§ 10.17 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Norman Buchan)
I beg to move,That the White Fish Authority (Minimum Prices) (Scotland and Northern Ireland) Scheme Confirmatory Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 5th March, be approved.As the House knows, the White Fish Authority has felt for some time that a statutory minimum prices scheme was needed for the industry. A similar scheme operated for herring by the Herring Industry Board has worked well for many years. In 1967, the Authority endeavoured to promote a United Kingdom scheme backed by a system of guaranteed payments. The Government were not able to offer the Authority Exchequer support for such a scheme and the Authority decided finally not to submit formal proposals to Ministers for confirmation.
The scope of the scheme before the House tonight is more restricted in that it applies only to Scotland and Northern Ireland and does not provide for any system of guaranteed payments. The Order is an enabling one. Broadly, it will enable the Authority to designate areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland and to prescribe minimum prices applicable in these areas to all first-hand sales and purchases of such species of white fish as the Authority may determine. Under the powers provided by the Order, the Authority can designate the whole, or parts, of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and subject to the approval of Ministers, can fix minimum prices for all or any type of white fish.
For the effective regulation of the scheme licences to operate will be required by producers and buyers and sellers at first hand. My right hon. Friends have considered the scheme submitted to them by the Authority and, as required by Statute, have had consultations with the Authority about the modifications which they regard as necessary. These modifications are set out in Article 2 of the Order. The scheme as modified, and this is important, is set out in the Schedule to the Order.
690 It might be useful if I say something about one or two of these modifications. The most important relates to powers to deal with contraventions of the scheme. The Authority's proposals would have given it the power to suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew a licence where a contravention of the scheme took place. Since any contravention of the scheme would in any case be an offence under the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951, it would attract the penalties laid down in that Act.
Under the Act, a court, on conviction, may impose a fine not exceeding £25 for a first offence and £100 for a subsequent offence. In addition, a fine not exceeding the value of the fish may also be imposed.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
I did not catch what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his remarks about the Sea-Fish Industry Act. Do penalties to which he referred come under that Act?
§ Mr. Buchan
Yes. The reference back is made in the scheme and the fines are established there. The third point I made was that a fine, which would not, of course, exceed the value of the fish, could also be imposed.
While my right hon. Friends appreciated the Authority's desire to exercise a close control over the operation of the scheme, they decided that the penalties provided in the Act should suffice for the effective operation of the scheme. Under Article 2(h) of the Order, therefore, they have removed the Authority's proposed enforcement powers. A possible loophole in any minimum price arrangements is the giving away of an extra quantity as a bonus with a purchase. A new provision introduced as a modification to paragraph 8(2) of the scheme would make any such act a contravention of the scheme.
With one exception, also we have specifically removed retail purchases from the scope of the scheme in the definition of purchase under paragraph 3 so as to avoid creating the technical offence that might otherwise arise if, for example, a housewife happened to buy fish on the quayside at first hand without being in possession of a licence. The exception is in paragraph 8(2) of the Order, where it was decided that the exclusion of retail 691 purchases would not be appropriate because of the possible loophole it might create.
We also decided that any conditions to be included in licences and all increases in minimum prices above the level previously approved by them should be subject to their approval. The Authority had proposed that such approval should be required only where the new minimum price fixed by the Authority exceeded the price already approved by more than 10 per cent.
As hon. Members may know, the catching side of the industry in Scotland and Northern Ireland has wanted for some time to see a system of statutory minimum prices in force. Other sections of the industry have had some reservations—though they have not been opposed in principle to a minimum prices scheme. In deciding to confirm the Authority's scheme, with modifications, my right hon. Friends took these objections fully into account. Their conclusion was that it was in the public interest that a statutory scheme on the lines proposed should be introduced to create a firm market for a highly perishable product.
I commend the Order to the House so that the Authority may be enabled, after consultation with the interests concerned, to go ahead with publication and subsequent submission to Ministers of their minimum price proposals.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
The Joint Under-Secretary of State has made what I might describe as a rather typical, timid approach to a matter which is of considerable and substantial importance. The minimum price scheme has been advocated and recommended for a number of years. Scotland may take credit for pioneering it, and I never fail to give the hon. Gentleman credit for doing something in the right direction. A statutory minimum price scheme is absolutely essential for the fishing industry. I hope that, as usual, what Scotland says tonight, England and Wales will echo before long.
I was slightly surprised to hear the Under-Secretary of State say, almost with a note of satisfaction in his voice, that no guarantee payments were involved. If he takes the trouble, as I have done, to 692 look up the annual debates on the fishing industry, particularly those which took place between 1959 and 1964, when, I suppose, I first started to take an interest in the fishing industry, he will see repeated calls from Opposition Members interested in the fishing industry for a guaranteed minimum price with Government involvement.
A guaranteed minimum price is absolutely essential to the stability of an industry which can make a tremendous contribution to food production and thus to import saving which must inevitably be to the benefit of the nation and the economy. The cost involved to the United Kingdom would be small compared with its value and, compared with the Scottish and Northern Ireland schemes, infinitesimal.
The White Fish Authority wishes to have powers to suspend, revoke or refuse to renew licences which it is to be authorised to issue. The Scottish Trawler Federation has put its view on the Government's refusal to entertain such powers in a letter which it has sent to me and no doubt to other hon. Members. These powers have not been included in the scheme. The interests of the Scottish Trawler Federation have for as long as I can remember been by no means identical with those of the fishing industry in England. This has made legislation for the fishing industry extremely difficult. The interests of the two fleets in the two countries have been different. The English industry is based on the distant-water fleet and the Scottish industry is based much more on the inshore and the near and middle-water fleets.
The last thing that I would wish to do is to give the impression that the scheme will fail and be totally unsuccessful because those powers have not been included. I am interested to know why the Government have declined to give the White Fish Authority these powers. I believe that I am right in saying that precisely the same powers have been in existence for the past 19 years, since 1951, under paragraph 19 of the Herring Industry Board Scheme, the Herring Industry Board having power to refuse or to revoke licences.
I presume that there was some reason why the Government have not been prepared to give the White Fish Authority the same powers. Have they any reason 693 to suppose that the powers given to the Herring Industry Board have been in any way abused during that time?
There is no question that the White Fish Authority feels that the scheme will not work with the efficiency it would wish it to have without these powers. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will tell us what has caused the Government to deny to the Authority the powers which they have given to the Herring Industry Board and which that board has operated for a long time.
What sort of level of minimum prices is envisaged? I imagine that there have been discussions between the Department and the White Fish Authority on this subject. The Aberdeen trawling industry has operated a voluntary and quite non-statutory minimum price scheme since 1963. During these seven years, a certain amount of experience must have been gained. How often have the minimum prices been reviewed since 1963? If minimum prices are to be fixed, how often are they likely to be reviewed under the scheme?
Naturally, in view of the inflationary process now going on—on which we commented at a slightly later hour last night in another context—it is of importance to know, if minimum prices are to be fixed, how often they are to be reviewed. I take it that this also has been a matter for discussion between the Government and the Authority.
We all know that the Aberdeen scheme was falling foul of the restrictive practices legislation and would almost certainly have run into considerable trouble later this year if it had been proceeded with. It is, I think, to be superseded, virtually, by the scheme now before us. Can the Minister tell us whether the Aberdeen interests will be allowed to continue with that part of their scheme—which, though not, I think, covered by the Order, is of great importance—which provides a measure of guarantee to their members? That measure of guarantee is an extremely important feature of the Aberdeen scheme at present. Will the Government scheme have any effect upon that facet of what has so far been a successful operation?
The Order is a move in the right direction, though I wish that it could have gone a little further. I have in mind the 694 difficulties experienced during the years in which I have come to take a considerable interest in the fishing industry, and have become only too aware of the difference of outlook in the fishing industry north and south of the Border. I am quite convinced that the Order may prove to be of very much greater importance than may appear at the moment. Many people might be inclined to say that this is a comparatively minor issue, but I regard it as of great importance. It is an issue which may prove to be the genesis of something of enormous importance to our fishing industry as a whole.
I have nothing but a welcome to give to this proposal, although I am a little surprised, in the light of all that used to be said about the need for Government involvement, that the Minister has not felt able to announce the Government's active interest in the scheme.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I apologise to Scottish Members for entering a debate which, on the surface, appears to be purely of Scottish interest, but it is of far more than Scottish interest. It is of interest to the rest of the United Kingdom fishing industry.
I welcome the demand made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) for fresh Government subsidies for the industry. Subsidies are not something that I have at any time opposed on any doctrinaire grounds, but I should have thought it a little contrary to the Opposition's current philosophy about Government subsidies, and the like. That, however, is just an aside.
Has my hon. Friend any observations to make about the effect of the scheme on the English market? There is in England some concern about the overall effect when fish landed in Scotland is sold outside the designated areas. The scheme is aimed, quite properly, at giving a reasonable price to the producer and enabling us to have an increasing price stability for the consumer. That will lead to better employment prospects for fishermen and, therefore, to an expansion in the industry. But we are somewhat worried about the effect of that expansion if fish landed in Scotland comes into England in increasing quantities.
On Humberside, we already sell fish that has been landed in Scotland. Fish 695 landed in non-B.T.F. ports and sold in our markets is not subject to the B.T.F. voluntary minimum. It is possible that, if there is a surplus of edible fish landed in Scotland, it will be sent out of the designated areas into England, where it will be sold at whatever price it will fetch, and this could under-cut the market for the English fishermen. We hope eventually that the English industry will adopt a similar scheme, as this is the only way to meet this problem.
The main problem in England has been twofold. First, the inshore fishermen generally have been against any minimum price scheme unless——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Before the hon. Gentleman departs too far from the Order, I would remind him that this is a Scottish and Northern Ireland Order. He may refer to England in an incidental fashion.
§ Mr. McNamara
I appreciate that. I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be the last person to say that I have not always shown a consistent interest in matters concerning Northern Ireland and Celtic problems generally.
If I may develop the points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), there has been a disagreement among our inshore fishermen that they would welcome a minimum prices scheme if there were an Exchequer interest in it. The inshore industry in Scotland is doing particularly well at the moment, because of the extension of the limits of the better quality fish. They have been able to land increased quantities and have had better markets. Many of their fears and much of the desire they have for an Exchequer subsidy has gone.
The second fear of the B.T.F. is that there might be too much cross-subsidisation, with different types of fish, different vessels, and so on, with a general scheme, and they would therefore like it to be limited into strict categories. This argument does not appeal to me; it seems to be a selfish argument. I would like to see a more general principle applied.
I am sure the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) will accept most of the burden of the arguments which I have advanced. Welcome as the scheme is in Scotland, there is a fear, particu- 696 larly on Humberside, that it might be used as an opportunity to under-cut our markets, and that it could possibly be evaded. I would like to hear my hon. Friend's observations on these points.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
My constituency is interested in inshore fishing, to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has referred, and particularly in the very high quality fish, the line-caught fish, which, as the Minister will appreciate, is the best quality fish landed anywhere in the British Isles.
May I ask the Minister how the scheme will affect the inshore fishing in villages such as Gourdon, in my constituency? Line fishermen land quality fish, but they are a minority interest in the industry. In schemes like this, and in negotiations with the White Fish Authority and the Government, it is the bigger interests and the bigger ports, such as Aberdeen, which so often prevail. What will be the effect of the scheme on the smaller ports and on the inshore fishing interests, which I represent? The small ports, with their quality fish, often enjoy better prices than are paid in the larger ports.
What are the fishermen likely to be subjected to under the scheme in terms of licensing? I hope that the interests of fishermen and fish merchants in these ports will be properly considered. This is a small but important section of the industry, not only in regard to the quality of fish, but also in terms of the work they provide to villagers owing to the fact that there are few alternative forms of employment and little economic activity.
I hope that the Minister and the White Fish Authority will bear in mind the importance of this particular section of the industry.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I, too, welcome the scheme, which is a step in the right direction.
I understand the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) about the possible effects of the scheme in England. I hope the effect will be that the scheme will be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom as soon as possible. It could well be that in certain matters if 697 there is not a uniform practice for the whole country the Scottish industry would be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the English industry.
The Scottish and Irish industries should be saluted for making this pioneer venture, regardless of what the rest of the United Kingdom may do. It may be the real advantages will be that it will be possible to plan the scheme specifically for the Scottish and Northern Irish situation. Those of us who are interested in the fishing industry will watch to see how the scheme will work.
Could we be told how the prices will be fixed, and at what level? I have had many expressions of support from the catching bodies. The situation in Scotland where ports have been undercutting the market has got beyond a joke. There is some feeling in the industry that to be effective the minimum price scheme must be backed by a substantial extension of fish-meal and oil production capacity. What has the Minister to say about that aspect?
I was broadly in favour of the modifications to the scheme announced in the House on 26th February, particularly that the increases in prices and the conditions appertaining to them shall be approved by the Minister. I am not yet clear who will revoke licences and how discipline will be introduced. May we have some clarification from the Minister?
What will the procedure be if a licence holder is convicted of an offence? How will he be able to operate if he loses his licence, and what steps can he take to clear his name? How can he prevent his licence from being taken away from him; indeed, can he be stopped from getting a licence in the first place? May we be given more details about how the scheme will work and may we be told how much the licence fee will cost?
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
I want to take up two points which were made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He castigated my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) for requesting Government subvention in operating this scheme. Perhaps I might remind the hon. Gentleman that one of 698 the reasons why the scheme is being implemented is to give the fishermen a leg up because of the continually rampaging rise in prices and costs that we have seen under his Government. In addition, no doubt the hon. Gentleman will remember that the Fleck Report of 1962 aimed at making the fishing industry viable without help within 10 years. Because of these imposts by the present Government, that has proved to be impracticable. Nevertheless, we hope that eventually the fishing industry will be self-sufficient and viable. Until that happens, it is essential to have Government subvention.
The other point made by the hon. Gentleman was that the inshore fishing industry is doing well at the moment. I do not dispute that it is doing moderately well, despite the very inclement weather experienced in recent months, but its success is due largely to the regrettable strike on Humberside and the lack of landings there.
§ Mr. McNamara
I will not enter into an argument on that issue, though I am more than willing to do so, but the inshore fleet was doing extremely well before the strike started.
§ Mr. Baker
I cannot go all the way with the hon. Gentleman, and I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) about that as well.
I take a very poor view of the Government's refusal to give a subvention to help get the scheme under way. Last night, we had long debates on the Report stage of the Agriculture Bill, in the course of which the Government refused to give aid in the support buying of eggs under the proposed new egg authority. In my view, this is a parallel case. The necessary payments would have been minimal in amount but of inestimable value to the working of the scheme. I hope sincerely that it will not fail, but in my view it is essential that there is some backing.
I think that hon. Members will agree that, in the near future, we shall have another Government of a different complexion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] There is no doubt about it. I give notice to my right hon. and hon. Friends that I shall pursue this question of subvention in aid of this scheme to the utmost of my ability. It is absolutely essential.
699 Having said that, I want to congratulate the White Fish Authority, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and, with one reservation, the Under-Secretary for the work which has been done to bring in this scheme. I welcome it and, in view of the fact that as recently as 28th March I had a joint meeting with all three branches of the Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers' Association in my constituency, I can say that I represent them in supporting the adoption of this Order.
Before coming to the Order itself, I want to make one or two general observations. First, I think that the Government have been dilatory in bringing in the Order. I understand that it was drafted by the White Fish Authority in 1968, and was followed by consultations on its provisions. In April, 1969, it was submitted to the Secretary of State for his approval.
In view of the consultations which have already taken place, I cannot understand why it has taken a year to bring the Order forward. All that emerges as a result of the year's delay are certain minor modifications to which reference has been made. If the Order had been brought in before the advertising levy, it would have been more favourably received both in this House and outwith it. As usual, the Government have got the cart before the horse.
I should like to put several questions to the Under-Secretary of State. First, when does he anticipate that the Order will become operative? I know that it will come into operation the day after it is signed by the various Secretaries of State. However, there will be a time lag while the issuing of licences, the publishing of the regulations, and so on, goes on. Can the hon. Gentleman give the House any indication when he thinks the whole thing will become operative?
Will the Minister also give the House any information of his hopes and aspirations about the expansion of the scheme to the whole of the United Kingdom? This is important in the light of certain findings by the Restrictive Trade Practices Court over the whole country.
Why have the Government seen fit to leave out sub-paragraphs (3) to (6) of paragraph 9 of the original draft Order? 700 In opening, the Minister said that certain penalties can be applied from other Statutes. As the White Fish Authority would have liked these sub-paragraphs included, I should think that it means it thought that was the easiest way to enforce the regulations and the working of the scheme at large. I think that we are entitled to know the reasons for this course. They could have a salutary effect in minimising breaches of the scheme. From where did the pressure come to have these sub-paragraphs withdrawn?
Will the Minister define the designated areas mentioned in the Order when he comes to reply? Will he delineate them for us, however roughly?
In this connection, will the difference in the minimum price scheme be from area to area or for the whole of Scotland? That is a somewhat technical point of which I hope the Minister will take note. Will the differences be across the board? For instance, will the minimum price for, say, plaice, be the same between areas as for, say, haddock?
Reference has already been made to the licence. How will this be administered? Will it be a flat-rate licence for all producers irrespective of the size of boat? Will the licence be tied in varying amounts to boats varying in length in the different categories? Will the licence which is fixed be the same for producers, salesmen, merchants and so on?
What will be the sort of level for the minimum price? I suggest that it should be about 50s. as a mean target. Obviously we do not want it set too high; but we do not want it set too low. An equitable average figure, fair to all producers, must be kept in mind. This will need careful watching, because it will mean a level of stability in prices for the fisherman, and that to my mind is one of the main virtues of the scheme.
At present, there are wide fluctuations in prices in various ports, and I should like to illustrate this by taking the landings of lemon sole on 30th March. In Aberdeen, it was selling at 435s. to 440s. per cwt. At Arbroath, on the same day, it was selling at 38s. to 44s. per stone; at Macduff, at 45s. to 70s.; and at White-hills, at 43s. to 58s. I understand that under the E.E.C. fishing regulations the average price for the past three years is taken overall and that is then taken as 701 the target price for the ensuing year. Under the present scheme, how often will the minimum price be subject to alteration? How often will it be reviewed?
I turn, now to paragraph 10 of the Schedule. I hope that in administering it the White Fish Authority will not be too stringent. It refers to the keeping of records by producers. Under existing conditions, fish salesmen and fishery officers have complete records of the landings of fish at the various ports. Indeed, the fish salesman is the authorised agent at each port for the share fisher-man's boats. It seems unnecessary to have skippers of inshore boats keeping records of a detailed nature when they exist in other forms. As the Minister knows, an inshore vessel at sea is pretty cramped and not exactly the ideal place for keeping records.
What does the Minister expect will be the total of the licence fees collected? What will it cost to administer the scheme? How will it be policed? For instance, how will it be made to work that the provisions which I have mentioned have been deleted from the scheme?
I deal, next, with paragraph 11. There has been a great deal of complaint particularly among inshore fishermen, about the selling of fish consigned for pet food for human consumption. I have personal knowledge that some is being filleted round the corner and sold for human consumption. This is clearly a breach of the present regulations, and the bringing of this into line is very important. The Minister knows that in the past it was possible to mark potatoes with a certain dye, and I understand that that was tried with fish sold for other than human consumption. I think that some substance could be found which would do the job now. I understand that some mink farmers complained that their mink would not eat the fish when treated with the dye that was produced originally, but I am sure that the wit of man can get round that one.
I return to the question of the level of minimum prices. Clearly, trawlers operating under group ownership can tolerate a lower minimum price. Indeed, it might be in their interest if the price is kept low. But that is not, as I see it, 702 what the integral part of this scheme should be. We should have an equitable price balance, struck as a minimum price, in order that it may be fair to all sections of the industry. As I have said, I give a hearty welcome to this measure and I hope that it helps to give stability to the present structure of the fishing industry to the benefit of all fishermen.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I merely want to welcome the Order and ask one question, not to make a speech. Paragraph 4(1) of the Order says:…the Authority may fix different minimum prices according to species or descriptions of fish or according to area or areas and may from time to time vary or cancel any minimum prices so fixed.…Sub-paragraph (2) states:Provided that this sub-paragraph shall not apply to the variation of a minimum price approved by the Ministers where the variation does not increase the price as so approved.Envisaging the fact that, at certain times of the year, there may be a glut of a particular variety of fish, do I take it from that provision that two things can happen? These are that either the fish can be sold not for human consumption, which would seem a pity if the glut does not exist in other parts of the country, or it would be possible for the Authority at very short notice to reduce the minimum price of that variety in the area concerned and thus make it available more cheaply to the consuming public without getting permission from the Minister. To summarise, is it possible, in the event of a temporary glut of a particular variety of fish, for the Authority to lower the minimum price without the permission of the Minister in order to make that fish available for human consumption without being forced to sell it for other purposes?
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) has a reputation for being an admirable constituency Member. He rightly represents the views of the fishermen in his constituency. I want to represent the views of the fishermen in mine, and their interests differ from those in his. I do not presume in any way to comment on the interests of the Scottish fishing industry, I hope that my 703 hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) will not presume to comment on the interests of the fishing industry in Cornwall.
I say to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that Cornwall is not England and that the interests of the Cornish fishing industry are not necessarily either those of the Scottish fishing industry or, indeed, those of the English fishing industry.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. We are discussing an Order which applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland and not to Cornwall. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will relate his remarks to that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman cannot make any suggestion as to altering the Order to apply to England or otherwise.
§ Mr. Nott
Certainly. I am only seeking to say that although the Scottish fishing industry has particular interests which are represented in the Order, in fact the Order is concerned with minimum prices and specifically excludes the English fishing industry. I represent the leading English fishing port in the South-West.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must respect the Ruling of the Chair. I have ruled that he is out of order in seeking to discuss the Cornish fishing industry.
§ Mr. Nott
I leave the Cornish fishing industry aside and come to my conclusion. We are able to prosper adequately without minimum prices and I should not like to see the minimum prices which the Order applies to the Scottish fishing industry also applied to the Cornish industry. We are able to have a reasonably prosperous inshore fishing business. I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister will give me an assurance that these minimum prices will not be applied to the English and Cornish fishing industries.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Minister has no responsibility for the assurance which the hon. Member is requesting.
§ 11.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchan
I enjoyed listening to it nevertheless.
A number of points have been raised in the debate. I will deal with some of the individual points before turning to the basic argument.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) asked about glut conditions and the possibility of a speedy reduction in price. If it were a reduction in price previously approved by the Minister, it would not require a second Ministerial approval. He had in mind, no doubt, paragraph 16(3), which includes the words,such date or dates being not less than 7 days after such publication".The hon. Member should realise that the main point is to seek to bring about some stability. If a reduction takes place, the necessary action can be taken.
He spoke of the difficulties which might arise if a glut took place at a time when there was no glut elsewhere. Of course, in that case fish would be taken into the other areas at the minimum price. We cannot insulate one port, particularly if it is a small port, and its price levels from the situation in other areas.
Other questions have been asked about the licence fee, the minimum price and 705 the date of operation. Many of these points, for example the price levels, are matters for the White Fish Authority. The shape of the scheme will depend on proposals made by the Authority and the Minister's decision to approve, not to approve, or to approve, them with modifications having regard to possible objections and to any other relevant considerations. That would apply to other decisions, too, such as the designation of areas. At this stage, I cannot define which areas will be designated from time to time. That will be a matter on which proposals will come from the Authority.
Some hon. Members have asked—indicating the interest in the point—whether this is the first part of a scheme for the United Kingdom as a whole. I cannot answer that question. Much will depend, for example, on the views of the White Fish Authority, and on the views of the fishermen of England. But I am pleased that at least this stage, relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland, has been welcomed.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Does the hon. Member appreciate that if this scheme is to be applied to England, a prior necessity will be some Government subvention?
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), moderate as always, had comments to make which might also stimulate me to make comments before I conclude.
A criticism made in the general argument was that this scheme is not very good because it does not include guaranteed prices. The scheme has been generally welcomed, even though I agree that a few criticisms have been made of it. I think it rather strange that the criticism of the lack of a guaranteed price should come from hon. Members opposite. The best comment I can make is that I accept completely what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) said—truthfully, as always—that the Scheme was very timid, but he ended by saying that it was of enormous importance. I am prepared to accept this development of the hon. Gentleman's view. This is a pioneering step. It is useful, and it may well extend into other areas.
I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I may have your permission to comment 706 on the point which was raised about the effect that this scheme will have on English ports. It seems to be a valid and fair point to make. I shall, of course, not discuss the Cornish point.
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall be as incidental as I can, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
In the first place, I think this matter is speculative. We do not yet know how things will work out in practice. We ought to allow the scheme to develop so that we can see how it works. I do not think that we should be too ready to assume that there will be wholesale evasions. There is now an increasing interest in fish. It may be that we put things the wrong way round when we put the advertising scheme first. In fact, we believe in doing the important things first and we do not bother about the public image.
There is the expectation that fish sales will be backed up by the publicity campaign. I am far from expecting that the minimum prices in Scotland and Ireland will encourage over-fishing, I would expect consumption to increase. If the publicity scheme meets with success, I do not see any reason why our colleagues south of the Border should be worried about it. Indeed, with good supplies of fresh Scottish fish, I would expect a good demand for such fish in our country, too.
Nor do I think that the large-scale evasions which have been suggested will take place. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) was concerned about the effect of the scheme on the inshore fleet, and concern was also expressed lest it might be biased in favour of the large trawler owners. One of the effects of a minimum prices scheme would be to assist those concerned with quality fish, and, while I cannot analyse the effect on the line fishermen, I have no worries about their position. The best testimony that I can quote in this respect is the fact that the Scottish Inshore White Fish Association has welcomed the scheme. It has operated its own minimum prices schemes, and this scheme will assist those schemes.
707 I was told that this wicked Government, who are, no doubt, also responsible for the weather that we have had during the last few months, wished to raise prices and put fishermen in difficulty. What absolute nonsense! It is the present Government who brought in a proper, efficient subsidy scheme for the first time. It should also be borne in mind that the overall value of the catch in Scotland and Northern Ireland was a record in 1969. The picture painted by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) is sadly out of keeping with reality, and the understanding of that reality by Scottish fishermen.
The question of the likely level of prices, which also has been raised, is a matter for the White Fish Authority, and I cannot go into it. There is one incidental point. It was said that I referred to the guaranteed price with a great deal of satisfaction. It was an attempt to speak through the hubbub of the noise following the very satisfactory vote at 10 o'clock. It was not satisfaction: it was a raising of tone and no more than that.
I was asked about the relationship of the Aberdeen minimum prices scheme to the scheme. We know the history and the background. Whether the Aberdeen people now decide to continue their own arrangements is a matter for them. Our acceptance of the White Fish Authority's proposal in no way diminishes Aberdeen's right to continue their arrangement if they wish to do so. I understand, however, that the Scottish Inshore and Trawler Fishermen's Association has given an understanding to the Restrictive Practices Court to withdraw the minimum prices part of any arrangement which it has made once the statutory scheme comes into effect. This, however, is a matter for them.
The basic point, which I think was why I was accused of timidity, was on the question of withdrawing teeth because we are not giving the Authority the right to refuse or to renew licences. I think that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon)—who has left a note apologising for his inability to stay until the end of the debate—went wrong on this when he appeared to think that licences were still to be revoked. We have removed 708 that from the scheme. I have been criticised for that. We gave very careful consideration to the point.
The hon. Member may know—I referred to this in opening the debate—that there is under the 1951 Act a fairly heavy system of fines, to which this scheme will be related. In addition to the maximum fine of £25 for the first offence and £100 for subsequent offences, there is also provision for a fine equal to the value of the catch to which the offence relates. We believe that these provisions should suffice without the addition of other measures to secure effective operation of the scheme.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker
Surely, when the White Fish Authority produced the scheme with the measures which it contained, it must have known equally with the Minister about the other penalties that were available. Why, therefore, did the Authority put them into the scheme as originally drafted?
§ Mr. Buchan
That is a question for the White Fish Authority. I am saying why we, as Ministers, have included these provisions in the Order. One must presume that the Authority thought that those were the right sanctions. Ministers did not regard them as the right sanctions. If the hon. Member wishes to know the Authority's arguments, he should ask the Authority.
The Herring Industry Board has used this sanction very little. I understand that there has been no prosecution for offences against the Board's minimum prices rule and that the Board has seldom, if ever, exercised its power to revoke licences. This power may be a deterrent, but we believe that its use under the 1951 Act is the right method.
§ Mr. Stodart
If the sanctions which are given to the Herring Industry Board are not given to the White Fish Authority, am I not right in saying that the only way in which the White Fish Authority can apply those sanctions is by going to the courts, a procedure which the Herring Industry Board is spared? Even if the Herring Industry Board has used these powers only sparingly, is it not more efficient that it should have the power that it has rather than that the Authority, under the scheme, should have to go to the courts to effect the penalties?
§ Mr. Buchan
First it is a big sanction to leave with a statutory board like this. Second, I doubt whether the kind of criteria which would need to be established before the suggested sanctions of revoking could be applied would be any more easy to establish than the kind of criteria which would allow of court action. This was the decisive consideration in making up my mind. It did not appear to have this ease of operation, and it appeared to be a heavy sanction.
I end where I began. The hon. Gentleman accused me of being timid. He ended by saying that this of much greater importance than at first appears. In fact, he said that it was very important. With that encomium, I am prepared to rest.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the White Fish Authority (Minimum Prices) (Scotland and Northern Ireland) Scheme Confirmatory Order 1970, a draft of which was paid before this House on 5th March, be approved.