HL Deb 31 July 1968 vol 296 cc353-7

4.47 p.m.


On behalf of my noble friend Lord Beswick, I beg to move that the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1968 be approved. I should like to describe briefly the background to the subsidies provided in this scheme. In 1967 the deep sea catch was maintained at the average level of about 520,000 tons achieved in 1965 and 1966. But the value declined from £412 million in 1966 to £39.4 million in 1967. Inshore landings of white fish declined from the peak of over 270,000 tons in 1966 to 230,000 tons in 1967, owing to a reduction in Scottish landings. The value of the catch however was unchanged at about £15 million. Herring landings declined slightly in quantity and value but shellfish landings increased substantially from £3.6 million in 1966 to £4 million in 1967. In the first five months of 1968 landings have continued to increase, but the average value of white fish has declined still further. Your Lordships will recall that my noble friend announced on July 8 a new subsidy policy for the deep sea fleet for which legislation will be introduced early next Session. He also outlined the arrangements proposed for subsidies under existing legislation to the deep sea, inshore and herring fleets in the year commencing August 1. These arrangements are set out in the Scheme now before the House.

I will deal first with the inshore and herring fleets. In recent years the increasing profitability of this section of the industry has enabled us to reduce the subsidies. In 1967 the overall profitability of the fleet declined slightly from a little over £2 million in 1966 to a little under £2 million. This is still a reasonably good level of profit, and of course much better than that of the trawler fleet. In these circumstances we have thought it right to maintain the subsidies at their existing level to encourage the further development of the fleet that we want to see.

For the deep sea trawler fleet the basic rates for the coming year are the maximum rates permitted by the 1962 Act. In addition the maximum special rates of subsidy that can be paid within the limit of £350,000 permitted by the Act will be payable for the first six months of the year at rates proportionate to the basic rates, to all deep sea trawlers. By the early part of 1969 we hope to be in a position to make payments under the new system to which I have referred. The payments the House is now invited to approve will be set against the total sum payable to the industry under this new system for the year beginning August 1 next.

The distribution of the new subsidy will be related to the operating efficiency of vessels, and this principle has been welcomed by the industry. The detailed arrangements for measuring efficiency for this purpose and for the payment of the subsidy are now being discussed with the industry, and we shall be able to give your Lordships a fuller account of what is proposed when we come to fresh legislation. Meanwhile, I commend the present Scheme to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1968, be approved.—(Baroness Phillips.)


My Lords, may I thank the noble Baroness for her words in introducing this Scheme and say that we welcome it as a short-term measure? The subject was thoroughly debated in another place, and I therefore do not think it needs much from me to-day. There are just one or two points I should like to make and one or two questions I should like to ask the noble Baroness. It will be common knowledge to your Lordships that the fishing industry, other than the inshore fishing industry, is in a very shaky condition and poses some serious problems for the future. It really poses the question: how much do we want to have a domestic, national fishing industry supplying our own fish? The real difficulty is that the British market is pretty well the only open market for fish in the world. The U.S.A. market is still to some extent open, but limited. I do not think there is any other European country where there is an open market; and the result is that fish comes here from everywhere. It hits hardest the distant-water fleets, with their bulk landings; and despite the best efforts of everybody with the various subsidy schemes, there is no doubt that the distant-water fleets have taken a pretty heavy caning in the last twelve months and that they could not go on like that indefinitely.

I do not want to rehearse the whole of this situation, which must be common knowledge to your Lordships, but what I am anxious to avoid is that we should get further and further into the position of competition in fishing subsidies with the other European countries—and that is what we have been doing for the last 15 or 20 years. I took part in it as much as anybody else. In fact, I can remember putting on the Statute Book the 1952 Fishery Act, which started it all; and gradually, year by year, we have been going from bad to worse. When one sees a country like Norway, with its immensely strong fishery, putting up the value of its subsidies this year from £7 million a year to £14 million a year, one realises just how this competition is going and what a complete nonsense it all is at the end of the day. The surplus fish all comes in here—the surplus fish from Iceland, from Denmark, from Greenland and all the other places. This is really the problem: to what extent is this market going to be open to imports of fish from everybody else?

The questions I should like to ask the noble Baroness are these. I understand there is to be a meeting with our EFTA partners in the near future to discuss, I suppose, the level of imports. I should be interested to know whether the noble Baroness can tell us what line the Government are going to take. Is it possible to negotiate a minimum import price; some arrangement which would be more effective than the present arrangement, which really is not effective? The volume of imports has grown, and fish comes in here at absolutely "knock-out" prices. That must be bad for everybody at the end of the day.

The second question I want to ask the noble Baroness is this. I understand the E.E.C. has now evolved a new fishery policy. I do not know the details of it; but can the noble Baroness tell us how this will affect the United Kingdom market, and whether this will help to stabilise matters at all, or what its effect will be? These are major questions, and I realise that the Scheme moved by the noble Baroness is only a short-term measure and that we can perhaps look to more permanent arrangements under the new legislation, but it would be interesting to hear whether she can throw any light on these two particular points.


My Lords, this Scheme is a Statutory Instrument, and it therefore has to set forth the enactments which empower the Minister to make such a Scheme. Accordingly, one reads at the beginning of the Scheme that it is made in exercise of the powers conferred … by section 5 of the White Fish and Herring Industries Act 1953 (as amended by section 2 of the White Fish and Herring Industries Act 1957 and by section 37 of, and paragraph 18 of Schedule 2 to, the Sea Fish Industry Act 1962), section 3 of the White Fish and Herring Industries Act 1957 (as amended by section 37 of, and paragraph 22 of Schedule 2 to, the Sea Fish Industry Act 1962) and sections 1 and 2 of the Sea Fish Industry Act 1962, … On two previous occasions when Schemes of this kind have been brought forward I have expressed the view that there is urgent need for all this mass of recent fishery legislation to be consolidated into a single Act of Parliament, and on each occasion I have been told, "Yes, there is need for consolidation, but …". My Lords, I hope that this afternoon we shall be told that there is going to be consolidation.


My Lords, I should like first of all to tell the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that I have great sympathy with him, as a Junior Minister having to struggle with "the Act which refers to the previous Act which refers to the principal Act ". It certainly makes life much more difficult. He will be happy to know that a Bill to consolidate all the fishing subsidy legislation has been drafted by the Law Commission and will be introduced next Session. Perhaps this is in some measure due to the assiduous activities of the noble Lord. I only hope that the word "deeming" will not be included in the Bill, as I feel the noble Lord will be rather distressed if it is. At any rate, he can draw some consolation from the fact that a piece of consolidating legislation is to be introduced.

To the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, I would say that I agree that he has raised a very big question regarding the amount of food generally—fish, after all, is only one part of it. We hope this will be something we can discuss when the new legislation is before the House in the autumn. On the question of our EFTA partners, the noble Lord was there referring, I take it, to the question particularly of fish fillets; and discussion is going on at this time. How far the question of minimum import price is included in these discussions I am not able to tell the noble Lord now. I am sorry that neither can I give him the answer to the question about the fishery policy of the E.E.C., but I will take this matter forward, and if I can produce an answer to it before we have the discussion in the autumn, I will do so. I should like to thank the noble Lord for welcoming this measure. Her Majesty's Government appreciate that a subsidy of this kind is in fact a continuation and a short-term measure, but we look forward to a full discussion on the legislation in the next Session.

On Question, Motion agreed to.