§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Waldegrave.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Extension of scope and duration, and provision for increase, of white fish and herring subsidies]:
LORD SHACKLETON moved, in subsection (1), to leave out all words after"1957"and to insert—
( ) In section five of the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1953, and in this section 'white fish' has the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951.
§ The noble Lord said: It might be convenient if, in moving this first Amendment, we recognised that this group of three Amendments stand or fall together. The purpose of the Amendment which I now move is to bring into the Bill the definition contained in the 1951 Act, the effect of which would be to include shellfish.
§ This is a matter that has for many years caused considerable concern to a very small section—though I would argue a very important section—of our community, and it has aroused the interest of their colleagues in the fishing industry, particularly those in the inshore fishing industry, even though those fishermen are themselves not concerned with shellfish. It would be improper for me to refer in detail to the debate in another place beyond saying (I think I am in order in saying this) that the Government spokesman on that occasion appeared not to be seized of all the facts; that he made one or two statements which I should like to challenge; and that, despite that, an Amendment on these lines was very nearly carried in another place. I go so far as to say that if the Bill had been taken in Committee upstairs it probably would have been carried; I think I must not go further than that.
§ The shellfishermen of this country—and in "this country" I include England, Wales, Scotland and, to a very small 466 extent, Northern Ireland—are some of the most valuable people we have. It is they who man the lifeboats; and it is worth noting that, in 1961, there were more lifeboat launchings than in any year except Dunkirk—and this in spite of the introduction of helicopters and all these new advantages for saving life at sea. It would be fair to say—indeed, I think it would be generally accepted—that it is precisely those very people who, above all, by our fiscal and other policies, we wish to see preserved and flourish. Yet the picture is a very different one. They prosecute their trade in probably the most dangerous and difficult conditions of any fisherman. They prosecute it from small coves and tidal harbours, where the boats have to be hauled up above high-water mark. They use small, open boats, and they are dependent upon fine weather.
§ If they get a bad season, or a season of many gales, not only do they lose much of their trade but, even more important, they lose their gear at a rate which is not equalled by or proportionate to the rate anywhere else in the fishing industry. Indeed, the losses of gear are extremely heavy in comparison with the capital cost of the boat. To this extent the gross value of their landing figures is deceptive and bears no real comparison with their net earnings. Furthermore, there is little competition among the buyers in some of the small coves, and therefore they are not as well provided for from the point of view of the market.
§ It is, I think, the crabbing and the crawfish sections of the Shellfish industry which are the most seriously affected. In England and Wales the main catch is crabs, While in Scotland it is lobsters and nephrops, which may be described as Dublin Bay prawns, scampi or Norwegian lobsters. Yet, in spite of the difficulties under which they operate, the requests for support Which they have made over the years have always been refused in the past on grounds which I am sure your Lordships will no longer accept—namely, that shellfish are a luxury, and that they are in no sense a staple article of diet. Yet our shellfish imports are increasing all the time. In 1960 their value was over £3 million—much of it tinned, I admit—Which included quite a lot from Russia. The Fleck Report, on which the Government 467 have, to a large extent, so far taken their stand against granting subsidy—and this is well known in the industry—paid very little attention to the Cornish side of the shellfishing industry. I do not wish to make any reflection on the Fleck Report, but it is a fact that its conclusions—and this is generally so regarded, and is accepted among the sea fisheries associations, which are all linked together—are largely based on the Scottish shellfish industry, in which lobsters and nephrops have been very considerably developed.
§ The argument against helping the shell-fishenmen is also based on some figures Which were given in another place which show that the industry is in fact expanding. I should like to deal with this point—and I have here all the figures, which are available to the noble Earl's Ministry. The figures show that, far from expanding, certainly in England and Wales crabs have declined, lobsters have virtually not gone up at all and crawfish also have declined. It seems to me extraordinarily unwise—indeed, it would be contrary, I think, to the implicit view of the Fleck Committee that there may be a social case for subsidising these people—to say that because one section of the industry is prosperous, that is an argument against helping the industry as a whole. There are other sections of industry, both in fishing and in farming, which are prosperous and yet receive a subsidy.
§ It would be extremely unwise for us to see these industries disappear, as undoubtedly they would, bearing in mind the rate at Which they are disappearing now. I am told that in Cornwall there are no young people going into the industry at all, and this is also true in parts of Scotland, Where they are up against the same sort of difficulties. A figure was given showing that, over a period, there had been a total increase in shellfish landings of from 430,000 cwt, to 550,000 cwt., but I understand that this includes shellfish which, certainly in the view of the industry, should not qualify for subsidy.
§ The purpose of this Amendment, of, course, is merely to give the Government enabling powers; they will subsequently make the Regulations. But nobody is suggesting that oysters should be subsidised; and an argument taking into 468 account all shellfish landings seems to me to be an extremely unfair one. I have here the figures showing the amount of gear that is lost under the conditions to which I have already referred; and I would ask the Government, who I think have not yet fully appreciated the nature of the misfortune that may come to these people in view of the prospect of our possible entry into the Common Market, to recognise the fact that they now need support to develop their activities so that they can stand competition. The Government's failure to appreciate their need is something which is causing a good deal of distress in the industry and among those who are tackling this extremely difficult field. These people are seasonal workers. In the course of a year, some of them might make only as much as £200 on which to live. We are asking the Government now to put this right. The total cost for England and Wales would be about £50.000, and if we include Scotland, which I am arguing should be included especially because of the needs of some of the areas that are worst hit, it would not be more than £90,000, according to my figures. I believe that on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, gave a figure of something between £100,000 or £150,000, but I do not know whether this again includes oysters, whelks, winkles and other shellfish which it is not proposed should be made the subject of subsidy.
§ This is a serious matter which I hope will appeal to your Lordships. This is in no sense a Party political issue. I personally, and those who have been associated with me on this, have no constituency or other interest of any kind; but if we are to preserve these parts of our country and people in the conditions of to-day, and if we are also to preserve the amenities for the tourist industry, then we must do something about this. I hope that the Government will to-day go some way to meet us. If they cannot accept this series of Amendments, perhaps they would undertake to look at the matter again and hear further evidence from the people most concerned before the Report stage. This is a simple act of justice. These are the smallholders, the hill farmers of the fishing industry, and they are the very people for whom we are doing nothing at the moment. I beg to move.469
Page 2, line 41, leave out from ("1957") to the end of line 42, and insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Shackleton.)
§ LORD WISE
I wish to endorse everything that my noble friend Lord Shackleton has said in regard to this Amendment. It has been my lot several times to address your Lordships on the shellfishing industry, and to-day I must to some extent reiterate what I have said on previous occasions. My noble friend said that the inclusion of the whole fishing industry into subsidy margins is a simple act of justice, and that is how we in East Anglia look upon it. In my view, there ought not to be any differentiation in any section of the fishing industry. The agricultural industry was mentioned a few moments ago. So far as subsidies in that industry are concerned, they are meted out to everybody engaged throughout the whole industry—with the possible exception of horticulture, if horticulture can be bracketed with agriculture. All agriculturists can benefit according to their products, and, in the same way, I think that all sections of the fishing industry should be treated alike.
My noble friend Lord Shackleton omitted from the question of the subsidy certain smaller sections of the industry with which I am mostly concerned and for whom I should like to plead. I can see no reason whatever why whelks, shrimps and cockles should be left out of the subsidy. It may be argued in regard to cockles that a good deal of the cockle industry is covered by means of shore factors, but in my area of the country the fishermen do go out cockling; they go out in boats and have to wait until the tide recedes, when they can search for the cockles. These are small, struggling enterprises which are carried on under great difficulty. Some noble Lords may have seen an article in The Times on May 29 setting out the difficulties of the whelking industry in the Wells area. From that article I understand—and I know it to be correct—that these boats in the Wells fishing area have to go out perhaps 20 to 25 miles in order to carry on their fishing. They have long hours at sea and they often have to wait for the tide to go into the small harbour which they use. Losses in gear have also been referred 470 to, and in this industry the losses are particularly severe. Not only is there heavy depreciation, possibly amounting to 50 or 60 per cent. of the cost of the gear, but there are losses of gear through high seas and because it is impossible to gather the nets after they have been left out.
I want to mention the fishing around King's Lynn. My noble friend said that we had not any constituency to attract us, but I am concerned with the fishing around that area of Norfolk. I should like to read to your Lordships a letter that I received from a well-known shell-fisherman on that coast. He says:Our need for a subsidy is just as urgent as that of the white fish catchers or any other subsidised trade. We find it hard to understand why a subsidy is granted for fish for pet food whilst shrimps and cockles are classed as a luxury and, therefore, not eligible. A subsidy would give some substance to the shellfishermen's trade which has been largely strangled by its notorious uncertainty, this by reason of unpredictable markets and the vagaries of the weather.Then he refers to cockles:A gallon of cockle meats, weighing nearly a stone, fetch, at present, 5s. at Billingsgate, less carriage"—and the cartage, of course, is a heavy feature.A subsidy of 1s. plus"—which I understand would be the rate of subsidy—would often give the added incentive to fish for them instead of having a few days on the dole … I can assure you that this often happens".There is one further point I wish to make to your Lordships, which was made also by my noble friend. I am certain that the advent of a subsidy would give some of the younger fishermen the confidence to take advantage of the White Fish Authority Grant and Loans Scheme to buy badly needed new boats. At present, there is only one new boat in King's Lynn. Most of the others are over 50 years old, and the youngest is about 30 years old. The above comments apply equally to Boston, where the fishing industry is much the same as at King's Lynn. I know full well that boats in Lynn are very old. The facilities for fishing are not too good, and men go out from that port in very difficult conditions indeed.
471 May I conclude what I have to say by stressing to the Government that if they can treat one industry with subsidies all round, surely, in order to safeguard the interests and lives of these men who go out from these small ports in fair weather and foul, it is only a simple act of justice that they should receive a proper reward at the hands of the Government.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
I should like to give general support in principle to the series of Amendments which are being proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, will not be altogether surprised if I begin the very few sentences I am going to say this afternoon by pointing out to him that if the territorial limits were extended, the need for subsidies, at least on this scale, to the fishing industry, or to the inshore fishing industry, would be greatly diminished. That is the most important thing of all. The noble Earl has told us that Her Majesty's Government are giving serious consideration to it. I hope he will be able to add the word "urgent" this afternoon.
Unlike the noble Lord who has just spoken, I should be content if the Government made an order applying to lobsters, crabs and crawfish alone. Those, I think, claim a subsidy just as much as the herring or the white fish. The case is really overwhelming. They have an enormous loss of gear every year, much greater than that of any other type of fishing craft. I am told that the net earnings of crabbers in Cornwall, after paying all their expenses, frequently amount to something in the neighbourhood of £200 a year. That is not good enough. If you applied the order simply to lobsters, crabs and crawfish, the amount would come to considerably less than £100,000 a year.
The Fleck Gommittee made no clear recommendation, and it is quite clear that in another place there was a strong feeling that these shellfishermen should qualify for the subsidy. I would conclude by Saying that you can, if you like, let these small fishing villages round our coasts deteriorate, but if you do, a lot will go down with them, including the tourist industry and also a very old and very lovely way of life. I can assure 472 your Lordships, because I do know something about this, that these fishing villages round our coasts are going down. I think it is a tragedy; and for what, in relation to the general Budget, amounts to a paltry sum, we might give this little assistance to our shell-fishermen.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
May I, from this side of the Committee, reinforce the arguments which noble Lords have put forward in favour of this Amendment? I know a little about the shellfishing off the coast where I live. At Dunbar, on the East Coast of Scotland, the shellfish industry of lobsters, crabs, and so on, is carried on very often somewhat precariously. I would agree that we must not look at shellfish as a luxury, something that is served up in the fashionable hotels and restaurants. It is, a food that everybody enjoys, and the more we can get of it, the better. Many of these fishermen are part of the lifeboat crews. They risk their lives, and they get a small enough income from their fishing. If they were given a little help and encouragement it would be all to the good. It would help the shellfishing industry and it would benefit everybody, because everybody, no matter who he is, rich or poor, enjoys this kind of food. I hope this Amendment will receive favourable consideration.
§ 2.46 p.m.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
The effect of these Amendments would be to empower Ministers to incur increased expenditure on white fish subsidy and to introduce quite a new category of fish into the subsidy arrangements. I think, therefore, it would be less than honest if I did not remind your Lordships—I do not want to overstress this point in any way—that this might involve questions of privilege in another place. Your Lordships will also know that proposals of this kind were very fully debated in another place, and rejected. I say that for what it is worth, and I do not in any way wish to inhibit the discussion in this House for that reason.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
May I ask why the noble Lord said so? It is customary in this House to introduce such 473 Amendments—the noble Earl himself has done it, and on those occasions he did not draw attention to the fact that it was a privilege Amendment. The point seemed to me to be quite a shocking argument to introduce into this debate. Another place are the guardians of their own privileges. The noble Earl knows quite well that there have been many such Amendments introduced into this House and, I believe, on only one occasion has another place in recent years rejected one.
I am sorry that the noble Lord should think that it was quite a shocking argument. I debated with myself carefully Whether I should mention this or not. It seemed to me that I was bound to get into trouble, whether I mentioned it or whether I did not. If I mentioned it, I should perhaps be accused by the noble Lord—as he has accused me—of using a quite shocking argument; if I did not mention it, I could be accused of not letting the less learned or experienced Members of this House know that if, in fact, such an Amendment were carried, a matter of privilege might be raised in another place.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
Would the noble Earl forgive me for interrupting him? Does he not think that another place can look after their own privileges?
I have no doubt they can look after themselves. The point has been raised, and I do not press it at all strongly. I just mention it, and perhaps we may be allowed to leave it at that.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
Perhaps the noble Earl would tell us, so that we may really know, what the consequence is of its being a privilege Amendment.
The consequence, as I understand it, is that it would be for another place to say whether or not they would waive their privilege and allow an Amendment which this House—which does not have power over financial matters—had sought to put into a Bill. It is no more, and no less, than that. I do not want to stress it, or in any way to influence noble Lords not to press this Amendment if they wish to do so, but, perhaps unwisely, I have thought it my duty to raise the matter, and I am sorry if the 474 noble Lord thinks it is a shocking argument.
It is extremely difficult not to feel warm-hearted and sympathetic with the small fishermen round our coasts who may not be earning so much as other people. Therefore, I feel that I must go into some detail about why the Government consider that this subsidy is not warranted and ought not to be written into the Bill. This is no new thing. For many years there has been a demand for a subsidy on shell fish. Therefore, when the Government set up the Fleck Committee, they asked Sir Alexander Fleck (as my noble friend then was) to go carefully into the matter and see, when he was reviewing the whole fishing industry, whether shellfish ought to be subsidised. I ought to mention paragraph 359 of the Fleck Report and tell your Lordships what it says, because I should like to put a gloss on this paragraph:The shellfish industry, although it is of considerable importance to inshore fishing communities around the coast, has not hitherto been subsidised, essentially we believe because shellfish has been regarded as a luxury food.The noble Lord, Lord Fleck, is entitled to this opinion but to-day I do not think that these foods would necessarily be called "a luxury food."It has been represented in some quarters that this argument is no longer valid and that a subsidy on shellfish should be introduced to safeguard the livelihood of those inshore fishermen who are almost entirely dependent on this form of activity. We are not satisfied however that a case has been made out for the introduction of a shellfish subsidy; and we consider that although the investment of public funds by way of loan for the processing of shellfish might be justified in certain circumstances, the development of the lobster and crab fisheries in particular is likely to proceed without the added stimulus of an operational subsidy. The absence of such a subsidy has not noticeably affected the spectacular growth of the Scottish and Irish nephrops fishery since 1954"—scampi or Norway lobsters or Dublin prawns or what you choose to call them—and we are opposed in principle to the introduction of a subsidy on other species of shellfish such as shrimps, oysters, cockles and mussels which are not sold in direct competition with subsidised white fish and herring and cannot be regarded in any sense as a staple food. We have noted elsewhere that imports of most varieties of fresh shellfish for human consumption are subject to a 30 per cent. tariff in place of the 10 per cent. tariff generally applied to fresh herring and white fish.I know that Governments by no means 475 always accept all the recommendations made by a Committee, but, when we do accept a Committee's recommendation, I think that we are entitled to quote the Committee in support.
In the first place, shellfishermen already get substantial help from the Government, because they are eligible for grants and loans for new vessels and engines on exactly the same lines as other inshore fishermen all round the coast. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, did not wish to exaggerate in any way when he asked your Lordships to consider the lifeboats—and we all have a very high regard for our lifeboatmen and know their value—but it would be wrong to think that the lifeboats are manned primarily by shellfishermen. All these men are inshore fishermen, who work from the small ports in their open boats, catching shellfish and other fish as well. I think that the extension of the White Fish Authority's power to help the fishermen with processing and to aid co-operative societies—which is provided for in Clauses 5 and 30 of the Bill—will also be of the greatest assistance to shellfishermen. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said that we must not see these little fishing villages collapse. Of course not. I do not want your Lordships to have the impression that these inshore fishermen are solely dependent, or mostly dependent, on shellfishing.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
The noble Earl would surely agree that there are some fishermen—in fact, a considerable number—who are mainly dependent on shellfishing and to whom other forms of fishing are a very minor consideration.
I am prepared to admit that some are solely dependent on shellfishing. I accept that absolutely. In the same way, there are some village blacksmiths who are dependent on shoeing working horses, but there are others who may be doing work on farm machinery and on other things as well. These general measures for grants and loans and the extension of the powers of the White Fish Authority are all aimed at improving the efficiency of production and should properly apply to the whole of the industry.
476 I now come to the need for an operational subsidy for different sections of the industry. I think it would be fair to say that the argument that has been advanced this afternoon—it is an old one that we have heard before—is that, "Others get it: why should not we?" The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said that, in common justice, if somebody else gets a subsidy, they should get it. Is that a very good argument? It is clear that the subsidy which has been granted for the catching of white fish and herring ought to continue, as these sections of the industry have shown a decline in recent years which has been partly caused by the restriction of the areas in which they can fish owing to the extension of fishing limits by some countries overseas. I really do not think that an extension of the fishery limits overseas—although the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, tried to drag it in as a help to his case—is an argument for helping inshore fishermen engaged in the catching of shellfish.
That may be, but an extension of the fishery limits would not actually help the fishermen here. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, may not like this, but I must point out that the shellfish section has a record of increasing landings over recent years. Be it noted that this increase in landings has been during a period in which they have not been in receipt of an operational subsidy, and I think that the noble Lord must produce very cogent arguments before we bring in for the first time an operational subsidy for this section of the industry.
There are one or two figures which I think are relevant and which I ought to quote. In 1955, the value of all shellfish landed in Great Britain was £1½ million. In 1961, it was £2,300,000. That is a very substantial increase. In 1956, the white fish landings in cwt, were some 15½ million cwt., and in 1961, they were 12¾ million cwt. The landings of herring, as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, will know very well, were, in 1956, 2¾ million and in 1961, 1¾ million. The fact which cannot be denied is that this section of the industry, the shellfish section, has 477 had increased landings, and the value of the catch has gone up very substantially over the country as a whole during this time.
Yes. Let us not forget, too, that this shellfish section of the industry is benefiting from the substantial tariff on imports; this was brought out in the passage I read from the Fleck Report. In fact this tariff rises to 30 per cent., compared with the generality of about 10 per cent. on other types of fish. Here I think that the point which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, made is not a very good one. For we may take the shellfish industry in relation to the fishing industry as a whole very largely as we deal with horticulture under agriculture. Production grants, as we call them, are available to the whole industry. The protection of agriculture is secured mainly by deficiency payments, but for horticulture it is mainly by the tariff. In this case we pay operational subsidies for white fish and herring, and, as it were, give protection to the shellfishermen by the substantial tariff of 30 per cent.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Would the noble Minister be so good as to answer one question on tariffs, because he is making a considerable point that the industry is enjoying tariff protection? In fact, if this country joins the Common Market will not that tariff be progressively reduced and the strength of the Minister's argument therefore diminished?
Of course; but I think that, in any event, if we join the Common Market those alterations will take a longish time before they work out. Perhaps I should know, but I am afraid that, without notice, I do not, whether all the countries from which we import shellfish will be members of the Common Market. If, of course, they were common Market members, then tariffs would ultimately have to be reduced.
I do not know whether the Soviet Union is coming into the Common Market.
I think your Lordships should bear in mind that the general attitude of the Government, as expressed in this Bill, is that subsidies—as distinct from what I should like to term production grants or their parallel in the fishing industry, namely loans and grants to fishing vessels—should in any event be for a term. The Government look forward to the time when the subsidies will not only diminish but, indeed, will not be required at all; that is, when the industry will have surmounted its difficulties. This surely is not the time to introduce a brand new subsidy. We have good resources of shellfish around our coasts. We are making these measures available to the shellfish section for the improvement of their efficiency. We have a good market for most kinds of shellfish, as shown by the increase in landings. There is no reason, in the Government's view, why the shellfish men should not be perfectly able to continue without subsidy as they have done since subsidies were first introduced. Indeed, we hope that the trend of increased landings will continue.
The only other point I should like to mention is that it has been stressed that this Amendment is only an enabling provision. But if at this stage we were to accept an enabling provision, enabling us to give subsidies to shellfishermen, when the Government have no intention of bringing in such a subsidy, it would not be right. Again, speakers to-day have differed as to which section of this shellfish section needs help. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said he was not interested in whelks, oysters, and things of that sort. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said he was interested in whelks. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said we should confine ourselves only to lobsters, crabs and crawfish, but this might not suit some others. At present subsidies are given only in respect of free-swimming fish, herring and white fish; we do not give one subsidy for sole and another for dogfish. What your Lordships are now asking is that we should have explicit powers so that we can if we like—and we do not like—bring in subsidies for shellfish and then engage in a tremendous dispute 479 whether this means whelks, but not winkles; shrimps but not mussels, and so on. I must ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
The noble Earl has been so frosty in his reply, so far as this small section of the fishing industry is concerned, that there scarcely seems any hope for getting anything for shellfishermen. I hope that noble Lords will be more sympathetic than the noble Earl has been so far, and I think I can put it to him in this way. Unless he promises to have another look at this question, we shall have no alternative but to divide and see how many noble Lords share his iceberg attitude towards shellfishermen.
The noble Earl is very cute, in that he quoted the statement in the Fleck Committee's Report that they had failed to find reasons, on economic grounds, for providing a subsidy for shellfishermen. But what the noble Earl did not quote was that the Fleck Committee said they had not considered whether a subsidy might be provided on social grounds. I should have thought the noble Earl would have something to say to my noble friend Lord Shackleton on the question of these men being the very men, with other inshore fishermen, who man practically all the lifeboats around our coasts. It may be that the fishermen are not diminishing as rapidly as they could do, but it seems positive that they are on a diminishing scale, and to an extent that ultimately we shall lose a largish proportion of them. And that, for more reasons that one, will be a great loss to this country.
I should have thought that the noble Earl, instead of saying that these are very small fry (and we are talking about fish), compared with trawler-owners, who fish on a millionaire scale, would have said that, although they are a very small number, and like many small farmers, are content to carry on with their particular job because they like it, even for an extremely modest income, that does not mean they should not have some compassion; certainly a little more than the noble Earl has shown this afternoon when considering the possibility, if not an economic one, certainly of some social help to keep them in existence.
480 The noble Earl may point to the fact that just as the big trawler-owners, the inshore and inner and middle water fishermen can get grants and loans, so can shellfishermen who produce new boats to "improve their efficiency," as he put it. My noble friend Lord Wise told the noble Earl what the situation was on the Norfolk coast where there is one small new boat and the rest are from 30 to 50 years old. Why? Because with a grant or loan, or both, the shellfishermen are unable to enter into any sort of commitment to repay it. Consequently the 30-year-old boats will become 50 and 60 years old—old-age pensioners—and then perhaps the noble Earl will become more sympathetic towards them.
I do not think the noble Earl's argument that if one section of the community receives assistance all sections should is a very good one. After all, all we are doing at the moment—or trying to do, and failing, I am afraid, is to keep the small farmer in existence. What value do we place upon the small farmers in the countryside—210,000 of them—the farmers on farms of one acre to 50 acres? The nation, through Parliament, has consistently said that they are part of the nation—and a very important part at that. They are part of our manpower, our physical stability and all the rest, and we keep on helping them. Why should we not, if it is of value to the nation? It seems to me that the small fisherman are entitled to some similar consideration on those lines. The figure £50,000 has been mentioned; it might be that if we included them in the categories to be dealt with, if any were to be dealt with, it might even cost as much as £90,000. That is not a large sum of money when compared with the social value of these fishermen all round the British Coast.
I think we ought to combine to tell the nation that we feel the Government ought to help this very small category of people. It is a small sum to pay, and they are entitled to have a grievance that their big brothers can get grants, loans and subsidies while they themselves can get nothing at all. It is not sufficient just to say that the catches over the last year or two have been slightly higher than they were before, because they are not producing the income that we think is called for in a civilised nation such 481 as this ought to be. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl will tell us that they will be good enough to have another look at this matter before Report stage; and if he fails to do that then I hope noble Lords in all parts of the House will support this Amendment.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
The noble Earl, I think, has made a speech which will not be very acceptable, not merely on the grounds that it does not give certain people what they want, but on the grounds that I do not really think he faced fairly the issue that we have tried to deploy in this House. I must apologise if I was heated over his introduction of this matter of the privilege Amendment. He said he thought he ought to tell the House about it for what it was worth. But it is to me extraordinary that there should have been this attitude.
It has been the constant practice in the past for this House to pass privilege Amendments. In 1949 I think the House of Commons on the Access to Countryside Bill accepted 29 without any discussion at all. I do not know whether the Government are always going to make a practice now of telling us that each Amendment they introduce is a privilege Amendment, but the procedure makes very little difference. All our Amendments, in fact, have to go to the Commons. They have in fact the opportunity to agree or disagree, and the only difference in this case, as I understand it, is that they do not have to give a formal reason for disagreeing. The last thing I would want to do would be to challenge the rights of the Commons, but to say it is not for us at this moment to concern ourselves with it is quite wrong and I hope your Lordships will therefore dismiss that particular argument.
The second aspect of the noble Earl's argument which I thought was unfair was that those of us who have been speaking on behalf of this industry have not sought to lay down precisely the scope of any particular subsidies which the Government might introduce under regulation. We are asking the Government to take a look at this industry, to consider its problems, and not reject help merely on global figures. I would be very content to agree with the noble 482 Lord, Lord Boothby, in regard to limitations. But while the Government look at this as a total figure they are not, I think, being fair. Of course, the intention in putting this power into the Bill is that the Government should use it, and clearly the Government would, I think, be bound to use it if it is put in, because it would in fact clearly be the wish of Parliament that they should do so. The arguments that the noble Earl brought forward against it were based on figures which are not relevant to the case we are putting forward. We are not arguing about oysters; yet the noble Earl gave figures which included oysters, which he knows perfectly well we have no intention should benefit from subsidies. This is the difficulty we have been in in putting forward this case.
I should like to give the noble Earl some figures which suggest that, however certain parts of the industry may be prospering, there are others where steady decline is going on. The increase in fact is to a very large extent in line with the development of the nephrops industry, which in fact has been catching by trawlers which is not typical of the small inshore fishermen at all. He spoke about the total landings for England having increased. I imagine he was referring to the total value of the catch. I think we ought to look, not just at the value, but at the weight. He might have given those figures. If we look at the figures of landings in England for crabs between 1958 and 1960 we see a decline both in total value and in weight. When we look at the figures for lobsters we see a slight decline in value and a considerable decline in weight. The same thing applies to crawfish. The value of this particular product has gone up very little, and so far from the protection to which the noble Lord refers being of importance, in fact the crawfish industry, which incidentally is largely an exporting industry, is falling away to nothing.
I thought that his argument that these fishermen are at other times of the year engaged in other forms of fishing was again misleading, because whereas some are and some may do a little, say, long-lining, there are others who are virtually dependent upon shellfishing. All we are asking the Government to do is to consider that aspect of the Fleck Report, 483 that there is a strong social case, as well as in particular areas a very strong economic case, for the Government to take these powers and do something about it. Even at this late hour in the debate, I would appeal to the Government not to take their stand on this position which they have hold throughout the debates on this matter, but to consider that here is a very worthwhile section of the community who are in trouble—indeed, we may lose sections of the industry entirely—and that they should not deny them the help they give to others. The argument that, because others get it so should they, was not one I put forward. We were arguing that they should get it because their need was at least as great as that of others who are receiving it. I hope even now the Government will make some sign of willingness to meet the needs of these people.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
I hope that the Government will have another look at this matter. The noble Earl who spoke for the Government made the point that the shellfishermen were getting increased landings and therefore must be better off. The dairy farmers are producing more milk, but they are certainly not better off. I only hope that the Government will see their way to do something for the shellfishermen, as this would mean a tremendous lot to the people in the Highlands.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
I apologise to your Lordships for not having heard the earlier part of the debate, but other matters made it impossible. Two or three hundred families engaged in shellfishing in Morecambe Bay are very old friends and ex-constituents of mine, and I have fought their battles in another place for many years. I therefore intervene for one moment to press Her Majesty's Government to make this extension which, after all, is permissive and not mandatory, and thus to include these people among those who can be helped if they need it. They are a most worthy section of the community. Most of those I know are ex-Regular naval men or merchant service men—those who man the small ships. It is true, as my noble friend opposite has said, that they do a little white fishing, but in this particular case they depend almost 484 entirely upon their shellfishiing. I do not myself see why they, alone of all fishermen, should be left out, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do what they can in the matter to meet this request.
I have listened with great care to what has been said, but I do not feel that I can say that we will look at this matter again, with the implication that we can come to a different view. I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. Perhaps I made an error of judgment in raising the matter that I raised. I defer to his greater experience in this matter——
—but I thought, and I still think, that that matter should have been raised because, unlike many other privilege Amendments that may be brought into this House, this particular proposal had, in fact, been rejected in another place. I thought your Lordships should know that.
There are one or two small points that I think I should clear up. It is not right to say that these nephrops—or Norway lobsters or Dublin Bay prawns or whatever you like to call them—are all caught by the trawlers. That is not so. They can be caught by trawlers, but they are also caught by the smaller boats and by seine netters; and a large number of them are caught in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that in the figures for shellfishing I included oysters, as if there were something wrong in that. In fact oyster catches have gone down. The crab is the difficult problem. Lobsters have gone up in value, and there are new techniques which make it possible to market them better than in the past. The nephrops have gone up tremendously. I have quoted these figures, which I cannot depart from. The fact is that the situation is not the same as the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, wished to show, that there is an increased catch with a lower value. Apparently that is the case with milk on his farm, but not on everybody's farm. Here there has been an increased catch, taking the country as a whole, and an increased value. I am sorry, but I feel that it would be wrong at this 485 stage to accept this Amendment, when this section of the industry has never had an operational subsidy, when all the evidence is that toy and large—of course there will toe small sections of the industry which are doing less well and others which are doing better—the case has not been made out for introducing a new
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Extension of powers of White Fish Authority and Herring industry Board to make grants
§ (2) The expenditure in respect of which grants may be made in pursuance of a scheme made after the commencement of this Act under either of the relevant sections shall be expenditure incurred in the acquisition of any vessel to which that section applies, or in the acquisition, installation, modification, renewal or replacement of any part of a vessel to which486
§ subsidy for this section of the industry. I must, therefore, ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 46; Not-Contents, 61.485
|Airedale, L.||Henley, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Hughes, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Kenswood, L.||Shepherd, L. [Teller.]|
|Amwell, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Killearn, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Lawson, L.||Somers, L.|
|Champion, L.||Lindgren, L.||Stonham, L. [Teller.]|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Listowel, E.||Summerskill, B.|
|Chorley, L.||Longford, E.||Taylor, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Walston, L.|
|Colyton, L.||Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.||Williams of Barnburgh, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Forster of Harraby, L.||Morrison of Lambeth, L.||Willingdon, M.|
|Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Rea, L.||Wise, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Sainsbury, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Fortescue, E.||Merthyr, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Freyberg, L.||Mills, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Goschen, V.||Milverton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gosford, E.||Molson, L.|
|Arran, E.||Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Atholl, D.||Hampton, L.||Munster, E.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Bathurst, E.||Hastings, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Hereford, V.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Bossom, L.||Horsbrugh, B.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Inchyra, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Carrington, L.||jessel, L.||Spens, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Lansdowne, M.||Strang, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Limerick, E.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Colgrain, L.||Long, V.||Templemore, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Lothian, M.||Teynham, L.|
|Craigton, L.||MacAndrew, L.||Twining, L.|
|Croft, L.||Mancroft, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Davidson, V.||Mar and Kellie, E.||Wolverton, L.|
|Dudley, L.||Margesson, V.||Woolton, E.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ that section applies, or of an engine, or any part of an engine, of or for such a vessel, or of any relevant equipment required for, or installed or used on, such a vessel:
§ Provided that no grant shall be so made in respect of expenditure incurred in the acquisition of any secondhand vessel, engine, part equipment or apparatus.
§ 3.35 p.m.
LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH moved, in subsection (2), to add to the proviso:
or for the acquisition of a vessel, engine, part, equipment or apparatus built outside the Commonwealth
§ The noble Lord said: On the Second Reading of this Bill I said that we gave 487 it a fairly warm welcome and would help it on its way to the Statute Book. I did so because the Minister who was responsible in another place on the Committee and Report stages accepted many useful Amendments, which we thought turned the original Bill into a reasonable one. But we were unaware at the time that the Minister was busily engaged behind the scenes, might I say, preparing a fundamental change in its administration when it became an Act—a change that came as a shock to all those who had been following this Bill through another place.
§ I should like noble Lords to bear in mind that it was a change which denied Members in another place the right to discuss it until the Bill was on the Statute Book. Surely that was an extraordinarily un-Parliamentary thing to do, and I question the Minister's right to put it through in this way. During a long membership of another place I do not recall anything quite like it. There may be precedents, but I cannot recall them, though of course I stand subject to correction by the noble Earl. I feel sure that when your Lordships understand what has happened, and how it has happened, you will resent as much as I did the tactics in what looks to me like a constitutional irregularity or impropriety.
§ The Sea Fish Industry Bill secured a Second Reading in the other place on November 14, 1961; it had its Third Reading on May 1, 1962. Therefore, there were five and a half months between the Second and Third Readings of the Bill, but not one word was said about the change made on May 18 this year. The Bill came to your Lordships' House for its Second Reading on May 17, which it secured while your Lordships were still in ignorance of any possible fundamental change. Then on the following day, May 18, the Minister announced in another place, in reply to an obviously inspired Question, a fundamental change in the administration of grants and loans. This change raised storms of protest in almost every small shipbuilding yard in this country, and received adverse criticism in every newspaper that mentioned the matter.
§ The point I wish to emphasise is this. We have just had a few words about 488 privileges, and I feel that on this Bill the Government have taken privileges which they are not entitled to take. Five and a half months in another place, and not one word from the Minister of any change in the administration. A Second Reading in your Lordships' House, but not one word about a change. Then, the following day—on a Friday, mark you—the Minister's announcement was made. It was neither an accident nor a coincidence that the Second Reading in this House took place on May 17, and an announcement was made on May 18, a Friday. The Minister must have known about the Question, and also about the Answer, for the honourable Member who put down the Question must have given a few days' notice of it.
Why this conspiracy of silence? I expect the noble Earl will try to give us a reply. On the face of it, it looks to me like a piece of cool, calculated deception. Indeed, they were so anxious to keep the whole matter secret until it suited their purpose that there was no consultation with interested parties before they announced the forthcoming change. On May 28 the Minister answered this Question:
what consultations he had with organisations representing fishing interests before arriving at his decision that fishing vessels built abroad will rank for grant and loans.
The Minister's reply [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 660 (No. 121), col. 90] was:
From the point of view of the fishing industry, these new arrangements will extend the number of yards from which vessels can be ordered, aided by grant and loan. This can only be of benefit to the industry, and consultations were not necessary.
§ The Minister obviously forgot, or at least he was not interested, that the British shipbuilders might have been interested in this matter; and it is no answer for the noble Earl to say that the Minister of Transport deals with shipping.
§ I see in one of our newspapers this morning, the Scotsman, that 20 shipbuilders in Scotland went to see the Minister of Transport yesterday. It was a formidable committee. They discussed this question of grants and loans for trawlers built in foreign countries, and apparently it was decided to set up a committee to examine the whole question all over again. That is very interesting. 489 After the Bill has had a Third Reading in another place, and a Second Reading in your Lordships' House, they have at last started consultations—because they have been forced to; and because almost every newspaper in the country that has mentioned grants to Germany and elsewhere has been critical of the action of the Government. It will be no answer for the noble Earl to tell us that the contents of an Order are rarely if ever given before it is laid before Parliament, and that the present procedure is not unusual.
See what has happened—and I hope that noble Lords will bear this in mind, too. A very large number of Members in another place, and quite a number in your Lordships' House, have been discussing a Bill which they thought provided grants and loans for vessels and engines built exclusively in the United Kingdom. For that is the present position. We had the same impression in your Lordships' House: that we were simply extending for a further ten years assistance, on a diminishing scale, to our own fishermen. We were left in ignorance that that was not the case until May 18. Here is the Minister's announcement, therefore, on that famous Friday. The Question put to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food asked [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 659 (No. 115), col. 158]:
… what proposals he has to deal with the present requirement that grant assistance for fishing vessels and engines can be given only for vessels or engines built in the United Kingdom.
This is the Minister's reply, and although the Bill had been given its Second Reading in another place on November 14, this was on May 18 the first announcement:
It has been decided that having regard to the interests of the fishermen,"—
remember that: "the interests of the fishermen"—.
for whom this assistance is provided, and to our international obligations, this requirement should be removed. It is intended that this decision will be put into effect in the schemes for grant assistance for the purchase of vessels and engines, which will be presented to Parliament under the Sea Fish Industry Bill when it has received the Royal Assent.
That is, of course, the Bill we are discussing this afternoon.
A similar change will be made in the arrangements governing the provision of loan
assistance for these purposes by the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board.
Any applicants for grants and loans who propose to have vessels built abroad will be required to provide evidence that British yards have been given an equal chance to compete.
§ That means, of course, that the policy adopted up to now is to be abandoned, and that grants and loans can be provided for vessels and engines built in any foreign country, in competition with our own smaller shipyards. Clearly, such an important change should have been debated on Second Reading and in Committee in both Houses of Parliament; not on an Order where it is a question of "take the lot or leave it", with no possibility of amending the Order; for that always tends to put the opponent of the Order—if it is only 25 per cent. of the Order that he opposes—in the wrong.
§ We concede at once that any Government are entitled to amend any Bill during its passage through both Houses of Parliament, but we deny their right to make fundamental changes in the purposes of a Bill by these backdoor methods which we regard as an affront to both Houses of Parliament. Unless we receive a better explanation for this curious un-Parliamenlary procedure than has been given in another place, we feel that we are entitled to ask the Government to withdraw the Bill, amend it and reintroduce it at their leisure- But let the Bill itself tell us what the Government intend to do—to supply grants and loans to British shipbuilders, or to Germany or any other foreign country.
§ I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to the reasons given for this change. The Minister says that the change is in the interests of our fishermen; so that they can have their vessels and engines built abroad, with our grant or loan, presumably at a cheaper rate than in our shipbuilding yards here. What a wonderful testimonial to our own shipbuilders! What a magnificent piece of ministerial salesmanship for foreign shipyards! What a salutary lesson on how to solve our balance of payments problems!
§ May I ask, if the change is in the interests of our fishermen, why it has taken from 1953 to 1962 to find that out? During those ten years we have had three Conservative Governments and 491 four Conservative Ministers of Agriculture; but it seems to have taken them, like the three blind mice, a long time to open their eyes. But if they have ultimately opened their eyes, I wonder if they have opened their minds, too. Are they really satisfied that the cheaper vessels and engines built abroad are based on superior efficiency? They cannot be, because there have been no consultations. Or could it be that there is some hidden subsidy abroad, which enables foreign-built vessels and engines to undercut our own shipbuilders? Apparently, the Minister of Agriculture did not know, because there were no consultations. And, in any event, the Minister of Transport is supposed to be responsible for shipping; and until yesterday he could not care less. Why should he? The Minister of Agriculture said in his reply the other day that, this can only be of benefit to the industry, and that consultations were unnecessary. So we are to provide grants or loans to trawler-owners, so that they can buy their vessels and engines abroad. This is a nice kettle of fish on a Fishing Bill, especially coming from a Conservative Government.
§ I must warn the noble Earl that this opposition to the new move on the part of the Government, for which I submit they had no right, is neither synthetic nor Party politics. In another place last week, some 45 or 46 Questions were put and answered on this grant/ loan business, and it was no Party matter at all. The Members of all Parties were opposed to the Minister in all his replies, and he had not a friend in another place. Also, I repeat that every newspaper I have read, which carried a report on this subject, has been critical of the Government's move.
The Yorkshire Post, which I know very well, a really 100 pet cent. Conservative supporter, summed it up on May 31 in this fashion. Under the headline "British Help for Foreign Shipyards" they said:
Members of Parliament on both sides of the House showed concern and indignation yesterday over the Government's proposals to extend White Fish Authority grants and loans for fishing vessels built for British owners in foreign shipyards. This is not surprising. It will disturb many people to learn that, while shipbuilders in Goole, Selby and other places are looking urgently for orders, British subsidies
are to be paid to trawler owners who have their vessels built abroad. It has been explained by Government spokesmen that grants or loans will not be given for foreign-built trawlers unless it is proved that British yards have been given an equal chance of competing. But",
they go on,
this safeguard can mean little in a situation where foreign yards receive hidden subsidies from their Governments and are therefore able to undercut this country's shipbuilders … The Government insist that the decision has been taken in the interests of the fishing industry; but what of the welfare of the small shipyards? This also needs to be taken into account".
§ That, I think, is the general feeling all over the country, regardless of the politics of any individual; and that widespread feeling is going to be felt more and more unless the Government think again.
§ The other reason given for providing grants and loans to foreign-built vessels and engines was that of our international obligations. That represents another mystery. I believe the E.F.T.A. was established in March, 1960. The nations involved were Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. Might I ask the noble Earl whether during the past two years we have been dodging our obligations under this international arrangement, or is it that none of the nations I have mentioned was interested in building our trawlers? Might I ask the noble Earl: have there been any complaints from any one of those six countries? But now we have our sights on the Common Market, including Germany, which is very interested in building our trawlers for us. Is this the first legislative move in the direction of the Common Market? Will the noble Earl, on behalf of the Government, try to be honest and frank with your Lordships and tell us the truth? That is all we wish to know. These flimsy excuses about international obligations will deceive nobody.
§ If a new move transferring the building of fishing vessels and engines to foreign countries succeeds, as obviously the Minister thinks it is going to succeed, then it can do so only at the expense of (the smaller shipbuilding yards in this country. That is an extraordinary thing for a Conservative Government to do, is it not? In the name of every noble Lord sitting opposite, that is exactly what they are trying to do. What a 493 glorious victory it will be for the Minister if his policy is a success and shipbuilding goes on merrily abroad, with our grants and loans, while our shipbuilders in this country are put out of work! That is the exact situation, as I see it. I hope I have said enough, in modest and reasonable language, to encourage the noble Earl to let us into the secret of the reason for this unparliamentary procedure, and why the Government are so blissfully ignoring the vital interests of our smaller shipbuilding yards. To show that our generosity continues, I am moving this Amendment to save the Government from their inexplicable decision. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 40, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Williams of Barnburgh.)
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
In supporting the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, I shall be brief but passionate. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, had a case, if I may say so, on shellfish. It was not a very good one; but, if he will allow me to say so, he deployed it very adroitly and with extreme ability. Here, he has no possible case at all. The Minister of Agriculture said in another place that this was being done in the interests of the fishermen. I can tell the noble Lord that I have a certain experience, extending over quite a long period, of the fishermen of this country, and they are passionately opposed to it. I have had representations from fishermen all round the coast of Scotland, and particularly from my late constituency, protesting against it. So that to say that it is in the interests of our own fishermen is, in my submission, absolute nonsense.
There is serious unemployment in all the small boat-building yards right round the coast of Scotland; and it is no good telling me that those yards are inefficient, because I know that they are not. You may bring charges of inefficiency against the big shipbuilding yards on the Clyde, at Barrow or elsewhere because of demarcation disputes, and so on; but you cannot bring (and I know them well) any charge of inefficiency against our own small boat-building yards. I have been to many of them, stretching right round the coast, from Fifeshire right up to Aberdeenshire, and beyond. I could 494 name fifteen or twenty of them which are working well below capacity. Some of them have no boats upon the stocks at all, and quite serious unemployment at present prevails. This is the moment we choose to use the taxpayers' money to subsidise the construction of fishing craft abroad, particularly, of course—and we well know it—in Germany and in Holland, where I should think they have a concealed subsidy of their own as he noble Lord suggested, and where they are certainly in no dire need of an additional subsidy from the British taxpayer in order to compete with our own yards.
The second point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, was the question of international obligations; and upon this I want to press the Minister quite strongly. What on earth does this phrase mean, "international obligations"? It has been used most damagingly as an attack (and I am not surprised) upon the project of our joining the Common Market. As your Lordships know, I have always been a warm supporter of our joining the Common Market, but I tell your Lordships straightaway that if I thought our joining the Common Market required us to subsidise foreign shipbuilders or foreign boat-builders I would turn right round and say, "Keep out of it at all costs". But I do not believe this, and that is why I cannot understand the policy of Her Majesty's Government. There is no provision in the Treaty of Rome requiring any participating country to subsidise the industries or shipyards of another participating country—none whatsoever. I cannot see the French subsidising German industries, or vice-versa. Whatever arguments you may have—and I know that on the general issue of the Common Market, noble Lords have legitimate disagreements with each other—it is no good fogging the issue; and the damage that Her Majesty's Government have done to those of us who believe in the Common Market by this reference to "international obligations" is almost unlimited, because a great number of people are now under the assumption that, if this country joins the Common Market, we shall be under an obligation to subsidise our oversea competitors. If there is any provision in the Treaty of Rome requiring us to do that, 495 I should be interested to hear of it from the noble Earl. I can assure him that, if there is, it will sharply change my attitude about our entering the Common Market. But I do not think there is.
In view of the prevailing condition in the boat-building yards in Scotland, which is dire, I say deliberately that this proposal is absolutely monstrous. I cannot understand what possible motive can have inspired the Government to make it. Our small yards are not inefficient. Her Majesty's Government have not been honest with Parliament over this business at any stage. They have been guilty of trickery. To those noble Lords who are anxious to facilitate the passage of this Bill, I would say that while there was something to be said for getting the last Amendment through, I believe that they will get this Bill through much quicker if they vote in favour of this Amendment; because I do not believe that, in the long run, this proposal will be tolerated either by another place or by public opinion in this country.
I wish I had not such a bad cold. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, has tried to make my flesh creep and the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has tried to make my blood boil, but they have succeeded in doing neither. I can assure your Lordships that there is no conspiracy, no trickery, no constitutional impropriety here. If my right honourable friend was trying some trickery by putting through this administrative arrangement before Parliament had a chance of discussing it, why did he do it three days before the Committee stage of the Bill in your Lordships' House, when here we all are discussing it? No, there is no conspiracy here.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
The noble Earl will surely not forget that the Government took the precaution to get a Second Reading for the Bill before the announcement of the change was made.
I did not interrupt the noble Lord, who made a speech of some length, and perhaps he would allow me to do my best to deploy my arguments without too much interruption. I honestly believe that noble 496 Lords have here let their imaginations run riot. This is not a piece of political trickery, as I will try to explain, nor a method deliberately designed, as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, seemed to think, for subsidising foreign shipbuilders and ruining our own yards. The purpose of these grant and loan schemes for the purchase and improvement of fishing vessels was, and is, as your Lordships know, to encourage the fishing industry to equip itself with modern, efficient vessels, so as to enable it to operate economically without the need for continued Government assistance. I must emphasise the fact that it was for this purpose, and only this purpose, that the benefits have been provided. The schemes are intended to help the fishermen, and although they have, of course, had the effect of stimulating the shipbuilding industry, this is only incidental and was not the object of the legislation. It is a by-product of the legislation and a very good one.
The grant and loan arrangements represent substantial advantages to the purchasers of fishing vessels. The practical effect of this Amendment, if it were carried, would be to discourage the fishing industry from considering foreign yards for any vessels which otherwise would be eligible for grant aid. The first point I would make, therefore, is that a restrictive Amendment of this sort would not be in the best interests of the fishing industry. They are going to have a hard enough task to overcome their present difficulties and should not be prevented from re-equipping themselves from the most suitable sources, whether in this country or abroad. We have a number of excellent shipyards in this country and I see no reason at all why they should not normally be able to build as economically as any other yards in the world. There is also the advantage of their being on the doorstep.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
I beg the noble Earl's pardon, but this is an important point. The grant and loan scheme has been operating successfully for years on the basis of boats being constructed in British shipyards. Now the noble Earl comes and tells us that that was a restriction. All I can say is that it is a restriction that has been extremely successful, and I do not see why it should not continue.
I am coming to that. I think I must try to build up the arguments as I go. The restriction on this particular assistance has been in existence up to now. When the original assistance was granted—in 1944, I think—the situation was very different. We were in acute balance-of-payments difficulties and there was a great shortage of foreign exchange. G.A.T.T. had not been invented, or E.F.T.A. Also, at that stage after the war, it would have been almost impossible to suggest that vessels would have been built overseas. But we think it would be foolish now to fix the conditions for Government assistance in such a way that this country's fishermen could not have the fullest and widest possible choice. We want to be sure that they get the vessels and engines most likely to suit their requirements. If an owner wants to buy at home there is nothing to stop him. He need not even ask a foreign yard to tender, and he will not be compelled to accept the lowest tender even if a foreign tender happens to be the lowest.
The removal of the restriction is in accordance with G.A.T.T. The noble Lord asked what this meant and suggested that it had done great damage to us. Both G.A.T.T. and E.F.T.A. require us not to impose discriminatory restrictions of this kind. Recently we ourselves have raised complaints against similar action by other countries, and these arrangements are of great value to us as an exporting nation Sometimes these agreements may be breached but, although this is a trite saying, two wrongs do not make a right. The number of orders likely to be placed abroad is very small indeed.
I am not a pessimist, as the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition appears to be, and I do not think that all our yards are obsolete and produce only dear and bad boats.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I know a lot more about the yards of this country that the noble Earl will ever know in his life. I had a lot to do with them through the war and after. The noble Earl must not make remarks like that to me.
I continue to say that I do not believe that the boat-building 498 yards in this country are dear and bad and that, once given a chance, everybody will rush to get their boats built overseas. I am sorry if the noble Viscount feeds I have been dicourteous to him, because I am well aware of how much he knows about the shipbuilding industry in this country, and I am sure he does not believe that we have a bad shipbuilding industry.
I did not say it. This is the argument that I want to present to your Lordships. Until quite recently the distant water section of the industry—that is, the section that builds big trawlers—has not been in receipt of grant or loan assistance for new vessels. Therefore, that section has been entitled to buy its ships wherever it liked. But in the last ten years there have been 72 new distant water trawlers built and only seven have been ordered from foreign yards, most of which were ordered some years ago when our own yards were much fuller with orders than they may be at the moment and, therefore, could offer only long delivery. This is a measure of the extent to which the freedom to buy abroad may be likely to affect the bigger boat builders.
The effect on the smaller vessels will, in my view, be even less significant. One noble Lord—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, or it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baroburgh—said that this seemed to be a weapon of spite that we had designed against the smaller yards. But the owners of fishing boats of this kind, especially the smaller ones, are accustomed to going to local yards, where the builders are well-known to them and know their requirements. These boats are, I understand, mostly custom built; that is to say, you do not order a boat out of a catalogue. Is it really suggested that it is likely that a man in a small fishing port of, say, Scotland will go to the trouble of going abroad to order the small boats I am speaking of, in a language he does not understand, and that the White Fish Authority will have to go abroad to oversee this, too?
I believe that he should have the right to do this; but if he does, it must be 499 that the boat being produced abroad will be so much cheaper as to make it worth that trouble. And in that case I believe that he should have the right to buy abroad. It is rather as if one of your Lordships who was accustomed to buying not ready-made but tailor-made clothes felt that he would like to get his clothes in the Rue de la Paix rather than in Savile Row. It could be done; but in view of the need to go to Paris for your fittings and to make currency arrangements to buy there, in the normal way it would not pay you to do that unless you thereby obtained a very much better suit. Then I am sure you should be allowed to do it.
Finally, any applicant for grant and loan assistance who proposed to buy abroad would be required to provide evidence to the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board, which ever it may be, that British yards had been given an equal chance. The administrative arrangements are being worked out. Consultations are going on between the industry and my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport as to how this equal chance should be given. I cannot see why British shipbuilders should not, under those conditions, get the vast majority of the orders. I hope that, with these explanations, your Lordships will not think this is either trickery or designed to ruin, as if we had some malice, small boat builders in our country; and I would ask your Lordships to resist the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am most disappointed at that reply. Some of the questions put by my noble friend have simply not been answered at all. I must say that, having served at the Admiralty for nearly nine years, as a member of the Labour Party, I can imagine what would have been said by members of the Conservative Party in either House if I had suggested passing legislation of this kind. This has never happened before in the history of the shipbuilding industry of this country. At this moment in the shipyards of our country the order books are lower than they have been at any moment since the war ended. The shipbuilding yards of this country had a terrible time after the First World War, from 1918 to 1927 and 1928. But in 500 1945 we brought into being a scheme which was first discussed between Lord Leathers and myself, and then with other Ministers and a Joint Advisory Committee between the industries—a committee which never existed after the First World War. All we have done in trying to get full rehabilitation of trade by repair or replacement of our own fleet has been carried out in this country; and we have made a wonderful job of it. There is no period in the British shipbuilding industry that can compare with the last twelve to fourteen years in regard to what has been turned out by our shipbuilding yards. The tonnage has been immense; the efficiency has been first-class; and there have been foreign countries coming to this country to pay higher prices here because they wanted our boats. But gradually the situation is turning round.
Let us look at the trawler position. Are we concerned only about trawlers for fishing? I saw the First Lord of the Admiralty here just now—he has returned into the Chamber, and I am glad to see him. If we have any sense in our heads we shall all try to ensure that such a defence service is set up in our country that we can stop any spread of a war with conventional weapons, and have to depend on a nuclear deterrent only in the ultimate and not at the start. That is not only supposed to be the policy of the present Government, but it is the official policy of the Labour Party. How would the First Lord of the Admiralty set about dealing with these dangers at sea in such an event? He would need not only to have the minesweepers which are on his permanent list (and I was glad to see at Torquay last Saturday one of his new ones on its trials; quite small, but a naval vessel with a trawler bar), but would have to go to the fishing industry for trawlers.
There is a great difference between the sort of policy that has been put over to-day and that which would be needed in events which passed through my mind as I listened to the noble Earl. I went to sea years ago when we had a particularly bad set of circumstances in the North-Western passage, with mines being laid by submarines. I went out with a double-L sweep that day because I was so concerned about the conditions of the men: two trawlers sailing abreast and setting up the anti-mine action, and 501 a Kango Hammer wooden trawler coming up at the rear. I sailed on a ship called the "Nazareth". It was then about 35 years old. I got that particular trawler from the French fleet, but it was built on the Clyde. I want to see them built here.
Last week-end I spoke to a man from Grimsby who I know well and is in a big way of business. He told me that since the war his firm have built 46 trawlers to replace others, and not one was built abroad. That may seem to confirm a little what the noble Earl was saying at the end of his speech to-day. But you should have heard his indignation about the suggestion that you should pay money out of the British taxpayer's pocket to people who want to go and buy cheaper elsewhere! There is real indignation in the industry.
I spent a week-end in Grimsby only six weeks ago and had a look at the conditions there, and they have pretty difficult conditions. I have never heard from any one of them that they wanted a subsidy of this kind to be able to buy trawlers abroad. We have not yet heard one suggestion from the noble Earl as to where this idea emanated from. You had no consultations with the fishing industry, so it did not come from there. Could we know? Why is this attachment made that it is also to enable you to meet your international obligations? Whom did the suggestion come from? Did it come out of the brain of the noble Earl or his chief, or was it something which was suggested by the Minister of Transport? Look at the extraordinary difficulties which were put up at Question Time in another place on May 30: that all this in relation to fisheries was not really the sort of thing that ought to be raised with the Secretary of State for Scotland because all these things were a matter for the Minister of Transport. The legislation for providing the subsidy is contained in a Ministry of Agriculture Bill. Who suggested it? Could we know?
I must say that of all the times on which I have spoken in either House of Parliament on which there would be unanimous feeling on both sides of the Chamber, this is one. The Government have no case at all to ask us to spend the taxpayer's money, and this seams to add insult to injury. I hope something more is going to be done about it, but 502 I cannot see anything in the report in the Scotsman this morning that does any more than talk about setting up a Committee some time, somewhere, at a later date. This matter can be put right by Parliament now only in one way, and that is by your Lordships carrying the Amendment so that the Bill will have an opportunity of going back to another place. If lit is not amended, it will never be heard of in the House of Commons. They cannot deal with anything; it has passed its final stage. If your Lordships want to see this insult to the British shipbuilding industry wiped out, you must accept this Amendment and send it back to another place to be dealt with, so that they can, in the Chamber which ultimately rules financial decisions, take what action is desired. I beg noble Lords in all parts of the House to do it in that way.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
I rise only to ask a question. Before doing so, I should like to say that I am surprised and disappointed that encouragement should be given to building these ships in foreign yards. I think there would be grave disquiet in both Houses of Parliament if it were suggested that a new Cunarder, a "Queen Elizabeth", should be built in a foreign shipyard with the aid of the taxpayer's money. I hope careful consideration will be given to that point, because the noble Earl said that our people would have an equal chance. Of course, it is true that they will have an equal chance with the foreigner, but I want them to build our ships.
My question, which will be very brief, is one for which I do not ask for an answer now, but I should like the noble Earl, the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider the point. Paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum on the front of the Bill says, in simple language:Clause 1 extends the white fish and herring subsidies to vessels engaged in processing and transporting white fish …It makes no reference to salmon. As we know, they are not white fish. My point is this. Are boats, which are subsidised at the taxpayer's expense to prosecute the white fish and herring industries, entitled to go drift-netting for salmon? I should like that point to be given careful consideration.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
I had not expected to be here this week at all, but I have come down because of the Amendment which we are discussing and because, like other Members of your Lordships' House who come from Scotland, and Members of another place, representations have been made to me to do anything I can to assist in the problem which was facing the small boat-builders and the small shipyards who would be affected by the change which Her Majesty's Government propose. As your Lordships know, I was never a Member of another place, and I have been only a short time a Member of your Lordships' House. While I was exceedingly interested in the constitutional propriety to which my noble friend, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, referred, I must confess that in my limited experience that aspect had never occurred to me for one moment. What I am concerned about is the representations which have been made to me.
In listening to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, one would almost have got the impression that the Government had two reasons for putting this proposal forward. One was because representations had been made by fishermen that they should be allowed to buy their ships in cheaper markets. I said, "one would have thought". I know the noble Earl did not say that; he said that they should have the right to do so. Is it a right which any of them have asked to be given? I do not believe that. The second reason was that we should be able to conform to our international obligations. Which foreign country has represented to us that we are in breach of our international obligations in this matter?
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, I do not know where I stand on the Common Market, so I do not need to have any qualms about what effect this may have upon it. It may be that he is wrong, and that other people are right, and that this is one of the essential sacrifices that have to be made. In old days, when heathen gods were worshipped, they sometimes had to sacrifice their most noble young men or their virgins. The present conception is that de Gaulle, on the one hand, and Adenauer, on the other, are the equivalent of the heathen gods.
§ LORD HUGHES
The first one is obvious; about the second I have no knowledge whatsoever. I hope I do not drive the noble Lord to the other side. But perhaps the first sacrifice was some £55 million worth of manufactured goods from Australia and New Zealand—a fairly big one to them, and a small one to us. Perhaps the second sacrifice is of the little boats made in our own yards, a small sacrifice to the country as a whole, but a big one to the people concerned. The people who are making the representations are not Parliamentarians. They are not the Members of Parliament; these are the people to whom the representations are being made.
I have here letters from town councils of places of which many noble Lords have probably never heard, and I think certainly would not recognise if I gave them with their Scottish pronunciations. If I talked about "Saminnens" and "An'ster" it would not mean a thing to them. If I put them into English and called them St. Monance and Anstruther some noble Lords may know them as tourist places. But one boat less to these places means a great deal. It means that what is the main industry of a small town goes out of existence until its next chance comes along; I do not care what Mr. Marples thinks in another place, it is not good for this country, or for our international obligations, or anything else, that that sort of thing should be done, whoever has asked for it.
If, as has been stated by my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough (and I do not think there are many people who would dare to contradict it), shipbuilding is passing through a difficult time, surely it is not the business of this House at this late stage in operation to give consent to a measure which, whether or not it may be helpful to fishermen, cannot be other than hurtful to shipbuilding. I would remind your Lordships, too, that in the last war there was a time when we were very grateful to the small ships of this country, the little boats which went out to Dunkirk. Should we have been so proud of our situation if the policy now advocated had been put into operation between the wars, and we had been dependent, for the 505 rescue of our men from the Germans at Dunkirk, on sending out little boats which had been produced in Italian or German shipyards? It may be that that will be dismissed, and perhaps quite rightly, as being just sentiment. But in many ways this is a sentimental country, and when sentiment and self-interest come together I think they are worthy of consideration.
I would ask your Lordships not to accept the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, because there have been no representations made by anybody that this thing should be done to our little shipyards. They serve a useful purpose. They employ skilled craftsmen. Generation after generation of them have been employed in the same job, as the noble Earl has said, producing tailor-made ships for the specialised requirements of our fishing industry. It may be that he is perfectly right when he says that only a small proportion of the orders will go abroad; and I do not dispute for one moment the figuras he gave which indicate that, in a certain field less than 10 per cent. of orders went abroad. But the very fact that this is put in, giving, as it were, the apparent encouragement of Her Majesty's Government that this should be done, is bound to have the effect of increasing the number of these orders which will go to other countries. Quite frankly, the shipbuilding industry of this country cannot afford at this time to lose one single small vessel to a foreign yard.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
I am beginning to feel very sorry for my noble friend. Frequently in the past he has persuaded me that grey is white, but this time I think he is trying to persuade us all that black is white; and I hope he does not succeed. He seemed to base his arguments on the fact that things have changed since this subsidy was first introduced. Indeed, they have. When it first came in shipyards were working flat out all over the world. Now, small shipyards in North and North-East Scotland are very short of work. I can assure the noble Earl from personal experience that when we advertise for a joiner, or anyone like that, many of the applications received come from people who are working in small shipyards at the moment but who feel that their time there is very limited and wish 506 to move to some less well rewarded but more stable form of industry.
So far as I can make out, the noble Earl said that heretofore 7 vessels out of 72 have come from foreign shipyards. That seems to me to be quite a high percentage. If, up to now, not one boat built abroad has received any subsidy, I should have thought it remarkable that even seven have come from abroad. He also said that British yards would have a fair chance of competing. It is certainly universally believed, I think incorrectly, that foreign shipyards, particularly the German yards, are given some form of subsidy, either by the town council or by the German Government, and people therefore suffer from the illusion that they are getting something cheaper abroad, even though it might be more trouble than if they bought at home. I hope, therefore, that the Government will reconsider this matter, which has caused grave disquiet all over the country in all the shipbuilding places. I feel that the Government have very much miscalculated what the nation wants if they think this has the support of the majority of the country.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I was rather sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, raised the question of trickery by the Government, because personally, having looked at the picture, I do not think there is any question of trickery; and the point I would make is that this charge rather takes away from the full argument about the merits or demerits of the proposition which the noble Lord put forward to the House in his Amendment. Whilst I, for my part, entirely reject the suggestion that there has been trickery on the part of Her Majesty's Government, I would hazard a guess …
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
The noble Lord has mistaken what I said for what someone else said. I think it was the first noble Lord who mentioned trickery.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I suggest that, in consideration of the merits or demerits of the Amendment, we discount the question of any possible trickery on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I would hazard a guess 507 that this has come about because some bright person in one of the Government offices has discovered that for some considerable time past we have been transgressing our international obligations as laid down in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which has, in fact, been in existence for a good many years. And, if I may say so, I thought the Minister's explanation was not very convincing on that point. If I can have the Minister's attention for a moment, I should like him to deal in his reply with that point; that the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade has been in existence for a good many years and our obligations under E.F.T.A. have been in existence for approximately two to three years. Therefore how has it suddenly come about that we are now faced with international obligations which we have to implement when, in fact, such obligations have been in existence for the periods of time I have stated? I do not think the Minister was very convincing on that point.
Nor, I am afraid, was he very convincing on some of the other points. Of course, we all agreed with the Minister's statement that the objective of this Bill is to help the fishermen. That is quite obvious. He said that the effect of this particular provision in the Bill is incidental. He called this a restrictive Amendment, not in the interests of the fishermen wishing to re-equip with the best possible boats. Surely, if a man wishes to re-equip with the best possible boats it is not necessary to go to a foreign yard and have that yard subsidised by the British taxpayer. That is the point.
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, of course it is not necessary. My point is that it should be possible.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
It is not necessary, but it is possible under this Bill; and I was coming to the point which bears on the Minister's interruption. He said that in the past only a few boats had been ordered from abroad. That argument is not very convincing, because economic conditions change. All of us in this House can well visualise a position where a foreign yard, either assisted indirectly or not assisted indirectly by its central Government or 508 local authority, or possibly because it is short of work, will quote a thoroughly uneconomic price in order to obtain an order and swing it away from the British yards. Therefore, I think the argument that in the past only a few have been ordered abroad is not a valid one in the light of circumstances which may possibly exist in the future.
The next point the Minister made was that fishermen should have the right to go abroad; the right to go abroad should exist. Of course it should exist, but not to go abroad on the back of the British taxpayer. That is the point I would put to him. I realise the Government's difficulties, because they have discovered this obligation under G.A.T.T. which we have been transgressing before, and the Minister tried to deal indirectly with why we have not taken notice of our G.A.T.T. restrictive covenants. He said that some years ago we had balance-of-payments difficulties and shortage of foreign exchange. That, to me, was a very unconvincing answer, because, so far as I know, we never applied to G.A.T.T. for a waiver which would have allowed us to make special provisions in the direction of allowing subsidies to go to our own yards and not to foreign yards. It seems to me this is doctrinaire non-discrimination run riot, that the taxpayers should indirectly subsidise the low quotations of foreign yards against the normal quotations of British yards, because that is what may well happen. Let me say only this to other Ministers: It is just a foretaste of the confusion and absurdities which will multiply in front of the Government as we get more and more involved in the Common Market conditions and the conditions of the Rome Treaty.
I feel in some difficulty. We want to get this Bill; we do not want to lose it. The Bill as a whole is more important than any single provision in it. Yet this is really an untenable position for Her Majesty's Government. I think in another place it was shown to be pretty untenable, by indications from the Government's own supporters. I suggest it is really untenable politically for the Conservative Party to go forward and lay itself open to an accusation that we are advocating a position where British taxpayers' money may go to a foreign yard in competition with British yards.
509 That is possibly an over simplification, but it is an accusation which all of us who support the Government would have to face if we were on a political platform. It is really an untenable position, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will help those of us who wish to support the Government by saying that they will take immediate steps to look at this matter again, so that before the final passage of the Bill there will be an assurance that administrative machinery will be brought into being which will effectively prevent the international obligations under which we are at present working from having this disastrous effect on our small boat-building industry and also on the political fortunes of the Government.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
Before the Minister replies, could he tell the House approximately how many ships of the small type have been built in the last few years? He told us that out of 72 distant-water fishing ships only seven were built in overseas yards. I should like to know how many of these small ships there are, because the noble Lord, Lord Wise, has told us he knows of one small ship built recently at King's Lynn. I have seen only one at North Berwick, where they fish for lobster. I should like to know how many are built in a year, because I think it has a great bearing on whether it is a big problem or a small problem. I must say I do not like the idea of subsidising out of British taxpayers' money ships to be built in foreign yards unless they cannot be built in this country.
§ 4.46 p.m.
Your Lordships obviously take this matter very seriously, as indeed we should, and I do not object in any way to the strength of the arguments that have been put forward to-day. I do not think your Lordships would wish me at this moment to try to reply to every single one of the points made. I will study them all very carefully in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I should like to make this one point again: the restriction of grants to British-built vessels has never been dealt with before in major legislation, but always in orders. The restrictions or non restrictions will be in the orders that will be made under the Act, and that 510 really is the time when this point should be challenged.
There is one other point I would make, and your Lordships perhaps may not be aware of it. I myself, when I was preparing for to-day's debate, asked whether there were similar restrictions, or lack of them, in other industries, and I was told that we never discriminate against foreign goods in other cases where Government grant assistance is being given. For instance, in the cotton mills schemes and housing subsidy arrangements, there is no restriction that you must not buy foreign steel or that you must not buy foreign goods from abroad. I thought your Lordships might like to know that. I did not know it myself. There are no restrictions of that sort in other subsidised schemes. There are no statutory requirements, for instance, that our own nationalised boards should discriminate against foreign products. In practice British Railways, the National Coal Board, B.O.A.C., and other nationalised industries often buy foreign plant and goods. I thought your Lordships should know that.
The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, asked me about the number of ships built. I am not quite sure whether he got my figures correctly—7 and 72. What I was saying was that the big trawlers of the distant-water industry have not so far been subsidised at all. Only 7 out of the 72 ships they have had built in those years were built abroad, and they were all unsubsidised. The noble Lord asked whether many small boats have been built. I am told that, very roughly, in this period about 800 grant-aided small boats were built in the United Kingdom. Of course we are not against the British shipbuilding industry. I hope that noble Lords will not be too pessimistic about this. There is a tremendous record of splendid boatbuilding in the Scottish yards, and some of the finest and most modern of trawlers, have been built in the Scottish yards. There is no question about the efficiency of our industry. The question has rather turned on this today. Noble Lords who know about it would not need me to answer whether a subsidy to the shipbuilding industry is required. For various reasons that would not be for me; it would presumably be for the Minister of Transport.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
May I ask the noble Earl for an answer to my question: Where did this emanate from? Where did it come from? Who asked for it?
I do not think I can answer that, because I cannot say. The noble Viscount actually went so far as to ask: did my Minister think of it or was it the Minister of Transport? I do not think it would be correct, or usual, for me to answer that. We have collective responsibility in the Government and Cabinet. This emanates from the Government, and I do not think it would be for a Junior Minister, even if he knew, to say that it came from such-and-such a Minister.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
This is new constitutional ground. Parliamentary responsibility rests primarily on the Minister of the Department concerned, which I gather in this case is the Minister of Transport, although the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, unhappily, has to reply. The primary responsibility is on the departmental Minister and he is the person who is responsible to Parliament. It is quite true that when he gets into trouble or difficulty he may, in another place or here, say, "This is a Government decision for which I am not solely responsible." He should not often use that argument, but sometimes it is legitimate. This is the first time I have heard the argument that the departmental Minister, is not responsible to Parliament. He has the primary constitutional responsibility. It is said that he is not responsible but that the Cabinet is responsible. Would the noble Earl tell us when somebody will come here for the Cabinet and answer for the Cabinet?
I answer in your Lordships' House for my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This is his Bill, and it has been introduced—we have had the Second Reading and we are now in Committee—to assist the fishing industry. There is nothing restrictive in this Bill that we are discussing to-day. This is an Amendment to put into the Bill something that would restrict to British firms alone the assistance that my Minister and the Secretary 512 of State for Scotland give to the fishing industry.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, and I am grateful that he should give way. The Amendment does not restrict the giving of grants to the United Kingdom. The Amendment says "the Commonwealth". The position at the moment is that which has gone on for some time—namely, that grants can be given only for ships built in the United Kingdom. We say that we will extend it—and not restrict it—to the Commonwealth.
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. He will remember his original Amendment. Quite rightly, he did slip in the word "Commonwealth" afterwards. But I still say—it is really for my noble Leader to answer this as I am not experienced in this matter—that I do not think that a Junior Minister answering for a Department ought to be asked: "Did you, as the Parliamentary Secretary, think this up, or was it your Minister?" That was the question which was asked of me.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
May we ask a member of the Cabinet present whether we can be assured that we shall get the information for which we have asked at the next stage of the Bill?
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD MILLS)
I think I owe it to the noble Viscount to answer his question. If I understand his question, it is: "Who thought of this? Who was responsible for it?" My only reply is that he will not get an answer to that.
§ LORD HUGHES
If it is difficult for the Government to answer this question, or if they are unwilling to do so, is there any reason why I should not get an answer to the questions which I put: namely, were any representations made from the fishermen that they should have an opportunity of doing this? Or were any representations made by any foreign country that we were not fulfilling our international obligations?
Before we come to the next stage of this Bill I will certainly go fully into all the questions that have been raised in to-day's debate. 513 I should not like to answer to-day. I apologise to your Lordships for not being in a position to answer to-day whether any representations were made. I undertake to answer at a later stage of the Bill or to communicate with your Lordships. So much for that. I do not think that your Lordships would wish me to go on trying to take up all these points. I think the important point, of which we must not lose sight, is that my right honourable friend in another place gave this assurance and undertaking: that the British yards would have an equal chance to compete. This is a broad statement. I hope your Lordships will take it seriously. Consultations are now going on as to how that undertaking can be administered and completely complied with. That matter we are looking into most carefully. I cannot go further than that.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Shall we know the result of that investigation before the next stage of the Bill? Because I think it will make a great difference to noble Lords if we can have that assurance.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.514
§ after the Whitsun Recess. I know that my right honourable friend is working hard on the administrative arrangements which will be necessary in order to implement that assurance. I should greatly hope that before this Bill has left your Lordships' House he will be able to say what these administrative arrangements are.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
We have no real assurance at all as to what is going to happen. I do not think I can depart from the opinion I expressed to your Lordships earlier. Noble Lords on all sides of the House want this Bill, and I think that the only way to deal with this matter is to carry the Amendment. If you want to get it altered in any way, then you can get it altered afterwards, and send it back to the other place with a chance for them to discuss the matter, because they are concerned with the financial aspects. I think we can only carry the Amendment here and get it sent back.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 44.513
|Airedale, L.||Hughes, L.||Shepherd, L. [Teller.]|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Kenswood, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Lawson, L.||Somers, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Lindgren, L.||Stonham, L. [Teller.]|
|Boothby, L.||Listowel, E.||Strang, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Longford, E.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Champion, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.||Summerskill, B.|
|Chorley, L.||Meston, L.||Taylor, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Milverton, L.||Twining, L.|
|Forster of Harraby, L.||Morrison of Lambeth, L.||Walston, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Raglan, L.||Williams of Barnburgh, L.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Sainsbury, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Henderson, L.||St. Davids, V.||Wise, L.|
|Henley, L.||Shackleton, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Albemarle, E.||Freyberg, L.||Mills, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Goschen, V.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Arran, E.||Grenfell, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Bathurst, E.||Hampton, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Hastings, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Hereford, V.||St. Aldwyn. E. [Teller.]|
|Carrington, L.||Horsbrugh, B.||St. Oswald. L.|
|Chesham, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Salisbury, M.|
|Conesford, L.||Jessel, L.||Soulbury, V.|
|Craigton, L.||Lansdowne, M.||Swinton, E.|
|Croft, L.||Long, V.||Templemore, L.|
|Dynevor, L.||Lothian, M.||Tenby, V.|
|Effingham, E.||MacAndrew, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Margesson, V.|
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 4 to 32 agreed to.
§ Clause 33 [Interpretation]:
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
Obviously I do not wish to pursue this Amendment, but in view of the disarray into which the Government have now been thrown I am won de-ring whether, in the light of the very strong views that were expressed on the earlier Amendment, the noble Earl would consider between now and the Report stage—when we shall probably have to return to this—any representations with regard to the net earnings of the shellfish industry. The point is that the noble Earl's case was based largely on the gross value, whereas our contention is that in the greater part of the industry net earnings have decreased. Could the noble Earl perhaps give us some assurance on this matter which might facilitate our attitude to the Report stage of the Bill?
Page 28, line 3, leave out from ("fish") to ("has") in line 4.—(Lord Shackleton.)
Naturally, I should like to do all I can to be of assistance to the House, and I should be ready to consider, if possible, the figures which the noble Lord or anybody else can produce for net earnings in any section of the industry. I am bound to say that it might he difficult to complete any such consideration, or even to obtain double checks on figures that are produced, in time for any decision on them to be readied by the Report stage. While saying to the noble Lord that I concede it is the duty of a Departmental Minister to consider matters of that sort when they are brought out to him, I should not like to mislead the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, by giving him an assurance that, having looked at figures he might bring forward, I should be able to alter any conclusions I have come to on this Bill before its next stage.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am grateful to the noble Earl and with that promise of willingness, at any rate, to consider the position I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33 agreed to.
§ Remaining Clauses and Schedules agreed to.
§ House resumed.