, in the case of the white fish subsidy on August 1, and in the case of herring on September 1.

The White Fish Scheme makes no change in the subsidy rates. The only change of subsidies it makes is that those vessels which are paid a subsidy of so much per day will now be eligible to receive the subsidy for every day in the year they spend at sea, instead of, as at present, on a maximum of 300 days. The Herring Scheme increases the rates of subsidy by, on an average, about a sixth. The rate for vessels under 40 feet in length is increased from 3d. to 3½d. per stone of herring landed; for motor vessels between 40 and 80 feet in length, the rate is increased from £5 10s. 0d. to £6 10s. 0d. per day; for motor vessels between 80 and 140 feet (which is the maximum size on which subsidy is payable), the rate is raised from £6 to £8 per day; and for steam vessels the increase is from £9 to £10 per day.

The Scheme also makes one other change. Hitherto, no vessel has been able to receive both the white fish and the herring subsidy in respect of the same voyage. This, I think your Lordships will agree, is right and proper where the vessels are paid so much per day, since that payment is intended to be related to a whole day's fishing. But it has been represented to us that this arrangement is unduly harsh for the small vessels, which are paid entirely on the amount of fish they catch. The Herring Scheme therefore provides that vessels under 40 feet in length which receive a subsidy of so much per stone of herring and white fish may qualify for both subsidies if they catch both kinds of fish during the same voyage.

I should like to say a word or two further about the White Fish Scheme. It affects two kinds of vessels, the near- and middle-water trawlers which are over 70 feet in length, and which we call the inshore vessels, nearly all of which are under that length. In both cases, since the rates were last fixed we have received evidence of substantial increases in cost. In the case of the inshore vessels, however, we are satisfied that no substantial problem arises, for the earnings of inshore fishermen in both Scotland and England have risen substantially over the past few years. The English fishermen have not asked for any increase in subsidy, and while the Scottish fishermen have done so, it is evident that theirs is a thriving and expanding industry, for the number of vessels has increased by one-sixth and the catch by one-third in the past two years. In these circumstances we do not think they have any real claim to more subsidy.

The position is more difficult with the near- and middle-water trawlers. Here, costs have increased very considerably, the main items being coal, oil fuel and wages. Earnings are also increasing, but on the figures which the trawler owners have supplied about operations in 1956, it looks as though their losses at some ports may be substantially greater than last year. In face of these facts, the decision not to increase the subsidy may seem harsh. We have felt, however, that we could not increase the white fish subsidy rates without abandoning the conception, endorsed by successive Governments since 1950, that subsidy is a temporary measure to tide the industry over short-term difficulties.

I might remind your Lordships that we have been giving grants and loans since 1953 to replace old vessels by new ones. That apart, we have spent about £10 million on subsidy since that date. The White Fish and Herring Industries Act earlier this year made an additional £7 million to £9 million available, but endorsed the principle of a temporary subsidy ending in 1961 or 1963 and implied that it ought to be tapering off soon. If the subsidies were increased now, it is clear that this objective would not be achieved. And in fact we hope things may not turn out quite so badly as the trawler owners fear. The average earnings per day at sea of Scottish steam trawlers were 18 per cent. higher in the first five months of this year than last. Nevertheless, progress towards a modern fleet is very uneven between the different ports, and proportionately fewer modern vessels have been built in Scotland than in England. Moreover, some of the new vessels that have been built in Scotland do not seem to have been very successful so far. We think, however, that these should be temporary difficulties and the evidence available does not justify abandoning the idea that the fishing industry should, before very long, stand on its own feet. In all the circumstances, we have decided to leave the white fish subsidy as it is.

On the herring side, the picture is somewhat different. Herring fishermen's costs, like those of their white fish colleagues, are increasing. But whereas on the white fish side there is reason to suppose that earnings are also likely to increase in the coming subsidy year, the evidence for this view is less certain in the case of herring. It is the purpose of the herring subsidy to attract vessels back to herring fishing and thus restore a better balance in the interests of both sides of the industry; and we have therefore felt it proper to make some increase in the herring subsidy although no corresponding increase is being made to the white fish side.

In conclusion may I refer briefly to the decision announced in another place to hold an Inquiry into the fishing industry. While we are confident that our policy is the right one, progress towards a modern fleet varies greatly from port to port. We have therefore thought it desirable to set up a Committee to assess the size and pattern of an economic fishing industry in relation to developments in fishing and the marketing of fish and to assess the implications. The Inquiry will cover all sections of the industry, including the unsubsidised distant water trawlers. It will provide a comprehensive review and, we hope, show how we can get a fully efficient fleet. In the meantime, pending the full examination of the affairs of the industry which the Committee of Inquiry, in collaboration with the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board, will be able to make, the subsidies are an important practical measure of help. Accordingly, I trust that these Schemes will meet with your Lordships' approval. I beg to move.

Moved, That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1957, reported from the Special Orders Committee on 24th July, be approved.—(Lord Strathclyde.)


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, who has been dealing with the production side of this industry, what impact it is expected the Schemes will have on the consumers, and what benefit will accrue to them?


If we obtain a fully efficient fleet we hope that the consumers will benefit. That is the object of the Inquiry.


I am afraid I have not made myself clear. Prices have been rising recently. Is it expected that, because of these measures, prices will be limited?


Really, my Lords, that all depends on the size of the catch and a good many other things, including the state of the weather; and it would be quite impossible for me to give the noble Lord any assurance on this point.


My Lords, with the increasing capital the State is continuing to put into this most desirable industry, will the Inquiry that is about to take place include a proper examination of the marketing practice and facilities, both at port and points of distribution, because there seems still to be an enormous gap between the price per cran (or whatever the measurment of the particular fish is) and the actual price per pound to the consumer. I agree that these grants are desirable—they should increase fishing production—but it would be satisfactory if we could be assured that this will all be inquired into with a view, especially, to getting a wider use of white fish and a better deal for the consumers. I hope that this point will be included in the terms of reference of the Committee.


I think the noble Lord may be satisfied as to that. The words I actually used were: to assess the size and pattern of an economic fishing industry in relation to developments in fishing and the marketing of fish …


Do not forget the consumer.

On Question, Motion agreed to.