White Fish and Herring Subsidies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th July 1961.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington 12:00 am, 14th July 1961

The hon. Member should pay more attention to the debate instead of paying attention to the brief with which he has been provided. He will see from the OFFICIAL REPORT that some of his hon. Friends with specialised knowledge of the industry who represent important fishing ports have been very critical of the Government today. The hon. Member need not argue with me about this. He should accept that fact. The real question is whether, if the Government do not assure the House that they will look again at the incidence and administration of the subsidy, those hon. Members will go into the Lobby if a Division is forced.

I have here details of the subsidy. I agree with one point made by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley). I cannot see why the subsidy should be£5 per day for a boat with a registered length of 130 to 140 ft., whereas for a boat in the distant water section with a length of just over 140 ft. the subsidy is£17 per day. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East made the same point. I cannot understand why there should be this anomaly. This has been the main criticism made by some of my hon. Friends and by supporters of the Government. They have argued that there is no rhyme or reason in the formula contained in these Schemes.

There is undoubtedly a crisis in the industry. I know that documents have been quoted. The Scotsman of Thursday, 13th July, has this heading: Trawler-subsidy Crisis. Emergency appeal by Aberdeen owners to all Scots M.Ps. New£12 million fleet faces financial disaster. I should not call the Scotsman a Socialist organ or an organ of the Labour Party. It must be agreed that there is concern, and I put it no higher than that.

The Fishing News was quoted by my hon. and learned Friend the Member far Aberdeen, North. It states: The Government in its subsidy proposals announced last week is handing out a raw deal to owners and crews of middle water trawlers, say leaders of the industry at Aberdeen. They feel that if the Government continues with these suggestions it is doubtful if the majority of middle-waster trawler owners will be able to meet their capital and interest payments to the White Fish Authority. Undoubtedly this section of the industry in facing a serious position.

We as an Opposition are very glad to pinpoint this. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Leith forcefully showed the Government that their proposals in no way meet the needs of the industry, particularly this section of the industry which has been hit so hard. Of course I accept that there are factors affecting the industry outside the control of the Government. There are matters which arise because of the international situation and the conclusion of bilateral agreements with countries in the E.F.T.A. If we are sucked into the Common Market, problems will arise from that. The Government are facing a serious economic crisis. This affects not only the fishing industry, but will also affect other sections of the economy. The simple fact is that this section of the fishing industry today faces a crisis.

I shall not argue about general policy. Nor shall I quote the Fleck Report too much. Even the forward of the Fleck Report states: The fishing industry through the ages has long had periods of adversity when its conditions gave rise to much anxiety. We all accept that at different periods the industry faces crises, but we must meet them.

Today we want some specific assurances from the Government. The Minister said, "This is the difficulty. This is the problem about the subsidy. This is a crisis in the middle water section of the industry. I will produce a White Paper. I will wait for Fleck." As one hon. Member said, Fleck has taken a long time—in fact four years. In another section of the agriculture, fisheries and food industry when we were dealing with the major problem of drainage we had a report called the Heneage Report from the Minister's Department. We waited years and years before this Government took action. I am glad to say that when the present Minister came to this Department he took action. I hope that we shall now have some quicker response in relation to the fishing industry. I remind those hon. Members who have said that a promise has been made that we have not received a specific promise yet.