I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am sure that the whole House welcomes, as I do, the opportunity provided by this Bill to discuss the economic problems of white fish and herring catching. I want to make it clear that the Bill does not deal with the distant water section of the fleet. That section accounts for about half the value of white fish landed by British vessels without a subsidy. This Bill concerns the near and middle water sections, the inshore vessels and the herring catchers. Those sections between them land fish to the value of about £20 million or £25 million a year. That is extremely valuable and a really essential contribution to our food supplies.
The men engaged in those industries—or I like to think of them as one single industry—face great hazards, as, indeed, has been vividly shown during this past winter. I know that we in this House are always glad of an opportunity to acknowledge our debt to their skill and their courage. The owners, too, have a vigorous and independent spirit and. I know, do not just look complacently to the Government for assistance. Their problems at the present time are considerable and serious, and it is right that we should give our close attention to them.
As I have indicated, the object of the Bill is to give a further measure of assistance which the Government have concluded will be necessary if the industry is to be enabled to stand squarely on its own feet in the future. The Bill replaces one that was introduced last November and was subsequently withdrawn. The earlier Bill fulfilled the promise, which we made last summer, that we would introduce legislation to extend the period during which the white fish subsidy can be paid, and that we would also provide grants towards the cost of converting coal-burning vessels to oil fuel.
Before that Bill came up for a Second Reading, however, we decided, for reasons into which I will go in a moment, to introduce a new herring subsidy. The new Bill repeats the main provisions of that Bill for white fish subsidy and for conversion grants, and also provides for this new herring subsidy.
The near and middle water trawling fleet is now faced with two major problems. First, the problem of decreasing fish stocks in the traditional fishing grounds. Secondly, the problem of increasing obsolescence of many of the vessels. In efforts to overcome the first of those problems we have consistently taken the lead in international measures to conserve stocks of fish, and though a policy of that kind is bound to take rather a long time to mature, as hon. Members will understand, we believe that those efforts are now beginning to show some effect.
To meet the second problem, obsolescence, we have been doing everything we can to stimulate modernisation of the fleet by offering loans and grants, and that scheme has already achieved considerable success.
When the 1953 Measure came before the House, there were 78 vessels in the near and middle water trawling fleet—that is, about one-tenth of the then total—which had been built since 1940. More than three-quarters of the vessels had been built before 1921 and were very old indeed. Today, the number of vessels in the near and middle water trawling fleet built since 1940 is 142, over 25 per cent. of the fleet, and there are a further 72 which have been approved for grant by the White Fish Authority and will be joining the fleet as soon as they have been completed. The building yards in the industry, I understand, can build, in addition to the average number of distant water vessels that come their way, only about thirty near and middle water vessels a year. So we have been seeking for new means of speeding up the process of modernisation.
I understand that it costs up to £150,000 to build a new trawler for near and middle water fishing today, and, even with a grant and a loan, that is an investment which means a fairly heavy responsibility on the owners. The White Fish Authority, therefore, suggested that grants should be made available for the conversation of suitable coal-burning vessels to oil fuel, an operation which can be carried out in a fraction of the time that it would take to build a new vessel. We are not, of course, expecting that all those vessels even where the hulls are suited to conversion, will necessarily be converted, but we hope that it will mean that 20 or 30 will be, and that in itself would be a very useful contribution.
Shortly after the Bill was introduced in November we found that it would be impossible to proceed straight away with these conversions because of the restrictions on our oil supplies. We took steps straight away to warn owners who were thinking of converting not to place contracts for conversion in the expectation of a grant then, but we are confident that the policy is sound in the long-term, and we are anxious that these grants should be available at the earliest moment that we can safely give permission.
I am, therefore, asking the House today to approve the provisions for these conversion grants on the understanding that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will make an Order for the appointed day as soon as we possibly can, as soon as the oil situation enables us to go forward.
I do not think that there are many cases in which that has happened since November. If there is a case, I am sure the Authority will look into it and adopt as helpful an attitude as it can. We simply cannot approve a new conversion grant for a contract which has already been placed or would be placed today.
I want to make this absolutely clear. We could not approve a grant for a contract which has been placed before the appointed day, but I can give the House an assurance that we will fix the appointed day as early as we possibly can in the light of the oil supply position.
If, as I hope, the House is satisfied as to the general policy of the conversion grants—they are dealt with in Clause 1—it will probably be helpful if I briefly explain one or two of the detailed provisions, because they are rather complicated.
Grants are already available under the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1953, for the building of new near and middle water vessels and also to working owners for installing new engines. What Clause 1 does is to extend these grants to the conversion to oil firing of engine-boilers which are at present suited for coal firing, and it enables the grants for new engines to be extended to non-working owners where the new engine is not coal-burning and is to replace an installation which did consume coal.
The hulls would have to be good enough to justify the installation of a new engine. The Authority would not approve an installation for grant purpose of a new engine in a hull which was not good enough to support it.
There would have to be an expert decision as to whether the expected life of the ship would justify the installation of a new engine. There would be an inspection. It would be a waste to spend public money on a new engine and then put it into an old hull. That is why I say that the number of cases to which the conversion grants will apply will be strictly limited. We estimate that 20 or 30 boats might be found eligible.
The general conditions for the conversion grants will be very much the same as the conditions for the existing grants for building vessels and installing new engines. The conditions will be governed by statutory schemes which will be administered by the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board as the present schemes are.
The new grants will be at a maximum rate of 25 per cent. of the cost of conversion. It is estimated that the total cost of these conversion grants might amount to between £250,000 and £500,000. So the £9 million provided under the 1953 Act for grants for white fish vessels and the £750,000 provided under the same Act for herring vessels will, it is expected, be enough to cover this as well as grants for new buildings.
I believe that these conversion grants will speed up the process of modernisation, but I think that we have to admit that we have still some way to go before we have a fleet capable of paying its way without subsidy. Meanwhile, we cannot dispense entirely with the old coal-burners, though we want to see them replaced with the least possible delay.
The coal-burning fleet has declined by 40 per cent. since 1953. During the past year or so it has been losing vessels at the rate of about 100 a year. That represents vessels scrapped. The 1953 Act set a five-year limit to the subsidy. It is now clear that we cannot do without subsidy as early as next March when the subsidy authorised under that Act will terminate. The second purpose of this Bill is to extend the subsidy for a few more years and also to provide for conversions, and so to allow the modernisation of the fleet to go on and the new building to proceed.
That is dealt with in Clause 2, where it is provided that the subsidy may be payable until 1st May, 1961, but, just in case our best hopes are not realised, the Bill provides that the life of the subsidy may be extended for another two years up to the 1st May, 1963, by Statutory Instrument, subject to an affirmative Resolution of both Houses. I hope that no subsidy will, in fact, be required after 1961, and I should like to repeat that we have no intention that this subsidy should be a permanent one.
The subsidy runs, of course, with the new building and conversion grants programme while a modern fleet is, as it were, in the making, and until it is able to pay its way. I hope that when making their plans owners will bear that fact in mind. Clause 2 also provides for possible changes in the form of the subsidy, so that we can keep things as flexible as they ought to be.
The third purpose of the Bill is to authorise a direct subsidy for the benefit of the herring fisheries. In the debate on 14th December last, hon. Members on both sides of the House were seriously and rightly concerned about the problems concerning the herring industry. As was promised then, we have considered these problems in conjunction with proposals which had then been put to us by the Herring Industry Board and those that have been more recently submitted to us by the herring fishermen's associations. Clause 3 of the Bill is the result of that consideration.
Hitherto, the herring fishermen have had no direct subsidy, though they have been assisted by the Government and the Board in a great many ways, by grants for boats and engines, to which I have referred, in marketing arrangements, in research, and through a scheme under which the Herring Industry Board buys surplus herring and converts them into oil and meal. Under the oil and meal scheme, the Government have reimbursed the Herring Industry Board its net cost so as to enable the Board to pay the fishermen higher prices for their herring than they would otherwise have been able to do.
These grants to the Herring Industry Board, since 1948, have amounted to a total of £2.230,000. In addition, the Government have met the cost of building new oil and meal factories, at a cost so far of about £370,000, and these have been built in the main herring ports. It was always hoped that once these factories had been built the Board would be able to make the oil and meal scheme pay, and would be able, at the same time, to offer the fishermen a price for their surplus herring which, together with their other earnings, would maintain the fleet at a reasonable level.
With this hope, Parliament, in the White Fish and Herring Industries Acts, 1948 and 1953, and the Fisheries Act, 1955, made £34 million available to the Board for the oil and meal scheme, and for the promotion of market developments, research and other purposes. Of that sum, about £2,830,000, including £2,600,000 for oil and meal, has already been spent.
It is unfortunately clear that, within the limit of the present powers, we cannot yet solve the herring industry's problems. During the last two years, hon. Members may be interested to know, the number of vessels in the herring fleet has fallen from 521 to 359, and the catch has fallen from 1,115,000 to 772,000 crans. The results of that are these. First, more herring could have been sold on the home market if they had been available—not always, but on many days during the year. Secondly, export contracts, which amount to about a quarter of the total catch and earn about £2 million of foreign currency, have not been able to be completely fulfilled. Thirdly, the supplies of herring for the oil and meal factories have fallen, with the result that herring meal for animal feeding has fallen by over half, and that, of course, has meant that we have had to increase our expenditure on other imported feedingstuffs.
Further, a substantial part of the industry's difficulties are due, notably in East Anglia, to insufficient supplies of herring to be caught in these neighbouring seas, and that aspect was fully discussed in the debate on 14th December last, when my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart) stated that the causes of that insufficiency of fish are not yet, unfortunately, fully known. We have been collaborating as actively as we possibly can in the scientific investigations of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, and we have asked the other Southern North Sea countries to a conference this week to consider the position in the light of the latest catches of herring.
In the case of the main Scottish fisheries the problem is really not so much that there are not enough herring to be caught as that there are not enough boats with which to catch them. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) will agree with me on that point. To quite a large extent, the vessels that used to catch herring are now catching white fish, and they find that the white fish subsidy, which gives more Exchequer assistance than the oil and meal scheme, is more helpful to them. I do not want to imply from that that the white fish subsidy at the current rate is excessively high, but the disparity in the level of Exchequer assistance there is certainly quite a big factor at present in promoting a lack of balance between the two sections of the industry.
The Government therefore decided that the right thing to do was to pay the herring fishermen a subsidy which would be broadly similar, as regards both the method, the amount and the duration, to that which was paid to the white fish fishermen, and Clause 3 of the Bill enables us to do that. This subsidy will last, like the white fish subsidy, until May, 1961, or two years after that, if circumstances seem to make that necessary and Parliament approves.
The right hon. Gentleman has said "broadly similar." Can he say what is the amount to be allocated, particularly the amount to be allocated to the conversion scheme to make the operation of herring fishing much more profitable? There are rumours in my port, at any rate, that the sum is inconsiderable when compared with the amount paid to the White Fish Authority.
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that information. We have not yet worked out the rates. I said that they would be broadly comparable and I meant that literally. We shall take each case on its merits and work it out as fairly as we can on the same kind of basis. But I could not make much of a shot today at what the total sums will amount to for each category, each section of the fleet, when that is done.
No, not necessarily, because, as I have said, each section will be judged on its merits, and each scheme will be worked out afresh in the light of the course of earnings in that section. I think that that covers the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
The rates will be worked out after consultation with the Board and with the fishermen's associations in the same way as we do ordinarily and will be given effect to by a statutory scheme subject to the approval of both Houses. The conditions and circumstances of the herring vessels will be taken into account, subject to the maintaining of a sort of broad equivalence between the herring vessels and other comparable white fish boats. The aim will be to have the two sections of the industry, as it were, competing on as fair terms as we can work out.
The indirect assistance, to which I have referred, which is given to the herring fishermen through the oil and meal scheme, will cease as soon as the new subsidy starts. The full cost of buying herring and the processing of them will have to be met by the Board from that time onwards. It will then have to adjust the price that it is able to pay to the fishermen accordingly. But, of course, on balance the fishermen will gain very substantially by the substitution of the direct subsidy for the present indirect assistance.
I should make clear that the powers under which the Board at present receives grants for capital expenditure on the oil and meal plants and for research and other projects will remain unchanged. Clause 4 provides up to a total of £17 million which can be paid out for herring and white fish subsidies under the 1953 Act and under this Bill together. Clause 4, too, provides that if necessary this sum can be increased to £19 million with the approval of Parliament. This total includes the £lO million which has already been provided under the earlier Act. That £10 million will be almost exhausted by the autumn of this year.
Hon. Members may think that the fact that we have now to cover the herring subsidy as well as other subsidies within a total of £17 million or £19 million must mean that we are robbing "White fish Peter", as it were, to pay "Herring fisherman Paul." Were these overall sums of £17 million and £19 million precisely calculated, there would be some substance in that criticism. In fact, we cannot plan as precisely as that.
The actual cost of these subsidies depends on many factors; the costs and earnings of the industry, the rate of decline of the old fleet and the rate of building of the new fleet. But because of the smaller number of herring boats, and also their smaller size, the amount that will go on the herring section of the fleet is likely to be quite small in relation to the white fish subsidy.
Some of these herring boats fish some of the time for herring and some of the time for white fish; and also, as we have seen recently, some of the boats change over completely from the herring section to the white fish section. Therefore, we have a certain amount of movement going on the whole time which makes exact calculation and computation quite impossible. Looking at the industry as a whole, we believe the total sum provided should be sufficient to meet the needs of both sections until they can stand on their own.
In the white fish subsidy there is a differentiating scale between steam vessels and diesel driven vessels, is it the intention of the Government to moderate the scale as it will be applied against steam and diesel in the new subsidies for herring drifters?
I do not wish to go into those details today. I do not think that I can safely go further than to say that our aim is to make the scheme for the herring boats broadly comparable with the scheme for the white fish boats.
I can assure the House that when we fix the precise rates of subsidy under the annual scheme we shall continue to do what we have done up to date, which is to examine and decide on each case, that is to say, each section of the industry, on its merits in the light of all the information available about costs and earnings.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome this Bill. Our fisheries policy has shown organic growth and the capacity to adjust itself to meet changing circumstances. But it has not undergone any fundamental change and I am glad to say that it has long enjoyed the support of all parties.
I believe that this Bill is in line with the tradition of its predecessors, the Acts of 1951 and 1953. I hope that it will receive general support as a Measure which will further develop both the white fish and the herring industries and also further the hopes of both these sections of our fishing fleet to achieve their economic independence in the years that lie immediately ahead.
As I understand, this scheme is to come into force this season. In my constituency the season begins in two months' time, or less. It does not seem to me—subject to being able to read later in HANSARD what the Minister has said—that fishermen will be well enough informed about the rates of the subsidy or the form in which the subsidy is to be given. If they are East Coast boats, or Shetland boats, they have to decide whether to give up seining. I think that there will be considerable uncertainty as to what is to happen. Are we to have further enlightenment? Are Orders to be introduced within the next few weeks?
I know when the Scottish season opens. Our aim is to have everything in order by that time. If the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill, we shall not lose a moment in working out precise schemes. If hon. Gentlemen will make their speeches short and snappy and the Committee stage discussions as few as possible so much the quicker shall we get the Bill on to the Statute Book.
I am sorry if I trespass on the patience of the right hon. Gentleman. What is to become of the money that has hitherto been allocated to the fishing industry? Is that to fall into a general fund?
If some of the money which has hitherto gone to the white fish industry is now going to the herring industry, the white fish industry might be at a loss by that amount. Will it he possible to recoup the white fish industry or compensate it?
The hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to form his opinion when the schemes come along. There are no positive or limited allocations, because each case is considered each year on its merits. The only limitation at present is the total limitation to which I have referred and which, if the Bill becomes law, will be £17 million. There is power, with Parliamentary approval, to increase it to £l9 million. Apart from that, there is no specific allocation.
It was very interesting to hear the Minister say that he hoped in due course that the fishing industry would become self-sustaining. I have no doubt that somebody in the time of Queen Anne, when subsidies were granted to fishing, made a remark of a similar kind. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is right, but there is no evidence that we are reaching that point. The hope of Parliament in granting this subsidy is that the industry may become self-sustaining.
The Bill continues and expands certain subsidies. The main departure in principle is in extending the subsidy to the herring industry. I wish the Government would make up their minds on the principle of subsidies. The other day a Tory ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer described people who receive subsidies as, by inference, a community of parasites. That kind of language makes it very difficult for us to discuss these matters in a businesslike fashion. Some people have taken very strong exception to these names being applied to them and have become very indignant. People who carry on industries which have to receive subsidies from the State find things difficult when they have that kind of name bandied about, even by inference.
The Government should make up their minds whether subsidies are justifiable in principle. If they are, they should not continually make out that the people who receive subsidies are paupers, cadging on the State, and use all sorts of names of that kind.
I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands that, but that does not apply to some of his hon. Friends, who should not make that kind of remark.
Surely there is a difference between subsidies for one industry and subsidies for another. The fishing industry was badly hit during the war and we want to maintain it, if for no other reason than that it provides something which is essential to our defence at sea.
Hon. Members should make up their minds whether subsidies are justified in principle. If they do so decide, they ought not to denounce them generally, and say that the people who receive them are paupers who receive charity from the State.
We require houses as much as we require fishing boats, so I believe that it is as much a matter of public policy to provide housing subsidies as to provide fishing subsidies. I believe in the subsidy as an instrument of public policy. It is the best way of getting Government control where there is not direct ownership or control of an industry. If the local authorities did not receive subsidies the State would have very little control over what they did. The subsidy is a means of exercising control by this House of the citizens.
Is it wrong to assist Development Areas, turning these pre-war distressed areas into prosperous areas? Would the Ministry of Agriculture say that it is wrong to subsidise agriculture? Is education not one of the vital things for the future? If so, should we not subsidise it by school meals, school milk, etc.? Is not the health of the people vital to the welfare of the country?
It is a very good export industry in my constituency. We bring people to Scotland from abroad and earn money by educating them. We earn quite a lot of dollars. It is a very good industry in any case. Industry as a whole will never succeed without education. We spend money maintaining hospitals for people when they are sick. It is much better to do that than to keep them in bed as sick people, unable to afford medical attention. If we want to maintain an efficient fishing industry, or a fishing industry at all, and it is necessary to subsidise it, we ought to do so.
Moreover, a subsidy enables us to guide the fishing industry in what it should do. In the White Fish Industry Board we were able to get agreement on a great many policies for the fishing industry. We could go much further. It would be much more effective if fish were brought into market in an organised way and not in haphazard fashion. We tried to do that, but I am sorry to say that we were not entirely successful. I am sure that the kind of control which has been developing in the marketing of fish has been of great benefit to the industry.
An open-and-above-board subsidy is much better than a secret subsidy, because it can be reviewed by Parliament. We can do our job in keeping our eye on those things and seeing whether the payments are justified. A lot of subsidies are given by way of tax rebates, and that can be abused. They are in the Budget and nobody takes much trouble to find out whether they are justified or not.
There is no division of opinion in this House about the necessity of ensuring a prosperous fishing industry. The reason that the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) gave about the importance of the industry in time of war is perhaps lessening in importance, but, nevertheless, it is one important aspect of the matter. There is the human necessity to maintain the fishing population in the Outer Islands. That is vital for our social life. We have to ask ourselves whether the proposals in the Bill are necessary and whether there is a policy behind them.
There is a certain amount of economy in the proposals put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. It is the same with these proposals as in housing. It costs a great deal of money to build a new house, but if an existing house is capable of modernisation it is an economy to modernise it even if we give a grant to a private owner or to a local authority to do so. When we introduced a Bill in 1948 it had exactly the same proposals as the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. We transformed vessels and converted them to burning oil. We offer no objection to the Bill; in fact, it carries out principles upon which we have ourselves agreed.
There is a danger which arises from the conversion of old vessels. We agree that, as in the case of houses, when they have reached a point of decay and dilapidation they ought to be scrapped, but there may be good hulls which could be converted so far as the mechanism of the vessel is concerned, yet there would be a great danger in the conditions of the crew. We do not want to convert ships from steam to oil burning vessels if the conditions of the crew are quite out-of-date, insanitary and not conducive to recruiting for the fishing industry.
Not only will wages determine whether people will fish or not, but also the conditions under which they fish. We ought to have an assurance from the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate that some attention will be paid to the conditions under which deck hands are to live. There should be a condition that the living accommodation of the deck hands and other facilities on board shall be brought a little nearer to modern standards before the expenditure of State money. An important thing about a subsidy is that one can extend public policy and get it carried out in regard to ships. We agree that it is necessary to extend the time, because the work which was proposed to be done has not been able to be done under existing conditions.
Another point about which I am concerned is that in certain parts of the country the fishing industry was not doing all it could itself to become modern. It would never do to provide subsidy for an industry which lay back on its oars and simply accepted a subsidy without bringing itself up to scratch. I found it necessary at one time to impose conditions on one part of the industry that it should make its own part of the industry efficient and so justify the granting of State money to it. That is very necessary, because in some parts of the country this industry allowed all the money accumulated in the past to be consumed outside the industry.
Sometimes the industry has not done all it could to recapitalise itself. We have to be very careful that no persons in the industry use the State as a milch cow while not doing their share towards making a contribution. If the State is to do its duty they should do their duty. As in the case of agriculture, if it is to be a partnership of the State, the fishing industry and the people who fish, all sections have a recognised part to play and we require that of the fishing industry.
Under present circumstances the fishing industry could not survive without some assistance from the State. Reverting to the point about the industry capitalising new development, even those sections which did their duty by putting aside reserves might find that because of the watering and devaluation of the currency those reserves, which might have been sufficient had money maintained its value, become quite insufficient when the cost of a ship becomes three or four times what it was originally when the money was put aside. Therefore, the State has some responsibility to compensate the fishing industry for the watering and devaluing of its reserves.
Nor to the Firth of Forth. When Charles Reade wrote "Christie Johnstone" I remember he described the life of the fishers. But the herring has disappeared from the Firth of Forth and no one knows why. I understand that the temperature of the North Sea has been rising and that that might have an effect on the scarcity of herring. I also read that a number of seals are living on an island in the North Sea. They may be partly responsible for the diminution in the number of herring. The herring has always been a mysterious fish. In the Middle Ages it had an effect on history by moving from the Baltic to the North Sea. Scientists have never been able to discover what game herring are playing.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), who has great knowledge of this fish, may be able to enlighten us about it. The Herring Board has found it impossible to account for the herring going from these seas round some of the English ports. That has deprived us of that great dollar-earner the marinaded herring and we are also not able to supply the Russians with the herring which they want. In case anyone believes that there will be a great loss through the present herring subsidy, may I say that my information is that it is only payable so far as meal and oil are concerned and is mainly consumed in the cost of transport to the factories. If no meal and oil is being made from herring no subsidy is payable and does not, therefore, exist.
If these conditions persist herring fishermen will get a clear gain through the new subsidy. There is another great advantage. In agriculture everywhere there is a disinclination for people to live in the country away from towns. There is also a disinclination for fishermen to live away from their homes for longer than they can help and, with the white fish subsidy, fishermen can get home at night. They can get immediate cash instead of having it deferred as in the case of the herring fisher. Whether the new subsidy will counteract that tendency or not is still to be guessed. Just as the Government weigh up each case on its merits, I rather fancy that the fishermen will weigh up each case on its merits. If it is best to fish herring he will fish herring, but if it is best to fish white fish he will do so and stay at home.
The detailed proposals are to come before the House by Order in Council and can be dealt with in detail. Many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite w ill have points of view from the fishermen to express when we reach the Committee stage of the Bill. In the meantime, we approve the policy of the Bill and agree that as public policy we ought to ensure that the industry survives. If we are more successful and able to bring the industry on to an economic basis by which it is self-sustaining, we shall welcome that. That may be an advantage in the long run.
I wish to emphasise that we are not approving of this as a hand-out of charity to fishermen. We believe this is part of the partnership of the nation with the industries of the country. The fishing industry is one of the most valuable industries from a social and food point of view and, certainly, a great industry from the point of view of developing men of character and stamina. Such men have played a great part in the defence of their country.
1 conclude by paying tribute to the part these men and their wives have played. Many of us know of women whose husbands have not come back from a fishing expedition. In that respect this industry is like coal mining. Of it we say, in the words of the old song, "The price of herring is the lives of men." When we think of that we realise that there is no question of charity towards these men. We are doing this as partners of these men and we welcome their co-operation in helping to feed the nation. We therefore give our approval to the general principles of the Bill and hope that it will have a speedy passage.
It seems such a long time ago since I had the freedom of sitting here and speaking from the back benches that I almost feel that I am making another maiden speech. The best way to overcome the problem of a maiden speech is to make it very short, and that I propose to do.
I have not very much to say, except to congratulate my right hon. Friends upon having brought the Bill before the House and, in particular, upon having incorporated in it the Clause dealing with the subsidy for herring fishing. I am relieved that they have done so, because on the last occasion that I spoke from the Treasury Bench I virtually committed the Government to some action of this kind. If I may be allowed to quote what I said with authority on that occasion, it was:
… we have here an industry that we must support at all costs. We cannot let it decline further. There is a great deal to be said for rebuilding the industry to a higher level than that at which it stands today … I assure the House that the Government will do their best." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1956; Vol. 562, c. 896.]
I did what I could in the few weeks which were left to me in office to fulfil that undertaking, and I consider that the Bill does fulfil it. Like the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), I am therefore in a happy position of being able to offer it full support. I think we all give it full support.
Nevertheless, reverting to the point made by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire, there must be some people in the country and perhaps even some hon. Members who raise a querulous eyebrow when they see the Government proposing to introduce a new subsidy at the very moment at which the Government make it clear that it is their general policy wherever possible to get rid of subsidies and to make our economy self-supporting.
I think that general policy is absolutely right. Whenever we can we ought to work resolutely to its fulfilment. The truth is, however, as we are all beginning to learn, that once we have started paying subsidies either to industries or to national services—and all Governments have had a hand in the subsidy for fishing—it is virtually impossible to abandon those subsidies except by easy stages. What is even more difficult is that when a subsidy has been made available to one section of an industry, as here, its effects are bound sooner or later to compel us to extend the subsidy to the other sections. In my view, that is perhaps the worst and most corroding feature of artificial aids from the State.
In the case of the fishing industry, clearly we cannot suddenly withdraw financial support from the white fish section, which has enjoyed some measure of support for the last six, seven or eight years. If we were to do that we should bring ruin to the industry. Therefore it cannot be done. On the other hand, as my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, to contemplate a subsidy for this industry for all time ahead would surely be to despair of all the work we have done and all the money we have spent on modernising our fleet; it would be to despair of all our efforts to bring efficiency into the industry and, through the White Fish Authority, to raise the general business direction of the industry; and it would be to despair, too, of the ardour, the vigour and the independence of the fishermen themselves.
In the circumstances, therefore, the only practical course is to maintain for the white fish side of the industry that support meanwhile but to give clear notice, as we do here, that, subject to the avoidance of extreme conditions, the subsidy will be on a diminishing scale—that is what I clearly understand by the Bill—and that it is the Government's intention that it should terminate at a fixed time some years ahead.
I have sat in the House for over thirty years, and my hon. Friend has sat in the House for over twenty years. We have heard one Government after another say that expenditure on the fishing industry and on agriculture is to decrease and that the subsidy will be steadily decreased. On the contrary, both have risen absolutely steadily for the last thirty years, and I hazard the suggestion that they will go on rising for the next thirty years.
My right hon. Friend may well be right. I am only saying that I like to hope that he is wrong.
I feel that no Government can do other than say to the industry now: "You must try to make the industry efficient. We are giving you money to build new boats. We will taper off the subsidy gradually and you must face the possibility that at a certain time you must stand on your own feet." I do not think any Government could adopt any other policy than that—and that is what the Bill tries to do.
Just because the white fish side of the industry has enjoyed financial support for so long, there has been an inevitable and in recent years an increasing movement of boats from the catching of herring to the catching of white fish, because the latter is more attractive. My right hon. Friend gave the figures for both branches. I understand that in Scotland the boats mainly engaged in herring fishing have fallen in number from 446 two years ago to 314 last year, a drop of 132 in two years, which is staggering. In consequence, the catch of herring in the United Kingdom, as my right hon. Friend said, has fallen by a very large amount.
Alongside that fall in the amount of herring we have had the very opposite in the case of inshore white fishing. If we consider the boats in Scotland which are engaged on inshore white fishing, which for practical purposes we might call the seine net fleet, the numbers have risen from 594 boats in 1954 to 708 last year, an increase of 114. The position is almost completely explained by those staggering figures. The white fish inshore catch in Scotland has grown since 1954 from 1,200,000 cwt. to 1,650,000 cwt.
Clearly it is in the interests of fishermen, merchants, processers, kipperers, curers, transporters and everybody concerned, and in the national interest, to see that this steady movement from one section to the other is controlled. The herring industry is one of the oldest in our land. Quite apart from the romance attaching to it—and we have all in our day paid tribute in the House to its romantic associations—this industry, though relatively small in numbers of men by comparison with other trades, plays a vital part in the social and economic life of Scotland. At all costs it must be maintained at a reasonable level.
It is true that for a number of years the herring industry has been assisted by the operation of the oil and meal scheme, to the present tune, I believe, of about £100,000 a year, but that scheme has not proved sufficient to check the movement from herring to white fishing. It seems to me, therefore, that we have now no alternative but to extend to the landing of herrings the landing subsidy now enjoyed by the white fish industry, so that a reasonable balance may be brought about between the two sections.
Naturally, we are all very curious to know how this new herring subsidy is to be operated, how much is involved, how it will affect the operations of the oil and meal scheme, and the like. I will not press my noble Friend—who, I think, is to reply later—for an answer to these questions now, because I know that his colleagues, and the Herring Board and the trade are considering these matters. Nevertheless, I am sure that he realises that we should all like to know as early as possible what the scheme is.
Personally, I hope that this Bill will be used by the fishermen of Scotland, and particularly by the herring fishermen of Scotland as the occasion and the incentive to do what so many of the industry's friends have been urging for so long; that is, to raise the quality of the herring. They can do that largely by boxing a greater amount of the catch on board while the vessels are still at sea. If they would do that—and I took my part in other days to press this upon them—they would reduce the surplus of oil and meal somewhat; they would increase their income from the kipperers, the curers the canners and the rest. They would, in turn, improve the standard of the herring offered to the housewife. I am a little ashamed when friends of mine buy herrings that are not of the proper standard. The fishermen must play their part in raising that standard.
This Measure gives the fishermen a new chance. The money involved is not great. In the Press I have seen reports that it will be about £300,000 a year. That is not a great sum, but if this new step is properly regarded and properly used by the fishermen it may well prove the turning point in their long, arduous and chancy voyage towards stable prosperity.
I am sure that the whole House will welcome the leap which the hon. Baronet the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart) has taken from the Government aquarium into the rough but wider waters of the back benches. I rejoice that he is back there to harry the Government on fishing matters. It may be, however, that the Government have lost in the process.
What most people are anxious to have is more details of the new herring scheme, but we have been told that we are not to get them for a short time. Before coming to that part of the Bill, however, I should like to make one or two remarks on the white fish industry. In Shetland, we have been trying to improve the marketing of our fish by the creation of Shetland Fish Limited and to broaden our fishing. We have been making experiments in the catching of dog fish—a fish which is so lucrative to the Norwegians. But one essential ingredient of any big improvement is a breakwater at Whalsay and better harbour facilities at Scalloway and other places. Until we have those, we are under great difficulties.
As the Minister is aware, we rely on the quality of our white fish. Our chief problems are our distance from markets, the difficulty of handling and of transport —the high rate of freight, for instance, and the unsatisfactory handling of the fish in ordinary wooden fish boxes, which are very dirty things. Although the Government know it already, there is one vital point to which I should like to draw to their attention, and that is the new rule at the new Aberdeen fish market by which the fish has to be clocked in by 8 a.m. If it is to be sold that day. The boat from Shetland does not arrive sometimes until seven o'clock in the morning or after. We have, of course, no control over sailings or over the dockers. It means that our high-quality fish does not reach the market in good condition if it is delayed 24 hours. As Aberdeen is our main outlet, this is a vital matter, as I know the Minister realises, and we will be grateful to have it given attention.
I turn now to that part of the Bill dealing with the herring industry. In Shetland we also have suffered from the number of boats leaving the herring industry, a matter about which both the Minister and the hon. Baronet have spoken. We had 54 in 1939 and 32 in 1956. This year the number will be down to about 20. The reason lies almost entirely in the uncertainty of catching herring at all, and to the poor price. In other places there is this factor that the white fisherman gets home and so on, thus making the white fishing life more satisfactory, but, for local reasons, that is not so important in Shetland. The real thing is the price of herring and the lack of shoals in some years.
As the Minister knows, our season will begin very soon indeed, and I hope that it is appreciated that the herring is important not only to the fishermen themselves but to the ancillary trades. Those ancillary trades will be very interested in the form that the subsidy takes. For instance, what are the curers to be told? The curers have operated under great difficulties and restrictions and are getting very few in number. We shall not know how many are to come to Shetland, or how many boats from the East Coast will be prepared to come this season unless they very soon know how the scheme is to work out.
I am not at all clear what the Minister of Agriculture meant when he said that he would weigh each case. Does that mean that he will weigh the needs of each port and that the subsidy will take a different form in different ports? or does it mean that he will change the subsidy from year to year? All these are matters of worry to the fishermen, and I should like an assurance that we are soon to get an answer. I know that a threat, or a bribe, has been made today that if we make good, and short, speeches the Minister will be able to get on with the job, but, in return, he faces the possible threat that if we are not satisfied we may make longer and worse speeches in the next debate.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the difficulty caused by the small number of vessels and seemed to imply that this was a difficulty of catching. Off Shetland, however, the difficulty has been one of searching. We suspect that there have been very considerable shoals of herring off Shetland which have not been located or have been too deep. In the old days, there were an immense number of small boats searching, but now there are a much smaller number of big boats, with much larger catching capacity, it is true, but not able to search so widely. I do not know whether the Board could make more experiments, such as were at one time thought of, with aircraft to search the sea for herring—and also note new catching methods.
Another question is how the herring subsidy will affect the different ports and, of course, the oil and meal scheme. One point of contention in Shetland for a number of years has been the position of Scalloway. A lot of fishermen believe, and there is much evidence to support them, that as in the early season the herring shoals are up to the North, off what we call the Ramna Stacks, and to the West of the coast of Shetland, they should be encouraged to fish longer from Scalloway. They would like to try to get curers, and so on to come there—the kipperer does come—and to improve the facilities of the port. Last year, for instance, herring which went for oil and meal to Scalloway fetched 28s. as against 42s. at Lerwick. I do not know how the herring subsidy scheme will affect the situation as between the different ports, and if anything can be said about that it will be very useful, because it is usually the first port to open in the whole of Great Britain.
There was some indication this year that the Board was going to pay slightly higher prices for oil and meal from herring landed more or less directly at the oil and meal factory. This subsidy would seem to run across that. Again, if there is any information on that, it would be helpful because it is a matter of some importance to us.
I quite appreciate the position of the Government. They want to bring in their Order, and they may well say that we must wait until then. But we are now in the middle of March, and there is much to be done. There is gear to be bought; which is very expensive, and there are those who will wonder whether it is worthwhile buying herring fishing gear at present prices. There are the others concerned, kipperers, curers, and so on; barrels have to be got. It is a big industry, with many ancillary trades, and we must know as soon as possible.
Having asked those questions and made those few remarks, I, like other hon. Members, say that if the Bill means a better deal for the herring industry, then I am all for it. That is how it will be judged, and I suppose we must wait until we see the Order in order to be assured about that. I am glad that one fear many of us had has been removed. It seemed at one time that we should be robbing Peter to pay Paul and that all the money which was to go to the herring industry was to be taken out of the white fish industry—virtually the same boats—because so many of them are dual-purpose boats. I now understand that that is not the case. It will be a great relief to the industry to know that.
I welcome the Bill most heartily. It will not escape without criticism, but, on the whole, it represents a very good move indeed for the fishing industry, and particularly for the herring industry.
As regards conversion from coal burning to oil burning, it will not affect our inshore fishing fleets in Scotland to any great extent, if at all. All our vessels which are prosecuting seine netting or herring fishing are relatively new. But, of course, there may be a few trawlers at Granton and Aberdeen which it will be worth while to convert, but I doubt if there are very many.
Since our opportunities for discussing the fishing industry come at very rare intervals and are usually of short duration, I have one or two comments connected with the industry as a whole which I should like to make on matters which I regard as anomalous and requiring redress. First of all, I wish to mention the depreciation allowed by the Treasury on second-hand vessels, particularly those obtained under grant and loan schemes. For the first year, a depreciation of 20 per cent, is allowed, and thereafter it is 5 per cent. a year. There is no grant for anyone acquiring a second-hand vessel, and this paradox exists, that it is cheaper for a fisherman to buy a new vessel under the grants and loans schemes than it is for him to buy a first-class second-hand vessel which may be offered after use during just a year or two. That is not a frequent occurrence, but it happens from time to time.
The only market available for such vessels when they come up for sale is outside the country, in Eire for instance. This means that the money which has been put up by the taxpayer cannot be recouped through sales to fishermen at home. I would strongly urge that point upon my right hon. Friend, and ask him to take it up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Also I would ask him to give close attention to the idea of giving grants and loans to fishermen for the acquisition of second-hand vessels in good condition.
Naturally, the main considerations affecting us who represent inshore fishing constituencies in Scotland arise in respect of the herring industry and how it is to come out of the plans implicit in the Bill. The Government's response to the debate on the Motion moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) on 14th December, followed by the announcement of the Secretary of State for Scotland on 26th February, and now this Bill, indicate to us that the Government are feeling some alarm over the state of affairs in the herring industry. I think it is only right that we on this side, at least, should pay a tribute here to the Minister for bringing in the Bill, and also to my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), and to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart), who had a great deal to do with this Measure coming before the House at this time. Our thanks and gratitude, and the gratitude of the industry, are due to them on that account.
My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the decrease in the number of vessels. Many vessels have given up the herring industry and gone over to seining. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that many of those will return to herring fishing again, but we must look at the deterrents which stand in the way. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) spoke of subsidies and asked what is the need for a subsidy for the herring industry. The need is this. The price obtained at the quayside for herring today is twice that which was obtained before the war, but the catching cost is six times what it was before the war.
Again, there is the terrible problem of gear. The cost of nets, buoys, ropes and all the rest of the equipment used by fishermen has gone up enormously. This is a matter which I hope the Minister will take up with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it is something which requires redress. The problem was brought forcibly home to me during a visit I made to the Banffshire coast a short time ago. Herring nets today cost £19 each, and in twelve month's time, after a year's use, their value has dropped to £12. The maintenance and repair cost of a net averages about £2 per net per year. In Scotland, the nets are owned by the individual fishermen, yet there is no income tax allowance for depreciation on that gear or for maintenance. This should be brought to the attention of the Chancellor in the strongest possible terms.
Another matter, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod) a short time ago, is the great problem caused by treating the herring fisherman as a seasonal worker. Why must herring fishermen be treated as seasonal workers, and why should they have to prove that they are not seasonal workers before they can get unemployment benefit? The seine net fishermen rightly can draw unemployment benefit for even a couple of days of unemployment, but herring fishermen during the rest periods—and these rests between seasons are very necessary for rehabilitating vessels and looking after gear—have to prove that they are not seasonal workers before they can get unemployment benefit.
I am glad in certain ways that the Bill is vague on the manner and measure of assistance which is to go to the herring industry, and I trust that there will be speedy but none the less exhaustive discussions with the fishermen's associations to ensure that all points are taken into account and weighed before any decision is taken. On 7th February, there was a joint petition by all the herring fishermen's associations in the country presented to the Minister. No doubt my right hon. Friend has that closely in mind. It demands the most serious consideration. I should like to ask him whether the substance of that petition is accepted as the basis for the subsidy schemes to be introduced. It is a matter of great importance. Views expressed in it by the fishermen's associations are totally at variance with the suggestion that the subsidy should be removed from oil and meal herring.
It seems to me also that the powers of the Herring Industry Board should be extended if we are really to make anything of that body, so that it can pull its full weight in the rehabilitation of the industry. It seems to me that the ideal—and this is something on which all the fishermen's associations agree—would be for the Herring Industry Board to become the first-hand purchaser at a flat rate at the quayside of all caught herring which is landed; there would, of course, be two qualities, first and second quality. This is something which I mentioned on 14th December. Let the Herring Board distribute the herring to the various freshers, processers and other users, and do it more or less on a co-operative basis. That, to my mind, is the ideal. But apparently the Herring Industry Board lacks the necessary powers to become purchasers at first hand of herrings and the Minister should consider whether it is possible for these extra powers to be given now to the Herring Industry Board.
The Herring Industry Board on 18th January published certain draft rules giving zones and minimum prices of herring at the quayside during the coming season. There is the exception, of course, for oil and meal. All other avenues of use are discussed in detail. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether the prices issued by the Herring Industry Board form the basis of quayside prices in devising any help that is to be given to the industry. The hon. Member for Fife, East mentioned boxing herrings at sea. That is a splendid thing. At Lowestoft, I was tremendously impressed a short time ago by the herring landed in boxes at the quayside. It seems to me that the amount allowed in the suggested differential of 2s. per box for boxing herring at sea is not enough. The selection which must go on there is a very protracted job. The herring must be specially taken care of, not that that is not a good thing, but a great deal of extra work is involved. It seems to me that something like 10s. to 12s. a box would be more commensurate with the trouble taken.
As to the oil and meal subsidy, the Herring Industry Board guarantees in its draft rules to take up all balances of herring unsold, and presumably herring for oil and meal will be in those balances of herring not taken up for kippering, freshing, curing and so on. Again there is no mention of the price that is going to be paid for oil and meal herring.
The Scottish Herring Producers' Association in their comments on these draft rules suggested an equitable price for oil and meal herring, even with a voyage subsidy being paid, was 50s. per cran. I was somewhat dismayed when the Secretary of State for Scotland on 26th February and the Minister again today stated that the oil and meal subsidy was going to be withdrawn. I would ask those Ministers to think again. This move is fraught with a very great amount of danger. It was instanced by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). What is going to happen in glut conditions when very heavy fishing comes along?
At the present time, the subsidy per cran on oil and meal herring is something like 10s. The boats with the lighter catches naturally get in earlier in the morning and their herring probably goes for canning, curing and freshing. There may be a glut of fish in the afternoon when big shots come in. What is to happen? It is true that each vessel will probably get its £10 voyage payment, but look at the position of the man who instead of getting the normal price for his oil and meal herring has dropped 10s. a cran on 100 cran shot. He is £38 out of pocket. That is the sort of thing which will drive more nails into the coffin of the herring industry than this Bill will remove.
I would plead with my right hon. Friend to look at this matter again. We are hoping that these difficulties will be overcome and that the Bill will be a turning point in the herring industry. It might well prove to be. There are, however, other things to be done in addition to those mentioned in the Bill. One question concerns the marketing of herring in this country and that is where the Herring Industry Board should be given power to go ahead and get something done. Who in this country knows that cured herring is obtainable in 5 lb. and 10 lb. tins at about ls. 3d. a lb. That is not generally known, but wherever the tins have appeared they have been most successful, and it seems to me that that type of pack alone warrants a most intensive sales drive from one end of the country to the other and in the export field, because there is no finer food than the cured herring. I should like to see coincident with the launching of the Bill a force of commercial travellers selling cured herring from one end of the country to the other which, I think, would achieve a tremendous advance in the herring industry.
On 14th December, I mentioned other methods of fishing, particularly the Larsen net. I will not go into the details now except to say that the average cost of drift nets required by two herring vessels today is something like £5,000 if they are to be adequately equipped with nets, including spare ropes, nets and buoys. There is a net gear cost of £200 when the Larsen net is operated by two vessels working together.
Since I spoke on 14th December I have had surprising confirmation from both Ireland and Scandinavia that these nets are proving an unqualified success. A net of the Larsen type is today being operated by British Columbia fishermen most successfully. Moreover, the Larsen net is recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, under whose auspices a booklet has been issued concerning it written by Alan Glanville, who is himself a practical fisherman and is today operating the Larsen gear most successfully off the West of Ireland.
In making any experiments that will impress the fishermen it is of little use to have the tests carried out by the Department's own vessels. If we are really to make an impression upon the fishermen concerning this new type of gear, bearing in mind how conservative are the methods of Scottish fishermen, the Scottish Office must commission two pairs of vessels with skippers and crews of proven worth to work this gear on a guaranteed remunerative basis, so that they will not lose by changing over from the drift net to this type of fishing for that period. They should use the Larsen net, and the wing trawl which is a bottom net alternatively at Fraserburgh and Peterhead for a period during the coming herring season. If that were done we should see a marked improvement in catching methods generally in the herring industry.
Another point I should like to mention concerns the value (that the public put upon the herring. In past years we have been far too dependent upon Russian prices. Russian prices have unduly depressed the value of herring and it is essential that we should secure other outlets where a better return is obtainable. This is one of the responsibilities which should devolve upon the Herring Industry Board. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) has made quite clear during his 30 years in this House. the herring is the best fish in the world for food value.
Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill. I anxiously await publication of the scheme by which the herring industry is to be aided. I should, however, like to make this point that it is essential that the greater part of the subsidy should go directly to the wages of the crews. That is a vital consideration.
The hon. Member for East Stirling-shire talked about herring stocks. The stocks of herring are in the sea. Since the right hon. Gentleman's memory seems to be quite short, I should like to remind him that since I came to this House in 1945 I have talked of virtually nothing else on the occasions when I have spoken to the House on fishing matters. All along I have appealed for research, and we certainly require it now.
By and large, this is the first great step I have seen taken in this House towards the saving of the herring industry. I sincerely trust that now we have started, we shall press on until this magnificent industry is fully rehabilitated.
When entering the Chamber today, an hon. Member who is not a Scot and who is a landlubber representing an inland constituency asked me why we so often have fishing Bills before the House. I answered that it was because the fishing industry is so seldom dealt with in a comprehensive way. This little Bill is a good example of the lack of comprehensiveness which characterises Bills relating to the fishing industry which come before the House.
There are, of course, other reasons. It is because the problems relating to the fishing industry are so multitudinous and so complicated. It is because the fishing industry is so many-sided, because it is a bulwark in time of war as well as in time of peace, and it is, perhaps above all, because there is no Minister in the Government whose duty it is to look after the fishing industry solely. It is a great pity, and this Bill is an example of the fact, that the industry is not dealt with in a comprehensive manner.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, like the Secretary of State for Scotland, is mixed up not only with fish, but also with meat and vegetables, and in the race between the bull and the fish, the bull nearly always wins. That is why, while agriculture has extensive subsidies and is dealt with in a very comprehensive fashion, the fishing industry has to come mendicant like, cap in hand before the House, as it does today, with a little Bill of this sort, to seek assistance.
It seems to me that no Minister, however able and conscientious, could deal adequately with the great variety of topics which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland are called upon to deal with. Both of these Ministers are, I concede, able and conscientious and they do their best but they are struggling against a conflict of interests. There is for each of these two Ministers a conflict of interests between agriculture and fisheries. There is a conflict of interests between the bull and the fish and, as I have said, the bull nearly always wins.
Notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, it seems to me that the Bill is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. In that sense, this little Bill is a disappointment, an illusion and a snare. It is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but it has several defects. I am quite sure that hon. Members who represent fishery constituencies will agree that the Bill is not half generous enough. There is, apparently, a fund out of which both branches of the industry, herring and white fish—fortunately, not the bull—derive some advantage, but that fund is not sufficiently extensive to deal with all the problems.
It is remarkable that on 26th February, when the Secretary of State for Scotland answered a Question in the House—obviously inspired by himself, asking him to make a statement about the fishing industry—he said, with a great air of generosity and novelty, that new proposals would come before the House. This Bill comprises those new proposals and there is no generosity or novelty about it.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said:
The Government have considered proposals by the Herring Industry Board and the fishermen's associations for additional financial assistance for the herring industry.
He did not state what those proposals were or what the fishermen's associations had asked for or what were, or are, the needs of the industry. I venture to suggest that they are not included in the Bill, which is far removed from the needs of the industry and is not half generous enough.
The Secretary of State went on to say:
The Government propose that, pending the further development by the Board of measures to make the industry self-supporting, herring fishermen should receive a direct subsidy broadly similiar in method, amount and duration to the white fish subsidy for comparable boats.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1957; Vol. 565, c. 1045.]
That statement was quite a good one. I am all for the utmost financial assistance being given to the herring industry and also to the white fish industry—they are both national assets and they should be assisted to be self-supporting with help from the Treasury funds; but here, apparently, the fund remains the same. There is no new fund. There is no act of generosity such as that suggested by the Secretary of State in his statement.
The Bill looks very well on its face until we look into its details, when we find that the money for the herring industry is apparently to come out of the statutory provisions already made for the white fish industry. The white fish industry and the herring industry are both of the utmost value to the nation. They are national assets. Each employs many men, supports many families and helps to feed the nation.
I join with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling-shire (Mr. Woodburn) about subsidies. If ever there was an industry, whether housing or anything else, which deserves subsidies on a high scale, it is the fishing industry. I make no apology for pleading the cause of both branches of the fishing industry and I say that this little Bill is not sufficient for the purpose with which it purports to deal.
The hon. and learned Member says that it is a little Bill, but the fund is, in fact, £17 million and can rise to £19 million. If he does not consider that sufficient, perhaps he can tell us what large purposes be has in mind which require so many more millions.
The Bill is a little Bill. It is one of the worst examples I have ever seen of legislation by reference. It refers to a whole lot of other Bill. The fact that it is necessary to do that proves my point when I say that the fishing industry is not being dealt with in a comprehensive manner and that this is a mere trivial Bill which tinkers at it.
The Bill refers to the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1953. That Act was designed to provide money by way of grants for the acquisition of new vessels and engines for use in both the white fish and the herring industries. It provided a subsidy in respect of white fish, though not a direct subsidy for herrings. There was, however, indirect assistance for herring fishermen through the fish meal and oil schemes, but this Bill abandons that. It discontinues help to the fish meal and oil scheme.
It seems to me that while the earlier Bill dealt with two branches of the industry separately and logically and clearly, this Bill seems to lump them together. Clauses 1 to 5 of the earlier Bill dealt separately with the white fish industry. Clauses 6 to 10 dealt separately with the herring industry, and Clauses 11 to the end of the Bill dealt with miscellaneous matters of machinery. They are not dealt with separately in this Bill. They are lumped together in a way which will make it very difficult to implement the Bill in practice.
I should like to ask the Minister to deal with a few questions when he replies to the debate. Why does this composite Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food always treat agriculture as the favourite son and the fishing industry as the Cinderella, as he is doing in this case? Is it not a fact that no new money is to be provided for the herring industry under the Bill? Will not the money now to be provided by the herring industry come out of that provided for the white fish industry? Why is not new money to be provided for the herring industry? Did it not ask for £750,000 and is getting very much less? How much is the industry to get out of the Bill?
Would it not have been a very much more workmanlike procedure to have continued the good practice, which was adumbrated in earlier Bills that are now on the Statute Book? Would it not have been better to have dealt with the herring and white fish industries separately, or to have provided separate funds for both and make those sums sufficiently large to deal with the needs of the two industries? I will not oppose the Bill because I think that it is a step in the right direction, but it is a very short step and not the kind of step that the bull would take if it were racing the fish.
I shall not attempt to answer the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) in any great detail. I leave that to my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he winds up the debate; but I should like to comment on the hon. and learned Gentleman's reiterated assertion that this was a very small Bill, that there was no particular amount of money involved and that what there was was not nearly enough.
Not enough for what? The hon. and learned Member did not say. What does he want the money for? There is a fund of £17 million—quite a lot of money—provided under the Bill, with the option of adding another £2 million. And if that proves not enough, we can always ask for more by 1961.
No. I meant that there is authorised expenditure for that amount. I think that that was what the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North meant when he talked about a fund.
There is a very substantial amount of money made available in this Bill. What does the hon. and learned Member want the extra millions for, and how many extra millions? I suggest that he has no clue. He does not know in the least what he wants it for. He simply got up to say that there was too little money because he thought that it was a good political thing to say. He also said that it was a pity to muddle up the white fish and herring industries, and that there should be two separate funds, and on a far more lavish scale, though I do not know for what purpose.
I will, but I was going to tell the hon. and learned Member that in my constituency the inshore white fishing fleet and the herring fishing fleet are, for all practical purposes, interchangeable. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable and right that a Bill which makes financial provision for the inshore white fishing and the herring fishing industries should be one comprehensive Measure, and that they should be dealt with together. There is constant traffic between the two. They are really inextricably intertwined. Therefore, the second point made by the hon. and learned Member was quite unjustified.
I will deal only with the first point at the moment. I will answer the second, if I am allowed to, when it arises. The hon. Member will remember that at the beginning of my speech I referred to the observations of the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he said that the Government had considered proposals by the Herring Industry Board and the fishermen's associations and I said that he did not indicate what they were. These proposals should be laid before the House to enable us to know what would be a sufficient sum for the two branches of the industry.
I do not think that that quite answers my question, because the hon. and learned Member has still not indicated what he has in mind on which to spend this money. However, I will not go further into that matter now.
I could not help being sympathetic with some of the observations of the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) on the subject of subsidies. We are very apt to be hypocritical when we talk about subsidies. I think that even my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart) was suffering from what I might describe as a Liberal hangover when he referred to the horror with which he regarded subsidies in principle, although he has regularly voted for them, as indeed I have done for many years, and as I hope, and I think my hon. Friend hopes, we shall both do for many years to come.
The truth is that subsidies are now built into the agricultural and fishing industries, and I do not think that we shall ever get rid if them. I would say that we ought to limit them, and always make quite sure that they are designed only to increase efficient production; and that if they do not fulfil that purpose they should be changed or modified. But it is no good saying that we cannot have subsidies any more, because once we have subsidies in an industry over a period of years, perhaps a decade, they are built in. The industry then rests upon them; and we cannot suddenly withdraw them without the risk of collapse.
We would be wise, therefore, to accept the fact that we have these subsidies for the rest of our lifetime; and to concentrate not so much on deploring their existence as upon improving their efficiency, and cutting them down to the minimum required to increase the productive efficiency of the industry. What my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East said was profoundly true about the necessity for extending a subsidy from one branch of a particular industry to another, if we give a subsidy to one. That, of course, is what has happened in the case of the herring industry.
The original Bill was withdrawn and it has now been reintroduced because the Government came to the conclusion, rightly, that if we gave a subsidy to the white fish industry it was essential to give a comparable subsidy to the herring industry. Otherwise, what has been going on for the last two years would have been intensified; and the boats would have been drawn away in increasing numbers from the herring fishing to the white fishing. That has been happening all round the coast, in East Anglia, all round Scotland; and it would have gone on happening but for this Bill, which, I believe, will make a considerable difference.
The fact remains that, if boats are to be attracted back to the herring fishing, it must be made more remunerative than it is today. Hitherto, the subsidy, in so far as we have had one for the herring fishing industry, has not been comparable to that paid to the white fish industry. It has been paid only on surplus herring converted to meal and oil.
A rather important point was made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) when he said that, owing to the recent decline in the overall fishing, there had been very little surplus on which to pay a subsidy; and that, as regards the meal and oil subsidy, the fishermen this last year have had very little subsidy of any kind, because there has not been a sufficient surplus to keep the meal and oil factories busy. Therefore, the herring fishermen have been getting practically no subsidy over the past 12 months.
I do not altogether share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) about the meal and oil subsidy. I have never liked the idea of subsidising one end product of an industry as against another. I have never liked the idea of a subsidy for meal and oil as against, for instance, the canning or curing sides of the industry, which are more important to our export trade. I do not much like the State selecting a particular product for a subsidy. I prefer the State to say that it will subsidise the fishermen, the producers as such, rather than a certain processed article; and that it will subsidise the fishermen for catching fish. That is what this Bill does. It alters the nature of the subsidy paid to the herring fishing industry, and does so in the right direction.
We have not yet been told what the scheme is but, clearly, the subsidy cannot be paid on the basis of landings. That is far too chancy in the case of the herring fish industry. In this respect it is quite different from the white fishing industry. There can be two drifters lying alongside each other all night, and one will bring in 80 crans the next morning, and the other 10 crans. It would be ludicrous to subsidise the boat in respect of the 80 crans, whose owner will make the money, and to leave the poor chap with only 10 crans out in the cold.
No, we are all satisfied here that the subsidy must be a graduated payment per boat for the number of days at sea, irrespective of the catch. In that way the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff will be realised, that the subsidy should go straight to the crew. That is the right system. The right method is to have a subsidy for the number of days at sea, graduated according to the size of the boat, and divided appropriately amongst the crew.
Yes, and I am talking about herring. I am sure that a satisfactory system can be worked out quickly between Her Majesty's Government and the producers' associations.
I welcome this Bill like everybody else who has spoken. Even the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North gave it a lukewarm welcome at the end of his observations. I believe that it will have the effect of pulling back a number of boats to the herring industry, if it is explained quickly enough, and if the method of paying the subsidy is satisfactory, as I see no reason why it should not be. Also, I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, East that it will encourage the fishermen to go after quality herring, which is so important.
I am not pessimistic about the future of the meal and oil factories, without a direct subsidy. The price of the end products has gone up, and it is still rising. They make this industry pay its way in Norway and Denmark, where there are very interesting reduction factories. I believe that we can give a good price to the fishermen, and also make our own meal and oil factories pay. After all, the Government have already paid for the capital construction of these factories, so we should be able to make them run on an ordinary commercial basis, provided we do not try to do too much.
I know that I shall be accused of selfishness but, frankly, I believe that this meal and oil industry will never pay its way except in the case of factories at the main ports of landing. The Herring Industry Board make a mistake, under pressure from hon. Members on both sides of the House, in dotting reduction factories all round the coast of Scotland and in out of the way places in Argyllshire and up in Ross-shire, where there are enormous transport difficulties. I believe that, in the long run, the factories will be confined to Lerwick, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Yarmouth and, possibly, Stornoway.
I believe that those factories, all of which are at the main ports of landing, are those which can pay. I cannot help the fact that two of them are in my constituency. Those are the factories which can, and will, make a profit; and so far as they are concerned there is nothing to worry about.
Now a word or two on the general outlook, because when we ask ourselves if this subsidy to the herring fishing industry is justified we have to ask ourselves a few questions about the long-term prospects of the industry. In my opinion, by far the most serious aspect of the herring fishing industry at the moment is the lack of herring themselves. That has been the great headache. The catching power of the herring fleet has admittedly been greatly reduced, but the reduction in landings is greater still, and out of proportion to the reduction in the fleet.
As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, the herring have disappeared, and we have not been able to find them. I do not believe that this is due only to the fact that we have had so few small craft looking for them in comparison with the old days. There may be some causes at work which we have not yet discovered connected with currents, with the temperature of the water, or with the absence or presence of plankton, which is the feedingstuff for herring, in different parts of the North Sea at any given moment. On the other hand, it may only be that the fish are swimming in different parts of the North Sea at different times and depths than formerly.
I was grateful for an answer given by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to a Question which I asked a year ago, in which my right hon. Friend said that he regarded this matter as one of national urgency, and had referred it to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which was to set up a special sub-committee of experts to deal with this question. I am delighted to hear that it will be meeting in London next week, because this is a matter of the greatest importance.
I know that the Danes, the Germans and the Dutch are worried about the failure of successive herring fishings. There is still great disagreement amongst the experts as to the causes. Whatever is said, I cannot help feeling that the intensive trawling for immature fish off the Danish coast must have something to do with it, combined, as it is, with the winter trawling of the Channel on a scale that has never gone on before. Those are two possible explanations. I do not think that they are the sole explanations, but they could account for the curious absence of three-year old or four-year old fish in any given year. They could explain why, in the different fishings, we suddenly get the fish of one year almost totally absent. This could be due to the particularly intensive trawling of immature fish perhaps two or three years before.
Anyway, I am thankful that the most careful international scientific inquiries are being made. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for what he did in pressing on with this, and for what he is still doing in this connection. We can all only hope that the subcommittee will soon arrive at some conclusions upon which we can get to work.
I want to say a word, following what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff about methods of fishing. I am not one of those who believe that the day of the drift net is over. All the same, we must neglect no means of improving our methods in this industry, and the Herring Industry Board is rightly encouraging the boxing of herring at sea. On the other hand, I think it is giving less encouragement for experiments in new methods of catching.
My hon. Friend referred to the Larsen net. I have been pressing for some experiments with a new type of lugger which has been built in Poland, and which, I have reason to believe, might hold out great hopes for the industry on another line. All I say is, let us experi- ment with them all; and I do not think the Herring Industry Board is giving enough encouragement to the fishermen or the industry to carry out these experiments. I do not say that it is actively discouraging them, but it is raising a considerable number of obstacles and difficulties.
It is not the mother ship idea. I will talk to my hon. Friend later, and explain it in some detail.
All I will say now is that it is a new type of lugger, which can use both drift and trawl nets. It is necessary to have two to carry out the experiment. They will both be purchased, and one firm which my hon. Friend knows very well hopes to carry out experiments with these two boats. It is purchasing one itself, and the Government are giving financial assistance to buy the other. It is hoped to carry out the experiments in the summer and autumn fishing this year. That is a very good thing both for Poland and for us, especially as it brings us into closer touch with Poland. I hope it may lead to a considerable expansion of trade, in one form or another, between this country and Poland. In any case, it is a new method which we should do well to study.
I should now like to say a word about curing. As the Minister said, the markets are there. My hon. Friends the Members for Fife, East and Banff remember very well when the markets were not there, but they are there now. Alas, the fish are not there. And the capital is no longer there among the curers. I remember that when I first went to Aberdeenshire thirty years ago, there were a number of curers to whom, quite frankly, the loss of £60,000, £70,000 or £80,000 in a week or two made very little difference. They could afford it. They were accustomed to taking great risks. Indeed, the herring fishing industry is a very risky industry. I confess that this gambling element has always made a special appeal to me.
There is, however, no longer the capital in the curing side of the industry which used to exist; and, on top of that, there is too much control and rigidity on the part of the Herring Industry Board. For example, recently somebody wanted to cure herring in Eire. There was a point at which it paid to do it, and to export direct from Eire to Holland. He could not get the curing facilities over there and eventually it was suggested that a curing company in my constituency might go to Eire, do this job, and then come back again, taking their people over with them. The Herring Industry Board refused them permission to go.
All the curers are more or less tied up in red tape by the Herring Industry Board. The only one who manages to forge ahead for himself is Mr. Sutton, and that is largely because he has almost a monopoly of the red cure, and if he were not there they could not do it at all. They have to let him do almost as he wishes, but the silver cure people are tied up in endless rules and regulations; and I hope that my noble Friend will say to the Herring Industry Board, "Let us have less control and less rigidity for the curers, and a little more encouragement and imagination."
I should also like to say a few words about the canners. I listened with great interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Banff had to say about making the Herring Board what amounted to the sole wholesaler of the industry. He suggested that it should purchase all the herring from the fisherman at a flat rate, and resell them itself to the various processors. I have considered this idea. Superficially, it sounds attractive, but I am not quite sure whether it would work out in practice. Many fishermen would like it. I am, however, quite sure that something must be done now, before this season begins, about the canners.
Early in 1946, I was able to arrange for a meeting between the herring producers' associations and the canners. At that meeting, and a series of meetings which took place afterwards in a very cordial atmosphere—this was eleven years ago—an agreement was reached under which the canners entered into an annual contract with the fishermen to purchase a minimum quantity of herring at a fixed price. In return, the canners were granted priority allocations of herring at the agreed fixed price.
In 1949, the Herring Industry Board became a party to this agreement, which has since worked extremely well. This arrangement has, however, now been upset. The excuse given by the Herring Industry Board for upsetting it is the Restrictive Trade Practices Act. It may be that the Board is right; but the fact remains that under the new draft rules of the Herring Industry Board, published on 16th January, statutory minimum prices are established for the various sections of the processing industry. Under these rules the canners will lose supplies on allocation. They can no longer get priority. This must mean that unless they are prepared to bid high prices at auction, particularly in East Anglia, they may get very little herring at certain periods of the year. That will make it extremely difficult for them to operate on an economic basis, or to compete with other canners in other countries for the overseas markets which are just beginning to open up.
The canners are now asking to be put in Group 3 instead of Group 2—to be put in with the curers and redders rather than with the kipperers and quick freezers. I think that they are right. They are also asking that the rules should be redrafted so as to enable them to pay home prices at their home ports, and "away" prices at other ports. This request is reasonable, because the only practical alternative for them is a return to the fixed price and allocation arrangements; and this would need to be authorised by an appropriate Clause in the Bill.
I therefore raise this matter as one of some urgency, because I am certain that if the canning industry is to survive either the canners will have to be given what they ask, to be put in Group 3 and to be allowed to pay home prices at the home ports and "away" prices at other ports, or we must go back to the old arrangement which has stood up to the test. I beg my noble Friend to go into the matter very carefully with the Herring Industry Board, because the canning industry is of considerable importance. It has a growing export market in Australasia and in the dollar area, despite fierce competition.
I admit that, at present, the percentage of herring which the canners buy of those landed is not very great; but at certain places and certain periods of the year, the fishermen rely primarily on the canners' purchases—for example, at Peterhead at the beginning of the summer fishing, particularly if it is warm and the herring are oily, at Inverness where the canners are, in fact, the main buyers, and also at North Shields.
In conclusion, I want to touch on a wider aspect which is not mentioned in the Bill, and that is the projected Free Trade Area in Europe. I have always supported the idea of the Common Market, the Free Trade Area, and the tie-up between the two; but I have also thought that the exclusion of all foodstuffs from the projected Free Trade Area was far too sweeping. We shall have to think again about this. Commonwealth interests must of course be safeguarded; but if herrings are excluded, as a foodstuff, from the projected Free Trade Area it will be of no benefit to the Commonwealth, which exports no herring, and the United Kingdom export trade in herring to Europe will, in my opinion, inevitably be killed stone dead.
At this moment, the export trade in smoked, frozen and cured herrings shows every sign of vigorous revival. Confronted by a 10 per cent. import duty for European markets, from which our chief competitors the Dutch were exempt, I do not see how we could stand up to it; and I think that our European markets for herring would soon be lost for ever. I cannot think that the Government have given serious thought to this problem, and I repeat what I said when I opened up this topic, that I believe that a compromise on this matter will be absolutely essential, if we are really going into this projected Free Trade Area.
I believe, also, that we shall have to compromise on some other foodstuffs, in addition to herring. I do not see how we can exclude the Dutch or the Danes from a market which they have built up their agricultural industries to supply—particularly so far as bacon and butter are concerned. We cannot keep them out; and we shall have to come to some kind of arrangement with them, and take certain foodstuffs from them, while they will have to take our herring, on terms which will enable us to compete with the Dutch.
These things are, of course, long-term, and have to be carefully considered; but I do see a possible danger if all foodstuffs have to be excluded, and I thought it right to give a warning that, if we entered the Free Trade Area under these conditions, our export trade in herring to the countries of Europe would be in grave jeopardy.
Apart from that, and the other points which I have raised, and which I believe are of some importance, I think the Bill is a very good one. I believe it can save the herring fishing industry, about which many of us have been greatly concerned during the last two rather desperate years.
In conclusion, I should like to associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Banff said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East, who did so much to get this through, and to make sure that the Bill was introduced in the form in which we now have it.
I should like to disabuse the minds of any hon. Members who do not understand the fishing industry very much of the idea that fishing is confined to the coast of Scotland. If a mere Englishman may intervene in the debate for a few moments, perhaps I may be able to say what I have to say very shortly indeed, since the Minister asked us to be very short and snappy in our speeches today.
I do not propose to follow up the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), because almost all the points that I wanted to make have been taken up much more adequately in the excellent speeches which we have heard already.
May I say that I agree with the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) in his plea for an extensive examination of and experiment with the Larsen net. From what I have heard and read about it, it has shown that there are great possibilities in that kind of adventure, and I hope that the Herring Industry Board will not confine its activities to merely administrative, purchasing or distributing, functions, but will go in for a great deal of experiment, particularly in the methods of catching herring and in finding the habitat of the fish.
The hon. Gentleman talked about travelling salesmen in herring. I wonder whether he knows that a very enterprising firm in Southend runs a herring bar. We have heard a great deal about Espresso bars, and that kind of thing, but there is a very vigorous enterprise in Southend. I once offered the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire some of their products one day when he was engaged in other activities. Perhaps I will have another opportunity of offering him some of these excellent products.
The reason for this Bill is, no doubt, the pressure that has been brought to bear in this House from all sides. For many years past we have called attention to the dire straits of the herring industry. We had a debate, in which there were about ten speeches in about three-quarters of an hour, which provided an admirable example for all of us.
I believe that the real reason for the withdrawal of the first Bill, which was introduced in November, was not that given by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire—because the Government wanted to introduce the subsidy for herrings—but was because that Bill would have made utter nonsense at the time of the Suez crisis. That Bill proposed assistance for converting vessels into oil burning vessels when there was no oil. By withdrawing that Bill, the Government have introduced another containing, in addition to what was in the first Bill, and I am not criticising it, a herring subsidy, which is a very vital matter indeed.
I earnestly ask the Government to decide how soon they can announce the operative dates. I know that many people are anxious to convert, and that some have started the preliminary work and have laid up their vessels in preparation. Perhaps they were a bit premature, hoping that the date would be announced very soon. There is a great deal of capital which is absolutely idle, and it is very important that at the earliest opportunity the Government should fix the dates, irrespective of the supplies of oil, in view of the fact that conversion would take a good deal of time. We must be very pessimistic indeed about oil supplies if we cannot envisage that the oil would be more freely available by the time that these conversions take place. I therefore plead that the dates should be brought forward as early as possible.
There is a great deal of disquiet in the herring industry which, I hope, will be very much modified by the provisions of the Bill. It has been touched upon by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly ably by the hon. Member for Banff. The large increases in the grants will allow this subsidy to be paid, and I would stress again, as I did in asking a question when the Minister was speaking, the hope that none of the subsidies or grants paid to the herring industry will be at the expense of the white fish subsidy. I think we have that assurance, and, therefore, can go away happy on that point.
I know that my friends in Lowestoft are very concerned about this, because we depend very largely on the near and middle waters fishing which attracts the subsidy, and if we can get an assurance on that point we shall be quite happy. There is no doubt that in my own Port of Lowestoft and in the neighbouring Port of Great Yarmouth the decline in herring fishing in the last few years has been simply catastrophic.
The Minister gave us some figures to illustrate the overall decline in the industry, but I should like to give the figures about my own port. At Lowestoft, in 1949, the number of boats operating was 122; in 1953, it was 116; and, last year, it came down to 68, which shows a much greater decline than the average for the whole country. During the same period, the landings of herring have fallen from 154,000 crans in 1950 to 57,500 crans in 1955, a drop of 60 per cent. If this decline is allowed to go on, it will close down the industry in East Anglia. There is no question about that.
One of the main reasons is the difficulty of crewing. Time after time we have stated that the attractions of the subsidy for the white fish industry, which we on this side of the House are proud to have introduced, has had a close relationship to the higher rewards obtainable in that industry. The sporadic nature of the herring industry also has a great deal to do with it.
One of the greatest difficulties experienced by people on the East Coast, in common with other shipbuilding yards, is the shortage of steel. I hope that the Minister will emphasise to his right hon. Friends the plight of the people at these small shipyards who have to buy foreign steel, and who are living literally on their own stocks. We should be glad if something can be done about that.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East and the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart), as well as others, stressed the question of the conservation of our natural resources. I remember I made that the subject of my first speech in this House—if what I said may be dignified by that term—just after the international convention, in 1946, on the conservation of white fish in the North Sea and near waters. Since then we have reiterated constantly the need to look after these stocks. Unless we do, we are lost.
Many times I have asked Questions about the flagrant contravention of the existing agreement about the size of mesh. The blatant way in which some vessels are brought into our own ports, and dry nets which all the local men know are well over size, is extraordinary. I am sure that one of these days not only the nets, but the skippers and the crews of these vessels will be put over the side.
In our last debate on the herring industry, in December, anxiety was expressed about the catastrophic failure of two seasons of herring fishing in East Anglia. We know that much research has been done, but the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire is right when he attaches a great deal of the blame to the intensive trawling of the southern parts of the North Sea and the Channel, which is the breeding ground for most of the East Anglian herring. When we get what I term "dreadnought" trawlers going there and taking immature fish, how can we hope to conserve our stocks of herring?
There are many other reasons, including different types of food, different currents and temperatures, but I am convinced that we must have an international agreement to stop the taking of these immature fish. There have been astronomical figures of catches, amounting, in some cases, to 2,000 fish to the crap, which are not used for food but for fish meal. That, to me, is the most deplorable aspect. The fish are sold and put on the land.
Mention has been made of the price of fish meal, and the removal of the subsidy on meal. I should have thought that, economically, the users of fish meal should account for that—after all, it is used for agriculture—when they make representations to the Minister about their subsidy, or their support prices, or whatever euphemism they like to use when referring to what is money that comes out of the pockets of the taxpayers.
Another problem which the industry has to face is the decline in manpower. We hope that the subsidy will attract back to the herring industry those men who deserted it for the white fish industry; but if they all come back the white fish industry will be depleted. So there would appear to be a need for propaganda to encourage recruitment into the fishing industry. Not long ago there were two films dealing with the industry. One was called "Trawler Boy" and the other——
Yes, "All Square Aft", in which the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) took a part, and a very fine film it was. I thought that "Trawler Boy" was a little like a summer cruise. I did not see one "white horse" all through the picture. But the boy was a fine little boy and I am sure that we all hope that he will grow up to be a skipper.
There is no doubt that we must have constantly in mind the need to attract young men to this industry and that can be done only by making the awards commensurate with those which they can obtain in shore occupations. It has been stressed by the Minister, and by other hon. Members, that not only should we make the financial rewards commensurate but that the amenities aboard the ships have to be comparable with what is demanded by people in industry and by a nation with a high social sense.
I remember that many years ago, when I first saw a drifter—it was at Great Yarmouth, where I was then working—I was horrified at the sight of the quarters given to the crew. It was a frightening thing to think that men should have to live in such insanitary and dirty conditions.
There have been tremendous changes which owners have undertaken very willingly, as have those who provide the capital, and today there are some lovely modern trawlers being built in Lowestoft. They are really first-class vessels, with all the amenities.
On a previous occasion when we discussed subsidies the Government were strongly criticised—I was one who helped to criticise them—for creating what I thought was a disincentive to trawler owners to convert their vessels by giving the highest rate of subsidy to the most backward vessel, the coal-burner. I said at the time that were I an owner, and I had £20 a day to keep my vessel at sea, I should think twice before spending a great deal of capital on conversion.
I now wish to say a word about the canners, who are experiencing a very anxious period. They are not so much worried about the price as, I understand, by the zoning regulations which the Minister proposes to introduce. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take note of the representations from the canners and bear them in mind before he completes the scheme. I hope that the Minister will soon announce the contract date for conversion. There are people who are waiting to do this job and had I time I would go into more detail. In wishing the Bill well I am sure that its provisions will do a great deal of good.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) mentioned the two fishing films. I am sure that he will be interested to know that I had a small advisory part —I did not act in it—in connection with one of them which is now showing on general release in the West End of London, in the Warner theatre. I do not think that I need to declare an interest over that. It is very good that a film about the fishing industry should get that kind of distribution. It helps to show people who do not know much about the subject the less glamorous side of the industry. When people complain about the high prices of fish they can see in this film the kind of thing that fishermen have to go through to get the fish which they put on their tables.
I am glad that the Minister is here. I join with other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill and particularly the fact that we are really tackling the problem of the conversion of these old, coal-burning vessels. Many of us have for some time been stressing the importance of getting on with that job. It is silly to go on spending large sums of money keeping obsolete vessels at sea. We are glad that this change is coming about.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond)—I am sorry that he is not in his place—spoke of consultation and said that there was a certain amount of urgency about it. If the organisations to which he referred are to be consulted I hope this will be done as soon as possible after this short and snappy debate is over. It will be most important. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of dealing with breakwaters in small harbours. That is also an important point. Speaking last week on the Navy Estimates, I dealt with the question of small harbours. In a future war they might become vital overnight. It is, therefore, doubly important.
On the question of looking for shoals, let me say that in our part of the country, West Cornwall, some of the canners have led the way by equipping a boat with modern echo sounders. The boat goes to sea and locates the shoals of fish, and then passes on that information to the other people. Perhaps that might be the answer to some of the problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.
I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) about the necessity for action by international agreement. Here is a tremendous field for research. On 14th December, my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart) said:
We are, therefore, proposing to all the Governments concerned that our administrators and technical experts should get together as soon as possible to look jointly at the experience of this year and to consider whether any new facts have emerged."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1956; Vol. 562, c 895.]
I wonder whether, when my hon. Friend mentioned the meeting next week, he was referring to that subject? This research is extremely important. Many of us said on 14th December that if we were to give subsidies that was all very well, but the fish must be there. People should not be allowed to catch immature fish. Also, if we have the greatest possible degree of co-operation among the nations to discover the habit of the
herring then the scientific side would be properly covered.
Be it herring or other forms of fish, we might well look into marketing schemes such as that which is now being put forward in Cornwall by certain sections of our fishermen. If fishermen are encouraged to get the larger catches they must have some form of guaranteed market from the canners and others. The fishermen's response in Cornwall has been extremely good. They have understood what the canners are trying to do in sending a specially equipped ship to sea with echo sounders, and they have voluntarily accepted a slightly lower price for their fish on a contract basis, in view of the security they will get during the contract period. Mention was made of boxing fish at sea. The interesting thing is that our canners are proposing to pay 3d. per stone more for fish that is boxed at sea. That should help to make the scheme more popular.
I hardly dare mention shellfish, although I hope, Mr. Speaker, that it will be quite in order, and to ask once more whether crab can be included in this scheme. Those of us who have crab fishers in our constituencies are constantly being asked why luxury fish like sole and turbot are included, but not crab. We can find crab in many districts where we will not find sole and turbot. I shall go on asking in this House for the inclusion of crab in the scheme.
Will the Minister tell us what the conference that is to meet in, I think, a year's time will be able to do for us? There was a very good leading article in the Fishing News on 22nd February, which said:
On the vexed question of the breadth of the territorial sea, the Committee has felt compelled to recognise the existence of several established limits but has definitely said that there is no international basis for claiming any limit greater than 12 miles.
That rules out the claims of those South American countries which say up to 200 miles. It also said:
In considering base lines across coastal waters to define the territorial area, the recommendation is that in the case of wide bays or estuaries, the line should be drawn within the mouth at a point where the coasts are no more than 15 miles apart.
Many of us have been asking for this for a long time. If we could have a base line 3 miles from Lizard connected to a
similar one from, say, the Wolf Rock, 3 miles out, a line joining these two would deny the whole of Mount's Bay to the French fishermen. It would be a splendid thing for us. It might be extremely good from the conservation point of view. Any international action we take—I do not mean unilateral action—and the more we can do to get international bodies together to go into the whole question of zonal fishing, the better it will be. I hope that at the conference in March we shall be represented by really high-power people. I would like to see the Minister go there. It is vitally important that this should be considered.
One last point is the question of the fishery protection vessel. On the Navy Estimates, I said that whatever we might try to forecast about the future, and whether we got missiles, rockets and all the rest of it, the tides and the rocks would remain in the same place. Therefore, we needed in the Navy more men who could go to sea. Otherwise, they would not get adequate sea-going experience.
One of the excellent ways to get it is in the fishery protection service, because that requires very strict navigational efficiency. I remember that last summer I was in a fishery protection vessel. We saw a line of pots belonging to a Frenchman. As soon as he saw us he made off in the opposition direction as fast as he could. We took fixes, but it was touch and go whether we could do anything. The very fact that the vessel was there, and that the Frenchman knew it was there, probably stopped him from going into territorial waters.
Recently, we have had complaints about foreigners coming into the Thames Estuary. It is almost like the Dutch coming into the Medway. Have we enough fishery protection vessels in that area? I shall not refer to the Moray Firth, because we have had enough hon. Members talking about Scotland in this debate already. Could the Minister give us an assurance that he will make representations to the Admiralty to strengthen the fishery protection services? I should like to see more of those vessels around the coasts. They do a tremendous amount of good. They give encouragement to fishermen, they are good from a security point of view and it is an excellent thing for the Navy to see how fishermen work.
Like other hon. Members, I welcome this Measure and anything else which will help the fishing industry.
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) said that perhaps the House had had enough of Scotsmen taking part in this debate. I am sorry if I have to disappoint him. I can quite understand why he had so much to say about the crab.
I think that the hon. Member was a little optimistic about what this Bill will do for conversions. It is true that it makes provision for conversions, but last July we passed an Order which made exactly the same provision. It was introduced by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart), who was then Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. We were told that what we were doing then would turn coal burners into oil burners, would modernise the fishing fleet so that it could compete on terms much nearer equality with foreign competitors, and improve the whole business.
Having done so, or having tried to do so, we met with the greatest objections from the Government themselves. The Minister made it quite clear this afternoon, when he moved the Second Reading of this Bill, that although there is provision in it for providing subsidies for conversion of a fishing ship from coal to oil burning there were not likely to be any sanctions given for a considerable time.
When we were discussing this question last July my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) complained about the advantage that coal burners would get against the initiative of people who went in for conversion. I drew the attention of the House to a case in my constituency where that had happened. Since then, I have had another case in which an owner in my constituency who shares a boat with the skipper carried out a conversion of a trawler. They did not seek a grant for it. It was not completed until 10th November last year, but the Order was dated as from 7th November and because of that they did not get any subsidy.
They took the matter up with the Secretary of State for Scotland. In fairness to him, I am bound to say that he thought they had a first-class case. So did the White Fish Authority, but apparently the Treasury was the stumbling block. That is why, this afternoon, I said to the Minister that it was no use making these statements in the House unless he is prepared to lay down specific gains. Whatever he lays down in an Order does not allow far laxity on the part of the White Fish Authority. It is important that people who have shown initiative should not be penalised because of a date in an Order introduced by the Minister. After all, these people are responding to the appeal of the Minister to modernise the fishing fleet.
Will the Minister not take a risk about this matter? Surely we shall not be short of petrol for the rest of the year that lies ahead, or next year? It is no use waiting until the supply becomes available and then laying an Order before the House. It will take a considerable time before conversions can take place. Surely the Minister wants the fleet to be ready to take advantage of the scheme. If he is to do that he has to get his Orders in quickly, because if people are to plan ahead they have to know what provision the Government are to make.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) is not in his place now. He is a little of a romancer about the fishing industry. He said this afternoon that he was attracted to herring because it was such a gamble and that all those interested in herring were taking part in a gamble. This Bill has nothing to do with gambling. Where there are ordinary business ventures, and there are likely to be losses, the Government provides assistance. That is far from being a gamble. If people are to go into the fishing business, before the season starts they have to know what provision the Government intend to make for them.
One of the great on-costs in the white fish side of the industry is the price of vessels today. I raised this question with the Minister last year. He will agree that the cost of the provision of a new trawler really surprised him. I wish to restate the claim of trawler owners. In my constituency another owner showed great initiative and last week, in the yards of Aberdeen, he launched a second trawler. The two trawlers cost about £¼ million, which is a lot of money for one owner. It is true that he gets loans and assistance, but he has to make the initial payments and gets no return until the trawler comes into use. On top of that, one of the appalling burdens is the extortionate interest rates which have been determined by the Government. Payment of those interest charges makes a great inroad on earnings.
From the noble Lord—who will be replying,. I think for the first time on behalf of the Scottish Office tonight—we shall expect a word on what the Government are to do about conversions. I wish to remind him that a little retrospective legislation in regard to an Order, particularly in cases like that of the owner I have mentioned, might save a lot of trouble in future.
I wish to say a word or two about the herring industry. During the afternoon not one hon. Member has spoken about nearly the best herring buyer in the country—the kipperer. He buys considerable quantities. In fact, he takes second place only to fishmeal and oil manufacturers in Scotland in the last two returns. Last year, according to information issued by the Scottish Office, there was a greater demand for freshing and kippering than for the provision of oil and meal. Kipperers feel they have not had the best return for their money.
I went to Aberdeen a fortnight ago to see the launching of the second new trawler to which I have referred. I was amazed to see some of the herring being kippered there. They came from Scandinavian countries, about which the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire has been talking. They were very poor specimens—an insult to the fishing industry and the kippering trade. They ought to have been left in the sea. I agree with those who have said that pulling the fish out at such an early stage may be one of the reasons why, when the herring season comes round, the fish are not there.
Those who consume in such large quantities, as does the kippering industry, are entitled to some consideration from the Ministry. For the last year or two they have not been getting it, with the obvious result that not only has the herring industry been declining in stature and in the numbers engaged but businesses have been going out of existence. In my own constituency, a few years ago, there were half a dozen; today, there are only three. That reflects what is happening in the industry generally.
There is a case not only for the kippering industry, but for the sale of fresh herring. It is a little sad to read in the report of the Scottish Office that purchases of fresh herring for the home market fell last year by about 13 per cent. compared with 1954, and that that was the third year running in which there had been a fall to below the 1938 figure. One can see just where the industry is drifting.
The industry, therefore, is getting into such a serious position that we have to stimulate sales. The kipperers, the merchants want to know what the Herring Industry Board is doing with the money they give it, because it must be remembered that on every cran that is landed they have to pay 2s. 4d. I agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) that the Board might have a publicity campaign to push sales, but I wondered at the time how it was to be done.
One finds in the Report of the Board that last year it spent in advertising and in the promotion of sales of this valuable food only £3,840. It is sheer nonsense to talk of that as publicity and advertising. Such a miserable sum would not buy even a single page insertion in one issue of the Radio Times. What is the use of describing that as sales promotion and publicity? If the money is not to be wasted, the Board must go in for publicity in a big way.
It would be entitled to do so, because the herring is such a valuable food. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), who is regarded by many people in this country as a nutritional expert, has told me frequently that two herring per week would provide anybody with all the vitamins A and D that are required. That is the tribute which he pays to the herring. I want the herring, however, when they are in season. Some of the things that are sold out of season only harm the industry.
These are my suggestions. From the producers' side we want to know about the orders, what the Government propose to do about payments for conversions and to stimulate the sales as well as the supply of herring; and certainly, what the kippering industry, which is the industry's largest single buyer, can expect by way of assistance from the Government and from the Herring Industry Board.
There are, perhaps, advantages to be derived from being called late in the debate. One is that one can tear up one's original speech, and the other is that one comes near enough to the Minister who is to wind up to have some hope of impressing one or two points upon him.
Last winter, in answer to a Question of mine about unemployment in Great Yarmouth, the Minister of Labour said that he was considerably worried, and that it was his worst unemployment spot at that time. It has improved a bit this year, for various reasons, one being that the Government have managed to get us some good weather—but it has not improved all that much. It is for that reason, if for no other, that I so greatly welcome this Measure.
One often hears that an industry is dying, or that there is no future for it, and one does not always believe it, but in the ease of the East Anglian herring industry it really was true. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) has given figures for that port, and there are comparable figures for Yarmouth which show that the industry have gone right down throughout the years. There was a time, I am told, just after the First World War—I have seen photographs, but have not seen it myself—when a man could walk across the river at Yarmouth, a fairly wide river, on the herring boats. They were there, solid for about a mile or so up the river; about 1,200 boats. They have dwindled now to just over 200. If this present step had not been taken I believe that those who seemed gloomy would have been proved right when they said that the East Anglian herring industry was dying.
I do not think that this Bill alone will provide the entire solution, although it will help a tremendous amount. I hope that the earlier speeches which have been made will be taken notice of, particularly those calling for some vitality and adventure in the field of experiment.
One point only very lightly touched on, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), concerned the finding of herring by aircraft. He said that that had been thought about some time ago, and asked whether the Government would see what could be done. It may interest the Minister to know, if he does not already know, that in the last few months experiments have been carried out with an aircraft carrying a fish finder. Here I must declare an interest. The firm making this particular fish finder is one in which I am interested, although it is of no interest to me to publicise this because, if fish were found by this means, it would mean that far fewer fish finders, as such, would be sold. They would be in the air and not on the boats.
The idea is that aircraft with a fish finder on board will draw, drag or tug the transducer through the water, and thereby be able to search a huge area in a very few hours. Once the aircraft have found the herring they will, of course, stay with them until the drifters, which are already at sea, can make the haul. The use of the fish finder having now been accepted by fishermen, after a rather long development period, we ought at least to go into the possibility of using it from the air. Although I do not ask my noble Friend to say anything about this when he replies to the debate, I hope that he will look into it.
I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) had to say about the Common Market—what is called the industrial Free Trade Area—and its relation to the export trade in herring brought from our seas. It is, of course, absolutely true that this case is made out by the largest firm in my constituency, which exports to the Mediterranean. It has lost the Egyptian market and it is having a tremendous struggle in the Italian and Greek markets. Its fear is that if we enter an industrial Free Trade Area, then unless processed herring, which are a food, can be included in the agreement, the small amount of tariff which it will have to face will kill its trade completely.
I must say at once that I shall myself come out against the industrial Free Trade Area in any case. I will not say why, because I do not think it would be in order, but I hope to state my reasons later. Nevertheless, I must reinforce the arguments of my constituents, which are perfectly clear—that if this Free Trade Area should come about, and this food is excluded, it will kill their market.
I was a little surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire suggest that all sorts of foods will have to be excluded from the industrial Free Trade Area arrangement. I do not know what the British farmer and horticulturist and the British Commonwealth will say about the industrial Free Trade Area if, before we are seriously in negotiation, we begin to talk about exclusions in food and agriculture from Chapters 1 to 24 of the Brussels Nomenclature. I have very strong feelings on this point, but I have explained the point of view of my constituents and there is no doubt that the Free Trade Area will very much affect their market.
I would also appeal to my noble Friend to have a "bit of a do" with the Board of Trade. This concerns a matter which I raised on the Floor of the House a year or a year and a half ago—the import of boxboard sets from abroad and the duty on them. At that time, we had almost reached agreement. It may well have been owing to the action of my hon. Friend at that time in pressing the Board of Trade that we finally reached what I thought was agreement. That was nearly nine months ago, if not longer. Ever since then we have been unable to get the final arrangements through. They have been held up for some reason or another. I know that these matters are difficult, but I should be grateful if my noble Friend would look at the question 'of removing duty from the import of boxboard sets. I will write to him and give him the particulars.
I should like to re-emphasise what many hon. Members have said: we must put the greatest possible hopes for the future on the meeting which we are all pleased to hear is to take place almost immediately. I do not know the latest figure, but the last figure given to me was that about 125,000 tons of immature herring are taken out of the waters on the other side of the North Sea in the course of a year.
Whatever one thinks, one cannot but come to the conclusion that the removal of 125,000 tons of immature herring, which have never had a chance to breed, must have some effect in later years on the herring available. I hope that we shall bring enough influence to bear on the conference to convince people that it is not sensible to cut each other's throats and our own at the same time. It seems to me that that is what we shall do unless we reach a sensible arrangement about over-fishing.
I welcome the Bill, particularly as I believe it will bring relief to fishing towns and ports throughout the British Isles. These are down-to-earth towns which have always had to struggle. I believe that is the reason for the tone of all the fishing debates which I have attended in the House. There has never been any partisanship in them and there has been no real row. I believe the reason is that when we discuss these matters we know that we are discussing something of great importance to people who have fought very hard for many years for their very existence.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has said, when we come to the closing of a debate and nearly everything about the Bill has been said that can be said, we must tear up what we intended to say and simply try to make one or two points which we wish to stress in the House.
Apart from welcoming the Bill and thanking the Minister for introducing it, may I, first, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart) who, from very early days, I remember, from 1945, has fought so well for the fishing industry and has from time to time done so much for it. Indeed, by virtue of what he said at the Box some time ago he was responsible for the creation of the Bill.
I should like to dissociate myself quickly from the remarks on the Common Market made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), because it has been the policy of Her Majesty's Government that in the different agreements and discussions taking place on the Free Trade Area and the Common Market, agriculture, horticulture, food and drink should be excluded. If we now consider any form other than that exclusioni, it will cause great anxiety and, I believe, will be detrimental to this country.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned to the Minister the necessity for deciding the operative date for conversion as quickly as possible. I think that that is of vital importance. Apart from the question of seasons, which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) mentioned, it is important to get on with this date, and I trust that the Minister will not think in terms of psychological reasons in connection with turning coal-firing apparatus into oil-firing apparatus when considering the date. In a great many cases we are talking about diesel, which is a distillate, or petrol engines, and not talking about heavy fuel. It would be absurd to hold up the implementation of a principle which, I think, will be accepted by the House tonight simply on the psychological question whether this is the correct moment to put it into operation. I consider that the sooner the date is made known the better.
In introducing the Bill the Minister said that the economic problems of the white fish and herring industries would undoubtedly be discussed He spoke with some truth. Whenever there has been an opportunity to discuss the fishing industry those who are interested in it have discussed it. He also said that from about £20 million to £25 million per year is involved in the section of the industry which we are discussing. In my view, it is even more important than that, because two things arise from this £20 million to £25 million. One which has been mentioned concerns the men serving in the little ships. The other, which is very important too, is that the prime fish caught by the inshore fishing industry does a great deal to make the general public accept and eat the other fish caught by the major part of the fishing industry in the deep seas.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) likened the Bill—I understand the tone of his argument and agree with it—to the different Measures which have been introduced during the last ten or more years to recondition a house and bring it up to date. But if one takes that analogy a stage further, having considered the reconditioning of the hull, survey, and conversion of engine to a more economic type, it would be equally right, in the case of a vessel, to ensure that the whole vessel is economic and efficient. If one accepts that as a principle, why is not the echo sounder included in the Bill? I agree with what one of my hon. Friends said about the fish finder, but, at the same time, it is quite certain that the echo sounder today is absolutely vital and necessary to a great part of our white fish industry.
It seems to me that the arguments which the Minister has from time to time deployed in trying to show why, in the case of a vessel which is not new, the echo sounder cannot be included, are not valid arguments. I really cannot see the basis for them. The echo sounder is included in the new vessel and, therefore, the principle is accepted for the new vessel. If the argument for the principle of this Bill is that we should bring old vessels up to date and equivalent to new ones, why should not the echo sounder be included?
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman. Just as one does not give a grant to a house unless the landlord puts in the necessary facilities to make it modern, why should that not cover a great many things outside the conditions for seamen to which I referred? I see no reason why it should not apply to the efficiency of the vessel from the fishing point of view.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that. Certainly, the fishermen agree and feel very deeply about it.
The second point I make to the Minister relates to the date put in the Bill. I hope that he will give it consideration during the Committee stage. The date is put as 1961 and thereafter, by affirmative Resolution of the House, 1961 may become 1963. I do not like the date 1961 very much. Those of us who have fought many Elections know perfectly well that there is a kind of transitional stage in the life of Governments, of whichever party, and that at the beginning they are not perhaps quite as worried as they are towards the end. I would prefer that the date 1963 appeared now in the Bill, and I cannot really see the objection to that.
When all is said and done, the Minister has stated that an affirmative Resolution will be brought should it be necessary. It has been said quite correctly that, more or less from the time of Queen Anne, there has been some form of subsidy for inshore fishing and it is unlikely that it will not be needed. In my view, the date 1963 would give a greater protection for the inshore fishing industry than 1961, which has another ring about it if one thinks in terms of General Elections and newly elected Governments.
Most things have been said about the Bill, and I want to conclude on a general note. What has been hitting and hurting the herring industry, as all of us who have studied the matter know quite well, is the lack of herring. What is quite likely to hurt a great portion of the fishing industry generally is the lack of fish which people can hunt. We are all delighted at the various international agreements which are, or can be, come to for the conservation or protection of fish; yet, at the same time, I dare to suggest to the Minister that even now there is not sufficient money available, either internationally or nationally, for the science of the fishing industry.
Man hunted before he ploughed the ground, and we are really still in that stage; that is what we are doing with fish at the moment. We seek them; we hunt them; we catch them. But other things must be studied, and very little study has been done so far. Work has been done, for instance, in the fish ponds of Israel, which, incidentally, I saw last year, but we must study whether it may well be necessary to feed fish. There should be a study made of plankton and of what ought to be done round our own shores not only to conserve fish but to turn certain types of fish into larger fish.
I therefore propose that, when the Minister considers these matters, he should take that into consideration and see whether or not a great deal more could be done. Through countless years, because the sea has always been a dangerous place during war, money and science has been directed on to the land, and none upon the sea. It is necessary at this stage to inject more money into the study of the sea than would at first sight seem necessary, because the sea itself has so often been out of bounds as a result of the pattern of the wars which have taken place over the last 500 or 1,000 years, and so little has been done, in comparison with applying service to the land.
I shall be as brief as I can this evening, not that one ought not always to be so, but because, if I may say so, I have seldom had the pleasure of listening to a debate where winding up in order to explain what has gone before was so little needed.
The Bill has had a very warm welcome generally from hon. Members. I am mast grateful, and I know the Government as a whole will be most grateful to the House for that. There was, I think, only one discordant note as regards the quality of the Bill as a whole, and that was struck by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). On both sides of the House all hon. Members recognised in this Bill a turning point, I might say a major turning point, in the history of the industry and a Measure of really important encouragement. On the other hand, the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North rather went out of his way to refer to it as—these were his words—"a little Bill". He complained also that it lacked comprehensiveness. I must say, and I believe that the House will agree with me, that, whatever other defects it may have, those defects, in my judgment, are not among them. I regard it as a most important Bill and a very comprehensive Measure.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, North went into some detail about the conflict between what he called the bull and the fish, and he assured us, somewhat gloomily, that the bull always wins. That is not necessarily so. In any case, he and I can compare notes after we have read our speeches tomorrow and make up our minds whether it is so or not.
The Bill is really part of a great fourfold attack on the problems of the fishing industry in accordance with the policy which successive Governments have followed since the war. The four prongs of the attack are these: first, a desire on the part of all of us that there shall be enough fish in the sea to catch; second, an intention that our industry should be equipped with the most up-to-date and efficient vessels and equipment possible; third, an intention that the industry should be given a chance to advance towards a state when it will be self-supporting; and fourth, which really leads to the third, of course, a provision of subsidies.
There were some different opinions expressed during the debate on the virtue or otherwise of subsidies as such. I think that the only speaker among hon. Members on both sides of the House who came down flat on their side was my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). He said that he felt certain that in our lifetime subsidies would continue, and he is probably right, but he would also, I think, no doubt agree that it would be a very happy state of affairs if we could reach a point where subsidies were no longer necessary.
My hon. Friend must make his own mind up in what directions his hopes lie, but I think that the rest of us look forward at least to a diminution of subsidies: let us leave it at that.
I will go as quickly as I can through one or two specific points made by hon. Members and deal with the questions asked straight away. I was obliged to my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) for a piece of information of which I had no previous knowledge, and that was that Queen Anne started fishing subsidies. I was already seized of three items of knowledge connected with Queen Anne. One was that she started Ascot; the second was that she was good, and the third was that she is dead. Now the right hon. Gentleman has added the fourth point, that she invented fishing subsidies, and they have certainly lasted a long time and will last very much longer by that token.
I was grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for a very important point which he made, and I think that he was the only one who made it. He said that there was a certain economy in the Government's proposal, and, if looked at over a long-term—and perhaps not so long a term—I am sure that he is right. That is one of the props on which this Bill should definitely stand in its appeal. The right hon. Gentleman raised another very important point in connection with the conditions of crews' quarters. I fully agree with him about that. We shall want to be sure that proper conditions obtain, and we shall certainly consider that aspect when we come to work out the scheme.
It is possible that we may spend all this money on a ship and if the crew object to the quarters we may not get them to go on the ship, in which case the money spent on the engine would be completely useless.
There is no doubt at all that the owners are very conscious of that fact. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for emphasising it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson Stewart), with his great knowledge and experience, made a most helpful speech, and I should like, if he would allow me to do so, to add my sincere tribute to those which were paid to him by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I count myself extremely fortunate to have, so to speak, taken over a part of the front—I am talking about the fishing industry—where he had already done so much to make such strong and effective preparations.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) also welcomed the presence of my hon. Friend, and he did so in terms of the presence of somebody who would harry the Government. I can only say that if my hon. Friend helps us in the way of speeches such as the one he has just made, the hon. Gentleman's definition and hopeful description will be falsified. The hon. Gentleman, as so many others did, begged us to let the House know the details of the scheme as soon as we possibly could. I cannot over-emphasise how important we regard that to be. We certainly shall not lose a day in getting on with it.
My hon. Friend made an appeal to the fishermen for progress over the vexed question of boxing, and he hinged that on an appeal to remember the vital importance of quality. There again, I should like to reinforce 100 per cent. what he said, and I am sure that the rest of the House will be with me on that. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised a point concerning the difficulty that some of his constituents had in landing fish in good condition. It is a point to which I should like to devote some attention, and I will certainly undertake to see whether something more than is being done can be done on that point. He said that there would be one test and one test alone for this Bill so far as it affects the herring industry, and that is, Will it give the industry a better deal? I can only say that the Government ask for no better test than that to be applied. That is the intention and, I believe, that will be the effect of the Measure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) asked one or two questions. He asked a question about there being no grant for anyone acquiring a second-hand vessel, however good its condition. May I ask him to let me look into that particular point and I will let him know what I am able to find out. He also raised the question of there being no Income Tax allowance for gear and its depreciation. That, of course, as he knows, is a question for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's point will reach the required destination. I will certainly help to see that it does; but it is not a matter for me to make any pronouncement upon.
On the question of new gear, here both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire asked questions about experiments in new forms of trawling. I think that they both asked about the Larsen, the Danish two-boat trawl. As both hon. Members probably know, the Board and the Departmental Fishery Laboratories have carried out experiments with the Larsen and also with another trawl of the same name only spelt differently—Larsson, as opposed to Larsen. I am told that the experiments so far do not establish that these nets are suitable for use in waters normally fished by British trawlers.
The answer to that is that I do not know, but I will find out and let the hon. Gentleman know.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff queried the necessity for workers in the industry to prove that they were not seasonal workers before they could obtain unemployment benefit. That is a matter not for my Department, but for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. I will certainly see that the specific point is passed on to my right hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend asked a rather leading question about the extension of the powers of the Herring Industry Board in the direction of being the sole purchaser of every herring that is landed. I do not want to be drawn now into an examination of the detailed powers of the Board. In any event, it is not strictly relevant to the Bill.
My hon. Friend expressed dismay at the withdrawal of the oil and meal subsidy and he asked that the Government should reconsider the matter. I must tell him, however, that in the Government's view, once the herring industry has its subsidy on an even footing with the white fish industry it would not be reasonable or right that there should be an extra subsidy in terms of oil and meal as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire asked not only about the Larsen trawl but also about herring lugger fishing. The position is that some time ago a Mr. Sutton asked for a loan from the Board to buy a Polish lugger. A suitable vessel could not be obtained in the United Kingdom in less than about three years, so we agreed that Mr. Sutton should have a Polish vessel. Exchequer loans, however, are restricted to the purchase of British vessels and the Board has no power to lend money to buy a Polish vessel. We have, however, agreed to give the Board a grant to enable it to buy the vessel and to charter it to Mr. Sutton on the basis that the charter fees and any proceeds from the eventual sale of the vessel are repaid to the Exchequer. That is the position concerning Mr. Sutton and his lugger.
If it is to be a commercial proposition, Mr. Sutton should have the chance of buying the lugger on fair terms at the end of the fifteen years' charter, otherwise it is not a commercial proposition from his point of view.
I certainly take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion.
On the question of the general presentation of its case by the Board, my hon. Friend asked that it should be less rigid and more encouraging. In that connection, he particularly appealed for energetic action to help the canner. I am certain that his observations and other remarks concerning the Board itself will be noted by the Board. I want to be careful not to try to interfere in the Board's own business of running its day to day operation in the way that it thinks best.
My hon. Friend raised the knotty problem of herrings in connection with the Free Trade Area. I cannot, of course, pronounce upon that, but it is relevant to remind my hon. Friend that the value of herring exported to the E.P.U. area is only a small proportion of the total exports. It is not as though there would be anything like a disaster if herring were excluded from the Free Trade Area arrangements. Beyond that I would rather not go.
I do not disagree at all.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) reinforced the plea that the operative date for conversion should be given as soon as possible. I agree absolutely. Here, too, we shall be as quick as we can. The same point was very much in the mind of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy).
The hon. Member for Lowestoft also made an observation concerning the shortage of steel in ship repair yards. That, again, is not a matter for me, but I am sure that the hon. Member's remarks will be noted in the proper quarter.
I will certainly myself look into the point raised by the hon. Member and see whether, if a shove will help, I can give it.
The hon. Member and my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire said that the canners were in an anxious mood, especially about the zoning plans which the Board has put in hand. The position is that in the ordinary course of procedure, certain objections have been registered with the Government and we arre now in course of considering them. Obviously, I cannot go further at this stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) asked what, I think, he referred to in terms as his hardy annual about lobsters and crabs being included in the scheme. My answer, I am afraid, is also the hardy annual that there is nothing doing as far as that is concerned. I am sorry, but there it is.
Far more important than that is the question of the conference next year. Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that he will look into what I said about the conference and that we should have high-powered representation?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding me. Certainly, that will be looked into.
I have referred to the anxiety of the hon. Member for Leith about the date of the conversion order. The hon. Member then referred to the difficulties of the kippering industry and stressed the importance, in his view, of full publicity and full advertising He gave figures purporting to show that there could have been neither full publicity nor full advertising by the Board over the past year. Again, that is primarily a matter for the Board, and I have no doubt that the remarks of my hon. Friend, which certainly were backed up by other hon. Members, will be brought to the notice of the Board. All I want to say about it is that I cannot conceive of any agency responsible for an industry of this kind neglecting any single opportunity for producing what advertisement or publicity it could or not using any imagination that it could conjure up in furthering the objectives of the industry.
I have covered as best I could the points raised and the questions asked by hon. Members on both sides of the House in this extremely interesting debate. If I have left out anything that I ought to have said in answer to anybody, I should be most grateful if they let me know and I will do my best to put things right afterwards.
In conclusion, I should like to say that we welcome the thoughtful contributions that the House has made to the debate. We are very confident that the very important measures of practical assistance provided by the Bill will receive the approval that they deserve. They make for economy in the long run and they bring into line the great herring industry with its sister industry and thereby do justice where justice needs to be done.