§ 5.52 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. D. Heathcoat Amory)
I beg to move,That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.I am presenting to the House tonight no fewer than three fishery Schemes and one Order, which form four links in the chain of our policy for the fishing industry. With your permission Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think it would be for the convenience of the House, and would make this a more fruitful debate, if we could discuss all four together.
Let me first say one word about our policy, which is unchanged. The primary object of our policy in regard to these subsidies is to encourage the development of a modern self-sufficient fishing fleet. We have no intention of initiating a permanent subsidy or a regular yearly increase in the subsidy. When the white fish subsidy was introduced by the Labour Government in 1950, it was on a temporary basis—in fact, for six months. It has been renewed every six months from that time and has formed a very useful, if partial, measure of assistance to the industry.
In the course of time, it became obvious that the subsidy was not enough. The White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1953, was passed by the present Government, and it authorised the payment of a subsidy until 1958. The subsidy is accompanied by a constructive policy of grant-aiding the building of new fishing vessels. We always realised that the fleet could not hope to be self-supporting while it continued to consist very largely of coal-burning vessels, many of them very antiquated. That is why the heart of our policy has been, and still is, the encouragement of new building. It is encouraging to know that the programme of new building has gone forward pretty well since the grants were introduced in 1953.
1267 Between 1947 and 1952, only six near and middle water trawlers were built a year, on the average. The first new grant-aided boats came in at the very end of 1953. There are now 50 grant-aided boats in use, and 18 more are due to be completed this year. Another 55 have been approved for grant and are expected to be completed on various dates from next January onwards. That makes a total of 123 new, modern vessels.
These new vessels are being built as fast as the building yards can turn them out. But even so only about 30 boats are being built a year; so the capacity of the building yards for the present seems to be deciding the speed at which the fleet can be replaced. The total fleet now is about 590 vessels and, of these, 433 are steam vessels. We have had it in mind all along that there should be a ten-year programme. Authority for building grants has been provided up to a total of £9 million under the Act of 1953 to cover the period up to 1963. Basing our opinion on the 123 new boats that have been approved for grant, we think there is every prospect at this rate that we shall see the complete rebuilding of the fleet with good modern vessels.
Meanwhile—this is the important point—we must make use of the fleet we have now. It is getting a little smaller but a little better every year, as the old coal-burners go out, but we cannot, in safety, allow the old coal-burners to go out too fast. The rate of decline of the steam fleet increased last year from 57 vessels, which dropped out in 1953, to 56 in 1954, to 87 in 1955, and during the first six months of this year, 51 more vessels left the fleet.
This is, of course, precisely what we intended, provided that new vessels are coming in. We have to accept the fact that we still have a large number of steam vessels that are relatively uneconomic to the owners, to the taxpayers and also to the nation at large because they are burning coal which we can ill afford. This decline in the number of steam vessels must not be allowed to get out of hand. The object of the white fish subsidy is to enable us to keep control of the rate of change-over to modern vessels.
I now come to the subsidies themselves. Let me take steam vessels first. I mentioned just now that there are about 433 1268 steam vessels in the fleet. The House will recall that, when we debated this subject last year, we then increased the subsidy for the steam vessels by about £325,000 for a full year. Since then, the price of coal has gone up, and so have wages and other items, but there has been no comparable increase in the price of fish. We have to face the fact that the costs and earnings of the coal burners have not been keeping step, and so it is clearly necessary to give the steam vessels more subsidy so as to bring their costs and earnings nearer together. We cannot yet get on without these vessels, so that is the course that we have taken.
The additional cost of the subsidy that we are now providing for the steam vessels amounts to £650,000 a year, bringing the total for the steam vessels to about £2 million a year. Even this considerable addition to the subsidies will not enable many of the steam vessels to operate without loss. I know there was criticism last year that we were devoting too big a proportion of subsidies to the support of steam vessels. My answer must be to repeat the object, which is to retain in the fleet at present sufficient steam burners, even though they are proving more and more uneconomic, to enable us to ensure an adequate supply of fish to the nation.
I turn now to the motor trawlers. Their experience during the last twelve months has been broadly similar, although their costs have risen less seriously than those of the coal burners, largely because they do not burn coal. These motor trawlers are the vessels which we expect eventually to become completely self-supporting. Although I believe that that will happen in time, we have to accept the position that at present a good many of these vessels are not yet finding it possible to run at a profit after providing for depreciation in full. Depreciation always comes very heavily in the early years of a new vessel, but we hope that, as the coal-burners disappear and our conservation measures become more effective, these vessels will become completely self-supporting. Many, of course, are completely self-supporting already.
We have provided an increase in subsidy in the neediest class of motor trawler, although a more modest one than we have provided for the coal burners. The 90 ft. 1269 to 100 ft. class motor trawlers, for instance, will now be able to get up to £3,000 subsidy per annum at the highest rate proposed. Hon. Members will see the rates in the Schedule to the Scheme. The bigger motor trawlers, those between 120 ft. and 130 ft. in length, have been showing considerably better results as a class. In their case we have had to reduce the rate of subsidy, and in the case of the biggest vessels of all—those between 130 ft. and 140 ft.—we consider that no subsidy at all is required. The overall subsidy increase in the case of motor trawlers is about £50,000 a year, bringing the total cost of subsidy for motor trawlers to about £250,000 a year.
I wish to say a word about seining vessels, because the motor seining vessels are treated rather differently. Seiners are less expensive to operate than trawlers and, therefore, have shown themselves better able to be run at a profit in the areas where they can operate. As the House knows, the seine net fishing is not a technique which can be advantageously employed everywhere. We have not found in the case of the seiners sufficient reasons for increasing the subsidy, which costs about £150,000 per annum.
I must now turn to the inshore vessels. Here again we have concluded that, on this occasion, no change in the subsidy is justified—either up or down. The House will remember that the inshore subsidy was decreased last year, or at the beginning of this year, by 2d. per stone. On that occasion, I said that I would very much welcome and would give fullest consideration to any fuller facts and figures that that section of the industry could provide. We immediately got in touch with the fishermen's organisations concerned, and we have been in touch with them since. With their co-operation, we conducted a special investigation into costs and earnings from samples of inshore fishermen's results obtained from different parts of the country.
About 1,000 inshore fishermen were approached in England and Wales, but I am sorry to say that only 116 replies were received and less than 60 produced information which was reasonably complete. I know it is difficult to expect anything like elaborate accounts from fishermen, who want to spend their time fishing, not keeping accounts. The last 1270 thing I want to do is to impose any unreasonable requirements on these men. On the other hand, I cannot help feeling rather disappointed at the meagre response we got after the efforts we made and the assurances we had last year that we could and would get much fuller information.
Our own statistics in the case of the inshore fishermen point to a modest improvement in the results in 1955 against those of the previous year, but, as hon. Members will know, for inshore fishermen results are tremendously irregular from port to port and from type of vessel to type of vessel. The modest increase in earnings last year seems to us to have been sufficient to cover their additional costs. During the first five months of this year, the value of landings from inshore vessels in England and Wales has gone up by over one-third.
In Scotland, the response to our search for fuller information was more successful. There the returns showed that the Scottish fleet as a whole obtained quite respectable results for 1955 and, although their costs have increased, the year's earnings also increased. Indeed, their earnings per day at sea seem to have gone up about 15 per cent. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will no doubt be dealing in more detail with that later on in the debate. In the circumstances, although we gave very careful and sympathetic consideration to the representations made to us by the inshore fishermen, we could not find grounds on which we would be justified in increasing the subsidy for inshore vessels. At the present rate of 8d. per stone, this part of the subsidy costs about £600,000.
Now I turn to a change in the form of subsidy this year. At present and in the past the near and middle water vessels have received subsidy in two parts. First, there is what is known as a voyage payment on a sliding scale, the payment ceasing when proceeds from the voyage exceed a certain figure. In a way that was an insurance subsidy to provide a cushion against severe losses after an unsuccessful trip. No subsidy was paid when the trip had produced successful results. That subsidy was supplemented by what was called a landing payment of so much per stone on the fish landed, as an incentive to hard fishing.
1271 The new scheme provides for only one form of subsidy, a flat rate payment of so much per day. Hon. Members will see the rates in the Schedule. The payments go up to £22 per day for the largest steam vesels and £10 per day for the most needy class of motor vessel. That subsidy is to be paid for every day the vessel is at sea and up to a maximum of 300 days per year. The day the vessel departs from port—that is not the correct word to use—
Yes, sails—the day it returns to port, the day the fish is landed and the day on which it is sold, if that is not the same day as it comes back, are counted as days at sea. Payment will be made whether the trip has been a good one or a bad one, so the insurance element has disappeared. The new form of subsidy has been adopted at the request of the owners. It is a simplification on the old one. It allows the owners to know exactly where they stand. It is simpler to understand, simpler to administer, and I think it improves the incentive to hard fishing.
The new form will apply to all vessels between 70 feet and 140 feet and also to seining vessels under 70 feet which normally make trips of eight days or more, because they were brought last January to the same system as the vessels of the near and middle water fleets. In the case of seining vessels which make long trips, whether they are over or under 70 feet, there remains a vestige of an insurance element, because it is proposed that these vessels should receive relatively high rates of subsidy in the winter months and none at all in the summer. This is to help them when they need it most in the short days of bad weather in the winter when seining is particularly difficult. The seiner owners favour this arrangement.
One further important change relates to the share of the payments received by officers and crews. Until now the subsidy has been reckoned as part of the gross proceeds of the catch, and when the remuneration of the crew has been settled on the gross earnings, that has meant that the officers and crews have shared in the subsidy payment—on the 1272 basis of about 75 per cent. to the owners and 25 per cent. to the officers and crews.
That arrangement was right and proper in 1950 when the subsidy scheme started, because it was begun as a compensation for the falling prices of fish, which were reflected in the crews' earnings no less than in those of the owners. However, of late it has become a growing anomaly because the increases that we gave in the subsidies last year and this year were related not to the falling prices of fish, but to rising costs, and one of the important elements in rising costs has been rising wages. Therefore, we have had the rather strange result that the subsidy has gone up because costs, including wages, have gone up, and that part of the increased subsidy has gone as a further addition to wages.
We feel, however, that we ought not to take away the share that officers and crews are at present receiving from the subsidies which are now being paid, because the effect of that would be to reduce their remuneration. The fairest way seems to us to be to provide that officers and crews paid on the gross earnings should continue to receive a share of the subsidy payments up to the average subsidy earned by the class of vessel with which they are concerned at the rates now in force, but that they should be excluded from sharing in any further increase in the subsidy which is being made now or in the future.
Column 3 of the Schedule to the Scheme will show hon. Members the sums per day at sea which it is proposed should be shared by crews who are paid on the gross earnings. Crews which are excluded from sharing in the increase will in the aggregate be neither better nor worse off than they are at present, but, of course, they will indirectly share in the benefit resulting from the payment of subsidies to the fleet in which they serve, because it is a fleet which, without the help of the subsidies, would be going out of existence very rapidly indeed.
The change will not apply to officers or men who are being remunerated on the basis of the vessel's net earnings as against gross earnings. Clearly, their remuneration will be hit by rising costs which the increased subsidies are designed to offset. Therefore, it is only right that they should share also in any consequent increases of subsidy.
1273 This arrangement will not be applicable to seiners or inshore vessels, because they are paid on a different basis, and in those cases, anyhow, the subsidy is not being increased.
I must also say a word about the White Fish Subsidy (Aggregate Amount of Grants) Order. When I presented the subsidy for the period we are now in, I said I estimated the cost of the current subsidy to be £2.3 million per year. The effect of the new rates will be to increase the total cost to about £3 million per year. By the beginning of this month we had already spent about £6½ million out of the £7½ million which is available under the 1953 Act, and the £7½ million will probably run out in the course of the next few months.
However, the 1953 Act allows the total sum to be increased to £10 million by Order with the approval of the House, and the purpose of the Order which I am presenting tonight is to authorise the increase of £2½ million. The total of £10 million should see us through the coming year and, consequently, through the life of the Scheme which we are discussing and which is due to expire on 31st July, 1957. But the £10 million will not last much longer than that, and it is the Government's intention to introduce new legislation next Session to authorise the payment of subsidy up to 1961—otherwise it ends in 1958—and to provide powers by which the period can be extended to 1963 by Order if that should prove necessary.
That is not to be taken as a guarantee that subsidy payments will necessarily continue until 1963. I hope very much that circumstances will enable us to cease paying subsidy before 1963. That is the date when the building grants end and we hope that by then the fleet will have been substantially rebuilt and that the subsidy will no longer be required.
Further to aid the modernisation of the fleet, it is also the Government's intention to make provision in new legislation for the payment of grants towards the cost of converting coal-burning vessels to oil fuel. I am anxious that these grants should be available at the earliest practicable date, and details are now being worked out. I believe that will make a very useful, though perhaps modest, contribution towards the further modernisation of the fleet.
1274 I ought also to say a word about the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) (Amendment) Scheme and the Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) (Amendment) Scheme. Here we are making provision to increase the maximum grant which can be paid for a new vessel in the case of the white fish industry generally from £25,000 to £30,000 a vessel, and in the case of the herring industry from £12,000 to £15,000. These changes can be made without fresh legislation.
The maximum grant was deliberately not fixed in the 1953 Act, because it was realised that there might be changes in building costs which would have to be taken into account from time to time. In fact, building costs have risen considerably over the past few years. A boat which cost £100,000 to build in 1953 would now cost £120,000 or £125,000. The effect of that is that under our existing provisions we should be limited to paying almost 20 per cent. grant instead of the 25 per cent. grant which was statutorily provided for. It was never the intention to restrict the rate of grant due to rising building costs, and I am sure that hon. Members generally will welcome these Amendments which do no more than enable us to continue to provide a grant of 25 per cent.
There is another amendment falling within this same provision with which I can, I think, deal very briefly. It exempts vessels engaged in what is known as long-line fishing from the limit that is otherwise imposed on the number of voyages that a grant-aided near or middle water vessel can make to distant waters. The reason for this limitation in the number of voyages was that the distant water fleet is not subsidised and it would not be fair that those vessels should face competition from subsidised vessels. These long-lining vessels, however, are not competitive with the distant water trawlers, and the change that we are suggesting will end what has really amounted to an anomaly, and I am sure will be welcomed, in Aberdeen particularly.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that the Schemes and the Order, taken together with the undertaking which I have given this evening about new legislation, are logical and sensible measures for carrying out the policy which this 1275 Government have been steadily pursuing in regard to the fishing industry since we came into office. That policy is to use Government-provided financial assistance to help to create a modern, vigorous, competitive fishing fleet—a fishing fleet capable of standing of its own legs—or perhaps I should say floating on its own bottoms. When that has been done we shall open the way to being able to dispense with subsidies altogether. I am confident that that policy and these measures are sound.
We are all justly proud of our fishermen and our fishing fleet, of their robust and independent spirit. We are all conscious of the service which they have rendered and are rendering to the nation in peace as in war. The whole House, I am sure, will want our fishing industry to continue to prosper, and I am also sure that no hon. Member is likely to grudge them the help which we are proposing this afternoon. I commend the Order and the Schemes to the House.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
We have listened to the Minister deploying his case with his usual courtesy and charm of manner. If I may say so, he has done it much more effectively than he did last December when, having just recovered from a storm of criticism of his original proposals, he came to the House chastened and hesitant. Nevertheless, in spite of his performance this afternoon, which we all appreciate, I feel that he still seems more at home on the farm than on the deep blue sea.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who wound up the debate on the occasion to which I have referred, and who, I understand, is to wind up the debate tonight, then seemed even more confused. He failed utterly to answer any of the questions put to him, and we can only hope that at the end of this debate we shall see him make a real attempt to get his teeth into the criticism to which, no doubt, he will be subjected from both sides of the House. I hope that the House will forgive me if I adopt a rather more astringent tone than that of the very agreeable accents of the Minister.
Apart from the merits or demerits of the Schemes and the Order, we on this side of the House—and, I suspect, many hon. Members opposite also—cannot conceal our real disappointment at the 1276 Government's attitude towards problems of the fishing industry in general. We have previously had before us these Orders, which deal with a restricted field. We have asked on many occasions for time to be afforded by the Government in order that the House might debate the general condition of the industry and the difficulties and anxieties confronting it. When the Labour Government were in power they introduced a series of legislative enactments dealing with the industry in all its phases, both in regard to white fish and to herring. We have not had a major debate on the subject since 1953. All we have had have been discussions following the laying of new Orders relating to subsidies, and the measures which we are debating tonight.
Last December I raised the matter again, and the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward)—whom I am very sorry to see is not here now—in her vigorous manner, spent most of the time during her contribution to the debate in dodging, very effectively, the decisions of the Chair. The underlying theme of her argument was "Let us get down to a real discussion of the fishing industry". The Minister, true to form and as is customary in these debates, paid tribute to the rôle of the fishing fleets in time of war. He extolled the bravery and endurance of our fishermen. That is common form. We always do that on such occasions, as we should. Nevertheless, the Government do very little to provide a forum in which can be discussed all the difficulties and problems and hazards of the fishing industry and the conditions of the men in it. That is treating that industry with less than consideration—indeed, with contempt.
Fishing is one of the three basic primary producing industries. The other two are agriculture and mining. All three battle directly with nature for the benefit of our people, and all other industries depend upon them. It is not as though there were not enough matters of prime importance to the industry that we could discuss here. A few come to my mind which I should like to have the opportunity to discuss at some time when the Government feel disposed to give that opportunity for debate. There are the Reports of the White Fish Authority and of the Herring Industry Board and the 1277 reactions of the different sections of the industry to both of those bodies. There is the question of over-fishing, which still remains a problem, and the flagrant, blatant contravention by foreign vessels of the agreement, raised in this House only by Parliamentary Question.
There is the agreement with Denmark over the Faroes and with the Russians the White Sea and the Barents Sea area. There is the collapse of the East Anglian herring industry; new developments in scientific research into fish breeding and the dispersal of shoals. Then what about recruitment and training? That is a major problem in the industry and is related to conditions on board. They are all related in a sense to these present measures, but no doubt if we were to embark on a long discussion of any of those projects we should be ruled out of order. Overall there is the ever-present spectre of continually rising costs.
I was very disturbed to see in one of the fishing papers this week a cutting relating to the Scottish Fishery Estimates. It seems that the Government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other. In the cutting is the statement:A decrease of £105,900 for fisheries, including the herring industry, is shown in this year's estimates for the Scottish Home Department.The biggest cut is one of £30,000 in connection with the acquisition of new research vessels. Funds for the replacement of fishery protection vessels have been cut by £28,750, while the grant in aid of the Herring Marketing Fund is down by £10,000. There are also reductions of £10,000 in respect of harbour authorities, and of £10,000 in connection with the provision of boats and engines for fishermen as well as grants and loans to the Herring Industry Board.
These are questions that relate to the prosperity of the industry and to the happiness and efficiency of the fishermen, and yet year after year since 1953 the House has not been able to discuss the problems with the Government and demand that some sort of action should be taken in order that those aspects of the industry can be improved.
I think that hon. Members, at all events on this side of the House, have a legitimate cause for complaint at the failure of the Government to consult them in any way whatever on their intentions with regard to these Orders and Schemes. 1278 Again, we have the same procedure. The Orders are laid, and there is no time to debate them before the Government make up their minds. I think that the Minister was less than forthcoming when, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), who asked on what date the new White Fish Subsidy Orders would be laid before the House, he said:As early as possible next month, though I cannot as yet give a precise date.My hon. Friend said:In view of what happened last time, when the right hon. Gentleman's blunder was ameliorated in the light of Parliamentary criticism, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be an opportunity to discuss this Scheme fully before the Recess?The Minister replied:I will give the hon. Member that assurance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1956; Vol. 555, c. 20.]Many of us misinterpreted that assurance. Some of my hon. Friends and I thought that we would have an opportunity to discuss the implications of the present position of the industry before these Schemes and the Order were laid. I should have thought it reasonable that the fishing interests in this House should have an opportunity of discussing the matter and deploying our case to the Minister before he came to the House with a cut-and-dried scheme.
On the previous occasion, the Minister had an experience which, I suppose, he did not want to repeat, because when he laid the first Scheme he had to take it back and re-model it. He was wise on this occasion, for he did not give anybody an opportunity to discuss the terms of the Scheme in the House before tonight.
I put a question to the Leader of the House when we were discussing the order of business, and I complained that no opportunity was given in the House to discuss these Orders before they become operative. These Schemes and the Order will become operative tonight as soon as the House rises. Even if the Minister were amenable to the case that we might deploy, what chance have we to have the Schemes and the Order altered tonight? None whatever.
Having adopted a rather harsh tone so far, I think I ought to say that the Minister has been in close contact with the industry. I know that he has taken 1279 into consultation those who fish in the near and middle waters, and he has just told us of the consultations he has had with the inshore fishing people before coming to a decision on the terms of these Schemes and the Order, but I think it is due to those of us in this House who take an interest in fishing that we should have an opportunity to state our case before these Statutory Instruments are laid. Many hon. Members have expressed the same point of view.
I do not propose to say anything about inshore fishing. I know that many knowledgeable Members on both sides of the House with a great deal of experience will want to say a great deal about it. I should, however, like to say one thing. It is well known that the best quality fish comes from inshore and near water fishing. My own part of Lowestoft maintains a high standard of quality fish, and although the catches are small compared with distant water ports, it is essential, if we are to encourage our people to eat more fish, that there should be a good supply of quality fish and of great variety at a reasonable price. I have said this many times, and it is a view which is upheld by many who are interested in the welfare of the fishing fleet.
Originally, when these subsidies were instituted, it was with that object in view—that there should be variety and good quality and that we should do all that we could to induce our people to become—I was going to say "more fish-minded"—more interested in fish as an important part of their diet. I do not consider that we are a fish-eating community. This country is not like some of the great Catholic countries, where a day is set apart for fish-eating—although I would not like fish-eating to be regarded as a penance. We do not want people to eat fish merely because the day is Friday. We want people to eat fish on Mondays as well, and not because they cannot get meat, but because they like fish. I do not want to say anything derogatory about the long-distance vessels, but we can only provide that kind of quality fish from the inshore and near water fisheries.
We on this side of the House welcome these Statutory Instruments in general, although there are several aspects which 1280 need drastic revision. Compared with the Orders that were promulgated last December, they have gone a long way to meet the wishes of the industry. We particularly welcome the power that the Minister is taking under the 1953 Act to increase the overall grant from £7,500,000 to £10 million. I was very interested indeed to hear that it was the intention of the Government to ask for new powers next year when this initial grant runs out, because I have put to the Minister several Questions on this matter of the tapering off of the grant. I can conceive that it is the policy of the Government, and indeed I should imagine the hope of hon. Members on these benches, that the time will come when the industry will not be in need of subsidies. But that is a long way off yet.
It is true to say that no responsible owner would wish the subsidy scheme to benefit him if he were making a profit, but it was expected that when this sum of £7,500,000 was fixed in 1953, there would be a stabilisation of prices. It was never dreamed at that time that there would be a continual increase in the cost of running these vessels. It was envisaged then that by 1958 the Scheme would run down and the subsidies would taper off.
The reverse process has taken place. Instead of prices falling, they have continued to rise. In spite of all the claims of the Tories, particularly at Election time, that everything would come down in price, the opposite has happened, and they have failed lamentably to keep that promise. We can only approve the Order to increase the sum available for subsidies in the hope that costs will fall before the terminal point is reached. If that happy event does not occur in 1958, I am sure that we shall not oppose anything that the Government might do to continue the subsidy arrangements, so long as they are proved to be necessary. Broadly speaking, our policy will be to hope that the industry will be able to stabilise itself, to make both ends meet and, indeed, to show a substantial return.
With regard to the allocation of grants for the provision of new vessels and for the conversion from steam to oil, we welcome the increase in the maximum from £25,000 to £30,000 per vessel. But that does not march in step with the cost 1281 of new vessels. A vessel which cost £50,000 a few years ago, just when the scheme was being thought of, might cost today, when it is fitted, anything from £70,000 to £80,000. That is a tremendous increase. Although I can see that the object or hope of the Minister is that the ratio shall remain the same, it does in fact place a very heavy burden on the small man, particularly in raising the rest of the capital in order to build new vessels.
We are very much in danger of finding a situation developing when the small man will be thrown out of business; he will not be able to raise the capital, and the fleets will more and more pass into big congregations of large owners who can readily produce the capital. That sort of thing is very much in evidence today, I am afraid; the small one-vessel owner is going out, and he is being bought up by the bigger combines. I do not know, but I should have thought that that was very much against the interests of the fleet; it removes that personal interest of a man who has inherited or built up a long tradition of the sea, and the industry passes into the hands of big financial interests rather than the hands of real fishermen who probably have a long history in catching.
The rise of £3,000 in the grant for herring drifters is on the same lines, except that there the rise is rather more generous; it is 25 per cent. as compared with 20 per cent. for trawlers. It will still be very difficult indeed for the small drifter owner to provide capital out of his own resources when he wants to get new vessels.
We willingly concede that, as regards the near and middle water vessels, the Minister has taken a drastic step. He has done that in consultation with the interests involved, though not with hon. Members who have the interests of the fishing industry at heart. The most important change, as he has said, is the elimination of the grant per stone for near and middle water vessels, while maintaining the 8d. a stone for gutted fish for the inshore fishers. No doubt our friends who are interested in inshore fishing will have something to say about that. It is obvious that the same considerations of rising costs operate for the inshore fishing vessels as well as for the sea drifters, steam trawlers or oil burning 1282 vessels. It seems to me very invidious that that class should be singled out for no improvement in their subsidies, while other classes are receiving consideration. No doubt other speakers will develop that point.
There is one point which I do not think the Minister mentioned, but which we welcome, namely, that it is now arranged for subsidies to run for one year instead of for a period of six months. That makes for stabilisation and a little more security for fishing interests. Six months is much too short a period. I have always thought it very bad that it has been necessary to come to the House every six months and put the industry in a ferment when this matter has to be dealt with. It does undoubtedly get into a ferment when there is any talk of a different rate of subsidy or grants. Such a thing is unsettling to the industry; it should be able to look ahead.
It is fair to say that the Scheme is the result of an examination of trading results. I understand that the Scheme was formulated after going very carefully into trading results over a long period, and a general rule was made. But there is a danger there, because it is quite possible, when making a general survey of an industry or part of an industry, that there are portions of it, single ports for instance, which, owing to natural circumstances, have not been able to do very well.
I hope that if this system of surveying the operations of the industry is to be adopted next year, those who have been found to be less advantageously treated through the general application of this rate of subsidy will be put in a better position in future years, that is to say, that the rate of subsidy will be raised in respect of their efforts. I hope that now the new kind of calculation has been introduced, any anomalies due to fortuitous circumstances will be rectified when the Scheme is re-examined next year.
The Minister has mentioned the new rates of subsidy in which the crews and officers participate. I am wondering whether he has had as close consultation with those representing their interests as he has had with the fishing owners. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to reassure us that he has been in the closest consultation with the unions 1283 representing the crews and the federations representing the officers. It would be most invidious if this Scheme were accepted here tonight and we had no assurance that anybody other than owners had been in the picture throughout the negotiations.
I must say we are left rather with the impression, in spite of all the good intentions of the Minister in this respect, that the smaller vessels will, after all, be the worse off; I am referring now not to the inshore vessels but to the smaller vessels in the near and middle waters group. I hope that they will not suffer as much as some of us think they will.
We feel that the most undesirable part of the proposals, in spite of the explanation which the Minister has given, is the encouragement given for maintaining old steam trawlers at sea. I do not know how far I carry all my hon. Friends with me in this matter. I see my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) here, and the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) sitting opposite. Both my hon. and learned Friend and the noble Lady may not agree with me when I say that it seems incomprehensible that, while we preach a doctrine of conversion and modernisation of our fleets, we give the greatest incentive to obsolete vessels being kept at sea.
It is very discouraging to those in many ports who adopt a forward policy, to find that the biggest grants are given to the most inefficient vessels. The Minister said that it is important to keep them at sea. It seems to me that he will keep them at sea for a very long time if he pays them £20 a day to stay at sea. If I were an owner, I should not see any inducement to order a new, modern trawler if I were being given £20 a day to keep the old one in commission. That seems to be a very grave anomaly.
I must say that, in spite of the criticisms and harsh things one has to say, we welcome the Schemes as far as they go, and we wish them to operate successfully. We particularly welcome the announcement of the Minister that in the near future he will introduce legislation in regard to conversion. This is a most important matter, I think, and I hope that he will go well ahead with 1284 that and give substantial encouragement. Rather than give owners £20 a day to keep these old vessels at sea, he should give them £20 a day to take them into dry dock, take out the old engines and have new ones put in. That is the best incentive that we could have.
I am sure that we all want to take this industry out of politics. In spite of the one or two gibes which I have, perhaps, made tonight, we feel that the industry is well above the party political level. We want it to prosper. It is one of our oldest industries, an industry of which we are all very proud, particularly those of us who work and live among those grand people who go to sea in order that we may enjoy the fruits of their labours.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)
I agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) that it is a great pity that we are dependent upon occasions such as this to discuss the fishing industry. There is no reason, it seems to those of us who have the honour to represent constituencies with fishing interests, why the fishing industry should not claim at least one day a year of the time of the House for the discussion of the industry's manifold facets.
I also join with the hon. Member in his commendation of the felicitous manner in which my right hon. Friend the Minister introduced the Schemes and the Order, but I must confess to acute disappointment at the way in which this matter has been handled. In January, my right hon. Friend promised us a complete survey of the whole financial situation affecting the fishing industry. The examination and analysis have been made, and there have been the most amazing deductions therefrom.
I should like to direct the attention of the House particularly to the position of the inshore fishing industry, for it is that section which I have the honour to represent. I appreciate the tribute paid by my right hon. Friend to the Scottish inshore industry for the manner in which it came forward and supplied the necessary information for the inquiry. The fullest co-operation in furnishing figures was given by the representative bodies in Scotland. That information, however, was forthcoming largely in respect of the 1285 most successful vessels, for it was their owners who were the best equipped and organised to furnish the information.
The Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association covers the inshore fishing activities of the north-east of Scotland. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and those associated with him would agree that it is one of the best organised and most efficient trade bodies in the country. At the instigation of this Association its members furnished comprehensive information of the prevailing conditions in the inshore fishing industry of north-east Scotland.
The Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association received the new subsidy proposals in a letter from the Scottish Home Department dated 2nd May, accompanied by an analysis of the figures which had been produced throughout Scotland. I must agree with the Association in expressing surprise at the somewhat amazing deductions which have been drawn from the figures. The letter to the Association also said that before any action was taken,the Department would be glad to receive as soon as possible any comments which your Association may wish to make on the figures in the enclosed statements. …Those comments were duly made, and I wish to indicate some of the points arising from the analysis.
Two hundred and eighty-six vessels of from 40 to 70 ft. in length were in the survey and their accounts forthcoming. The average subsidy paid to each of these vessels was £749 1s. for 1955. The average profit in respect of each vessel was £388 4s., which means that had there been no subsidy, each vessel would have shown a loss of £361 on the year's working, instead of a profit. This figure of profit, incidentally, represents rather less than 4 per cent. on the capital value of the vessel.
The analysis also shows that the labour share per man per week for the 286 vessels was £10.96. Then comes the astonishing comment:In the above figures, no allowance is made for repayments, etc., of gear and boat loans.There has, of course, been a succession of increases in interest rates during the same period. These matters are of the utmost importance in a debate of this kind.
1286 As for the smaller boats of up to 40 ft. in length, returns were rendered in respect of 104 vessels. The average subsidy was £217 14s. but the average net profit was only £52 12s. Again, had there been no subsidy, there would have been a material loss. The labour share was £9 6s. a week, and again no allowance was made for repayments for gear or boat loans.
The reply of the Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association was subscribed to by the other fishing bodies in Scotland, including the Clyde Fishermen's Association and the Firth of Forth Fishermen's Association. In dealing with wages, the Association said to the Scottish Home Department:It should be observed that whereas the labour share per man per week is £10.96 for vessels between 40 and 70 ft. in length for 39 working weeks, and is £9.3 for approximately 38 working weeks in the case of vessels up to 40 ft. in length, these earnings supplemented by unemployment benefit for the remainder of the year, namely, 13 weeks in the former case and 14 weeks in the latter, are required to sustain the hired man and his family for a whole year. It is submitted that this results in his average weekly wage spread over 52 weeks being reduced, on the foregoing figures, from £10.96 to £8 10s. in the one case and from £9.3 to approximately £7 in the other.When they are working, these men put in 80 hours a week. It is no fault of theirs that they are ashore for thirteen weeks in the year. Anyone conversant with the fishing industry knows that that time is necessary for the rehabilitation of vessels and gear. When the inshore vessels are at sea, the diesel engine is virtually working from the beginning of the week until the weekend and this period of rehabilitation, therefore, is necessary.
The analysis of figures, it should be pointed out, was produced on the basis of a subsidy of 10d. per stone, whereas in 1956 the subsidy rate is down to 8d. per stone. The analysis, therefore, does not accord with the present situation. In addition, it has been pointed out to the Department that there have been material increases in the cost of all the industry's outgoings, notably on ancillary equipment, including manila ropes, nets, rubber sea boots, maintenance costs and fuel oil. There is now also the necessary provision of life-saving rafts aboard vessels, costing up to £200 each. All these charges have to be found from earnings. Therefore, I say that the figures which were produced 1287 as a result of that inquiry have not been properly interpreted in the making of this new proposal.
A meeting took place at the Department on 14th May, and there were present representatives of the Scottish Home Department, the Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association, the Firth of Forth Fishermen's Association, the Clyde Fishermen's Association and the White Fish Authority, all bodies representative of the inshore fishing industry of Scotland. All those fishermen's bodies reinforced the submissions which had been made in the letter to which I have referred and which was sent to the Department by the Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association.
It is said that in the first six months of this year there was an increase in earnings compared with those of the first six months of 1955. That is perfectly true, but it must be borne in mind that the inshore fishermen of Scotland are making every possible effort to catch fish in all kinds of conditions, even in unwarrantable conditions. I have seen them go to sea in weather in which it is dangerous to put to sea, but they have to earn their daily bread. This decreased subsidy is, I should say, a most unfair incentive to go fishing in weather which is far from suitable.
It is quite wrong to assess a year's operations on what happens in the first six months of that year. My right hon. Friend compared 1955 with 1954, and I must correct him. It may be that, considering the fishing industry as a whole, 1955 showed a slight improvement over 1954, but for the Scottish inshore fishing industry 1955 did not turn out as well as 1954. It is quite true that the first nine months of 1955 were better than the first nine months of 1954, but when the figures were added up at the end of the twelve months, 1955 was found to have been not such a profitable year for the fishing industry in Scotland as 1954 had been. Yet it was upon the 1955 figures, or what were alleged to have been the 1955 figures, that the subsidy was reduced from 10d. a stone to 8d. a stone.
While it is true that landings have been better this year up to now than they were in 1955 it has to be remembered that 1288 we have ahead of us, as everyone knows who is associated with the fishing industry, a period of low prices. Look at what is happening at the fishing ports. Fish is going for processing. Look what happened at the main trawler ports yesterday. Fish went for fish meal. The weather is against the trade at the present time, and at this time of the year people change their domestic habits, for the holiday season is on, and not much fish is bought at holiday resorts. Therefore, the fish is going for fish meal, and that is depressing the prices on the quaysides. That ought to have been taken into account in the estimate of what is equitable assistance for the fisherman today.
A subsidy is absolutely essential. If fish were offered in the market at its value, people simply would not buy it, and the industry would be hamstrung for lack of any market whatsoever. Thus the subsidy is essential, and there was no justification for the reduction in the subsidy in January: none at all. It is pertinent to ask now a question which is being very urgently asked in the industry; is this hold-up in the subsidy really the result of the inquiry or is it an instance of Treasury interference? I feel very strongly that it must be the latter. If it is not, it means that in the Department there is the self-same guesswork going on that nearly wrecked the industry when the subsidy was reduced from 10d. to 6d. Any guesswork of that kind, affecting a basic industry, must be condemned by the House.
I accept the inshore subsidy, but I accept it under protest. I know that our inshore fishermen will do their utmost to make a living for themselves, no matter what the conditions are, but in reducing subsidies one can at length reach the point beyond which it is destructively imprudent to go, and I think that that point has been reached now. I repeat that I accept the subsidy under protest, and I look forward with a great deal of hope to the new legislation coming along for a long-term subsidy. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep this present subsidy closely under review, and that if it is found that the figure is inadequate the necessary adjustment will be made.
As one who is interested in all phases of the fishing industry I should say something about the anomalies in the trawler subsidy. It is quite true that it would be 1289 a bad thing to drive the coalburning trawlers, no matter how obsolescent they may be, off the seas at the present time. That would create a good deal of unemployment, which the industry cannot bear. If we did that we should lose from the industry some magnificent men whom we can ill spare, who earn their livelihood at sea. Once men leave the sea, they do not return to it. That has been found to be almost invariably true. Yet I do not blame those at the progressive ports for feeling that they are being let down by this concentration of aid on coal burning vessels, leaving the modernised fleets on their own. I sympathise with those associated with ports like Fleetwood and Lowestoft, which have extremely progressive, modern fleets, for feeling that they are being somewhat let down.
I should have thought that rising costs, which are being experienced all round, would have so weighed upon the Ministerial mind that at least the small subsidies which at present obtain would have been allowed to continue. I am referring particularly to the 130 ft. and 140 ft. vessels, which are ideal craft, and which should be encouraged in every possible way. The White Fish Subsidy (Aggregate Amount of Grants) Order is absolutely essential, as are also the new White Fish Subsidy Scheme and the grants for the fishing vessels and their engines in both the white fish and herring fishing industries. They are splendid, and are long overdue.
I have a question to ask about raising the limit from £12,000 to £15,000. Is the grant payable retrospectively? Is it to help those people who have had to pay increased prices on a new vessel? Will it apply to vessels on which £15,000, and sometimes more, has already been spent? I should like some elucidation of that matter.
It is a pity that we have to depend on occasions such as this to air our views and grievances, such as they are, about this extremely important industry. I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for his promise of new legislation for a longer-term subsidy, and particularly for the promise that something will be done to assist the transition from coal to oil burning. There, indeed, is a transition of first-rate importance for the fishing industry, and the sooner it is speeded up the better for all concerned.
1290 I will not retract one word that I have said about the position of the inshore fishing industry. We shall endeavour to do our utmost to make do with this subsidy, and we shall keep the Minister fully informed should the necessity arise for any change.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) in the debate, and I propose to return a little later to the latter part of his speech. I was a little surprised at my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) making a little attack on the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The hon. Gentleman does not require my defence in any way, but when he sat on the back benches in opposition he used to make very vigorous speeches on the fishing industry. It is true that since he became a Minister he has mellowed somewhat.
I believe I have said before that the Joint Under-Secretary, when Labour were the Government of the day, complained about the Government driving the herring out of the Forth. He seemed to think that their disappearance was the responsibility of the Government, and he made vigorous speeches about it. Since the Tories have come to office and the hon. Gentleman has become responsible for this part of the industry, the herring has not come back to the Forth, surprising though that may be. However, the hon. Gentleman has mellowed and I do not want to be critical this evening; I want to be a little benevolent about what is going on.
The proposals before us are undoubtedly a great improvement on the first proposals which the Minister introduced and then withdrew. The right hon. Gentleman was a little unfair to the men engaged in the fishing industry when he spoke about the anomaly of those who receive a share of the fishing profits and, because of that share, the Government subsidy has to be increased, the men then collecting part of that subsidy and thus increasing their earnings and increasing costs. The right hon. Gentleman regarded that as an anomaly but, with all respect to him, the Government have been doing that ever since they came to power.
The hon. Member for Banff mentioned interest rates, but he did not care to 1291 expound that subject more fully. A considerable part of the annual cost of building a craft is the interest charged on the borrowed money. Since the Government came to power, interest rates have gone up from 3½ per cent. to 5¼ per cent. The fishermen have to face this added interest charge every year. At present, the charges on a £60,000 loan account for £3,000 a year, or £60 a week. That is what the fishermen have to pay to meet the interest charges, without repayment of capital Therefore, as the Government push up the interest rates, they have to do something with the subsidy to meet the increased costs which they themselves have imposed.
As to the new grants under the present proposals, I wonder whether the Minister, when he was talking about the original £9 million, which could be increased to £10 million, really appreciated the way in which prices have risen during the past few years. I have a constituent who wants to know whether it would be possible to make these new grants retrospective. He first ordered a vessel in October, 1954. The tender at that date was £99,500, which just came within the grant limit of costs up to £100,000. A tender for a second vessel which was lodged in August, 1955, had moved up over ten months by £7,000 to a total of £106,500.
The first vessel has now been delivered. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland told me that he had been along to see it and that he thought it was a first-class job. When the bill came, however, it was not for £99,500 but for £116,000. Therefore, this owner has to find an extra £16,500 over and above the original tender. It is true that he will have certain loans at the new interest rate of 5¼ per cent., but he may be driven to the banks and the open market to meet these extra charges, and he has no assurance that he can obtain the money even at that interest rate.
The tender for the second vessel was £106,500, but now, even before the keel has been laid, this man has received an intimation from the builder that the vessel will cost a further 11 per cent. It is no use this, or any other Government, saying to people in industry that they must go ahead and modernise and build new boats. They cannot do it in these conditions. This man is not a large owner, but he has tremendous initiative, enter- 1292 prise and energy. However, he must face the hard facts of the situation. He has said to me, "I am willing to reinvest anything I make out of my industry and put it into modernisation and creating a new fleet and providing the best conditions for the men who sail my vessels, but if these things are to go and we are to have no further assistance, it will be impossible."
I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be a little more explicit when he replies to the debate. Surely, when we have reached a position in which even before the keel has been laid charges go up, it will be possible under these new proposals to provide added assistance to the owners so that when the boat has not begun to be built they can qualify for the new grant. I think it is fair to ask that. I hope the Government will be generous enough to accept that proposal, otherwise it will be impossible for these individual owners to undertake the job.
My constituent has always had another complaint. It is that when an order for a new boat is placed, the owner must put down 15 per cent. of the cost on the day he orders. He therefore has to lie out of that money until he gets delivery of the boat and he is able to earn it. It means that he has to lie out of it for a considerable period of time. Even if we accept the Minister's statement that the delay is due to the limitation on the yards, which cannot build more and build quicker, surely all the responsibility should not be placed on the shoulders of the man who has shown initiative. The owner is also rather resentful of the fact that those who do not build a new fleet do substantially better out of the subsidy. If my constituent, Mr. Croan, can use his initiative in this way, I am convinced that owners in other ports could do a similar job if they put their minds to it. So I do not think that the owners should be penalised in this way.
Now I come to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft and by the hon. Member for Banff. Undoubtedly the conversion of coalburning trawlers to oil fuel is an important matter for the industry. I have been in correspondence with the Scottish Office about this. A constituent of mine who is interested wrote to me about it, and I wrote to the Secretary of State for 1293 Scotland and received a reply from him only this morning. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not mind if I use it now. He wrote:You wrote to me on 25th June, enclosing a letter from Mr. Carnie"—who is one of my constituents—in which he asks when the Government is likely to give a decision on grants for the conversion of coal-burning trawlers to oil fuel. We have this question very much in mind, and I realise that Granton owners in particular are interested in the outcome. I understand that Mr. Carnie was at the recent meeting in London when the white fish subsidy proposals were discussed with the trawler owners, and that he had an opportunity of putting his point about conversion and retrospective legislation.That was the point raised by the hon. Member for Banff.The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries then explained that the Government wished to meet the views of the White Fish Authority and the owners on this point, but that there were legislative difficulties, which he hoped the owners would recognise, both as regards the necessary amendment of the 1953 Act and as regards making it retrospective. I am sorry I cannot say more at the moment but I hope we shall be able to make a statement soon.It may be asked why I should raise this matter again tonight in view of that letter. I only do so because it is pertinent to this debate. I do not say that I was terribly disappointed that in opening this debate the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did not go further this evening than the Secretary of State for Scotland went this morning. However, I was a little disappointed, because on the day before the previous debate, when the new subsidy proposals were first published, I asked the Secretary of State if he had considered the proposals and protests of the fishing industry of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman said he had done so and assured me that nothing could be done in the matter and that not another penny could be got out of the Government. Then, less than twenty-four hours later, the right hon. Gentleman came along with completely new proposals and a lot more money. So hon. Members will understand that I want to be up to date in this matter as well, and I thought that the Minister would have a later statement to make some eight hours later.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not gone any further than his right hon. Friend. I want him to realise 1294 that this is extremely important. We certainly want a speedy decision, but we want a good one when it is made. Again, however, there is reiterated in this proposal the question of retrospective payment. That is important, because it is a little annoying for those who have shown initiative to find that the fellow who has waited gets considerably more than they do. I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary will reply to this point.
I have two further points to make. The first is the question of repayment of loans already received. In introducing his proposals this afternoon, the Minister was not quite accurate in his summary of new loans against old, for boats built between 1947 and 1952 and between 1952 and the present date. It was not a complete summary, because in the years immediately following the war there were a considerable number of conversions from old naval boats. There was a scramble for these because every one wanted a certain type of engine. I suppose, like the B.B.C., I am not allowed to advertise, but I can say that this engine was in such great demand that certain owners had to accept alternative types.
I have corresponded with the Secretary of State and with the White Fish Authority for a considerable time about two constituents of mine who were given this type of engine. Everybody admits that they have worked night and day, week in and week out, year in and year out. But, in spite of their best endeavours, the venture has failed because of the bad engine with which they were supplied, and my constituents have lost all that they put into the boat. Indeed, they have not earned much to keep them going since that date, and despite the fact that the boat has been sold, the Authority still wants them to pay a considerable sum. As I told the Joint Under-Secretary of State in the previous debate, my constituents simply cannot pay. This hunt ought to be abandoned, because they worked tremendously hard to try to make the boat pay. I think the Government ought to take a reasonable and humane view of these things, and perhaps at the conclusion of this debate I shall be told that the debt has been completely written off.
The hon. Member for Banff said that one of the needs of the industry was for the various sections to hammer out a 1295 policy. The complaint in my constituency is that there are far too many changes made in the top ranks of the White Fish Authority. The chairmanship is changing continually. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Indeed it is; we have had three changes in recent years, which prevents continuity of service. My constituents say that it would be much better if a much younger man had been appointed recently than was selected, so that he could give expectation of years of service, which is what the industry needs.
Many and complicated are its difficulties. Each and all of us want it to be successful. I hope that the proposals put before us tonight will help to put the industry in that condition, but the points I have raised are ones which concern the industry greatly, and I would be grateful if the Joint Under-Secretary would give us a specific reply to them when he winds up the debate.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
I find myself very much in agreement with what has been said already in this debate so clearly, namely, that most of us are disappointed with the latest Scheme of the Minister. Certainly it has not been beneficial to Fleetwood, as I will explain later. However, I suppose we ought to be pleased when we get a few crumbs from the Treasury, and so we ought to be happy about receiving anything extra.
One of the worries of the fishing people in Lancashire is that the Scotsmen always seem to beat the English when it comes to arguing with the Minister about fish. We are completely defeated every time, and the rout last time was one of the worst defeats which England has suffered. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will use his influence with the Scottish Office to see that we get a fair crack of the whip.
I have many times spoken about Fleetwood's difficult position. It is on a different coast from the main industry. It is not a very big port. It is very difficult to make the industry really work there. The people have spent a lot of money in getting a new fleet, and they feel very disappointed about the present treatment. My right hon. Friend has probably noticed that the Financial 1296 Times gave the Fleetwood people a good write-up this morning, printing their letter of protest and making reference to it.
These people feel that they have done to the best of their ability what the Minister asked them to do. They started building new vessels and took advantage of the subsidy scheme, and things began to look much better, but now they have the feeling that the Minister has let them down and has not considered their difficulties. They feel that the subsidy is to meet increased costs, and they cannot understand why it should be thought that increased costs do not apply in their case when they do to everyone else in the industry.
We had hoped that everyone would carry on building new fishing fleets, for they would be not only more economical to run but very much better in every way for the comfort of the crews. To do so takes a terrific amount of money, however, and, as the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) said, the high interest rates make it very difficult for smaller firms to build new vessels. I hope that those who have got them will not suffer too much because the subsidy is not coming their way.
I imagine that when my right hon. Friend was considering the subsidy he used the 1955 figures as a basis, for there was nothing else that he could use. I am sure we should not have had the same Scheme if he could have known the 1956 figures, for they present a very different picture. The people in Fleetwood have assured me that the position is not too good. Their costs have risen considerably, and the fact that they are losing the subsidy will mean that they will be in a very difficult position.
Although I criticise the Scheme, it is good that the Minister has kept up the subsidy on steam so that the catching power of the fleet does not fall. If that declined, it would be disastrous. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it is extraordinary to bolster up the old coal burning trawlers in this manner without helping the diesel vessels. The figures make extraordinary reading. A steam trawler of between 120 ft. and 130 ft. will get £19 10s. per day; a steam trawler of between 130 ft. and 140 ft. will get £22 per day; a diesel trawler of between 120 ft. and 130 ft., which used to get £3 1s. per day, will get £2 per day; and 1297 a diesel trawler of between 130 ft. and 140 ft., which used to get £3 8s. per day, will now get nothing at all. Surely my right hon. Friend cannot mean that steam should have this subsidy and oil should have none at all when the men have carried out what he particularly asked them to do?
I hope there will be a chance of my right hon. Friend being able to do something about this matter in the near future. It is probably too difficult and too late for him to do anything tonight, but when he brings forward his new legislation or the subject arises again in some other form, I hope he will look at the case of those who have spent their money—wisely, we hope—so that they will be able to get a fair return for the money and for their work.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
In the light of today's inflation, the high cost of building, operating and repairing ships, and the high cost of gear, I submit that the Schemes are trivial when compared with the needs of the fishing industry. I was amused when my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) spoke about the owner of a fishing vessel putting his ship in dock to get a new engine. How could he get a new engine in the light of present costs with such a mean, miserable, niggardly grant? The grants are out of all proportion to the needs of the situation; they should be much larger. Consequently, I invite the Minister to do what he did on a former occasion, take back these Instruments and produce improved Instruments which are more generous and more comparable with the needs of the fishing industry.
It is necessary to consider these Schemes from the viewpoints of all elements in the industry—officers, crews, owners, workers in the fishmarkets and those who transport fish. Unless these workers are fairly and justly treated, the industry will not prosper. These niggardly schemes will not treat them fairly; having regard to the cost of living and inflation, the schemes do not permit the workers to maintain and develop their living standards as they ought to be maintained and developed.
It was because the industry was not prospering that the series of Statutes 1298 under which these Instruments are made was passed. Those Statutes were comprehensive and wide. They have never been fully implemented, and they are certainly not fully implemented by these Instruments. These Schemes will not do the job which was contemplated by the Statutes. They seem to have been drafted in vacuo without proper relation to the needs of the situation; this is entirely wrong. They should have been drafted having regard to inflation, the cost of building and repairing ships, and the cost of gear; but they are not.
It is necessary to consider not only the classes of persons I have mentioned but the terms of the relevant Statutes and the earlier Statutory Instruments. I am willing to concede that the earlier Statutory Instruments were, at the time they were passed, adequate to their tasks, but economic and financial conditions have so changed that a new view should be taken of them to bring them into line with the needs of today's situation.
We judge these Instruments by asking ourselves: Are they suitable and effective for their purposes today? Are they of the kind contemplated by the Statutes? The Instruments fall according to those tests. They are inadequate to the purpose. They should be taken back and reviewed. Perhaps that is why the Statutory Instruments are rushed upon the House at the last moment. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) made that point. He said that there should be a fisheries debate at least once a year. I would go further and say that there should be a separate and independent Minister of Fisheries of Cabinet rank who could see that the needs of the fishing industry were frequently brought before the House and were envisaged in a large and comprehensive way, not only once a year but more frequently.
The White Fish and Herring Industry Act, 1953, was designed, among other things, to provide for the payment of grants in respect of the acquisition of new vessels and engines for use in the white fish and herring industry and for a subsidy in respect of white fish. Section 5 of that Act, under which these Instruments were made, was designed, among other things, to assist in… promoting the landing in the United Kingdom of a continuous and plentiful supply of white fish …1299 and it provided for the making of Schemes for this purpose. Those are comprehensive words, and that Act was a comprehensive Act; but these Schemes are not comprehensive: they are outmoded, out of date, slavishly copying earlier Schemes in the same series and attempting to apply in effect the earlier Schemes to conditions which today are quite different having regard to inflation.
The evil which was contemplated by that Statute and by the earlier Schemes is a continuing evil and a developing one, and it is rather worse today than it was when that Statute was passed. The present Secretary of State for Scotland, in his speech on the Second Reading of that Bill, when recommending the Bill, used these words on the 20th January, 1953:The need for extensive new building for the near and middle-water fleets is well known. Indeed, as far back as 1936 the Sea Fish Commission, in the Report known as the Duncan Report, drew attention to the age and obsolescence of the fleets, and since then, of course, due to inability to build during the war years, this problem has naturally increased."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1953; Vol. 510, c. 51–2.]It is a continuous problem, it is an increasing problem, and it has not been solved by the earlier Statutory Instruments and, a fortiori, will not be solved by the present Statutory Instrument under the different and more stringent conditions of today.
In order to show that it is a continuing and increasing problem, I quote a Question which I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland so far back as 13th December, 1955. That Question was based upon the Report of the Duncan Committee. I asked:If his attention has been drawn to paragraphs 39 and 40 of the latest report of the White Fish Authority deploring the old age of the Aberdeen trawling fleet and discussing the legal difficulties in the way of carrying out their proposal to build and operate trawlers themselves arising out of the provisions of the Sea Fish Industry Act; and if he will take steps to secure to the Authority the fuller powers necessary to enable them to operate fishing vessels permanently.The House will see that the Question was based upon the Report of the White Fish Authority itself deploring the old age of the fishing fleet and asking that it should be empowered to build and operate fishing fleets itself—a thing that I favour myself, because I think that it 1300 would be a very good thing if the White Fish Authority had the power to build and operate its own fleets in competition with the fleets of private owners and private companies in order to keep these latter fleets up to standard in structure, operation and management. I ask the House to listen to the Answer which the Secretary of State gave to that Question. He said:I share the Authority's concern at the slow progress in modernising the Aberdeen trawler fleet. The Authority have not submitted to the Government any proposal that they should build and operate trawlers themselves. Such a proposal would involve difficulties quite apart from the absence of statutory powers. I am glad to report, however, that grants for seven new trawlers have recently been approved, making a total of thirteen for the port."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 155.]The problem still remains. That was a mere tinkering with the problem. The problem still remains, and these trivial Statutory Instruments, these meagre and ungenerous Statutory Instruments, will not give the ship owners the power to do that which the Statute itself contemplated.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I think that the problem still remains, but I do not think that it can be rectified under these Instruments.
§ Mr. Hughes
All these Statutory Instruments are being taken together, Sir Charles, and I am dealing with the one which provides grants for the rebuilding and repair of trawlers—the White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) (Amendment) Scheme, 1956.
These words, in my submission, indicate the problems in Aberdeen, and I speak of Aberdeen because I am most familiar with that city and the problems there; but similar problems are to be found in other fishing ports. I submit that these Statutory Instruments will not solve them. I do not admit for a moment that these Schemes are sufficient, comprehensive, far-reaching or imaginative. They tinker with certain aspects of a vast and complex problem which some day must be dealt with in the comprehensive way in which King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I dealt with the Navy when they laid the foundations of the British Navy, which is so perfect an instrument today.
§ Mr. Hughes
I accept, having regard to the fact that the Navy was founded by 1301 those two Sovereigns, that it is the Royal Navy, but nevertheless it is also the British Navy. That interjection does not assist the serious argument which I am addressing to the House with regard to the fishing fleet. That great change improved the quality of the naval ships, the status of the officers and crews, the pay and amenities for their own and the public good. Something other than meagre Statutory Instruments are required in order to place the fishing fleets of this country upon a proper basis. The provisions of these Statutory Instruments do not do it. So I end as I began by inviting the Minister, on the precedent that he created a year ago, to take back these wretched Statutory Instruments and produce better and more effective ones, more suitable in this period of inflation for dealing with the problems to which I have referred.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) is clearly out of tune with the rest of the House, because every single Member who has spoken, except the Minister himself, has regretted the fact that the coal-burning vessels of the port of Aberdeen should have such an increased subsidy, and yet the hon. and learned Member is anxious that the subsidy should be even greater. We can conclude only that he wishes to keep these elderly vessels at sea even longer than at present.
I must welcome the fact that we have an increased subsidy which for the largest boats will amount to about £22, but I have a certain sympathy with those hon. Members who have said that that means that we shall keep an ageing fleet at sea longer than necessary. It would be a very great mistake to withdraw the subsidies too rudely, because we should then have an all-out scrapping programme. The recommendation of both the White Fish Authority and of the McColl Report on the Port of Aberdeen that we should have a staggered programme of scrapping at the rate of two old vessels to one new vessel built. We should otherwise obviously be in great danger of a high level of unemployment in the Port of Aberdeen.
On the other hand, one does not wish to support inefficiency, but building does take time. We must recall what has been 1302 said about the building programme in Aberdeen by the past chairman of the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority, Captain Allan. He said that there was every reason to expect a total of 27 new vessels in the Port of Aberdeen and eight more on long-term order. Now, of course, certain trawlers have gone out of service. We still have about 173 in the port today and the same amount of fish is still being landed.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Is the ratio being maintained? The hon. Lady mentioned one new trawler in lieu of two old ones. Is that happening at the moment?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I should think that with the rate of building—which, as I said, takes time—that is happening. There was some concern in the port about three or four months ago that the rate of scrapping was too fast.
Naturally I should like to see even more orders for new boats, but the Minister himself earlier this year said, in answer to Questions in the House, that the yards were full for two or three years. That is despite the cost of building today, which naturally falls very hardly on the small owners. I am in considerable sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), because it seems that with the high cost of building today, more and more boats will be built by an amalgamation of companies.
I very much welcome the Scheme which provides for increased grants for building, and I particularly welcome the legislation which we are to have in the future dealing with conversion from coal to oil burning. If that takes place on any scale, Aberdeen should look into accommodation facilities for large tankers so that we can become a major installation port. We should then be able to have preferential prices for our oil, which is a very important factor to us, together with transport costs on the marketing side.
I should like to say something about the new Scheme for flat payment. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), who spoke in his usual knowledgeable way, would be content with this new Scheme, because on the last occasion when he addressed the House on this subject he drew attention to the fact that vessels used to get the subsidy when they were 1303 out of the port of Aberdeen, whether at sea, or sheltering in harbour. This new grant is payable to ships only when they are actually at sea.
However, there are certain dangers in this flat payment. I informed the Joint Under-Secretary that I hoped to raise this point and I trust that it will be possible to have some reply. We have noticed that there are considerable problems when a boat remains at sea until midnight. Immediately after midnight it qualifies for subsidy for the whole of the following day. We had one ship the "Sturdee" which ran aground and was a total loss at Aberdeen this year. At the court of inquiry the skipper was asked why the ship was dodging about in the bay. Sheriff Hamilton asked the skipper:Do you seriously suggest that any man coming up to a port and is not to get in for five to six hours dodges about rather than drop his anchor to keep the ship in safety?The skipper replied:Yes. I can guarantee that sometimes you can see about sixty boats doing that. I agree that dropping the anchor is safer, but if the watch had been properly kept it would have been all right.Qualifying for the flat payment of subsidy at midnight means that there are often collisions in the navigation channel coming into the Port of Aberdeen. The other day the Fiscal, Mr. Wilson H. Smith, said:On Friday night in the port, there is a mad rush up the channel of trawlers which wait outside in the bay until nearly midnight. They time their entry for just after midnight, with a view to qualifying for a subsidy, and then race each other up the channel. Collisions are frequent, and there are even temporary groundings as a result.Of course, the immediate result is that so far seven skippers have been prosecuted, and I understand that more cases are to come before the court.
The case of the "Sturdee" received considerable publicity in the Port of Aberdeen, and I asked the Joint Under-Secretary whether, when the subsidies which we are now discussing were reviewed, this question could be taken into account to see whether anything could be done to obviate what is obviously a great danger to the ships and to those who sail in them. It is quite clear that we cannot keep a watch on up to 60 vessels waiting in the harbour until midnight. A vessel could steam slowly in 1304 order to reach harbour just after midnight. The Joint Under-Secretary replied in April:… we proposed"—that is, the Government—last autumn to include in the subsidy scheme a rule that a vessel should not qualify for voyage subsidy in respect of any day in which it had spent less than six hours at sea. That would have meant in practice that to qualify for an extra day's subsidy a vessel would miss that day's market and consequently have to delay its departure for the next trip by a day.In our discussions with the Aberdeen trawler owners it became clear that the enforcement of the six-hour rule would have seriously upset the effect which our subsidy proposals were intended to have, and we decided in the end not to proceed with it on the last occasion. The present subsidy scheme, however, expires on 31st July next, and in the forthcoming review of the subsidy scheme we shall consider again whether to introduce such a rule to operate after that date.What exactly were all the difficulties which were borne in mind in deciding not to bring in a subsidy for which one would qualify only if one were six hours at sea? That is important, in view of the very wide publicity which has been given to this subject, and the concern felt among the general public in the City of Aberdeen.
I realise that this is a very difficult subject. On the whole, these measures are wise, because until the yards are able to take more orders and we are able to have a regular scrap-and-build programme, I think we can do nothing more than have the subsidies. I naturally welcome the generosity with which Scottish fishermen have been treated. When my hon. Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Stanley) talks about the routing of the Sassenachs, I would only say, as a Scottish Member, that I am very glad that the Scottish representatives of the fishing industry were able to secure that many of the demands which they put forward when they visited the Minister were met. Because these proposals will encourage the building of new boats, particularly in the major port of Aberdeen, I very much welcome them.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
We would all probably agree that my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) has made an extraordinarily good contribution to the debate, especially in connection with the safety of trawlers. I thought that the 1305 keynote of the Minister's speech was that it was the duty of the Government to encourage an up-to-date and efficient industry, and it is to that end that I wish to address my remarks to him this evening.
Mention has been made of a new order, called the Merchant Shipping Life Saving Appliances (Amendment) Order, which is coming out, I believe, on 1st October, and which provides that boats of over 50 feet in length must be supplied with a life raft. In discussing this matter with me the other day the fishermen of Newlyn said that they felt a very real sense of grievance that boats of over 50 feet in length must provide these rafts whereas boats of less than that length need not. Some people who, with respect, do not know the conditions in that part of the country, may maintain that the smaller boats do not go far from the land. That is quite wrong; in many cases boats of less than 50 feet in length go considerable distances from the land, and when one takes into account the fact that a 20-seater life raft costs £258, a 10-seater, £172, and a six-seater £145, one sees that it is very unfair—quite apart from the safety aspect—that some should have to pay and some need not. The fishermen themselves take the view that the life of the man is important enough to make it necessary for everybody to provide these rafts.
I have been in communication today with a firm which makes these rafts. I am told that there is a very much cheaper and smaller raft at present under trial manufacture which should be ready to be tested and passed within a month. I am going to ask the Government to delay the implementation of their Order until 1st January, so that this smaller type of raft—which is a good deal cheaper; much less than £100, and suitable for the smaller craft covered by those Orders—can be passed by the Board of Trade, and so that, as from 1st January, it can be made compulsory for some form of raft of this sort to be carried in every fishing boat subject to these subsidy arrangements that goes to sea. Those who know the background to cases, such as that of the "Quiet Waters"—where all the evidence that is available after a collision consists of a few bits of driftwood—know that if life rafts had been fitted many 1306 of these disasters would not have resulted in loss of life.
The Minister said that it was the aim of the Government to encourage an up-to-date fishing industry, and much has been said about the vexed question of coal burners. I know that conversion cannot take place at once, but I wonder whether the Government can indicate to the industry when the new conversion programme will be started. My right hon. Friend will no doubt remember that in a speech in December he said that some vessels in Milford Haven and, I believe, Lowestoft had been successfully converted, even though they were 30 years old. If further conversions of this sort could be carried out, they would help to remove the sense of grievance which exists on the part of other people, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Stanley).
If we are to have an up-to-date fleet, it must be properly protected. It is really no good having our Fishery Protection vessels engaged in a farce such as occurred in the Channel the other day. These protection vessels must have good sea-keeping qualities and also the speed to enable them to keep up with and catch foreign marauders. I do not think that any of us would wish to see a repetition of what happened the other day, when an unfortunate seaman was landed on the "Varne" Light Vessel. I want to know what is happening in this matter. I know that we have two modern vessels capable of speeds up to 20 knots, but I do not know what are their sea-keeping qualities. Are they able to keep at sea in the kind of conditions which they must be able to cope with if they are to do their job properly?
Again, if we are to have an up-to-date fleet, how are we getting on with our training of young men? What is happening to such schemes as that mentioned in the little yellow folder which I have in my hand, which refers to a training scheme in the south-west? I wonder how that is going on. Not very well, I fear. I want to suggest a possible way of attracting young men into this industry. Some of us were recently privileged to watch the start of a great sailing race to Lisbon. The intense interest taken in that race was demonstrated by the enormous numbers, not only of people 1307 on shore, but of small craft milling about at the start. If we could have some sort of sail training ship, it would attract some of these young men far more than the idea of a few weeks in a technical college, which does not sound very romantic, and it would at least be some encouragement. Perhaps Her Majesty's Navy would not then have to borrow a sailing ship from a generous Greek shipowner in order to enter a race such as the recent race to Lisbon. We must do something to show young men that this is an industry worth entering.
We are faced with an extremely difficult problem. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree about that. I should like to know the average age of the share men in the inshore fishing industry. Is it going up or down? I think that it is going up. Secondly, how shall we replace our lifeboat crews? We must have men with local knowledge, especially on the coasts of West Cornwall. If we are to produce an up-to-date fishing organisation and a fishing fleet, what are we going to do about the question of nets and the size of their mesh?
The Fishing News of 14th October, last year said:From inquiries made by us in British fishing ports sometimes patronised by French trawlers whose vessels openly exhibit nets below the size. The French trawlermen complained that they were not consulted by their authorities before the Convention was signed.
§ Mr. Howard
Two of them deal with grants for fishing vessels and engines—and with their gear. I hope that the Government can tell us something about this and still remain within the rules of order. This is only another example why some of us feel that it is monstrous not to have a proper debate ranging over all the complex problems of the fishing industry more than once a year.
§ Mr. Howard
Perhaps I may turn to grants for fishing vessels. Under the Statutory Instrument with which we have dealt, the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, I must ask once more—and I am afraid that it will again fall on deaf ears—why the shell fishermen 1308 should not be included, because they have a very difficult time. Often they cannot preserve their fish by freezing, like some other fishermen can. I should have liked to have asked how things stood under the Convention about the possibility of discussions to establish base lines by agreement, what is the position of fish conservation policy, and many other things, but unfortunately I am not allowed to do so in this very narrow debate.
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for the concession which he has made to long liners, because the job of a long liner, as those who have had anything to do with it know, is extremely hard and difficult, and any concessions which can be made to this particular type of fishing are very welcome.
Whilst saying that I am sorry to hear that certain sections of the inshore fishing industry of England did not submit figures, I think it is only fair to add that, from inquiries which I have made, I gather that all those asked in Newlyn and my part of West Cornwall gave figures and produced the samples required.
I was glad to hear the sympathetic way in which my right hon. Friend introduced this debate, and I feel sure that he will bear in mind from time to time the changing conditions in the industry and the complexities of the different areas. As we know, fish leave one part of the coast and go to another, which changes the whole economy from one place to another; one place does better, and another place does worse. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will always keep an open mind and will be ready to change his mind, if need be, in six months' time. Finally, I should like to ask for an answer about life rafts. If the Statutory Instrument is approved, does it mean that this will count for grant because this is a very expensive item?
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Major Sir Duncan McCallum (Argyll)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), I want to make a plea for the provision of another occasion on which we could thoroughly debate the whole fishing industry. The kind of debate which we are having today is most unsatisfactory. I think it is high time we had another day for a complete debate on the fishing industry.
I do not want to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I want to 1309 raise with my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State two or three matters. One is in connection with the White Fish Subsidy Scheme. My right hon. Friend said that, in drawing up these Schemes, there had been consultation with the Clyde Fishermen's Association. Apart from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, I think I probably speak for the smallest type of fishing craft which have been mentioned today. I admit that these Schemes must be drawn up making proper allowance for the vast majority of the fishing industry, whereas I speak for only a small part of it on the West Coast of Scotland, the herring industry, which at present is going through very difficult times in that part of the West Coast. It is doing its best to carry out dual purpose fishing and to turn over to white fish. In that case, the boats, under the 40-foot classification, become eligible for this subsidy of 8d. I should like to point out to the Joint Under-Secretary that even the 8d. subsidy is a very minor assistance to these men, who are herring fishermen, not fishermen of white fish, but who go over to white fish in order to make some sort of living.
These Statutory Instruments give additional facilities for grants for the construction of boats and for new engines, but nothing is said about grants to help with new equipment. To turn over from the herring fishing, with the ring net boat, to white fish and the seine net method requires an important conversion which costs a lot of money. I submitted a case to the Ministry recently in which an active and young fisherman, full of enterprise and initiative, took it upon himself to convert his boat from herring fishing to dual-purpose fishing. He had obtained the boat in 1949 under the grant system and with the aid of loans.
Because of the unfortunate experience in herring fishing on the West Coast over the last five years, many of these West Coast herring fishermen have fallen behind in their repayments of their loans. They have even fallen behind in the payment of the interest. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) said almost exactly what I wanted to say. There are fishermen on the West Coast who are not in a position to pay the interest on the loan and not even in the position to pay the insurance on the boats. I have had cor- 1310 respondence with the Secretary of State on the matter. We feel that the Herring Industry Board, in particular, might give more sympathetic consideration and arrange easier terms of payment to try to help these fishermen. They might also ease the demand for exact payment at the exact time.
I know that the Clyde Fishermen's Association has been in consultation with the Herring Industry Board to try to bring this about, but I had to report a case to the Secretary of State the other day in which, even while the negotiation was going on, the fisherman of one of the most modern boats was treated exactly as the hon. Member for Leith has said. He had been provided with an engine which was quite unsuitable and, at his own expense, without obtaining a grant, he fitted another and much more efficient engine. Even so, he has fallen a long way behind in his payments.
What happens? He is told that he is not credit-worthy and is not trying to pay. His boat is seized, and it is lying in the constituency of the hon. Member for Leith at the disposal of the Herring Industry Board. In fact, last week or the week before it was advertised for sale in the Fishing News.
This man made a mistake; he did not ask for a grant to change the engine but did it himself and paid out £3,000 or £4,000 in the last few years to make his boat more sea-worthy and more efficient in catching fish. His only reward is to be told that he is not credit-worthy and is not trying to repay the original loan on the boat. As a consequence, the boat has been seized. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to tell me that the Board has agreed to return the boat to him in order that he may continue fishing for white fish until such time as herring are available on the West Coast again.
These Statutory Instruments permit the payment of grants and loans, but it is impossible for these fishermen to take advantage of them. I know that my hon. Friend cannot make special terms for one particular section of the industry, but I think that he could request the Herring Industry Board—he cannot, of course, order it—to look with a more sympathetic eye on the difficulties being experienced at present by the West Coast herring fishermen, and particularly to those who 1311 have had the initiative to turn to white fishing. They are very much in debt. So much so that they cannot see their way out. They all assure me that once the herrings come back or if good white fish catches are obtained in the Clyde area and on the West Coast they will be able to repay their loans and so demonstrate that the grants have not been wasted.
At present a magnificent boat is lying idle in harbour. It is said to have been sold to an Irish owner. It is a boat which has had much money spent on it and for which a large grant has been paid. It seems that so long as the Board gets the grant back they do not care what else happens. That is very harsh treatment for these men. It is driving first-class seafaring families out of the business because of existing physical conditions which are nobody's fault. If consideration could be given to them until better fishing comes along, I am quite sure that the Government and the Board will be repaid, and it will be seen that the grants legislated for have been well worth while.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The Joint Under-Secretary of State will be glad to know that I do not propose to add very much to the many criticisms that have already been offered by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I think that he will find it a difficult enough job to reply to those without my adding much more, but I should mention one or two other matters to which I attach quite considerable importance.
We note with regret that these measures provide for no increase in the white fish subsidy for the near and middle water seine netters. We recall that only some months ago the Government proposed to reduce the subsidy from 10d. to 6d. per stone of gutted white fish landed from vessels of under 70 ft. in length. As a result of very strong representations they increased the figure to 8d., but even so it represented a reduction of 2d.
When commending the Schemes and the Order to the House today, the Minister said that he had made an effort to get the fullest possible information from the inshore fishing industry so as to be able to determine the subsidy. He said that the response from the industry in England and Wales have been very 1312 poor. The industry had not yielded the information that was asked. He went out of his way to pay tribute to my fellow countrymen in the Scottish inshore industry for having been so much more forthcoming.
I regret, as did the Minister, that the industry in the South did not provide the information, but I also regret the decision that the Minister has taken in consequence, I believe, of the information which he received from the Scottish inshore fishermen. Several hon. Members have pleaded for these inshore men. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) quoted figures which must surely have shaken all hon. Members who heard them. The information given to me prior to this debate was that those men were probably earning about £8 a week, but I was not able to get the detailed information which the hon. Member gave us.
When one remembers that the returns to the owners that the hon. Member quoted were for 1955, when we had a subsidy of 10d. a stone, and recall that since then their costs have been going up and that this year they are operating on a subsidy of 8d. a stone—with, so far as I know, no compensating increase in the price which they are getting for the fish landed—we must be concerned for the well-being of these men.
According to the information which I have been able to gather on the subject, I am convinced that a restoration of the 10d. subsidy would have been fully justified. However, when we discuss Statutory Instruments such as these we can only complain. If the provision is inadequate, there is nothing we can do to make it more adequate.
There is no doubt that many of these fishermen are getting a poor return for the hazardous and arduous tasks which they perform, nor do I think that there is any doubt at all that a great many of them are finding it exceedingly difficult to maintain from their current incomes their payments on their loans. This brings me to the point to which the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Sir D. McCallum) directed most of his remarks. Incidentally, I notice that he has departed from the Chamber. It seems to be the custom nowadays that after an hon. Member has addressed the House he thinks that his next move is furth of the Chamber. I think it most regrettable.
1313 The hon. and gallant Gentleman dealt with the difficulty which some of those fishermen who have acquired boats under grants and loans Schemes have in repaying the loan. That was a matter also dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) and several other hon. Members, and I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to say a word about it. Our information, from the West Coast fishermen in particular, is that the Herring Industry Board is bringing great pressure to bear on the working fishermen for repayment of loans, and that some of them have been sold up. It may be that there are cases where this is inescapable, where it is necessary in the public interest, but we must all bear in mind the circumstances in which some of those men took on their commitments.
I well remember in the immediate post-war years those fishermen who returned from the Royal Navy. They went back into the fishing industry. They were fishing from old and obsolete vessels, and it was thought in all parts of the House that it would be most desirable if there could be introduced some scheme whereby those men could be enabled themselves to become owners or part-owners of modern, oil-driven vessels. Schemes were devised. The men took on very heavy commitments. They were not to know that costs would rise against them year in and year out. That is what has been happening. Costs have been rising against them all the time.
I well remember when the Joint Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), sat on this side of the House and I sat on the Government side of the House. I, like him, sat at the end of the debate, with a few papers in my hand, waiting for my turn to try to reply to the many criticisms that had been made. The Joint Under-Secretary could always be depended upon to make a rather forceful speech about the hardships suffered by the fishermen in consequence of rising costs. Those fishermen have experienced steadily rising costs. They have found it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to maintain the repayments of the loans, and sometimes even to maintain the payment of interest on the loans. As a result, they have been sold up.
1314 These fishermen rose to the bait of grants and loans for new vessels. That bait is still being offered. It is Government policy, which is supported in all parts of the House. These fishermen rose to the bait, and were securely caught by the Herring Industry Board. Some of them, I have learned much to my regret, are now cursing the day they undertook ownership, and they now think that they might have been wiser to have got out of the industry when the going was good.
The Minister has made clear today that he does not want those fishermen to get out. He wants them to stay in. But they are now being driven out, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leith said, not only are they being driven out after having been sold up, but they are now scratching for a living somewhere else, while the Herring Industry Board is still demanding of them the repayment of moneys still outstanding. I merely ask the Joint Under-Secretary to have a look at this matter.
Is not the Herring Industry Board being unnecessarily harsh with some of those men? Perhaps the Board gave them their grants and loans too easily in the first place—I do not know—but I understand that a good many of those men who have been affected by this policy are hardworking, genuine fishermen who perhaps are not best fitted for ownership. They are not gifted with the qualities of management, and perhaps ought never to have been entrusted with the ownership of vessels. That could well be so. I think that probably is so.
However, now that we have caught these men, as it were, in this net—because it was the Government and Parliament that offered the bait—let us not treat them too harshly. Let us be generous. After all, we spend a great deal of public money on these Schemes in any case. Let us show a little generosity to these hard-working fishermen when they really come up against it, very largely as a result of rising costs over which they personally have no control at all.
Much has been said in criticism of the Government's policy of giving an increased subsidy to owners of coal-burning steam vessels because of the increased costs that they have to meet. It is said that there is a feeling of bitterness among the owners of more modern boats 1315 because the men who are fishing with the more obsolescent vessels are getting more, whereas in many cases they themselves are getting less.
I think that the Minister is in a real difficulty. It would be foolish for us to pretend that he is not. He cannot scrap all the steam vessels at present. If he did, it would greatly hurt not only the owners and the men employed on the vessels but certain communities, and certainly the port of Aberdeen. It seems to me, however, that the Government must do their utmost to bring home to the men who own those vessels, and who are getting an increased subsidy to meet increased costs, that this cannot go on for ever, and that they really must put their best foot forward to see that those boats are replaced by modern vessels.
In that connection, I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to say a word about the progress being made. The Minister said a little about progress being made for the country as a whole in the replacement of obsolete vessels, but so much has been said about the port of Aberdeen that I wonder whether the Minister could say what has been happening there. We shall only now be convinced as a House that real progress is being made when we see real progress being made in the port of Aberdeen.
I wonder if the Joint Under-Secretary can tell us something about the movement in the cost of providing new vessels. The Minister said something about a range of vessels from £100,000 to £120,000; but would the hon. Gentleman give us a fuller picture about the movement in the cost of providing new vessels? Would he tell us what is the effect of the higher interest rates on the annual repayment on loans? If we cannot have that information, we cannot really know whether these schemes and the Order are any more generous, or make the position any easier for fishermen, than the earlier ones. My own impression is that, with all the increases in costs that fishermen have had to bear in recent years, not forgetting the increase in interest rates, the position of the fisherman seeking to repay the loan he got some years ago or that of the man only now deciding on a new vessel or the putting in of a new engine, is probably worse than it 1316 was two years ago under the then operating Schemes.
It is a little unfortunate, when we have a series of new Orders or new Schemes, always increasing the grant from the previous figure, that whereas the impression is given that we are being more generous to the fisherman, it may well be that he is being less generously treated than he was a few years earlier. If the Minister can give us some information about the movement in the cost of providing new vessels, we shall then be able to put the matter into perspective. Without that information we cannot.
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about the effect of the higher interest rates on the annual repayments on loans? That is terribly important for a man who is just taking over his vessel at the present high cost of both vessels and money. Could he tell us also something about the increase in the cost of gear? He himself must be very well informed about that because, as I said, in the debates a few years ago he never failed to make a speech calling for information about the cost of gear. As he himself is now much nearer the source of the information, I am sure that he is constantly armed with the answers to all these questions.
The difficulty which the Minister finds himself in today is, of course, a difficulty which is not an uncommon one for his colleagues in the present Government. The Chancellor seems to have sought to counter rising costs by pushing them still higher: that goes on all the time. That, in turn, has led to the need for higher subsidies in the fishing industry. It does not seem very clever, and it does not seem to be a very effective means of reducing expenditure. It does not seem to be very effective in bringing down the cost of living.
It is clear that we cannot vote against the Statutory Instruments which we have before us tonight. No hon. Member in any part of the House has suggested that we should vote against them. Criticism has been made of them. The Minister has been asked to consider, between now and this time next year, whether he can deal more comprehensively and a little more generously with the industry. He himself has told us that we are to have legislation in the course of the next 1317 Session of Parliament. The intimation he made about that was rather more detailed than that which we normally receive at this stage, in advance of the Queen's Speech. We do not complain about that. Such information as the right hon. Gentleman has given us has been welcome, I think, to hon. Members on both sides of the House. We on this side certainly welcome it.
I wonder whether the Joint Under-Secretary, in replying to the debate tonight, will give us an assurance that the Government have some idea of where their policies are leading the fishing industry, to which we all owe so much.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Henderson Stewart)
As usual, this has been an interesting debate. I would like to pick up at once the points made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), particularly as his first point was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Sir D. McCallum). On the West Coast, particularly round about Campbeltown, Kintyre and thereabouts, as in the Firth of Forth, as the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) mentioned, in recent years herring have for some unexplainable reason, not turned up in the usual numbers.
The ring net herring fishermen on the West Coast have therefore been getting smaller catches than before, and, naturally enough, some of them are suffering distress. By no means all the ring net men on the West Coast are in difficulties or are having discussions with the Herring Industry Board about the problem of repaying their loans. Some of them are getting on very well, because a good many of them have changed over from herring to white fish. They are exploiting the fish in other areas. One would hope that all of them sooner or later might feel disposed to adopt that solution.
I admit, however, that a few of the men are in difficulties, and my hon. and gallant Friend has written to me about it. The matter has been taken up quite seriously and we have examined it. The Highland Panel has been into it and the Herring Industry Board is very much concerned about it. At the present time, the latest representations from the Kintyre fishermen are being considered.
1318 As the hon. Member for Hamilton knows, when a body like the Herring Industry Board is given a job to do, it is not right for the Minister to interfere in every detail of its work. We must, therefore, leave it to the Board to work this matter out. That is not say that we are abandoning all interest, but at the moment we feel that we would be wise to leave the matter as it stands in the full confidence that the Board will do what is right and proper.
Among his other questions, the hon. Member for Hamilton asked how many new boats were appearing in Aberdeen. It is a test point, I quite agree. My right hon. Friend gave the figures for the rest of the country and said that the total number of new vessels, including those approved, was 123. That includes 18 approved in Aberdeen. I do not think that that is nearly enough, and progress has been much too slow. One only hopes that now that a start has been made, the pace may accelerate. Both we and the Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority are doing all that we can to spur on Aberdeen in this important matter.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton that we must make the steam vessel owners, especially the owners of older vessels, realise that the subsidy is not going on for ever and that they really must get rid of these uneconomic boats and re-equip themselves, as the English owners are doing much more effectively.
As to the increased cost of vessels, I think that probably the best answer to the hon. Member is to remind him that my right hon. Friend has already said that a white fish boat that could have been built for £100,000 three years ago now costs anything up to £125,000. That was the point made by the hon. Member for Leith on behalf of his constituent, Mr. Croan, for whom, as the hon. Member knows, I have the highest admiration, and who is undoubtedly one of our most enterprising owners in Scotland. One does sympathise with an owner who is having to pay that much more for a vessel, but there is the other side of the story, and though I admit that it applies mainly to inshore fishing, it is a fact that, by and large, earnings are going up, and I am quite sure that Mr. Croan, that very sound business man, 1319 although he complains to the hon. Member, as he did to me, about increased costs, will not stop his enterprises just because of that. He can see a future for himself, I am quite sure. I shall make further reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Leith in a few moments.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman said that his right hon. Friend had given a good example of this increase from £100,000 to £125,000, an increase of 25 per cent. Would that example apply equally to a smaller vessel? Is this a general increase of 25 per cent. in building costs?
§ Mr. Stewart
I am not sure I am able to answer that question. My impression is that the increase would not be as great for a smaller vessel. Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to write to him about it. It is a matter of figures, and I should like to be right about it.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
My information is that a vessel which cost £50,000 three years ago costs £70,000 now.
§ Mr. Stewart
There is a percentage figure for which I was asked, and I think I had better answer the question of the hon. Member for Hamilton about the inshore fishing vessels precisely.
The cost of gear has gone up. It is true that I used to say something about that in other times. We find that costs for inshore fishing vessels last year went up 8 per cent. all over. That 8 per cent. included the increase in the price of gear. It may be taken, therefore, that the increase in the price of gear was not so staggering as it was in previous years.
The increase in the rates of interest, to which reference has been made once or twice, has to be met from the owners' profits, and these, as I shall show in a minute, in the inshore fishing industry have definitely increased. It is an interesting fact that in the first six months of this year the earnings of the Scottish inshore vessels of under 70 ft. are up by 17.6 per cent. per average day at sea on what they were this time last year. That increase of earnings is, of course, vital in the assessment of profits.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) began by making us very frightened, when he said he was going to use astringent tones. I think the only thing he was astringent about was the 1320 fact that there had not been a proper debate on fishing for a long time. In that we all sympathise with him, but it is for the Opposition to choose a Supply Day for a debate on fishing. The Government can hardly be expected to offer a day for a discussion on fishing unless they have a Bill or an Order to put before the House. I would assure the hon. Member that if his right hon. Friends care to choose a Supply Day for a debate on the fishing industry, we shall welcome it. We should like a full day's discussion of fishing as soon as the Opposition like to choose it.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Surely the Report of the White Fish Authority and the Annual Report of the Herring Industry Board offer wonderful opportunities for the Government to justify the activities of those bodies for which, in this House, they are responsible.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is quite true, but Supply Days are precisely in order to meet the kind of desire that the hon. Member has expressed. That is the duty of the Opposition. He ought to address himself behind the scenes to his right hon. Friends, but I assure him that we should greatly welcome a debate of this kind.
I was very glad to hear the hon. Member say that he welcomed the proposals in general, that he hoped that costs would fall and the industry might be able to make ends meet and become stabilised. That is what we are all trying to achieve. I agree with him that we want to raise this whole problem out of the realm of party politics and I was therefore very grateful for his speech. He finished by offering us good wishes for the successful operation of these Schemes, and no one could offer a more friendly comment than that.
The hon. Member asked about crew settlements. He asked whether there had been consultations with representatives of the officers and the crews. I will tell him exactly what happened. The Government took a decision on this matter, for reasons which my right hon. Friend has explained, and which I noticed has not been challenged in any speech today. We did not think that this was a matter on which we were called upon to enter into consultations. We therefore did not consult anybody, but we informed the owners 1321 and the two unions. We saw the Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and we wrote to and spoke on the telephone to the Secretary of the Trawler Officers' Guild in Scotland, but no consultation took place with the owners on this matter, nor did the suggestion come from the owners at all.
The hon. Member said that it was incomprehensible to him that a greater incentive was given to inefficient vessels, meaning the steam trawlers, and so little incentive was given to the efficient ones. I see the general purpose of that argument, but I remind the hon. Member that as a result of our policy, that is to say of giving the steam vessels no more than just enough to keep some of them going, 57 went out of circulation in 1953, 56 in the following year, and 87 in the next year, and 51 have gone already this year. I have no doubt that in the course of this year the number and proportion will rise. We are expecting that, before the end of the period covered by the general proposals presented tonight, the older vessels will largely have disappeared. There are now 434 of these vessels, the mainstay of which are found in England.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) spoke with his usual passion about the problems of his inshore fishermen constituents. I do not want to be ever at cross-purposes with my hon. Friend, but, if I may be allowed to put it that way, I should like to put him right on this matter. We had a very good response to our appeal for facts in Scotland. We received particulars from 286 boats of between 40 feet and 70 feet in length and from 104 boats of under 40 feet in length. They comprise about half the fleet of boats between 40 ft. and 70 ft., which incidentally accounts for 90 per cent. of the Scottish inshore catch. The Association asked us to regard only the boats over 40 ft. and not those under. That is why my hon. Friend was right in saying that the returns we got were, for the most part, from the most successful boats.
We found from those returns that in 1955 the boats between 40 ft. and 70 ft. had an average net profit of £388. As I have told the House, in the first six months of this year the earnings of these boats had risen on an average 17½ per cent, per day at sea over the same period last year. If my hon. Friend would like 1322 it, I can give him a little piece of mathematics relating increased earnings to increased profits.
§ Mr. Stewart
For example, an increase of 10 per cent. in gross earnings over the whole year in Scotland would raise the profits of boats between 40 ft. and 70 ft. by £80 as compared with 1955; that is to say, about £460 per vessel. The profits of boats under 40 ft. would rise by about £20 compared with 1955, or to about £70 per vessel.
I cannot help thinking, and I appeal to my hon. Friend to share the thought with me, that if we are giving Government money on behalf of the nation in the form of subsidy to a group of people who are making an average profit of £460 per vessel, those people cannot reasonably ask for a larger subsidy.
This brings it, in terms of the crew, to about £10 per man per week. I know that my hon. Friend challenged that statement, but there is a reason for the difference of opinion between himself and myself. We asked the inshore fishermen for their returns, which they sent to us. We then sent them our summary, having reviewed those figures and said what we thought they meant. We saw the inshore fishermen, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State saw them a second time. They argued, as did my hon. Friend, that £11 a week, which was our first figure, was unreasonable and that it should be £8 a week on their calculation.
They said that their figures were based on 39 weeks' fishing in the year. We replied that this was not reasonable, that they should take a figure of forty-five weeks' fishing in the year. On reflection they agreed that this was a reasonable period to take, because although they may well have been on white fish for only thirty-nine weeks, for the other five or six weeks they might have been on herring or on additional white fish. That explains the difference, and the result of the agreement on forty-five weeks brings the figure to about £10, which is not disputed.
§ Mr. Duthie
My hon. Friend is drawing a parallel between 1956 and 1955 for gross earnings. Surely he must take into account the fact that we are working on a subsidy which is 20 per cent. less 1323 this year than last. Moreover, I hope my hon. Friend will accept from me the statement that it is wrong to base a year's working on any part thereof, particularly the first six months. We can only deal with a year when the twelve months are ended, as was evidenced in 1955, when the figures for the first nine months were falsified by the end of the year.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think my hon. Friend and I should get together about this. I should be glad to talk to him afterwards. It is a complicated matter. The first point he made was that the profits in 1955 were based on a subsidy of 10d, but the subsidy is now only 8d. That is true, but we took account of it in arriving at our figures. Secondly, he asked whether it is fair to take a period of six months and use it as a basis for the whole year. He has a point there, but it is interesting to note that whereas the increase in the first five months was 15 per cent., in the first six months it had risen to 17½ per cent. It certainly does not look as if profits are going down.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is what I am doing. I am using the same period as last year.
For those reasons and others which I could mention, I ask my hon. Friend with great respect—because I realise how knowledgeable he is on this matter—to agree with me that in all the circumstances, acting responsibly, and with these figures presented to us, we should not have been justified in calling upon the general body of taxpayers to increase the subsidy to inshore fishermen. I am sorry, but that is how it seems to us.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman has just given some calculations of the income of a vessel—about £10 a week.
§ Mr. Stewart
Per man on the boat. I gave the profits for the boat at over £400 and I converted that into the wages for the crew.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman gave the profits on the boat as £450. That worked out to be the maximum, the most optimistic, profit for a boat in a year. I wondered whether it took any account of the depreciation of the vessel and what the sum represented as interest on the money put into the vessel. What 1324 is the return on the money put into the vessel, in terms of the £450 per year?
§ Mr. Stewart
That figure includes depreciation but, of course, does not include interest, because if we have one we cannot have the other. Any accountant will agree with me that one is the same as the other but expressed in different terms.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) said the profit for the vessel represented a return of less than 4 per cent. on the cost of the vessel. Does the Minister accept that figure of less than 4 per cent. on the cost of a vessel or does he dispute it and offer a higher figure?
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not think I can answer that, because we are getting into accountancy matters and I should need a little notice of them. I have no doubt that the answer is in my papers, but I cannot find it offhand. The facts as I have given them are enough to justify us in the action which we have taken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff also mentioned the comparison between steam trawlers and motor vessels. This point has been made several times in the debate and was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley). The reference was to Fleetwood, where we have these very large, new and expensive motor vessels, and it is true that under the new schedules that class will not receive any subsidy at all. But when I inform the House of the profits which these new, very expensive motor vessels are making, hon. Members will, I think, agree with me without any hesitation that we are right not to give them a subsidy. These vessels, about which my hon. Friend spoke—new motor vessels from 130 to 140 feet—are estimated to be making a profit in the present year of £11,000, which is about 8 per cent. on capital, including depreciation at the rate of 7 per cent. That being so, the Government could not possibly stand up to the criticism which would be made if we gave subsidies to vessels making that sort of profit. Other motor vessels of 120 to 130 feet are making £1,269, although I admit that the smaller vessels are making a loss. The big ones to which my hon. Friend particularly referred are making very large profits.
§ Mr. Stanley
I think that the hon. Gentleman has taken different figures. On last year's figures, I agree that it was all right, but this year's figures are completely different. With the much higher running costs, the figures which he is now giving will work out absolutely wrong next year.
§ Mr. Stewart
These are the estimated profits for 1956–57, that is this year. I do not announce these figures without being able to inform the House that they are the result of very careful examination by our accountants. If we are proved wrong and my hon. Friend is proved right, I shall be very ready to admit it. As to whether the increased grant for new boats should be made retrospective, I am afraid that my answer must be in the negative.
The hon. Member for Leith referred to the exceptional case of Mr. Croan who was about to start the building of a new boat, the keel of which had not yet been laid. It may be in that case that other considerations come about. I would recommend Mr. Croan to make an immediate approach to the White Fish Authority to see whether some action can be taken.
The hon. Member for Leith made a number of other points, and I have tried to cover some of them. The 15 per cent. deposit which a prospective owner of a vessel has to put down at once is a problem which has been put to me by the hon. Member and by his constituent. As I think he knows, I am impressed with the case and we are now looking at this problem. I think that there is a good case for something to be done, but I am not in a position now to make any promise.
With regard to the conversion to oil from steam, we have said that we are satisfied that a number of steam vessels—speaking from memory about 40—could properly and usefully be converted. It would be expensive, but it would be cheaper than building new motor boats. To do it we should have to have new legislation. We have no power to do it now. All I can say is that we want to bring in that legislation at the earliest possible moment. As to whether or not there should be a retrospective Clause in it, I am not able to say at the moment.
The hon. Member raised a special case about which he has written to me con- 1326 cerning the Herring Industry Board. I would rather not speak about that case now because I understand that it is a personal case.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) raised a number of points, the principal one being, I think, the six-hour rule. This new arrangement really solves that problem. Under the new Scheme, the days at sea are arrived at as follows. The first day is the day they leave port and the last day is the day when they dispose of their catch at the quayside. We think, therefore, and we have the support of the owners' association in this belief, that the problem to which my hon. Friend refers, that of lying outside the harbour and thereby getting an extra day's subsidy, will no longer arise.
§ Mr. Stewart
I suppose the answer would be Yes, but I do not know why a vessel should leave at 11.59 p.m. Vessels generally go out with the tide.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South also raised the topic of having a fishery Minister in the Cabinet. We now have two fishery Ministers in the Cabinet and both are good at the job.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) raised the topic of life rafts. It is difficult to deal with that for reasons which he knows. I am told that two firms are now making rafts and it is not known which will be the cheaper and that some people are therefore holding back. That is a very difficult topic for a Minister to tackle. We are aware of it, and I will take note of what my hon. Friend has said. I am afraid that some of the other issues he raised were out of order, which avoids the necessity for my having to deal with them.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard
It is fortunate that an English Member should be sufficiently in order to get into this debate at all. There were one or two other points which were sufficiently in order to be allowed to remain, and I hope that they will be borne in mind. They were subjects such as fishery protection vessels and other issues, and I hope that I may be informed about them.
§ Mr. Stewart
When I said that the other subjects were out of order, I did not mean that they were unimportant. I should not be so presumptuous. However, it was not for me to reply to them in this debate.
The hon. Member for Hamilton was not too accurate in his comment that the House had been critical. On the contrary, I cannot recollect a fishing debate where the Government has introduced legislation which has found more general acceptance. I trust that that is a good augury for the future and that as a result of our joint efforts great success will come to this industry.
That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.
§ White Fish Subsidy (Aggregate Amount of Grants) Order, 1956, [copy laid before the House, 10th July], approved.—[Mr. Amory.]
§ White Fish Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) (Amendment) Scheme, 1956, [copy laid before the House, 10th July], approved.—[Mr. Amory.]
§ Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) (Amendment) Scheme, 1956, [copy laid before the House, 10th July], approved.—[Mr. Henderson Stewart.]