HL Deb 09 March 1967 vol 280 cc1542-6

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) Scheme 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on February 15, 1967, be approved. This Scheme gives effect to the Government's promise in the White Paper on Investment Incentives of January 17, 1966, that grants for fishing vessels would be adjusted to take account of the abolition of investment allowances. The adjustment is in three respects: first, the rates of grant are increased by 10 per cent., from 25 per cent. to 35 per cent., for deep-sea vessels of 80 feet or more in length, and from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. for inshore vessels of under 80 feet in length. Secondly, existing ceilings on the amount of grant payable in individual cases are abolished.

Thirdly, herring vessels are made eligible for improvement grants for the first time. These grants will no longer be restricted to a limited list of improvements; they will be available for all improvements approved as worth while. The new arrangements will be retrospective to January 17, 1966, when investment allowances were abolished, and the opportunity has been taken to combine the existing separate schemes for white fish vessels, herring vessels and improvements into a single scheme.

I should draw your Lordships' attention to three new features which have not appeared in previous schemes. The first is that the safety and seaworthiness of a vessel is specified as one of the objects for which improvement grants may be made. Secondly, provision is made for grants on the cash expenditure incurred by fishermen who build their own boats personally. Thirdly, provision is made for the payment of a reduced rate of grant of 20 per cent. in a case where a vessel is built in a foreign yard at a cost which does not compare fairly with the cost of building a comparable vessel in this country. In the past no grant has been given in such cases. The rate of 20 per cent. is the rate which would be payable in the case of a merchant ship built in similar circumstances. It takes account of the fact that no investment allowance will be payable and is a fair and reasonable compromise from the point of view of fishing vessel owners and British shipbuilders.

Finally, I should tell your Lordships that a further increase of 5 per cent. in grants will in due course be payable on expenditure incurred in 1967 and 1968, but separate legislation will be made before this can be implemented. This Scheme is simple, helpful and I think non-controversial. It provides a very fair measure of assistance for the investment we all agree is needed to secure the economic development of the industry and to enable the industry to make its full contribution to the national economy. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) Scheme 1967 be approved.—(Lord Walston.)

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining this Scheme. We are glad to know that it is being consolidated so that all the grants under various schemes applicable before are now going to come under one heading. We are also glad to see that the herring vessels are going to be able to get grants for the first time. The fishing industry does not have an easy time. The work is extremely arduous, returns are frequently in doubt and the commodity itself is perishable. Coupled with all that is the increasing rise of capital costs. So these grants which the Government are making, and proposing to continue, will help the fleet owners to keep their ships modern and up to date. I was glad to see two other points: one, that the upper limit of the grant is now going to be abolished so that the grant may be as much as the circumstances allow; the other, that owners can get a grant if they make their own ships. That seems to be entirely reasonable.

I thought from what the noble Lord said—there certainly was the impression—that the grant was going to be considerably increased: from 25 per cent. to 35 per cent. for the smaller vessels, and from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. for the larger ones. This would seem a substantial increase. But, of course, the capital allowances which were available before are now not going to be available. So I would assume that the net result to the trawler owner would probably be the same as, or only a little better than, it was previously. We welcome this Bill.

May I ask the noble Lord some questions because I think the answers will be helpful? Can the noble Lord say how many fishing vessels have taken advantage of these grants over the last year? How many grants have been given for new vessels and how many given for the modernisation of older ones? Of the grants that have been given, can the noble Lord give us any indication of the proportion that goes to the near-water vessel, the proportion to the middle-water vessel and the proportion to the distant-water vessel? I do not expect the actual figures, but if the noble Lord could give an indication of whether there has been an improvement generally throughout the whole fishing fleet or whether it has tended to be carried out in only one specific part of the fishing fleet this would be helpful.

Paragraph 10 of the Scheme allows a grant of only 20 per cent., which is less, for those ships which are purchased from abroad or those modernised by equipment purchased from abroad. Can the noble Lord give any indication of the proportion of ships and the proportion of modernisation which is done as a result of purchases from overseas? Is it large, and is it on the increase or the decrease? If the noble Lord can give some information on those points we should be grateful.


My Lords, may I welcome this scheme so far as it is a consolidation of existing schemes? May I point out to the House that this scheme is, nevertheless, still laid in pursuance of no fewer than four recent Acts of Parliament concerned with the fishing industry; namely, the White Fish and Herring Industries Act 1953; the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1957; the Sea Fish Industry Act 1959, and the Sea Fish Industry Act 1962. For the sake of those people who have to find their way about in this mass of recent legislation concerning sea-fishing, may we have not only a consolidation of Schemes, which we are about to have now, but also a consolidation of all these recent Statutes?

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, if I may, I will deal first with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. I have much sympathy with the point he made, but I think he would agree that it would probably be desirable to defer any attempt to consolidate until we have the further legislation, to which I referred in my earlier remarks, to implement the extra 5 per cent. grant. I will certainly undertake to see that his proposals are considered. Not being a lawyer myself, I am very much in favour of anything which makes something simpler and easier to read or understand, and I think that might well be the case here.

I am grateful for the welcome given to this Scheme by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Regarding ships bought from abroad, the number is very small indeed. At the present time I know of only one, but it is conceivable that there may be a few others. It is certainly not a significant number. With regard to the total amount of money involved in the past under the existing Schemes, it varies between the lowest figure in 1962–63 of£406,000 to a maximum high in 1964–65 of£1,695,000. It is running at an approximate average of£1million a year. The division between inshore and distant water fishing again is somewhat variable, but with considerable weighting in favour of the distant water vessels, either conventional or the freezer type of trawler. Without wearying your Lordships with too many figures, in 1962–63 the distant water vessels received£100,000, the near and middle water vessels£142,000, and the inshore vessels£115,000; but that figure varies considerably from year to year. I do not wish to weary your Lordships, but if the noble Earl would like these figures I can give them to him at a later stage. Once again I should like to thank your Lordships for your support of this Scheme, which I am sure will be of benefit to the industry.

On Question, Motion agreed to.