HL Deb 24 July 1967 vol 285 cc674-8

5.56 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD WALSTON) rose to move, That the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1967, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that this Scheme be approved. It might also be convenient to your Lordships if we took with this Scheme the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement)(Grants)(Amendment)Scheme. The rates of subsidy proposed in the Subsidies Scheme are based on the industry's costs and earnings during 1966 and early 1967. The inshore and herring fleet have continued to do reasonably well, so it is proposed that their subsidies be reduced by 7 per cent. The Scottish trawler fleet has also had a good year.

In the second half of 1966, however, the vessels fishing more distant waters from the Humber had hard times, and they are still suffering from the effects of these. The trawler fleet as a whole in England and Wales suffered a marked increase in costs, and a small decline in catches. As there was no corresponding increase in prices during that period, profits naturally declined. The main reason for this, of course, is the general weakness in the world fish market. Stocks of frozen fish have increased, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and this, coupled with increased landings of high quality inshore and near water fish, has weakened the demand for wet fish from farther afield. And then, on top of all this, of course demand has also fallen because of the warm weather we have had recently and are still having.

So, for all these reasons, my Lords, we propose that for the next six months we should pay the special subsidy set out in the Scheme to those classes of vessels which have been hardest hit. In addition, because of generally low profits of the trawler fleet as a whole, the 10 per cent, cut in basic subsidies, which had been announced earlier, will not take place. Instead, there will be a cut of 7½ per cent, for the next 12 months. This, as your Lordships may remember, is the minimum amount permitted by the Act of 1962. The net effect of these measures is to maintain for the next six months the existing level of support to the trawling industry. Special subsidies for the following six months will be determined later.

Now may I turn to the Fishing Vessels Scheme. I think there is very little that I need say about this Scheme, because it was mentioned not so long ago, when we had some discussions. This Scheme gives effect to our promise to increase by 5 per per cent. the rates of grant for investment in new fishing vessels and improvements paid for in 1967–68. Power to make this increase was, as your Lordships will remember, taken in the Fishing Vessel Grants Act which removed the previous maximum limits on the rates of grant. The Act was welcomed by your Lordships on both sides of the House, and in fact it became law on June 28. I am quite sure your Lordships will welcome this additional encouragement for the modernisation and improvement of the fishing fleet. I beg to move.

Moved, That the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1967 be approved.—(Lord Walston.)


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for explaining to us the effect of these two Orders, and I apologise for not being in my place when he began. I recollect the Fishing Vessel Grants Act by which the scope for grants was increased by 5 per cent. This Order now implements that increase, and certainly I welcome that from the point of view of the fishing vessel fleets. However, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he has anything further to say about the extremely important point which I raised at the time that Act was going through this House—that is, about the fish stocks themselves, and about the scope for further conservation methods by means of international conservation which might give a better assurance that the fish stocks would be adequate and that the rate of catching, which I suspect is now exceeding the rate of reproduction, would be effectively brought under control. I should like to hear from the noble Lord any statement that he can give to us about the prospects for progress in that field. I am sure that in the long term this is a matter of immense importance, not only to this country but to every country of the world which has fishing fleets.

With regard to the rates of subsidy, to which the noble Lord referred, I took note that the existing level will continue for the first six months, and that for the second six months special measures will be announced later. Will the noble Lord be so good as to tell us when we may expect to hear what these special measures will be, when they will be announced and whether there will be further consultations with the fishing industry before these arrangements are finally settled? With those few observations and two queries I have much pleasure in supporting these Orders.


My Lords, may I briefly repeat a plea that I made on March 9 when a Scheme similar to the two now before your Lordships' House was being discussed? The second of the two Schemes now before the House is laid pursuant to no fewer than four recent Acts of Parliament: the White Fish and Herrings Industry Acts, 1953 and 1957, and the Sea Fish Industry Acts, 1959 and 1962. There would appear to be a need to consolidate into a single Act of Parliament this group of recent Acts dealing with this subject, and I think it is in order for me to say that the Special Orders Committee have twice in the course of their deliberations recently expressed the need for consolidation in this field.

When I raised the matter on March 9 the Minister was extremely sympathetic to the plea that I then made, but he pointed out that there was yet another Statute to be brought before the House dealing with this subject and that it would not be timely to proceed with consolidation until this further Statute had been passed. In due course the Fishing Vessel Grants Bill came before us, and was passed by this House on June 13 last. The event which the Minister on the former occasion foreshadowed now having come to pass, I hope that he will be even more sympathetic to the need for consolidation of this group of Acts into a single Act, and I hope he will now be able to say that he will make strong representations for a consolidating measure to be placed before Parliament.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, there are three points for me to answer. First, the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, concerning the conservation of fish stocks. I cannot do very much more than to assure him, as I did on the last occasion when this matter was discussed, that I am entirely in agreement with him about the great importance of this matter. There is an enormous need to get international agreement on it, and I assure the noble Lord that we are taking active steps—not, perhaps, with a great deal of publicity, but through the appropriate channels with the other countries concerned—in order to arrive at some effective and realistic measure of conserving fish stocks. I am glad the noble Lord mentioned it, because I am sure that it cannot be mentioned too often, and the more people like the noble Lord and others mention it, the greater impact it will have.

With regard to his second question, about the new arrangements that will be made for special subsidies for the next six months, an Order for that period will be made in January, 1968 (in other words, six months from now) and, of course, all the interested parties—the industry and those connected with the fishing industry—will be consulted in the usual way before that Order is laid and before a decision is taken on the form and amount of the subsidy.

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has once again raised a point that he raised on a former occasion; and again I am pleased that he has done so, because I am entirely on his side in this matter. It will certainly be of great administrative convenience, if nothing else, if there can be a consolidation of this disparate group of Orders, Schemes, legislation, and all the rest of it. However, I would point out to him that there is a large mass of fishery legislation of this kind and it is a question of deciding which are the most important measures to deal with first and to consolidate. In fact three consolidation measures have been undertaken in the last year or so. The noble Lord will agree, I think, that this shows we are bearing this matter in mind, and not only thinking about it but acting upon it. I cannot give him any firm promise when the legislation concerning these Schemes will in fact be consolidated, but they have taken their place in the queue and I can assure him that those which are the most urgent will be dealt with first.

On Question, Motion agreed to.