I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a short Bill to extend the White Fish Authority's powers to collect its general levy from the fishing industry. At present, the authority can raise a levy on fish which is landed in the United Kingdom. The Bill will enable it to collect levy also on fish which is caught by United Kingdom fishermen in our waters, but which is then trans-shipped direct to an exporting vessel without being landed.
This will be a familiar subject to many hon. Members present. The House has recently undertaken a thorough examination of the finances of the White Fish Authority, when considering the need to provide for an increase in its levy income. The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs took evidence on the case for raising the levy rate. In its report, the Select Committee noted that trans-shipped fish was not liable to the authority's levy, and it urged that this omission should be rectified. Fisheries Ministers were aware of the strong case for such a change in the law. When commitments to facilitate the passage of legislation where made on behalf of the Opposition, it became possible to envisage legislation this Session. The Government are pleased that events have turned out in this way, and credit is due to Opposition Members for their undertaking which has made the Bill feasible so quickly.
The contents of the Bill are, I think, self-explanatory, but if there are points of detail raised during this short debate I shall seek to answer them.
There are two points which I should like to underline in recommending the Bill to the House. The first is that it restores a measure of equity in the financing of the White Fish Authority. The development of trans-shipment was not usual in 1970 and it is clearly right, therefore, to take account of this and to make the change proposed in the Bill.
The second point is that as a result of being able to look forward to income from trans-shipments the authority has been able to plan to continue its work with a smaller increase in the levy rate than it was originally seeking. The levy is not large, but it is important to keep the rate as low as possible, particularly when fishermen have been experiencing real difficulties. Hon. Members will be aware that the Government have already announced that the proposed increase in levy can be halved. The new rate is 1·2p per stone of fish, and it came into effect on 8 May, the first increase in six years.
However, setting the levy at l·2p per stone means that the White Fish Authority is dependent for financial balance on the trans-shipment levy which the Bill will provide. The authority has estimated that if the levy can be applied from August the combined effects of the levy increase, the extension of the levy to cover trans-shipped fish and the internal economies which the authority is making in its operations should enable it to remain solvent until the end of 1981. For the longer term, the Government propose that the authority and the Herring Industry Board should be replaced by a new body. Fisheries Ministers expect to be able very shortly to invite the comments of the industry on the future arrangements.
Meanwhile, the introduction of the arrangements proposed in the Bill will contribute to a smooth development towards the new arrangements, and I therefore commend it to the House.
In a sense, we are almost burning the midnight gas to cook the midnight fish, and on a back burner at that. In welcoming the Bill on behalf of the Opposition, I should perhaps reiterate what the Minister said about the share of credit belonging to the Opposition.
The gap in the 1970 Act has become a serious anomaly in the light of the growth of the trans-shipments produced by the klondike of mackerel fishing. From the evidence of the Minister of State, Scottish Office before the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in February, it is quite clear that the Government were originally thinking of tackling that anomaly as part of a process of amalgamation of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. The suggestion for a Bill of this sort to be pushed rapidly through Parliament came from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). The Opposition undertook in the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, etc. to back the suggestion and to facilitate such a Bill's passage through the House. If credit is to be given, the Opposition, as the party of equality, must claim their share.
I welcome the Bill. Our sole reservation is that it is too late. The lost revenue must amount to about £250,000 for each year that we have not had legislation in this form. The mackerel trans-shipments on which it will fall have seen their greatest days. It is only right and proper that the fishing of the mackerel stocks should be substantially reduced to remove the real threat to those stocks. It is a tragedy that British fishing vessels, including vessels from Humberside, should be forced into this fishing and into the transshipments purely because of the state of the industry, thanks to our position in the Common Market and thanks to the Government's obstinate refusal to defend British interests. The fact is that British vessels have nowhere else to fish and no other economic way of keeping going. It is a measure that comes late after the best days of trans-shipment.
Will the filling in of the gap, combined with the reduced increase in the levy, be sufficient to save the White Fish Authority from serious financial difficulties? The Minister tells us that it will keep it solvent, but what cutbacks in the work of the authority will be necessary? It is possible that the filling in of the gap will yield a revenue that is smaller than the estimated revenue.
I can only hope that the Government have serious proposals to ensure that the returns on transferred catches, on which the levy will be paid, are accurate and not the works of imagination—a negative form of imagination—as in the past.
I welcome the Bill because it makes a direct financial contribution to the work of the White Fish Authority. It is alarming to think that because of the Government's failure to help the industry it is now facing its second real crisis in five years. The first crisis was the result of losing Icelandic fishing opportunities. The new crisis is bringing the industry to the point of collapse. The authority is be- coming,or has already become, the whipping boy for a chorus of blame and despair that should properly be focused where it belongs, namely, on the Common Market, which is responsible for the problems that have beset our industry, and, secondly, on the Government for not acting earlier and more promptly to help the industry.
The chorus of blame was clear in the Scottish Select Committee and in the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. It was being focused on the authority. It may become clear in the escalating programme of non-co-operation with the Government that the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has begun, which has been backed strongly in my constituency of Grimsby. I voice my own fear here. It is not the declared policy of the federation, but I fear that fishermen will refuse to pay the authority's levy. The anger that is mounting in the industry could focus on the authority in a way that could only be deplored.
That is the background. There is a crisis in the industry caused by the flood of imported fish combined with a decline in catches, especially in the market value of catches, with depressed prices as the result of high imports. The British industry is being asked to compete with highly subsidised Common Market fleets. It is being asked to survive in its present battered state with only the minimum of Government help. It is being asked to continue in that condition until the Government can absolve themselves from their responsibilities towards fishing by getting a decent burial grant for the industry from the Common Market as part of a common fisheries settlement. That is the background to the Bill. It is one that makes the Bill welcome, but it is rather like rearranging the deck-chairs on the " Titanic ". If this is the best that the Government can do while the whole industry is in this state, one must comment on the lack of preparedness for the crisis shown by the Government.
If the hon. Gentleman will wait until a later part of my speech, he will find that there is such a welcome. But, to anticipate it, the answer is " Yes ". I reiterate our welcome to this measure.
I turn now to the state of the industry —to which this measure forms part of the background—particularly in Grimsby. In February, because of the laying up of eight large trawlers by Taylors, we saw the Minister of State to warn that more lay-ups would happen unless prompt aid was forthcoming for the industry. In the last two weeks six further trawlers have been laid up by Lindsey Trawlers and eight by Marrs. In other words, there has been a decimation of the fishing effort from Grimsby.
On Monday I met skippers in the port —even seine net skippers who have been doing very well in recent times—who are now making small, pathetic catches because of the overfishing going on in British waters due to the concentration of efforts from the Common Market. Skippers were coming back to face pathetic returns for their small catches and a market in which the prices had been driven down by the scale of imports. They are facing that situation at a time when most of them are in debt to the banks and paying hefty interest rates— 20 per cent. or more. They are caught on a treadmill of declining receipts and increasing interest rates and that is slowly driving many of them towards bankruptcy. I hate to think of the situation that will face the industry in June when the banks demand their interest rates. This is a formula for disaster in the industry.
I had a telephone call this morning from a fisherman's wife. She told me that her husband, after losing his last fishing job because the vessel was laid up, was out of work for five weeks, during which time he was looking every day for a new fishing job in the port of Grimsby. Eventually he found a job, went on a 12-day trip pair trawling, which normally is the profitable, efficient side of the industry, and came back £135 in debt as a result of a pathetic catch and a breakdown on that trip. The vessel is now to be laid up and he is out of work again. He is out of work—and this is a perennial cause of complaint in the industry—without any proper redundancy payment or provision at all. He is effectively thrown on the scrap heap because the Government are still dragging their feet on the decasualisation of the industry. It is tragic for me—
It has to do with the state of the fishing industry, which the Bill is supposed to help. It is relevant to look at the background to the fishing industry. We should have the same latitude in discussing fishing as was accorded to discussing energy in the previous debate.
It is tragic for me—having seen skippers laid off three years ago, when I was first elected, because of the backlog of the Icelandic dispute and being able to say then " This is a tragedy, but proper provision for redundancy payments will be made in the same way as everybody else is getting redundancy payments "—to find that, now that the second wave of disaster has hit the industry, there is no provision for redundancy payments and for decasualisation of the industry.
This crisis is generating a backwash of feeling against the White Fish Authority. This measure will do nothing to allay that situation, even though it allows a necessary adjustment and improvement in the White Fish Authority's finances.
Earlier today Members criticised the TUC's day of action. The problem in fishing is that we have had a year of inaction by this Government. In this period of mounting crisis for the industry, what have the Government done about the two main causes of that crisis? What have they done about imports and aid for the industry? They have done the very minimum that they could get away with politically.
First, there is the crisis of imports. I am not talking of imports to the docks coming in on fishing boats. That is no problem. We welcome them because they make a contribution to the dock and port charges that we all face. I am talking of frozen and block imports, of fish coming in on the roll-on/roll-off ferries in containers, which are swamping our markets; imports coming in, with the jobs taken out, which make no contribution to our industry. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) may not want these complaints of the industry voiced, but I am sure that his constituents do, because they are very relevant to the present state of the industry. It is an industry in desperate need of financial help from the Government, from whom they have had next to nothing.
The Bill refers to levies. In my view, it is important that we get the background to the industry and ascertain whether the levies will help or hinder. I think that what the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is saying is perfectly in order.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when the increased levy was placed on the industry a few weeks ago, most of the Conservative Members present, although they had been crying two days before for financial assistance for the industry, all trooped into the lobbies to support the increased levy?
I am aware of the fact that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East was accused of being, and was, toothless at the time—full of hot air and complaint about the industry but prepared to do nothing about it. Indeed, he is prepared now to attempt to stop discussion of the problems and the grievances of the industry.
In response to the demands of the industry, how adequate is this minor contribution today and the £2 million of aid that the Government have produced? [HON. MEMBERS: "£3 million."] £1 million for exploratory voyages, which affects mainly the distant water effort, and £2 million of real aid for the industry, in the light of a situation in which it has been estimated by the British Fishing Federation that the German industry is receiving 60 million deutschemarks of aid in this year. Our aid is pathetic as a contribution to our industry's survival compared with that scale.
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, we cannot let him get away with that. Is he not aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. East (Mr. Strang), speaking from the Dispatch Box officially for the Opposition, specifically asked the Government to give £3 million to the fishing industry? That is what we did. The hon. Gentleman ought to be honest about that.
That figure was not mentioned in the industry's representations. It has been plucked at random by the Government as one which they think is the minimum that they can get away with politically. It certainly makes no real contribution to the industry in its present state. As I have just pointed out, this figure compares not at all with the scale of aid that has been paid to Continental fishing industries by their Governments, both directly and indirectly.
Indeed, when I asked a question on the scale of aid in Continental countries, the Minister of State replied:
The Government are aware of the main features of the measures taken. It would, however, be a major task to prepare a fully comprehensive survey of all the national, regional and local measures which could be considered to be direct or indirect aids or subsidies to the industry in a form appropriate for publication. I would not regard this as an appropriate use of my Department's limited resources."—[Official Report, 6 May 1980; Vol. 984, c. 59.]
In other words, he does not want to know about the scale of aid given to other industries, and yet this is the crucial factor for the survival of our industry. We are facing competition from subsidised fleets in a state in which we are not prepared and not able to face that competition. In the light of the real needs of this industry, £77,000-worth of aid per week is a mere nothing. Certainly it has done nothing to prevent the lay-ups which have been coming and which are still to come in Grimsby and the blows
to the industry which come from these lay-ups.
About the other problem—imports— nothing has been done at all, except a vague promise that Commissioner Gundelach will act in July to affect one tiny part of the problem. This problem of imports is crucial. It is a problem caused by the EEC. For instance, there is the problem of Canadian imports and our agreement to take what amounts to 8,000 tons of fish in return for a catch in Canadian waters of some 400 tons. In Grimsby we are facing fish flooding in from Poland via Denmark, which is driving down the prices in the Grimsby market. The major share of those imports comes from Common Market countries. Those countries are catching our fish in our waters and dumping them on our market. That ruins our industry.
They are also using our vessels. France bought three Boston deep sea trawlers. The trawlers are eight years old and 80 ft long. They are now fishing in our waters. They are landing their catches in our ports. That insanity is supplemented by the low official withdrawal prices that exist on the Continent. Given the inflation rate since 1976, the pound is now overvalued by about 38 per cent. The market is artificially attractive. Fish are being dumped on a large scale. That is insanity. Fish stocks and the fish industry are being ruined.
Faced with that crisis, the Government have taken no action. Ministers have uttered a perpetual chorus of " Don't ask me ". On Monday a meeting was held in Grimsby to discuss the crisis. We have tried every means of influencing the Government. We have sent deputations. We have explained the crisis to Ministers. What do we get? We have heard professions of good will, but we have seen no action. The industry is declining rapidly. It is the Government's duty to stop that decline.
Ministers should get their eyes down and consider the state of the industry. They should ask whether it will survive to inherit the settlement that is anticipated from the EEC. They should divert their eyes towards this type of measure. The measure is small. In a sense, it is as relevant as a packet of crisps in a famine. The Government should devote their attentions to the industry's needs.
The industry needs a programme of aid towards operating costs comparable to the amount of aid given to Common Market fleets. That is a condition of survival. Secondly, there should be an emergency levy on frozen and block imports which do not come through the docks and which do not pay their share of the charges. That levy is necessary as a result of the state of the pound and as a result of over-fishing. It would also be compatible with the Treaty of Rome. The Government should take those two basic measures. If they do the Opposition will give them the same level of co-operation as produced this Bill. The Government must act, and act quickly.
I hope that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will forgive me if I do not take up his points. The hon. Gentleman and I will reach a measure of agreement only on the concern that he expressed about the methods, accuracy and monitoring of catches for trans-shipment. Such monitoring is essential if the levy is to be assessed. He fairly made the point that many members of the British fishing industry are frustrated and fed up because British fish are being taken into European markets and are then being sold back to the United Kingdom. As a result, they refuse point blank to cooperate with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on catch figures and declarations. If that system is to survive, the Minister must indicate how monitoring will be carried out.
It is no secret that I have long been opposed to the trans-shipment industry. There has always been a massive credibility gap between the figures declared by visiting fishermen to Cornish waters and those recorded as having been taken by visiting ships.
Again, because of the British fisherman's feeling of frustration and non-cooperation, the entire recording of figures could be open to abuse. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be specific about the monitoring procedures, and the spot checks and will give us a guarantee that the system will work. Above all, I hope he will be able to tell us something new tonight that will reassure the British fishermen that steps are being taken to restore their share of the market and their participation in the industry.
I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd), but in passing I must say that I am glad he did not attack my constituents and their vessels for fouling the nets and lines of his constituents off the Cornish coast.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. In a Committee upstairs my hon. Friend mentioned that there was a bit of competition between Hull and Grimsby, and then went on to talk about Athens and Sparta. He did not specify whether Hull was Athens and Grimsby Sparta, or vice versa. At present I think that we are both Spartans, bearing in mind all the blows that are descending on our boats.
There is nothing in this one-clause Bill. We are looking at a past anomaly which could develop into a can of worms. I oppose what has been and will be said about the levy, because I assume that the Bill does not deal with any payments made before now under the 1970 Act.
I have firms in my constituency which have paid by mistake. Will the Minister confirm that almost £500,000 has been paid over the years, by mistake or because of lack of advice, to the White Fish Authority in Edinburgh? I have even heard it said that if the White Fish Authority were forced by the courts to repay this £500,000 to firms in my constituency it would bankrupt the authority. I am an admirer of Charles Meek and his staff in Edinburgh and I wish them well, but my people in Hull have a case because of the moneys paid in the past.
I caution the Minister that well-known firms in my constituency which are popular with the work force on the dockside will sue the White Fish Authority on this matter. Therefore, the can of worms is already lying around somewhere, and the Minister would be well advised to watch out.
The Minister said that the White Fish Authority wanted the money badly. It needs as much as it can get to expand its worthy and worthwhile work in Africa, the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, the Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. I have nothing but admiration for the WFA. However, my constituents have a case. I understand why the WFA wants the legislation so badly.
Government Members have been told to be brief so that the Bill will go through quickly.
Firms in my constituency have been misled over the years by the WFA. I ask the Minister whether that is a fair statement. Does he agree that what has happened to my constituents is manifestly unfair and that some of the money should be returned to them? The money was paid unwittingly, and the Bill will close that loophole.
An area officer of the WFA will maintain that the money was fairly given, and that it was collected in good faith. However, firms in West Hull over the years have paid up to £500,000. Other firms, which were perhaps better or more carefully advised by astute lawyers, paid nothing. Will the Minister comment on that? My people are seeking counsel's opinion, just as the Minister has legal officers in his Department to advise him.
I want the WFA to have financial balance, but not with money owing to my constituents. These are good men— good vessel owners. If the money is not repaid, it will be a further nail in their coffins.
Why is the levy paid? The fish are not landed. Facilities are not required on shore. No help is afforded to our people. It is a confounded hindrance.
I have a letter from a well-known firm in Hull dealing with what has happened to its boats. The " Arctic Challenger " and the " Arctic Riever " were built with loans from the Shipbuilding Industry Board. Those are two of the best boats in the business. They have been fishing mackerel off the South-West coast, and broken all records.
They were taken off mackerel fishing when the Minister blew his whistle in March. They had been kept at sea solidly since September and it would have been impossible to better their performance. I know what they have done and what the men have received in wages.
There is nothing that we can do now. The boats have been taken to dock, and although it would have been impossible for them to fish more efficiently or to make more money, they cannot exist on those takings. They are being pulled out. Will the Minister intervene with the SIB to arrange a moratorium on the interest on loans taken to build such vessels?
The Government ought to be doing something about the problem. If they intend to put more imposts on our people fishing, they should think about giving concessions. I suggest a moratorium on loans.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), just as he followed me in the Whitsun Adjournment debate earlier today.
I should tell the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that the tradition in fishing debates has not been to go in for vicious attacks on each other, because one of the great strengths of the House in relation to the Common Market and fishing is that we have always been united. The longer that remains the position, the better it will be.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the industry has no complaints about the Government and that it is not almost hysterically asking the Government for help and for an emergency levy on imports? The industry is fed up with the failure to get any action from the Government.
I am aware of that. If the hon. Member had cared to come to the House when the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and I were debating this matter, he might have had a chance to make a speech. The hon. Gentleman left the Chamber before his hon. Friend and I spoke.
We know of the many worries of the industry in Aberdeen, Hull and other places. The hon. Member for Grimsby does not have to tell us the troubles of the industry. But we must try to solve those problems in a united way and not bring party political differences into the industry. If those on the Opposition Front Bench listened to the wisdom of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, they might do a little better in trying to help the fishing industry.
I thank my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State for the speed with which they have introduced the legislation and the trouble that they have gone to to get it through the House much faster than normal.
I also thank my hon. Friends for taking so much notice of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. They will find that they have probably set an important precedent, because this is the first of what will no doubt be many Government Bills arising directly from the actions of a Select Committee. It is of considerable constitutional interest.
The hon. Member for Grimsby spoke in his painful speech of the Government having done nothing for the fishing industry. He does not seem to be aware that it was a member of his own Front Bench who first suggested the figure of £3 million. It was the suggestion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), and it is a pity that he is not here.
The hon. Member for Grimsby also seems to be unaware that the Government spend an additional £20 million on the fishing industry in this country. He seemed to have no recollection of that. If he was in the House this afternoon, he might have heard the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, in a speech following mine, refer to the Prime Minister as a fairy godmother of great generosity for what she has done for the fishing industry. It would better become the hon. Gentleman to listen to his hon. Friend.
If the hon. Gentleman cares to read Hansard, he will see that I agreed that there were difficulties and that a fairy godmother was needed. The industry has been a Cinderella for years. I thought that we had possibly discovered a fairy godmother when the Prime Minister met the Hull delegation of shop stewards, bobbers and fish merchants.
The hon. Gentleman confirms that the Prime Minister has proved a fairy godmother in the tough stand she has taken in refusing to allow the fishing industry to be used as a bargaining counter against the £1,000 million EEC contribution. We are grateful, as always, to the hon. Gentleman.
We know the difficult situation of the fishing industry, with its soaring costs, the loss of grounds and the problems of imports that have increased by 53 per cent. in the first three months of this year compared to the same period last year. We could be making speeches about that situation. It happens, however, that the Bill relates to the levy on trans-shipped fish. The levy goes a long way to solving the particular problem discovered by the Select Committee.
On the one hand, the fishing industry did not wish to pay more in levy to the White Fish Authority. On the other, the White Fish Authority was claiming that it could not exist unless it received a 100 per cent. increase in levy. As a result of representations made by my hon. Friends, together with one or two Opposition Members—the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), whose help I acknowledge—and the Statutory Instruments Committee that followed, we convinced the Minister of State that the levy increase should be cut and, at the same time, that he would get this useful Bill through the House. That is what has happened.
The legislation does not solve the problem of the additional £92 million spent on imports in the last three months. That is not its purpose. It relieves a small problem that was bothering the industry. It is disgraceful that an Opposition Front Bench spokesman should use the occasion to try to introduce party political propaganda when the industry should be united. I hope that the rest of the House will solemnly back this splendid Bill.
It is worth considering how this peculiar and unique trans-shipment industry has grown. Over the years, the fishing industry has worked its way through species after species until it has now arrived at mackerel. As someone who was brought up on mackerel and regards it as part of the diet, I recognise the real problem is that the English simply will not eat mackerel. Markets have therefore to be found where it can be sold. The short-term answer has been to set up this remarkable trans-shipment industry and to sell to whoever takes part in it. I say " remarkable " because at the peak of the season, it is possible to go to Flushing, in my constituency, and also to Falmouth, and see more than 40 enormous factory boats all engaged in this industry. It is a remarkable sight, one that I never thought I should see in our country. Yet it appears that there is little opposition. It is certainly big business. Anybody who does not so regard it has not analysed it sensibly.
The levy is just £2 a ton, yet the Minister was talking of raising several hundreds of thousands of pounds by it. No doubt that applies only to the fish that he knows are caught, let alone the fish that I may refer to a little later.
Basically, the ships are of two sorts. One type, mainly the Russian part of the fleet, freezes the fish whole. It takes them on board by the hundreds of tons and freezes them in enormous freezers. Eventually an even bigger ship comes from Russia to take the fish back by the scores of thousands of tons.
Why do the Government allow the Russians to carry on this trade? The Government claim that they are annoyed with the Russians for going into Afghanistan, yet, like people prostituting themselves, we are forced in the South-West to allow the Russians within a hundred yards of the coast of my county to come and buy their fish. For what, for whom and why is this allowed? Why do the Government allow it in the present climate? The other half of the fleet process the fish in a different way. The fish are filleted and the meat is taken off the two sides and frozen. The rest is then ground up, boiled, dried and stored until it is carried away. That causes enormous problems of debris.
There are apparently based on Falmouth a staff of seven whose job it is to monitor this whole industry. They ask when one chides them for perhaps not doing their job as well as they might, "How do we know where the debris comes from in the dark of night? " There is no answer, because it can be seen that a staff of seven, spread over 168 hours a week, cannot possibly monitor the process at night, even if they can manage it during the day.
The Minister spoke of the Bill's dealing with an anomaly. There is another that needs attention just as urgently. How is it that if they are on the sea we allow factory ships to come within half a mile of the coast, with no planning permission or no consent required? If they are half a mile the other side of the seashore, on land, the planning procedure, the effluent controls and the general involvement of the public are enormous. Why are the Government not dealing with this problem in the Bill?
The problem that worries me and the West Country fishing industry most is what is happening to fishing stocks in the long term. They are simply being decimated. The long-line fishing industry has for long provided many jobs in the South-West. In the village of Flushing, in my constituency, not five years ago there were 100 boats going out. Now one would be lucky to find 15 or even 10. Other hon. Members from Cornwall can tell similar stories of their areas, though Flushing was so mackerel-based that it is without doubt the worst affected.
Long-line fishing is the perfect method for preservation of stocks. It involves throwing out of the back of the boat a long line with thousands of hooks on it which glisten as it is pulled through the water. The mackerel are so stupid that after all the years they still jump on the end of the hook, with no bait whatsoever. The fishermen wind the line in after a while and flip the mackerel on to the deck and if some of the fish are too small they flip them back into the water—alive, not after they have been crushed in purse seine nets; the fish do not go anywhere alive after that. The fishermen can pack the fish by size immediately. For a long time this method has provided jobs in the South-West, but no longer. Just a few fishermen still struggle along.
It is interesting to note the way in which the herring stocks and the annual catch went in the year before its virtual elimination. The period from peak to collapse was not more than two or three seasons. It was remarkable how the industry maintained an ever-increasing catch year after year until suddenly the industry fell apart.
I tell the Minister that I believe that there is a terrifying chance that this God-given finite resource—it is not something over which we have any control—will follow the herring into oblivion.
As I understand it, the official price for mackerel over the side of a factory ship is about £90 a ton. After one has caught the total allowable catch and one does not declare on the ship's record how much more has been caught one then gets £30 a ton cash for anything else caught that day. With just seven men checking the fish, the industry certainly catches an enormous amount more than it is allowed to do.
According to the official statistics of the White Fish Authority, Britain's fishing industry last year achieved the remarkable record of exporting twice as much mackerel as it caught. If only a few more British industries could manage a productivity record like that, we would not be in our present difficulties.
Those figures were boldly printed in the annual report of the White Fish Authority, though nobody believes them. It is an enormous fiddle, and unless the Government set up an entirely different system of monitoring the way in which these fish are caught the situation will get worse, largely because the general regard for the efforts made by Governments—I speak of Britain and abroad— to control their fishing industries is so low that the fleets are ignoring the regulations and rules and co-operating with each other in so doing.
I see no reason why a system could not be introduced whereby a single boat was stationed somewhere in the bay and every boat wishing to go in for transshipment would be required to call at that boat before being allowed to proceed. Inspectors know the shapes and sizes of boats. They could go on board and make a good guess of how much mackerel was on board any ship. A licence should be required before fishermen are allowed to go out and give the fish to the Russians, the Bulgarians, the Egyptians or whoever they are trading with on a particular night.
Such a system would at least assure the Government that they got the maximum number of £2 levies. In that way the amount of fish being trans-shipped would be known.
The official price of mackerel in Cornwall—and I am sure that the housewives of Britain will not believe this—is 4p a pound. That is what the Russians, the Bulgarians, and the Poles are here for. That is why the Minister is allowing this activity. There are 40 factory ships oft Cornwall decimating one of the few finite resources we still have—for 4p a pound. That is the price at which the Minister allows such activity to take place. He knows as well as I do that the whole enterprise is a fiddle and giveaway from one end to the other.
As the hon. Member knows, I have a certain sympathy with what he says. But does he not agree that those who represent Cornish constituencies face a fundamental dilemma in that the producer who sells for the fresh mackerel market obtains a price of about £110 to £120 a ton? If selling to the factory ships did not exist, the shortfall would be about £90, because they would get only £30 a ton for a catch going to the fishmeal factory. How do we resolve that dilemma in terms of supporting the inshore Cornish fishing industry?
It is simple. Two things are required. First, we must have a massive effort to increase the amount of mackerel sold fresh—and the White Fish Authority should be responsible for that. Secondly, we must reduce the amount of mackerel caught in the South-West. I understand that the situation is not much different off the West coast of Scotland.
I tell my constituents that I would tolerate the whole thing collapsing like a pack of cards for a month or two because that might concentrate the Government's mind on what they are encouraging. Then they might be forced to sort out the problem. I can say with confidence that if the present level of fishing and fiddling continues—and I should have put the words the other way round—in another five or 10 years there will be no mackerel industry in Cornwall.
According to the chairman of the White Fish Authority, grants have been provided for the building of 131 fishing boats of various sizes and shapes. Just six of the grants went to Cornwall, less than 2 per cent. of the total. The boats built and assembled in Cornwall are small, up to three-mile inshore fishing boats, not the type to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) referred. It is obvious that Cornwall is not getting its fair share.
The Minister must ask whether he can justify the present scenario. How do we justify it to athletes who have trained for years if the Government tell them that they cannot go to Moscow for the greatest day of their lives when we allow the Cornwall coastline to be littered with boats from the Soviet Union and its Communist allies? How can the Minister allow that ludicrous situation to continue?
I appreciate the feelings of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), because he has a problem in the South-West. Trawlers from my local port have taken part in fishing off Cornwall. Had they not, they would have been tied up at the wall or possibly scrapped or sold. The hon. Member must realise that for the deep sea industry mackerel fishing off the South-West coast has been of infinite value.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said about the speech by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I have taken part in many fisheries debates, but I have never heard a more robust political approach. It does infinite harm. Some of his arguments were good, but seeking to apportion blame gets us nowhere. Both parties have had responsibility and they must both face the facts.
When the measures were announced I said that I would examine them carefully because time was not on our side. It certainly is not. In Fleetwood we have made a great effort, but we are facing a crisis. The Minister knows that. Something must be done about imports. By and large, the industry would prefer its returns to come from the market, but that is impossible at present. I beg the Government to examine the imports problem. If nothing is done, more harm and permanent damage will be done to the industry. The Bill is not designed to deal with all the problems. Time is running out rapidly. I beg the Minister to examine the matter with care.
As a Labour Member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Government for the speed with which they have come forward with legislation in response to a recommendation by that Committee on 14 February. It has taken only three months to introduce this measure, and I hope that all future recommendations of that Committee will receive a similar response. In all sincerity, I pay tribute to the Government, on behalf of all members of that Committee—the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has already said this—for this achievement.
Conservative Members gave my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) a bit of a hard time when he spoke, and I thought that they were a little unfair. We can talk about the benefits of a bipartisan policy on fisheries, but Tory Members have sometimes not brought credit on the political profession when dealing with fisheries matters. I have no doubt that there have been tremendous speeches at Peterhead, Arbroath, Buckie and Lossiemouth and everywhere else about the powerful stand that would be made by Conservative Members for fishing areas, but where were they when the vote was taken on the original increase order for the White Fish Authority? As the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said, they were voting for the order, while Labour Members were putting their votes where their mouths were.
We have heard about the fairy godmother to the fishing industry. I do not think that fishermen believe in fairies, and I am afraid that it will take more than a fairy godmother to rescue the industry at this time of crisis—and, my goodness, it is a crisis. We all know about it. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South earlier today made an excellent speech describing that crisis. It is fundamentally to do with imports, but it has a great deal to do with the interest rates that fishermen are having to contend with, and of course it has to do with the problem of over-fishing in our waters.
The industry is facing a major crisis. What it needs is an injection of money. The Bill will produce a little more money for the WFA, but it will not produce anything like the injection of cash that is desperately needed to rescue the industry at this stage of its difficult career.
I welcome the Bill, as I have said, mainly because my constituents in the fishing industry—inshore fishermen—are having the existing levy collected on every fish that they land—at least so they tell me. I see the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) shaking his head. I do not know whether he doubts that. It adds insult to injury to fishermen who are having the levy collected on their landings to sec large quantities of fish that have been caught in British waters being landed here without having to pay the levy. It therefore stands to reason that everybody in the House must welcome the Bill.
There are one or two questions that need to be asked, because it is essential that the valuable work of the authority should continue—the work on research and development and, indeed, the publicity. One point that cropped up during the deliberations in the Select Committee was whether it was appropriate that a levy should be used at all to finance research and development in the industry. A comparison was made with the agriculture industry, where a great deal of research and development goes on, but it is financed out of central Government funds. It is right that we should consider that point while discussing the Bill. There are powerful arguments which suggest that the essential work on research and development for the fishing industry should be financed by Government taxation rather than by a levy.
What will be the future activities of the amalgamated White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board? The Bill clearly provides a reprieve for the finances of the authority. What are the Government's intentions for the long-term future of what they scornfully refer to as a "quango"? In his opening remarks the Minister said that the provisions in the Bill would keep the WFA solvent. He did not say that it would maintain its existing standards of services. He did not even refer to the fact that many would say that the existing provision of services by the WFA may not be adequate. Those hon. Members with fishing boat building firms in their constituencies are aware that the WFA grant and loan schemes have been a little below par in recent years. I appreciate that Governments of both parties have been at fault on that matter.
That has given rise to a dangerous position, and British fishing boat owners have not been in a position to replace their vessels at the rate that is necessary for the long-term benefit of the fleet. Many vessels have been purchased from Norway because of a lack of WFA grants and loans for purchasing new vessels.
The Minister said that the Bill would enable the WFA to collect a levy on fish trans-shipped by United Kingdom vessels within British fisheries limits. Why does that apply only to United Kingdom vessels? Why can we not collect that levy on fish that is caught by foreign vessels within British fisheries limits and then trans-shipped? The industry would like an answer to that question. How does the Minister propose to monitor the catches made either by our vessels or by foreign vessels within British fisheries limits? The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) referred to the difficulties of policing any scheme.
I return to my earlier remarks, in which I said that it would be more satisfactory to finance the WFA's activities in another way. If we are to finance them through a levy, we must be absolutely sure that we are collecting the levy in an equitable manner. I welcome the Bill because it is a step in that direction, but the Minister owes it to the industry and to the House to tell us more about his proposals on that matter.
I doubt whether those of us who met in Aberdeen only a few short months ago seriously expected that, on reporting to the House, within less than 10 weeks, the Government would come forward with a constructive proposal on the trans-shipment of fish at sea. I wish to say to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that it was worthy of him to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for bringing proposals before the House.
The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, if not unanimous on all matters, was unanimous in the view that something had to be done to reform the legislation on this point. I quibble with the hon. Gentleman on one small matter. He made a point of taking up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) about the discrepancy in attitudes that had been adopted on this side of the House. I remind him that in the report which we laid before the House, on a motion that I put before the Select Committee, he agreed that
We can see no other way in which the shortfall "—
of the White Fish Authority—
can be made good except through some increase in the levy ".
He cannot escape the fact that that is what he signed and agreed to in the report put before the House.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), I very much welcome this Bill. In no way are we suggesting that this is the complete answer to the major problems which now confront the fishing industry throughout the United Kingdom. However, it is worthy of note that it was as a result of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs —giving the impulse and drive from the North-East of Scotland—that this measure has come forward. If nothing else, that is indicative of the effort for the fishing industry which is being made from Scotland.
In an utterly superficial intervention from the right hon. Member for Western Isles—[HON. MEMBERS: " Where is he now? "]. Indeed. In that utterly superficial intervention, he showed absolutely no understanding of the evidence which was given to us, not only by the WFA but also by the fish processors and the fishermen themselves.
It is also worthy of note that we are discussing this measure in the presence not only of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary but of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has been here throughout the debate. I have no doubt whatever that his support for the measure was largely instrumental in ensuring that it came before the House in about 10 weeks.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South, I regret that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) sought to introduce a bipartisan note into the debate. Where was he during the years from 1974 to 1979? The only conclusion which anyone from the fishing industry can draw is that he was packed in crushed ice.
From listening to the debate so far, one could be excused for thinking that a lot of fishermen in the country are not all that happy about paying the levy. Of course, there may be many reasons for that. No one likes giving away hard-earned money to anyone, least of all to any Government or quasi-Government body. I believe that it is generally accepted that the White Fish Authority does some valuable and important work. Therefore, one must conclude that, if there is a reluctance to pay the levy, fishermen must be concerned as to how that money is spent and whether it is being wisely spent.
One of the reasons for the existence of that body is conservation of stocks. It is principally to that aspect that I should like to turn the attention of the House, especially in so far as it affects my own constituency and fishing on the north coast of Northern Ireland in general. There is a small fishing industry on the north coast of Northern Ireland. It is very much a family industry. In United Kingdom terms it is not a very important industry, but it is important locally. It suffers a great deal from illegal fishing and poaching by foreign vessels, which do not come from a country far distant from our shores but often from a country situated within the same island on which I live.
Those vessels drift eastwards across the north coast, sometimes within a mile of the coast. They fish regularly and assiduously. One suspects that they fish not only for white fish but for other fish with pink flesh which have a much higher value. Recently one of those vessels was seen in broad daylight within a mile of the mouth of the River Bann, which is in my constituency, taking up a catch. The skipper took the precaution of covering all identification marks. He took up his catch and cleared off back to Donegal. That is not a matter that the British Government can accept lightly. However, it has gone on for years and nothing is done to stop it happening locally. Against that background, our concern for the future of our small industry grows.
Conservation policy in that area seems to be geared to providing fish for our opponents and competitors. Against that background, is it surprising that our fishermen show a reluctance to pay the levy? Why should they pay money when the benefits of the levy will be reaped by others?
The White Fish Authority provides a great deal of specialist advice to the industry. In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will not take it amiss if I offer him some advice. It appears to me, to the fishermen on the north coast and to the many others who make use of the industry on the north coast for recreation that protection vessels that are based in Scotland are totally useless. If something is not done to bring the protection between the poacher and his escape route, the fishing industry off the north coast of Northern Ireland will rapidly disappear.
In daylight a fishery protection vessel can be seen coming at least 20 miles away. It appears never to come by at night. The folk who live in the area find that their livelihood is being taken away from them. There is no levy paid, because it is paid on fish that are landed or trans-shipped within Northern Ireland or United Kingdom waters. The fish that are taken off the North coast are not transshipped, they are taken home. The fish are not landed at any British port, they are landed at a foreign port.
If the Minister and the Government are not prepared to take the necessary steps to protect the fishing in our waters, the fishermen in the area will see their livelihood disappear completely. They feel that their fish are being stolen from under their noses. They feel that they are utterly without protection. They feel that nothing has been done to protect their interests and livelihood. They feel that those who compete with them are getting away with it scot-free. They do not like that one little bit.
It was just over three years ago, on 4 May 1978, that the old Trade and Industry Select Committee published its report on the fishing industry. Paragraph 22, perhaps forgotten, is now especially relevant. I shall read the crucial passage, which states:
The same evidence suggests that, whilst the policing of shore landings is probably adequate, there are serious doubts about the policing arrangements for trans-shipment, and in reply to a question in the House by a member of the Sub-Committee a MAFF Minister could give only an estimate of the quantities trans-shipped. The Ministry claim that there is no evidence either that trans-shipments have been frustrating the intentions of the Mackerel Licensing Order or that mackerel is being dumped on a scale which does so: indeed they state that reports of dumped catches do not suggest that the practice is as prevalent as it was in 1975 and 1976.
The surprising feature is that some organs of government go to immense pains to ensure that not a halfpenny of what is due to public funds is evaded. We all know of industries in which identity cards with photographs on them have to be carried before people can be employed —for example, the building industry.
Exactly. Yet we permit within British territorial waters— at present we operate a mere three-mile limit, which invites evasion—trans-shipment at sea, where there is and can be no effective supervision by agents of the British Government or the White Fish Authority.
I welcome the measure that the Government have introduced, but I do not see how it can be enforced effectively unless, as the Committee recommended three years ago, we consider that all fish caught, not just in the three-mile limit but in British waters, should pass through a fishing port or that there should be an intermediary vessel under the control of the British Government through which trans-shipments pass so that there can be an effective register.
This is necessary for two reasons. One is for revenue purposes, which is what we are considering in the Bill. The other is that the whole licensing system depends on a calculation of the attrition rate of the breeding stock and a distribution of the year classes within the totality of the fish stocks.
If there is a gaping hole of unqualified size in the instrument for measuring that rate of attrition, namely, trans-shipment—which is not and cannot be under the supervision of the British Government—we are basing our permitted quotas, even supposing that they were rigidly enforced on foreign vessels, on a guess rather than an informed figure. This is why it is essential, not only for revenue purposes but for the preservation of the breeding stock of our remaining fish population, that this glaring source of evasion should be stopped up effectively.
The measures that we are taking tonight—although they may yield some revenue—will presumably add a further incentive to evasion. If 100 tonnes of fish are booked as 80 tonnes when they are trans-shipped on to a Russian or Romanian trawler, it is the money due to the White Fish Authority which is saved and which is not paid on the undeclared 20 tonnes out of the 100 tonnes.
The thought that I leave with my hon. Friend is that, after the Bill reaches the statute book, it will be more, not less, necessary to adopt a system of effective policing. It is my considered opinion that there can never be an effective system of policing while there is direct shipment—not a trans-shipment at sea— not passing through a Government White Fish Authority or county sea fishery comittee controlled monitoring station.
Before I say anything about the Bill, I should like to reiterate the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) about the absence of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson). Those two worthy members of the Scottish National Party, who allege that they support everything for the fishing industry in Scotland, think so little of this levy that they have not seen fit to come into the debate, other than for the very short controversial intervention made by the right hon. Member for Western Isles.
I make no comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). When earlier I raised a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your predecessor in the Chair assured me that the hon. Member was ultimately leading up to the point of the Bill, on which I still await to hear the hon. Member. However, at this hour of the morning I think that we should have reached the stage at which someone should talk about the Bill. In the very short time for which I want to speak—as has been rightly said, we are here to speak for only a few moments— I shall endeavour to do just that.
I welcome the Bill because, if it does nothing else, it will remove a situation which has permitted fish to be caught in British waters and no levy paid for that. When a catch is trans-shipped at sea, it should be one on which a levy is charged. This is particularly so in respect of the mackerel catch. From the evidence which has been collected, it has been proven that two-thirds or three-quarters of all mackerel caught in British waters are being trans-shipped and exported free of levy. The present legislation permits this because trans-shipment falls outside the statutory definition of " landing ". This has meant that a considerable amount of money has been lost in income to the White Fish Authority, and the passing of this Bill should, we hope, close that loophole.
There are a number of questions, however, which I should like to put to the Minister. I hope that he will give answers not only to the House but to the fishing industry, because it is the industry that will be looking for these answers.
From the available figures, it would seem that the increased income from the charging of this levy on trans-shipment will amount to some £460,000. That is not an inconsiderable sum. How is that money to be spent? I hope that it will not be used to increase the administra- tion of the WFA or the new statutory body which the Government intend to put into effect very shortly. The fishing industry would not look kindly on that when the recent increase in levy has considerably added to the income of the WFA for the year that is to come, and this is at a time when the industry, as has rightly been pointed out by several hon. Members, is at its greatest crisis ever. Cannot the money be used to reduce the existing levy and thus give the industry some financial relief? Or will it be used to promote the domestic market? The Minister says that this has been done. With respect, it has not been done, because it is not the money that is being given now which is part of the additional money which will be taken in when fish are trans-shipped. That money can be used either to act as a relief for the industry, or for other purposes, such as to promote the domestic market, or to assist the processing industries or other outlets in the United Kingdom so that more food can be exported to Europe. This House is entitled to know exactly what plans the Government have for the spending of this increased income.
There is another factor which is of great concern to the industry. What will happen if, because of the decision to impose the levy on trans-shipped fish, the Russians and others who are at present the largest customers of trans-shipped fish decide to go away? From I January to 16 February this year, 55,000 tons of mackerel have been trans-shipped in British waters. What will happen to the fish if we have no customers? It is already a declining market, with a very small profit margin. If such a thing happened, what safeguards would there be for the fishing industry if nothing is being trans-shipped? I hope that the Minister can give an assurance about what support would be given if such a catastrophe should occur.
Then there is the question of policing, rightly mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), of this levy on trans-shipped fish. It is recognised that this will be a very difficult matter to handle when transshipments are taking place at sea. Perhaps the Minister will say how this will be done.
Whatever methods are adopted in regard to the implementation of the Bill once it becomes law, the income must be seen to act as something to benefit the fishing industry in practical terms and should not be used for any other purposes. On that basis, and anticipating the Minister's assurances, the House should welcome the Bill.
As long ago as 20 February 1980 the hon. Member said:
I emphasise that I support the White Fish Authority and its work, because fishing is an industry which has for too long been unregulated, disorganised and divided."—[Official Report, Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c, 20 February 1980; c. 9.]
I venture to suggest that his shoddy and divisive speech did nothing to help.
I appreciate the position in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself. He is caught between pressure from his constituents and pressure from the fishing industry, which believes that the Government are doing nothing to help. I appreciate his deference to his party. However, he can get up from his knees. Is the fishing industry in his constituency satisfied with the amount of aid that the Government have given? Is it satisfied with their action over imports?
At this late hour we are debating the Sea Fish Industry Bill. I shall not use this occasion for a blatant constituency speech for home consumption. The Bill's merits should be considered.
I warmly welcome this measure. It reflects great credit on the Government and their ability to respond to the efforts of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It demonstrates that there is mettle and political muscle in such Committees. Perhaps that has escaped the notice of the SNP, which has chosen to boycott and scorn the idea of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It has also boycotted this debate, with the exception of one brief and ill-informed intervention from the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart).
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) criticised Conservative Members for their voting record in the levy debate. He may recall that I and several colleagues pointed out to the Minister that he would get our support only if he gave certain undertakings when he replied. He gave those undertakings. Indeed, one of them was honoured within 10 weeks. That is an example of the Government's good faith. It is an example to those of us who are trying to fight for the industry. In that spirit, I welcome the measure.
I welcome this opportunity to speak. I shall be brief. I shall confine my remarks to the Bill and not to seven seas, but to three " c's ". The first " c " is congratulations—congratulations to the Government on having introduced the Bill congratulations to the Secretary of State for Scotland on showing his concern for the fishing industry and on attending the debate at this late hour; and congratulations to Conservative Back Benchers, who have been assiduous in their attention after yesterday's all-night sitting.
I can give no credit to the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). He made a contemptuous speech that was addressed to the front page of his local newspaper. I extend congratulations to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) on his contribution, and to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who at least tried to be constructive. I can give no credit to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart.) He has departed the scene after a shoddy intervention.
The second " c " is control. I welcome the control that the Bill will bring to the fishing industry. In case the Government think that I am getting soft in my support for the fishing industry, I must emphasise that I hope that this is only the first bit of control and that the Government will impose much more in order to ensure conservation and all the other "c's " that we must consider in the fishing industry.
The third " c " that I, as one who comes from not so far north of Aberdeen, must welcome is cash.
There must be control before there is accountability, and there must be accountability if there is to be collection. I imagine that the Government, in their wisdom, have the methods to collect the cash. The cash is necessary for vital work being done by the White Fish Authority, and I hope that the authority can combine with the Herring Industry Board to make that body more effective.
I had not intended to speak in this debate, as I do not have a fishing industry interest, other than that of salmon fishing in my constituency. However, after listening at some length to the speeches, I realised that the White Fish Authority was yet another quango.
Although hon. Members with fishing constituencies appear to welcome the Bill, I have reservations. I hope that the cost of adequate policing will not turn out to be too expensive and therefore reduce significantly the expected additional funds. It is my experience that, unless one thinks these things through very carefully, it often costs more to police than not to do so. I am very worried that we will give a quango additional responsibility and then realise that the cost of doing so is much greater than Parliament envisaged. I hope that the Government will bear this very much in mind.
It is not my intention to refer to the many speeches that have been made in the debate, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has been unfairly attacked. He had a perfect right to express himself as forcefully as he did. Grimsby is his constituency, and Grimsby is a port. Fishermen are his constituents, they are suffering, and the situation is getting worse. Conservative Members have recognised that.
The reason why we have so many Tory Members sitting in on this debate in the early morning is that they are concerned, too. They know that if the situation deteriorates further their voices will be raised in anger against their Minister.
Legal opinion has shown that the White Fish Authority did not have the powers to impose the levies on fish caught and trans-shipped at sea. This issue had been highlighted because of the experience off the South-West Coast over large amounts of mackerel that were caught in our coastal waters and then trans-shipped to the foreign factory vessels. In other words, the mackerel has not been landed on shore. It may not have mattered, and did not become an issue until these vast mackerel catches were trans-shipped from the South-West.
Apart from the argument about the future of the White Fish Authority, which was also part of the debate in the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, and the possibility of higher levels, the trans-shipment loophole needs blocking. If that is done effectively, it will provide the WFA with between £250,000 and £400,000 extra revenue, depending on the methods used to detect and police transshipment. The House recognises that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments urgently recommended such action. The Bill has our blessings, and we shall facilitate it through all its stages.
Regarding grants and loans, most of which are administered by the WFA, the Government will be aware that the situation in the fishing industry has worsened. On 13 March the Minister made a statement on financial aid to the industry. The £2 million for producers' organisations is seen in retrospect to have been of little value, especially when compared with the increased grants given to our competitors. The French fishing fleet has just been given £5 million to modernise its vessels to exploit new fishing grounds. We are receiving reports that the German fishing industry is being given up to £14½ million for the year 1980–81.
The £2 million for the ports, viewed on the basis of the share out, has had little impact. The port in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby received an amount sufficient only to run the port for about a month.
The industry has two major concerns. The first is that an agreement on a common fisheries policy within the EEC is being further delayed. It is essential that the Government should once again consider urgently further grants to keep the industry alive. The industry is afraid that resolution of policy on the CFP is again slipping in time. A Fisheries Council meeting is planned for 27 May. That is one more meeting before the summit in Venice on 12 June. It is essential that the CFP is dealt with on its merits. There must be no trade off with fishing policy in an overall budget deal. The French will fight hard, and the Dutch, Germans and Danes will back them, if the negotiations prove tough and we persist in trying to get a better deal for our fishermen.
The Minister must be aware that the entire industry and all hon. Members representing fishing constituencies will not stand for compromise on preferential access in a 50-mile zone and exclusive access in a 12-mile belt. We all believe that those objectives are worth fighting for. We are worried that the timetable is slipping, and that more aid will be required.
The other main concern for the industry and the WFA is the constantly rising imports of cheap fish. In the first three months of this year we imported 100,000 tons of fish, which is a 53 per cent. increase over the same period in 1979. About 70 per cent. of the white fish on our tables in Britain is caught by foreigners and dumped in Britain. About 40 per cent. of that is cod, our traditional fish dish. That is a startling example of how our own deep sea trawlers are being barred from our traditional fishing grounds. More and more of them are being laid up. The industry, port by port, is being ruined. We just cannot allow that to continue.
All the organisations in the industry are banding together and presenting a storm of protest to the Government. Urgent demands are being made for a halt to the flood of cheap fish imports. The industry is demanding a doubling of the withdrawal and reference prices and it wants the Government to impose duties of at least 15 per cent. on imports of fish from third countries and to take measures to effect a cutback on fish imports to the 1978 levels.
Unless there is a substantial increase in quayside prices to stop or to neutralise the artificially low prices of imported fish caught by Common Market vessels, most of which are receiving official grants in excess of ours and subsidies, including fuel subsidies, our fishing industry will not survive the common fisheries policy negotiations.
I hope, therefore that these matters are receiving serious Government attention and that the Minister will give some assurances to the industry that the Government do not intend to waver or weaken in the common fisheries policy talks and that further financial aid will be forthcoming to keep the fishing fleets alive until our policy objectives have been achieved.
By the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.
I understand that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) was making his first speech from the Opposition Front Bench on this subject. As a believer in the customs of the House, I congratulate him on that appearance, but the churlish and unforgivable note that he introduced into the debate was uncharacteristic of his party's attitude to date on the subject and of the fairly unanimous view of what is in the national interest.
For example, the hon. Gentleman started by complaining that the Government were late in dealing with the matter. The Bill amends an Act that was passed in 1970 and so far we have been in office for only one fishing season, the matter was published originally in the Select Committee report as recently as 14 February and we have managed to act this quickly in order to get the levy for this season. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that my charge that, if a number of firms in Hull have been paying the levy and others have not, there should have been a second or third look at the matter in Edinburgh? Has there not been an unusual combination of circumstances?
The Bill is before the House because an unsatisfactory situation has developed as those who legislated in 1970 did not foresee the business of transshipment growing up. It has led to inequality and companies may be taking legal action to recover levies paid in the past. It would not be right for me to go into what may happen since it will probably ultimately be a matter for the courts to decide.
On the finances of the White Fish Authority, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has kept his promises in every way. He has sought to put this matter right, and to ensure that the authority is good in its own housekeeping. That has resulted in a reduction in the levy, as promised.
I hope that the hon. Member for Grimsby will reflect carefully before he repeats his remarks about non-co-operation and non-payment of the levy. Such action would not be constructive or helpful to the industry. Given the efforts that we are making to solve the problems, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not see fit to deprecate any such suggestions. His statement that this matter stems from our negotiations over the common fisheries policy is not true. The Bill is simply to put right, as I have stated twice already, a technical development that was not dealt with in the 1970 Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) and many hon. Members raised the question of the accuracy of the returns and how it will be possible to monitor the quantities of fish that may be moved from one vessel to another, so to speak, out of sight of prying eyes. I also have some personal concern about this matter since there are clearly technical difficulties. I understand, however, that the White Fish Authority has an established system which it is satisfied is reasonably accurate and that the system has worked to date without presenting any insuperable problems. Details of its administration will be the responsibility, not of the Government, but of the White Fish Authority. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) laughs. He is perhaps not aware that the foreign vessels concerned do not always pay in hard cash; rather they pay in trading items. It is, therefore, more sensible for the fishermen to carry out much of their business through agents. This enables monitoring to take place. The White Fish Authority does not think that there will be great difficulties.
I do not understand the question. If the hon. Gentleman is ask- ing whether I consider that every last ounce of fish caught by his constituents will subsequently attract every last penny of duty, the answer is " No." If he thinks, in general terms, that the levy is worth collecting and that the White Fish Authority, to the best of its ability, will be able to monitor the quantities, the answer is " Yes."
A number of hon. Members gave a substantial welcome to the Bill, for which I thank them. The hon. Member for Truro raised a number of interesting points, not the least of which was the proposition that, in the light of the invasion of Afghanistan and the Government's attitude to trade, we should seek to question whether business should be conducted with Russian vessels. I remind him that the attitude of the Government was not forthcoming until after the mackerel season was over. I am certain that his points will be borne in mind within any constraints exercised by Common Market regulations.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) asked whether United Kingdom vessels alone would pay the levy. We are merely amending the 1970 Act. It would represent a substantial departure to change the levy arrangements to apply to all vessels, but the hon. Gentleman's point will be borne in mind. There will be a need for subsequent discussions with the industry and further legislation in due course on the whole matter.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) raised problems of fishery protection off the Northern Irish coast. These problems are shared in many areas. We seek to be present in the trouble spots as best we can with limited resources. But the more general issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned relating to Northern Ireland will be taken note of.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) asked about quantities. The White Fish Authority estimates that, in 1979, about 223,000 tonnes of fish were trans-shipped, which represents about 67 per cent. of the United Kingdom catch by weight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) asked what revenue was anticipated. It is difficult to give a firm answer because the catches and the method of marketing vary.
I understand that the budgeting of the White Fish Authority allows for a figure of £300,000 to be used. I cannot at this early hour of the morning enter into a debate about the workings of the White Fish Authority.
The House needs little assurance that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) is not going soft. He raised a valid point about conservation. I have no doubt that monitoring of figures in this context will be helpful to those who have to look after this part of the authority's operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) rightly made a point about the cost of monitoring. His remarks will not fall on deaf ears.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) entered realms which I shall not go into tonight. He has made previously his ritual request always for more. He must well know the substantial efforts that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Minister have made—as did the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors —to bring about a satisfactory solution to this intractable problem.
I finish on a note that has run through a number of speeches by Opposition Members, particularly that of the hon. Member for Grimsby, and was repeated by the right hon. Gentleman. It was to do with the way in which this Government have given assistance to the industry. I do not need to labour the point, but merely quote what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) said on 14 February:
What is the fishing industry asking for? It asks for perhaps £3 million, or not much more."—[Official Report, 14 February 1980; Vol. 978, c. 1905.]
Six weeks ago the industry got £3 million, exactly. I find it extremely odd that no sooner has that figure been decided and paid than there is a welter of criticism, when we did precisely what the Opposition asked.