§ 2.58 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
My Lords, I beg to move that the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1965, be approved. The Order provides for further subsidies to the white fish industry for the year starting on August 1 next. Before I describe its effect, I should give your Lordships an account of the state of the industry.
This time last year my predecessor was able to report a considerable improvement in the fortunes of the industry. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships 1002 that 1964 was a year of further improvement. The total catch of white fish increased by 13,000 tons to 719,000 tons, and the value of the catch increased by over £3 million to £51.5 million. The trawler fleet improved its operating profits by roughly 25 per cent., and the inshore fleet secured a 20 per cent. increase in income, which more than covered rising costs. As in previous years, the position has been discussed with all sections of the industry. It is in the light of the improved results and the views expressed by the industry that the subsidy proposals now before us have been prepared. The conditions of subsidy set out in the scheme are the same as in the current scheme. The changes are in the rates of subsidy.
Your Lordships will recall that the Sea Fish Industry Act 1962 provides that subsidies to the trawler fleet (vessels over 80 feet in length) must be reduced annually by between 7½ and 12½ per cent.—an average of 10 per cent. In the first two years, reductions of 7½ per cent. were made by agreement with the industry. There is thus some leeway to make up. In the past year there has been some improvement in the profitability of the industry, and the Government have therefore felt justified in making a reduction of 10 per cent. This has been accepted by the industry. The Government further propose to make the same reduction of 10 per cent. in each of the two following years. This should enable the industry to plan ahead with more certainty. It will be the aim in later years to make larger reductions of up to 12½ per cent. to balance the reductions of 7½ per cent. in the first two years.
The White Fish Subsidy Scheme also provides for special subsidies to be paid to certain groups of vessels which have encountered difficulties of a temporary nature outside their immediate control. It is a reflection of the improved state of the industry that only a few vessels have been found to need this special help. The difficulties on this occasion have been mainly due to adverse fishing conditions affecting these vessels. There are 37 of them, and the total cost is estimated at roughly £32,000. The inshore fleet, of vessels under 80 feet in length, has also had a good year. There is no requirement to reduce the subsidies for these vessels by any fixed amount, but the 1003 Government consider that a reduction of 10 per cent. is justified on this occasion.
For all sections of the fleet the reductions in subsidies will be less than the improvements in earnings. The burdens on the taxpayer is thus being reduced while leaving the industry in a better position. Fishing is notoriously an uncertain business, but I am sure your Lordships will join with me in the hope that these encouraging developments will be maintained, and that you will give your approval to the Scheme.
§ Moved, That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme 1965 be approved.—(Lord Champion.)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has given us a detailed account of the fishing industry and we are grateful for it. I would, if I may be permitted to do so, introduce a small red herring into this discussion merely to congratulate the noble Lord on his achieving yet another birthday. I trust that his preoccupation with white fish will not preclude his possibly enjoying pink fish, or something more exotic, later this evening.
We welcome this Order, which the noble Lord has moved in a speech in which he has given a rather glowing account of the fishing industry, but he will know that in certain sections of it there have been difficulties and also that there are liable to be difficulties in the future. I hope he will be able to give the assurance that the cuts in subsidy which he has foreshadowed will, in fact, be treated sympathetically and that the industry as a whole will be treated sympathetically, in view of the difficulties that some of the people engaged in it are likely to meet in the near future.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for his kind remarks about my birthday. I rather wish that he had not done so; because it might be called to the attention of someone who might think that ministerial Members are much older, on average, than they ought to be; and I might suffer as a result. I am grateful for the welcome that he has given this Scheme, and I can assure him that we shall look carefully at any future Schemes that will be introduced in the light of the circumstances prevailing in the fishing 1004 industry. I hope that it will continue, as it has been doing for some years now to improve its position and make things better for those who are engaged in this difficult, dangerous but essential industry.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.