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Orders Of The Day

Volume 888: debated on Monday 17 March 1975

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Consolidated Fund (No 3) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I call the first subject for debate, I remind the House that we are a little more restricted with these Estimates. Hon. Members may be aware that on the first subject only the reason for the increase—namely, pay awards, increased costs of capital work and running expenses of national centres—may be debated.

Sports Council

6.4 p.m.

I am glad to start the debate on the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill and to raise under Class VIII of the Supplementary Estimates the increased grant to the Sports Council and the reallocation or revised allocation of resources under Appendix I, page 217. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in the debate.

It is rare that we have the opportunity to debate sport. That is surprising since sport is a great rational pastime, and includes playing or watching sport or even reading sports items in the newspapers. We have had an international weekend. We congratulate the Welsh rugby union team on winning the championship and the winner of the Formula One Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. England won the Calcutta Cup and Scotland won the world cross-country championship. As for Ireland, I can only say that at least today is St. Patrick's Day.

I accept that this debate must be restricted to a narrow front since it is confined to Sports Council activities. We cannot raise other major problems such as horse racing, professional football, or the safety of crowds at sports grounds. There continue to be problems of behaviour and hooliganism, and I should like to know when the Minister expects the Bill dealing with safety at sports grounds, which was passed by the other place before Christmas, to come before this House.

We should set the extra expenditure in the Estimates in the context of the grants in recent years and give our opinion whether it is sufficient in present circumstances. The Minister needs to disprove my contention that it is insufficient—indeed, that it is shockingly inadequate. I shall seek to show why that is so.

I am delighted that the Minister of State is present to answer this debate. I think that it will be his first speech on sport in the House since he set up his new office in July. It is surprising that this is the first debate on sport when there has always been such a wide interest in the subject. I know that the Minister was previously Chairman of the Central Council for Physical Recreation and in earlier days was a football referee.

The last Conservative Government appointed the Sports Council under a Royal Charter in 1972. The chairman of the Scottish council is Laurie Liddell, and the chairman in Wales is Colonel Harry Llewellyn, while Sir Roger Bannister has been Chairman of the Sports Council. I should like to pay a warm tribute to Sir Roger Bannister, who is a supreme athlete turned brilliant administrator, for giving a lead and setting a fine example. We warmly congratulate him of his knighthood. We regret his departure from the Sports Council and welcome Sir Robin Brooke as acting chairman. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the future of the chairmanship of the Sports Council. We anxiously wait to know its future, which will be dealt with in the White Paper.

Will the Minister also deal with the House of Lords Report on Sports and Recreation? He made an announcement on 16th July 1974 at the excellent CCPR conference.

While I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) for having raised the subject, I am not sure whether it will be in order for me to deal with it. If it is in order. I shall happily do so. Perhaps I may seek the guidance of the Chair in view of the ruling given by Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have been asked, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say something about the chairmanship of the Sports Council and its future. In view of your ruling at the beginning of the debate, I wonder whether it will he in order for me to do that. I should, of course, be happy to do so.

The House will not be able to go into questions of policy and, therefore, of personnel. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) began reasonably by congratulating Wales. I hope he will return to that subject.

I am pleased with your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not expect the Minister to go into the matter in any depth. However, I am a little surprised, when he has at long last appeared as Minister of Sport, at him running for cover or kicking for touch.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad to say that that remark was not up to the hon. Gentleman's usual standard. I am not running for cover. I said that I should be happy to discuss the matter, although I understood from private information about how the debate should be conducted, as well as from what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that would not be in order. If, however, it is in order, I shall be happy to deal with it.

I should have thought that if the Minister wanted to say something about it, he would have kept quiet until an opportunity arose. If he does not do so, I should think that he was starting on the wrong lines.

The Minister announced on 16th July 1974 at the excellent CCPR conference that he would publish the White Paper in 1974. I am sad that so far we have not had it. On the same day the non Gentleman announced—this is relevent to the Estimates—the £200,000 grant to the north stand at the Crystal Palace which is one of the national centres mentioned in the Estimates. I shall be interested to hear from where the sum is to come. Is it from this year's increase or switching of allocations in Appendix 1, or is it to come out of next year's budget? This should be clarified. The grant for capital expenditure in the Estimate has decreased by £315,000, and I should like to know where in the Estimate the £200,000 increase for the Crystal Palace comes.

There is no doubt that the major bone of contention in this debate will be that we are short of money for sport. This has culminated in the strong criticism of the situation by the CCPR, the Sports Council and the Press and general public about the miserable increase in expenditure announced at the end of last month. This is why the CCPR has launched its campaign "Fair Play for Sport", willingly backed up by the Press, following on the theme of the Sports Council of "Sport for All".

When we look at this Estimate we must bear in mind that inflation is running at at least 20 per cent. in the current financial year. That fact has been announced on numerous occasions. It may be that it will get up above that, even towards 30 per cent., in the next financial year. The grant which the Minister has announced of an increase of £1·1 million will in no way cover inflation, and certainly it allows nothing for any growth or expansion in sport.

We all appreciate when we look at these Estimates the national and local government restraint on expenditure. But the Government must get their priorities right. The Estimates show an increase of no less than £628 million in the current year, yet the increase for sport is minuscule. Can the Minister think of anything which is of greater value to the nation as a whole than an interest and involvement in snort and recreation? Even today we have heard the Secretary of State announcing expenditure of thousands of millions of pounds on nationalising the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, yet here we are in terms of sport asking for an additional £1 million or £2 million and it is not forthcoming.

Were it possible I should have liked to go into the annual increase in grant for the Sports Council itself. However, I have no wish to upset you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall refrain from doing that. But we know that, from the low base on which we began, in the first year the increase was 38 per cent. and in the second it was 34 per cent. Now, however, we are down to less than 20 per cent., all in the context of very severe inflation. In recent years we have welcomed the very big increase in expenditure by local authorities on sport and recreation. Now we face a severe clamp-down on the expenditure by local authorities on this side of their activities. We are being squeezed on both fronts, and that is why this small increase in the current year's Estimate is so disappointing.

Is not there a moral obligation on the hon. Gentleman to say what the Conservative Government would be spending if he occupied my hon. Friend's position? Time after time this Government are told that their taxes are too high, and the rest of it. What would a Conservative Government be spending?

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is a master at intervening before the event. He knows that I can give no commitment about what a Conservative Government would have done. However, in the three years since we set up the Sports Council the trend has been to increase the amount involved. First it was up by 38 per cent. and then by 34 per cent. This year, under the hon. Gentleman's Government, we are back to 20 per cent. The trend was substantially upwards, and I hope that it would have continued that way. During the election campaign I wrote a pamphlet encouraging expenditure on sport. That is what I should like to have seen happen. I am aware that Government supporters may point a finger at me about other expenditures which are referred to frequently by those involved in sport. One of them concerns the rating situation. All sports would like mandatory derating of amateur sports facilities. I advocate sincerely that the Layfield Committee should look at this very carefully.

I hope that the Minister will tell us a little about his thoughts on finance. This Estimate is very disappointing, but it would be extremely sad if the hon. Gentleman thought that sport might be financed in the future by lotteries, gambling levies, sponsorship, advertising, bingo or the sweated labour of many dedicated volunteers. Sport has to have a firm base on which to stand, and that is why we are so critical of the Estimate. Sponsorship is a bonus. It cannot be regarded as the bread and butter of the finance of sport in future years.

The disappointment which is felt about the money going into sport is the reason why the CCPR organised its excellent lobby at the House of Commons some 10 days ago. The representatives of more than 40 sports organisations came to the House to tell hon. Members how disappointed they were. They pressed upon me and others their feelings, and most of their complaints concerned the lack of money going into sport. They also criticised the red tape and the paper work which is building up for their secretaries and committees in relation to applications for grants and the financial complications caused by the Treasury. They feel that they are reaching the point where we may soon break their backs. Many were of the view that spending on sport was far below comparable amounts in other European countries.

This Supplementary Estimate covers, in part, pay awards at the national centres. If he can, I hope that the Minister will go into some detail about them. I wrote to him on 3rd March, and I realise that it may be too early for him to reply in detail. Obviously he will have to consult the Scottish and Welsh Sports Councils and look at the revision of the Pelham scale under the Houghton award.

Can the Minister tell us what has happened about the staff salary review of 1973, which has been with him for a considerable time? Is he yet in a position to say whether the award, which was a restructuring operation as opposed to a Houghton award type of increase, will be back-dated to April 1974? A word of reassurance from him would be very welcome to the staff, the coaches and those PE teachers affected by the award.

I turn next to the increased costs of capital work and the running expenses of the national centres. Can the Minister tell us what this money covers? There was a major improvement started at Bisham Abbey in October. What progress has been made, and what additional facilities will there be? Does the sum involved cover any additional facilities at Lilleshall? This centre, excellent as it is, needs updating. We look forward to hearing that, following recommendations from the Sports Council, the hon. Gentleman is considering additional funds for it. Are the facilities adequate? I believe and hope that they are. Are the facilities at Holme Pierrepont ready for the world rowing championships in August? Those facilities involve Nottinghamshire County Council.

The House would like to know whether any provision for development is included in the Supplementary Estimates. We shall also be grateful if the Minister can tell us anything about the other two national centres, Brenin and Cowes. I know that the hon. Gentleman, like everyone else, is looking forward to the Olympics. I should like to know whether in the near future, or even in some of the reallocations of the Estimates, provision will be made one day for an indoor athletics centre. We know that we are doing the very best that is possible with the facilities at RAF Cosford, but we should be considering something much more substantial than that. We should have in mind a full indoor running track. Further, if the Minister has something helpful to say about sport for the disabled we shall be pleased to hear it.

The expenditure that we are talking about is not particularly large in terms of the national cake, but certainly the grant for capital expenditure is a substantial part of the allocation of grant-in-aid to the Sports Council. Are we being quick enough to learn from recent lessons? Does the Minister feel that we have something to learn from recent developments such as the Sobell Centre and the geographical siting of such centres? Is it right to place the centres near to under-privileged areas? These are important matters that deserve consideration. It is important that there should be much greater co-ordination than exists at present between the local authorities, the Government, the Sports Council and all the other sports bodies concerning future provision.

It is obviously in the Minister's mind to encourage sports centres. I know that he has been doing a great deal in that direction. However, I must ask him whether it is right to encourage sports centres to be positioned close to major football stadiums so that they can be attached to the charisma of first division football clubs. The expenditure will be immense. How will it be met in terms of the figures that we are now discussing? I know that it is an attractive idea, but we must consider the practical possibilities.

I turn to the great debt that we owe to sport. A tremendous amount of work has been carried out by voluntary effort throughout the country. It is very right that the Minister should make every effort to give encouragement to voluntary bodies by allocating as much finance to them as is possible bearing in mind what is available.

There is tremendous activity in sport. That is apparent by looking at the programme of the Sports Council entitled "Take Part in Sport 1975". That is significant and welcome. We want to see that sort of programme go on from strength to strength. We have a great chance to move forward. I am worried, as are many other hon. Members, that we may lose momentum and slip back because of an insufficient increase in the Estimates.

We have seen incredible inflation in the past few years. As the Minister and all of us are aware, there is an awakening interest in sport in the House. We now seem to run a football team, squash, cricket, sailing, tennis and golf.

I intervene, for the sake of the remainder of the debate, to tell the hon. Gentleman before he sits down that he will never know how tolerant I have been.

Order. I hope hon. Members will realise that I am limited by the rules of the House. We are now concerned only with the reasons for the increase in the grant-aid—namely, pay awards, the increased cost of capital work and the running expenses of national centres.

I realise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that your enjoyable weekend may have mellowed your view of my efforts today.

I conclude by saying that sport is in the best interests of the nation. We must stop taking money away from sport. We must begin to put money into sport and to see that there is fair play for all.

6.26 p.m.

I shall be extremely brief in the few comments that I wish to make. First. I thank the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) —he is a near neighbour of mine although the border separates us—for initiating a debate upon an important topic. In my humble opinion, we could do with wider debates and more frequent debates on sport. I offer my personal congratulations to the hon. Gentleman that his head did not roll in the recent reshuffle.

There is one thing that the hon. Gentleman and I have in common, given that we are near neighbours. We are both a little concerned with a football team that plays in my constituency. I hope you will allow me this latitude, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At one time that team was at the top of the table. That is the one consolation that we have. It is now struggling right at the bottom of the table. I know that the hon. Gentleman will share with me the hope that the team may manage to stay in its place in the first division.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State who has responsibility for sport and recreation. I do not think that there is anyone in the House who has done more for sport over the years than my hon. Friend. I am sure that we could all do a lot more if the money were available. The problem that my hon. Friend is up against and the problem that we all face is the problem of cash. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making available the small amount that we are now discussing.

The hon. Member for Dumfries has been a little inconsistent. Among others he is always pleading for more money for sport. On the other hand, he is often saying that Government expenditure must be ruthlessly cut. He claims that a Conservative Government would cut Government expenditure. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. One of the inconsistencies that is shared by all parties is that they say one thing when in opposition and do another thing when in government. That appears to be the inconsistency of the hon. Gentleman and his party.

If the Secretary of State for Industry is to spend £1,000 million on nationalisation, does the hon. Gentleman agree that he could spend £999 million in that way and give the remainder to sport?

I shall not go into that argument. I could argue for more money for Carlisle for the modernisation of its council housing. We must face these problems.

The House must eventually face the fact that leisure is becoming an important issue in the lives of people everywhere. It has a contribution to make. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am in favour of sport and I am in favour of more money being made available for sport. I realise that my hon. Friend is in the hands of the Exchequer and of Government policy as a whole.

I said that I should be brief, and I shall be. However, I should like, if it is in order, to make one suggestion. I believe that we are all concerned about hooliganism at football matches. Sport could be greatly helped if the money that football clubs and other sporting organisations pay for police protection could be provided by the Government or some other authority. That would be of tremendous help to sporting organisations throughout the country.

We have been reminded by the hon. Member for Dumfries about the Lotteries Bill. I understand that it is intended in the main to help sporting organisations. However, I believe that the whole question of lotteries is grossly distorted. I realise that many small organisations make their money from lotteries, but that is one aspect of gambling that is overestimated and overfished.

I suggest to my hon. Friend, for onward transmission to either the Home Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there is another untapped reservoir which could bring in a vast amount of money for sporting organisations. I should like to see a 2 per cent. tax on betting, on pools in particular. I estimate that such a tax would bring in £2 million or £3 million, which could be placed in a sporting pool for the assistance of the various sporting organisations. I hope that this suggestion will be considered by the Government in the near future. I am sure that all hon. Members, whatever their political complexion, will agree on that matter.

This is not a political issue. I believe that we all want to do what we can to help sporting organisations to succeed. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the scale of his achievements with the limited resources at his disposal.

6.33 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity of supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro). In the 13 months that I have been a Member of this House, I think that this is the first occasion on which sport has been debated in any fashion. In view of the precedent which has been set by Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall contrive, with your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, to stick to the specific wording of the Estimates:

"The reasons for the increase in the grant in aid for the Sports Council."
It must be clear that the amount of additional grant aid for sport in the forthcoming year is inadequate. I question the wisdom of the Government in providing such a lowly figure. We know that the money is to be provided for sports centres and we realise that sport is a rapidly expanding part of our way of life. In view of the forecasts which have have been made over the years by Ministers of successive Governments, it is surely right to expect that, with the likelihood of increasing leisure time during the next 10 years, it is imperative that people are encouraged to participate more in sport. That is why it is imperative that sports centres must be developed at a faster rate than at present. It is also essential for the stability of society that the energies of the young are not only encouraged, but channelled into worthwhile activities.

Over the past 10 or 12 years there has been a marked and rapid expansion of interest in sport, for both participation and watching. Many sports have simply erupted with participators within the past five years. I refer to squash, badminton, golf, basket-ball, judo and sub-aqua sports. But none of those activities that I have named—I am sure that there are many more—has anything like the interest of football, rugby and cricket for spectators. However, those sports have had a rapid expansion in this country.

I do not believe that the Government have understood the situation. Indeed, they have not provided enough money to be channelled into these centres for expansion. At the same time, local authorities and the Government together must be mindful of their responsibilities in assisting the encouragement of these sports.

In the four years from 1970 to 1974 the Sports Council's grant was quadrupled to £6 ·5 million and between 1969 and 1972 local councils increased their direct investment in new sports halls and swimming pools from £9 ·5 million to over £37 million. I well understand the problems facing the Minister. I also understand that the ravages of inflation affect sport just as much as everything else. That is the tragedy of the situation affecting not only this country but other countries. However, I earnestly hope that the Minister will be able to put forward some positive proposals when he replies to the debate.

The Labour Government have not been nearly so active in sport in the past year as they were and as the Minister was in the year 1964–65. Yet the demand is now much greater for snort than it has ever been. Indeed, I venture to question the level of morale in the sporting bodies—for example, the Sports Council and the Central Council of Physical Recreation —through the Government granting only this miserly increase of £75,000 for the year ahead.

The CCPR conference on 16th July last year which the Minister attended as chairman must have given great hope to those present, because during his address the hon. Gentleman stated that there would be a sports youth programme. The Estimates that have been produced for this year indicate that the major proportion of the £75,000 will not be channelled into that fund. I should like to know what progress has been made; in particular, what financial aid has been made available to local clubs to implement this essential programme; and whether there is any hope that this Supplementary Estimate will be increased. There is no doubt that those involved in the work of sport for young people were heartened by the Minister's announcement and will be eager to hear how this programme is progressing and whether that is one of the reasons for the increase in the grant-in-aid for the Sports Council.

Earlier I said that the importance of sport to this country was enormous and that, if it is to take its place and be successful in the international sector—the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) referred to this matter briefly—the additional £75,000 this year is inadequate. It is essential that the Government take stock of the situation swiftly and seek to increase the figure.

We must consider the lack of training facilities for the more individual of sports. Our athletes, skaters and swimmers have never had facilities comparable with those of other countries in Europe. France, Germany, Holland, the Communist countries and the United States of America place enormous importance on the rôle of their sporting activities.

I have no doubt that one of my constituents, Miss Hilary Green, a silver and bronze medallist ice dance skater, and her partner Mr. Glyn Watts will not be greatly heartened that only £75,000 is to be added to this year's budget for sporting expenditure. They have to practise at three o'clock in the morning at their ice rink and frequently have to practise when large crowds of the public attend. Therefore, it is important that more money should be spent on improving our training facilities. This Supplementary Estimate is inadequate.

The problems of my constituent are shared by others. At present, five of our top swimmers are in America, our skaters are training in America and some of our leading athletes and gold medallists of yesteryear are now leading trainers in Canada. Indeed, only recently we sent a team of eight to an athletics meeting in Katowice. Most other European countries sent teams of between 20 and 40 athletes. At least our team of eight did very well. The point is that there is a shrinking situation. The money is not adequate. A number of our top individual sportsmen are severely hindered because we are not spending enough money.

Last year the Minister was given the additional title of Minister for Sport and Recreation, with the formation of a Ministry. It would be interesting to know how many people there are in the Ministry and whether he feels that sport and recreation should be on a par with the Arts Council, which I believe will enjoy a grant this year of £26 million.

I endorse what my hon. Friend said in asking whether a White Paper will be available shortly. This is something for which all sport has been waiting since last July but, alas, it is not available.

Finally, will the Minister announce any further grant-in-aid in 1975 as this is pre-Olympic year? There is just one year to go before the next Olympics in Canada in 1976, and I wonder whether the people of this country will enjoy greater international success if we are able to increase this Estimate during the next year, and certainly over two years.

It is crucial for the future organisation of sport in this country that the chairman of the Sports Council is named soon. I know, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister is looking at you beseechingly so that he might run for cover, but if he does not feel able to reply to that specific question tonight I hope that he will write to my hon. Friend and myself to let us know the answer.

If the Government are to provide only £75,000 additional benefit this year, will the Minister perhaps think of additional ways and means of recommending—

Order. I do not think that it is quite fair to put to the Minister questions which it would not be in order for him to try to answer. The hon. Member must keep to the Estimate.

I suggest that if the Minister does not feel like replying, or if he is not permitted to do so under the confines of the Estimate, he should write to us later.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not often seek the protection of the Chair, but I have been accused by the Opposition Front Bench and now by a Member on the back bench of seeking to run for cover merely because, although I should be happy to deal with the matter, I understand that I should be out of order if I did so. I think that that sort of innuendo is disgraceful.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. During your absence, when this matter was raised by the Opposition Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that he would be prepared to deal with it if it was in order to do so, but Mr. Deputy Speaker said that it was not. It is hitting below the belt to raise the matter for the second time after what my hon. Friend said earlier.

There was no harshly implied punch below the belt. I am certain that there is no worthier and more resilient person that the Minister for Sport.

I hope that the Government will realise the all-important problem of sport in this country. It provides annually about £8 ½ million in VAT, £16 ½ million in rates and water rates and £1 million in corporation tax, and indirectly it provides more than £200 million via football and racing. I hope that the Minister understands the problems which surround the voluntary workers who provide such a backbone to sport in this country and who are facing the problem of inflation which is hitting them very hard. I trust that the Government will understand the problems which affect us all and that the extra money which is so needed will be forthcoming over the next year.

6.43 p.m.

I do do know whether I shall be in order in referring to the amateur Rugby League and what assistance my hon. Friend could give if he had the wherewithal to do it.

I think that the amateur Rugby League made history on 9th March when it travelled to a small French town to play what is known as the first British amateur Rugby League international. In view of the prejudice which has been shown by the Rugby Union, and especially by Air Commodore Bob Wells—

Order. I think that the controversy between Rugby League and Rugby Union is getting a long way from the Estimate which the House is debating. The debate is about £75,000 in respect of pay awards, increased costs of capital work and running expenses of national sports centres. Hon. Members must not turn this into a general debate on sport.

I shall do my best, Mr. Speaker, to keep within the bounds of your ruling.

There are various sports centres. Some are in London and some in the provinces, and Members who represent constituencies in the provinces wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the need for assistance to encourage amateur sports. My hon. Friend knows that in football, for instance, those who watch the game with enthusiasm regret the fact that hands are now used as much as feet, and that even players' shirts are torn off their backs.

Has my hon. Friend received any representations from various amateur sports bodies for financial assistance towards the provision of sports centres in the regions? Will he use his good offices with various directors of education to try to obtain rugby football grounds for use by young amateur players who, while they have the enthusiasm to play the game and may turn out to be star players of the future, are refused permission to enter school sports grounds? Many of our schools, and especially the grammar schools, have first-class sports grounds for both soccer and rugby. I ask my hon. Friend whether he can, if necessary, provide the finance to obtain the use of grounds which during school holidays are not used by school football teams.

6.47 p.m.

I want to add my congratulations to those which have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) on his good fortune in coming top in the ballot and his good sense, if I may say so, in initiating a debate on this welcome and important topic.

My hon. Friend referred to the increase in the Sports Council grant from £3 ·6 million a year in April 1973 to the projected grant of £7 ·8 million for 1975–76. This is a doubling of the amount of finance if one looks at it in monetary terms, but one has to take into account inflation in those three or four years which has led to a depreciation in the value of money and also—

Order. I do not know whether the hon. Member heard me a few moments ago, but this cannot be turned into a general debate on sport. Comments ought to be limited to the grant of £75,000. This is a very narrow debate indeed.

With the greatest possible respect to you, Mr. Speaker, your pre- decessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, specifically said that the debate could be based on, in his own words, "the reason for the increase in the cost of the grant", and he added that we could discuss pay awards and the new sports centres. He said specifically that we could debate the reason for the increase in the grant, which is what I was about to do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker may well have been over-enthusiastic as a result of the Welsh rugby victory on Saturday. That may have impaired his judgment, but that was his judgment. I shall be very brief and keep within those bounds.

I was saying that this apparent doubling of the value of the grant to the Sports Council from £3 ·6 million in 1973 to a projected £7 ·8 million in 1976 has to take account of the cost of inflation and the 30 or 40 employees that the council had to take over this year from the Department of Education and Science and the Department of the Environment. With the present economic situation and with cuts in defence and education expenditure and on hospitals and health, who is to say that sport should not bear its fair share of any reduction in the rate of increase of Government grants?

One may think that there is no reason for sport to have special treatment, but there are at least two reasons. Sport is one of the few occupations which pay 8 per cent. VAT on their activities. Last year it amounted to £8 ·5 million. Sport is also one of the few activities qualifying for Government grant which also have to pay a rate bill to local authorities, which last year totalled £16 ½ million. Directly and indirectly, therefore, sport has contributed £24 ½ million in taxation. A grant of £7·8 million for 1976 will leave the Exchequer very much on the right side of the transaction.

There is no doubt that rates are crippling many sporting activities—

Order. I must refer the hon. Gentleman to the doctrine on this matter. If the sum demanded for a Supplementary Estimate is of the same order of magnitude as the original Estimate, the Chair allows a general debate. If, however, it is only a very small amount compared with that for which the original grant was demanded, only the reasons for the increase can be debated.

Exactly, Mr. Speaker, but if the reasons for the increase are to be debated, is it not also in order to indicate other ways of raising the money which would affect the amount of the increase necessary?

What I was going to do if I had been allowed to continue was to suggest that if rate relief were granted to sports organisations, if they were exempted from VAT or if they paid a reduced rate, that would affect the amount of the grant to the Sports Council. I hope that I shall be in order if I continue on those lines very briefly.

Order. The hon. Gentleman will not be in order. He has referred to it. This is such a trifling increase that the debate must be limited to the administration of the Vote and how it comes about that £75,000 more is wanted on a Vote which was originally over £6 million. This is a very small increase and a very narrow debate. I am sorry.

In conclusion, perhaps I may refer to something which has been referred to in the debate without any interruption from the Chair. This relates to the finances of sports clubs which depend to a greater or smaller extent on the grant available from local authorities and the Sports Council. I refer to the Lotteries Bill which is going through the House, which in its present form, it is said, will allow local authorities to run 6,800 individual lotteries every year. Many cricket and football clubs which depend on their clubs' lotteries for raising funds will find their financial future placed in great peril.

I hope that the Minister will refer to this matter and let the House know his view of the massive participation in this area by local authorities.

6.56 p.m.

I will do my best, within the bounds of order, to deal with the points which have been raised. If I trespass a little it will only be to answer the questions asked, which I assume must have been in order. But I appreciate your difficulties, Mr. Speaker. This is why I sought at an early stage clarification of what I could say in reply.

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) for raising this matter and thus making a maiden appearance at the Dispatch Box. I hope that he makes many more such appearances, particularly from that Box, and that he will raise the subject of sport as often as he can.

The hon. Member is right to say that we get far too little opportunity to debate these matters. I regret that, because my purpose and that of the Government is served by debate and questions. Many of the difficulties that I face are due to the previous administration's action in making the Sports Council independent, so that Questions to Ministers are impossible or very difficult, and ministerial responsibility is more limited.

We are delighted to see the hon. Member for Dumfries in that post, not least because he is a distinguished sportsman himself. I know that sporting bodies like to have their affairs handled here by people with a direct interest in them.

I am not the Leader of the House, so all that I can say about the Safety of Sports Grounds Bill is that it is ready and waiting and we expect it to be dealt with this Session. The Home Secretary has that intention, and it will be introduced as soon as time allows.

Much the most important question raised today is that of finance for sport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) said, we do not know where we are with this Opposition. Important as sport, leisure and recreation are to the nation—no one believes in them and fights for them, whether in government or opposition, more passionately than I do—it does sport no service to suggest that services for it can be dealt with in isolation from the general economic situation.

The trouble that I am in is this. Of course we would like to be providing a bigger share of the budget for sport. However, the Opposition continually tell us that we should cut public expenditure. We are entitled to ask—as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle asked—what the Opposition would do in these circumstances. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said "Wait for it; we shall tell you shortly". Not only did he get nowhere near telling us; neither did his hon. Friends.

During this Session we have been urged to cut public expenditure in speeches of the former Leader of the Opposition and of the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr)—who has also had the sack from the Opposition Front Bench. I am not quite sure, in view of the fact that they have been removed to the back benches, whether the policy speeches which they made from the Opposition Front Bench only a short time ago represent the policy of the Conservative Party, but I assume that it must be so.

On 13th November the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he then was. the right hon. Member for Carshalton, said:
"The blunt fact of life is that we can't afford any increase in public spending until we can see that we have turned the corner. And that won't be next year."
In other words, he meant that that would not be during 1975. He was saying on behalf of the Conservative Opposition that there should be no increase in public expenditure in 1975.

The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said from the Opposition Front Bench on 18th December, when talking about the Chancellor's borrowing requirement,
"It must be cut. There can be no real increase in public expenditure."—[Official Report, 18th December 1974; Vol. 883, c. 1607.]

I do not know what has happened since I was last in the Chair, although I have a good idea. However, the Minister may discuss only the reason for the increases, in the same way as we restricted hon. Members who spoke previously.

What has happened, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that we are now playing the second half of this match and I am kicking uphill. Because the hon. Member for Harborough was kicking downhill, he seemed to be playing to a set of rules that was different from that which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are applying to me at present. But I assure you that if you are tolerant, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall deal only with the questions that have been asked, which I must assume were in order. I shall do my best.

I agree that we have a difficult financial situation. However, what the Government have done in the present economic crisis is to maintain the present level of activity of the Sports Council, which is no mean achievement in this particular year. It has the present level of expenditure plus a 20 per cent. increase to cover the inflationary costs. I do not disguise from the House the fact that these figures will mean that one or two further developments which some of us would like to see cannot go ahead as planned, but there is nothing of great seriousness there —unless the Sports Council is able to readjust its financing, although I am bound to say—I think that the House would agree—that it has a figure in its budget for well over £500,000 for aid to local authority schemes. It will probably be in the experience of most hon. Members that in the present climate ratepayers will be very much concerned. Here again, hon. Members of the Opposition are urging local authorities to cut back and to stop certain schemes and have regard to the rates.

It may be peanuts to the hon. Gentleman, but it is of extreme importance to the local authorities as a whole. I know that these comparisons are always odious. Hon. Members quote figures which support their cases, and the hon. Member for Dumfries did that. However, the average growth of the Sports Council grant between 1970 and 1974 was £1 million a year. The average growth of the grant for this year and next year is £1·2 million a year. Therefore, on those figures it is not correct to suggest that the present Government are being meaner in their approach to the Sports Council. The figures do not bear that out.

As I say, I do not want to rely on these comparisons because so often they become a little meaningless.

The hon. Gentleman should really say that only if he also gives a comparison of inflation. He must accept that inflation has risen dramatically in the last year.

I think it would not be in order because the hon. Member for Dumfries did not talk about it. Therefore, as he did not use the question of inflation in his comparisons it would be out of order for me to do so. I am merely giving the figures.

Turning to the financial point, of course we do not have enough money for this purpose, and we want much more. In that sense I find this debate helpful. The more often hon. Members let Ministers and Governments know what their priorities are, the more likely they are to find expression in Government policy. However, many representations have been received by the Government in recent weeks and all of them are being considered very carefully by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government are reviewing the sports situation, as they are reviewing other aspects of policy, particularly arts policy. Comparisons are made between the two there. Again, it is extremely difficult to do this properly because on the whole local authorities tend to spend more on sport and recreation than they spend on the arts. But, as I say, we are reviewing the present situation because we appreciate the importance and the need, in an age of increased leisure, of sport, and of providing for that purpose as far as possible.

That brings me right on to local authority expenditure. The hon. Member for Dumfries said that local authorities face a severe clamp-down. However, local authorities' expenditure on sport and recreation has increased very considerably in recent years. It has risen from £28 million in 1970–71 to about £60 million last year. I have had difficulty in finding the exact answers for the year 1973–74, mainly because of local government reorganisation and the inability to get the final detailed figures from the new reorganised local authorities. But, on any review of finance, the descriptions given by the hon. Gentleman—"shockingly inadequate; miserable; facing a severe clamp-down"—are totally unjustified having regard to the general economic policies of the Opposition, from which the hon. Gentleman has not departed today.

We cannot leave the discussion of money for sport without talking about VAT. The hon. Member fror Dumfries, unlike myself, voted to impose VAT on sport.

Many of us stated categorically at the time what we felt the effect would be. I could repeat the speeches of the Financial Secretary at the time, in which he specifically said that VAT had to be included, but I shall content myself by saying that it is costing professional soccer £2 million a year and amateur sport £1 million a year. If we include VAT on equipment, including games too, the estimate of VAT from that is about £8 million a year. One cannot break down the £8 million figure. However, it is clear that all the effects that we said would flow from VAT have flowed from it. The responsibility for that does not lie on the Government side of the House.

The hon. Gentleman must know that the Conservatives totally revolutionised the tax system by getting rid of SET and purchase tax and imposing VAT, and that that is something that cannot be put back overnight, as unfortunate as many of us think VAT to be.

I turn now to some of the other points raised by the hon. Member. I am glad that I was able during the course of the year to find a supplementary sum of £200,000 of which £75,000 is to be used for the stand which is to enclose the whole track at Crystal Palace, and to which I attach a good deal of importance. The hon. Member said that sports bodies believed in mandatory derating. They may do so, but Parliament under both Governments has never taken that view. The view has always been taken that the derating of sports grounds must be a matter for local authorities, and the views of the Government will be made known on that subject when the White Paper is published.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dumfries thought that sports bodies were now complaining about red tape from the Treasury because of the forms they are having to fill. The allocation of grants from the Sports Council has nothing to do with the Government. The council is now an independent body, and if that is the point he was seeking to make—

If I am sure of one thing it is that that subject does not come under this Vote. We shall leave taxation out.

I am not saved by the whistle. I am very happy to deal with these points if they are in order. However, I have been brought up to play to the rules of the game, and that is all I am seeking to do.

It is difficult to say anything about the staff salary review. The hon. Member is quite wrong to say that this matter has been with me for a considerable time. It has been with me for a shortish time, and it is the subject of discussion with the Civil Service Department now that I have the views of the Sports Council on the matter.

The hon. Member asked me about Bisham Abbey, Lilleshall and Holme Pierrepont, all the national recreation centres. Of course we understand the difficulties. We are not providing any more money for Lilleshall because we have not been asked to provide any more. In a sense it would be improper for the Sports Council to ask for the money because it is now totally independent of the Government in how it deals with its money. This is one of the unfortunate repercussions which flowed from the Royal charter.

When the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) said that I was nothing like as active this year as I had been in the previous administration he is in one sense right, and that is partly the fault of his right hon. and hon. Friends. When I was a Minister previously I was responsible for all the decisions of the Sports Council. I had a great deal of direct responsibility, but that is no longer the position. The Conservatives, in their wisdom or otherwise, decided that sport should be pushed outside the Government and that the council should become a chartered body. It was therefore no longer directly answerable to Parliament. The hon. Member is quite wrong otherwise in thinking that I have been less active. Never before have I spent so much of my time on sports and recreation, but the opportunities for expressing myself in the House are fewer, and that is why the hon. Member has a mistaken impression.

One of the things I have been doing since I came back to office has been to deal with morale. I found that the new arrangements had had a very severe effect upon morale in the Central Council for Physical Recreation and in its relations with the Sports Council, and much of my year has been spent bringing these bodies together, recreating harmony and raising morale. I am glad to say that the process is paying off, and I am sure that in the future we shall get the partnership that all of us want to see.

I am aware of the problems. If the Minister is saying that his activity in the past year has not been so intense as it was 10 years ago, why were the functions of his Ministry and his own terms of reference extended so substantially?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was wondering whether the additional £75,000 in the Supplementary Estimates might be attributed in some way to this extended Ministry.

The hon. Member may be in the penalty area, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he has still muffed the shot.

On the point about the national recreation centres, and since the Minister has not the responsibility for initiating projects, surely he accepts that the Sports Council will expand its programme only if it has sufficient capital to spend. That is our criticism. The sys-does not allow the national recreation centres to have enough money because of the size of the Sports Council grant.

That is not so. At the present time not only is the Crystal Palace stand being built but a new swimming pool is being constructed there too. At Bisham Abbey there has been started this year, as a result of the grant to the Sports Council, a new sports complex. The hon. Member referred to Holm Pierrepont and the rowing championships, and I am glad to say that resources are adequate for that work to be undertaken too.

In addition, the Sports Council has made its commitments to governing bodies, administration and coaching grants. The grant for those subjects will exceed £1 million this year, and that is almost twice the grant level of two years ago. The hon. Member can therefore be satisfied that even with all our difficulties we are making progress in those respects. I entirely agree that we want multi-purpose sports centres. A record number of these have been built in the last few years, and that reflects credit on both administrations. Both have been very sensibly following the same policy of getting value for public money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle asked about the importance the Government attach to leisure. We attach tremendous importance to increased leisure, to the advent of earlier retirement, to longer holidays and to a shorter working week. All those aspects of developing social policy are bound to put more pressure on sports, recreation and leisure services and make a case for more resources to be allocated as and when the country can find them. He said that we are in the hands of the Chancellor. My right hon. Friend accepts that in the whole sphere of leisure, which includes the arts as well as sport, the Government must do what they can.

The vexed problem of hooliganism was raised by my hon. Friend in the only way that made it in order. He asked whether any of this money was produced for purposes of police protection. Police protection is provided free by the police forces outside football grounds, but it has to be paid for inside the grounds. Many clubs complain about this but it has always been the case: they cannot eat their cake and have it. A sports ground is a private place, and sports clubs like to have control over their grounds. Therefore, they have to pay for police protection.

This year I visited every First Division ground to have discussions with the football authorities on the spot. At every football ground the police had arranged with the club to provide the number of policemen they felt ought to be present. They charged for that number. However, the police forces realised that for reasons of public order many more policemen were, regrettably, necessary. I am sure that the clubs will agree that they are getting good value for money in these difficult days and that they will join with me when I say that we have nothing but praise for the way the police, week in and week out, face up to hooliganism with great tolerance and firmness.

I agree with everything my hon. Friend has said and I would add my tribute to his. We are living in days of competition and cut price. Would he consider cutting the price that football clubs pay for police protection?

Order. We shall shortly be having a debate about hooliganism in football. For the sake of the House we must keep to the rules outlined first by me and later, I understand, by Mr. Speaker when he took the Chair.

I turn to the subject of small lotteries. That is not my responsibility. The House has passed a measure on this subject, whatever the hon. Member for Harborough and my hon. Friend think about it. My hon. Friend adopted the rôle of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and asked for a 2 per cent. tax on betting duty. I shall see that that view is conveyed to the Chancellor. This is one of the difficulties of having a debate on financial matters less than a month before the Budget.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam asked about the youth sports programme and the White Paper. I have been trying to get the relationship right between the Sports Council and the CCPR. I have consulted them widely—much more widely than they were consulted four years ago when there was a major change in the rôle of the Sports Council. It would be discourteous to answer questions about the Sports Council or to produce a White Paper on a whole range of issues until I have had the benefit of its official advice. I received advice from the Sports Council two weeks ago. Although I know what the CCPR will say, because it kindly sent me an advance copy of its recommendations, it has yet formally to adopt them at an executive meeting. The delay is not all on my side. If we consult everyone we have to give them the opportunity to offer their advice.

The CCPR has carried out an excellent exercise in consulting its five divisions. The advice I shall receive represents the in-depth, considered opinion of British sport.

There is no question about British participation in the Olympics or of training being jeopardised for want of public funds. Indeed, the reverse is true. I have had talks with the British Olympics Association, and it is its view that its public appeal should be spread over four years and that the money should go towards sending the team to Canada and helping towards the training of the team to go to Moscow for the 1980 Olympics.

I am anxious to have centres of excellence for British sportsmen and to create sports bursaries. However, the House will have to wait for my White Paper, where it will find some more words of wisdom on that subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) asked me some vitally important questions about educational facilities. He mentioned rugby but this applies to Rugby Union, Rugby League, soccer, cricket and many other sports. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science agrees emphatically with me, as do other Ministers, that all educational facilities should be opened up as much as possible. These facilities are provided by public capital resources and should be used as much as possible during the year. There will be a strong, challenging paragraph in the White Paper on this subject. I am happy to report to the House that co-operation between by Ministry and the Department of Education and Science has never been more intense, active and constructice than it is at present.

Could the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he will undertake to approach the Chancellor before he formulates his Budget—

Order. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. He might not have heard me the first time but he surely heard me the second time. That is beyond the scope of this debate.

It is indeed. However, I am in constant communication with all my ministerial colleagues. This is a limited debate because of the difficulties. I hope that this debate will encourage hon. Members to seek other opportunities to debate our Estimates or specific questions which arise in sport. The Opposition might use their Supply Days for this purpose, in which case we shall be able to cover a wider remit. The White Paper, which will be issued during the early summer, might provide the next suitable opportunity for a discussion, not only on the limited nuts and bolts issues of money but on important questions of philosophy and social policy.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken for the constructive way in which they have approached the various issues.

Fishing Industry

7.30 p.m.

I wish to address myself to Class III Vote 7 subheads A4A and A6. As will be appreciated, this is a considerably wider Vote than that which has just been discussed. I hope, therefore, that we shall be able to deal with a large number of matters affecting the fishing industry. The industry is full of complexities. It is often difficult to recommend improvements for one section without treading on the toes of another section or even depriving it of some of its rights.

I shall attempt to highlight some of the fears and problems which fishermen face at all levels of their business. I use the term "business" intentionally. I believe that for the vast majority of those who sail in fishing fleets this is how they see their industry. They enjoy a greater participation than many and, despite the hazards, their job satisfaction is enormous. I have met very few fishermen who, all things being equal, would wish to change their employment. The trouble is that at the moment all things are not equal and the industry is fighting for its survival.

I welcome the Government's announcement earlier this month about temporary aid. I am, however, unhappy about certain exclusions about which I shall have something more to say later. The Scottish Trawlers Federation has calculated the scheme to be worth about £700,000. While this will be of assistance to boats already at sea which are faced with ever-increasing costs and a fall in market prices, it is unlikely to prove a sufficient incentive, at the rates outlined in the Government's statement, to entice back to the fishing grounds boats which are presently tied up.

Most important is the fact that it is a temporary help. While it is most welcome, it will not solve the long-term problem. I would counsel the Minister to enter into early discussions with representatives of the various fishing interests to determine the principles of a more permanent scheme of support to follow after June 1975. At the moment there is no suggestion of any likelihood of increased market prices. Indeed, if the present trend is followed the market for United Kingdom fresh fish could worsen considerably.

Taking the cumulative effect of the January-February catch landed at Aberdeen in 1975, there is a reduction of 11·7 per cent. on 1974 prices. Other ports show a similar decline, but I use the Aberdeen figures because they were kindly provided for me. Given the high incidence of foreign fish imports, together with the stockpiling of fish throughout the world, it has now become essential for the Government to re-examine their attitudes towards third-country fish imports.

France has already imposed a complete ban and I see no reason why similar action could not be considered by this country. The argument that we cannot do this because of EEC membership is surely overcome when we consider the steps that France has taken. It would be a great pity if our fishermen had to resort to the extreme measures which their French neighbours took to gain some sort of Government recognition.

I must ask why the temporary aid is not being extended to vessels of less than 40 feet in length.

The Minister must be aware that over the years limits have been agreed regarding the size of craft allowed to fish in certain areas. There is a considerable number of boats which have been designed and constructed with this in mind. The 40-ft. limit excludes a good number of vessels of about 35 ft. which perform functions almost identical to those of the 40-ft. craft but which operate in areas of restriction. I suggest that assistance be extended to include those vessels. Further, I am disappointed that a way has not been found of assisting those engaged primarily in shell fishing. These are the real small inshore fishermen. They are being discriminated against because they do not fish for white fish or herring.

Yet those are the people who all too often suffer severe damage to their gear by illegal fishing by larger craft. I have known a prawn fisherman to lose £400 worth of tackle in one night as a result of a large trawler coming in, probably with lights out, and sweeping all before it. I am afraid that the fishery protection service is woefully inadequate. The Government must give immediate attention to this problem.

In the meantime, and until such time as a proper fishery protection service can be extended to inshore fishermen, I reiterate a suggestion I made in a letter to the Minister recently. This concerns a stretch of water fished by inshore fishermen from Kyle and Applecross in my constituency of Ross and Cromarty. Over the years the fishermen there have been plagued by illegal fishing by larger craft in a sea bounded in the south by Kyle Rhea and in the north by a line from the north end of the Isle of Skye to Gairloch. Byelaws have recently been published and one is being considered locally in connection with the BUTEC range which will shortly be in operation in that area. I suggest that included in those byelaws should be a provision to the effect that in the sea area I have mentioned there should be a ban on all forms of trawling, whether ground trawling, which is illegal inside the 3-mile limit anyway, or midwater pair trawling, which is not illegal but which causes great damage in the area.

Pair trawling is such a serious matter in such an area that it constitutes a hazard to the livelihood of local fishermen. In addition, such a measure would have the effect of creating a fish conservation area which would help replenish the depleted fish stocks in surrounding waters. This problem may not be directly relevant to the Department of Defence or to the byelaws, but if this suggestion were incorporated the Ministry would not object.

I come now to a problem facing another type of fisherman altogether. I understand that it is the intention of the Secretary of State for Scotland shortly to lay an order the purpose of which would be to place a total ban on gill netting. I appreciate that certain sections of the industry have been pressing for such a measure for some time. I accept that in a few places it may be justified, but I ask the Minister carefully to consider the suggestion I am now putting forward.

One of the key factors about this form of fishing is that the net must be attached to the shore. The abuse which has been taking place arises from the fact that the net has in some instances been stretched as far as three or four miles out from the short. Few would disagree that that practice is wrong. I ask that, rather than impose a total ban, the Minister should stipulate a certain distance beyond which it would be illegal to lay a net from the shore. I suggest that 800 yards might be a suitable distance. Few who use this type of method would want to lay nets more than about 600 yards from the shore. This would leave them a safety margin. By imposing a complete ban on this practice, many fishermen in a small way of business would be severely penalised.

I understand that the use of filament nets is also likely to be banned. It would be most unfair to do this without warning. If it is the Minister's intention to include such nets in the order, he ought to give due warning to those who use nets of this type that as at some future date it is the Government's intention to ban them. This would give these people the opportunity to replace their tackle.

I remind the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland of another group of fishermen who have their eyes focussed on him. I refer to those who fish largely for sport and who have been waiting, since the publication some years ago of the Hunter Report, for legislation on freshwater fishing. My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) did much work on a proposed piece of legislation which he hoped to introduce and which would have been introduced by now had not we been defeated in February 1974. Governments of both parties have had good intentions on this matter, but parliamentary time has been at a premium. Nevertheless. I feel sure that such a Bill would be of much greater value than some of the Government's obnoxious measures.

I have dealt in some detail with a number of the problems confronting the fishing industry but I have not mentioned the question of limits or the EEC. I tabled a great many Questions at the end of last week but unfortunately I received the answers only shortly before I came into the Chamber, and therefore I have not been able to use them as I might have wished. However I have distributed them among my hon. Friends who, because they will be speaking later, will no doubt use them more adequately.

I am sure that I speak for every hon. Member when I say that on many previous occasions the question of the 200-mile limit has been spoken to. At this stage all I can say is that I wholly support the arguments deployed in favour of such a limit, and, although it is highly desirable, the 50-mile limit for herring fishing has become a positive necessity.

I refer to two of the Questions which I tabled. I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how much of the white fish catch and of the herring catch in each of the past five years in the waters around Scotland was caught within six miles, within 12 miles, within 50 miles and within 200 miles respectively. I received a reply confirming the need for a 50-mile limit as soon as possible, namely, that all herring was caught within a 50-mile limit and there was no record of catches between 50 and 200 miles. All but 11 per cent. of the white fish was also caught within a 50-mile limit.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was as impressed as we all were by the arguments submitted to us by the fishing delegation which visited the House in January. Those men did not come here in a militant mood. They tried to persuade us and to argue their case. All of us who met them felt that they made a very good case and that we would do all we could to help them in the fearful problem which they faced.

Just outside the existing 12-mile limit off North-West Scotland the herring stocks are being plundered by foreign fleets. I am advised that the Norwegians, Faroese and Icelanders are fishing indiscriminately. It has been suggested to me from within the fishing industry that little attention is being paid to the question of quota. Will the Minister confirm that those countries are enforcing the strict checks which we apply to boats operating from our ports, and is there any means by which this can be independently examined by representatives of NEAFC?

Our own industry has nothing to fear in this matter, and our figures can be checked by anyone. But there is growing dissatisfaction within the industry about the present quotas and I trust that the Government will watch this matter very closely. It is impossible to say when the Law of the Sea Conference will come to a decision on the question of limits. I suggest to the Minister that we should not wait for such a decision regarding a 50-mile limit for herring but that the Government should enter into consultations with the other countries concerned if the Geneva talks do not produce agreements.

I tabled a Question to the Foreign Office asking the Secretary of State what negotiations had taken place with member countries of the EEC in relation to the common fisheries policies, particularly with regard to the proposed 200-mile fishing limit. I was relieved to receive a reply to the effect that the Government had made it clear to the other member States that if, following the Law of the Sea Conference, there was a general extension of fisheries limits to 200 miles the common fisheries policy would need to be modified considerably. I understand that the commission has made proposals and there have already been preliminary discussions about them.

I am very sorry that the Prime Minister, when he was in Dublin last week, did not make this a prime issue in his discussions. The answer which I received from the Foreign Office, although encouraging, is by no means likely to convince the fishermen of the Government's good intentions.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns was very much involved in the negotiations which took place while the Conservative Party was in government in the months leading up to entry to the EEC in 1972. He made it clear at that time that it was the then Government's intention to ensure that when 1982 came the position of the inshore fishermen would be protected, as it is at the moment. I should like the Minister to give us an assurance that the present Government will give the same priority to this question and will seek a common fisheries policy in order to prevent free access to each other's territorial waters.

We are plagued by Russians, Poles, Norwegians, Faroese and Icelanders, not to mention certain EEC countries, but it would be quite wrong for anyone to pretend that our main fear stems from the EEC countries, because countries outwith the EEC are just as great a menace to our fishing industry as any of those within it. But the Government must be seen to be acting quickly and firmly.

The problems which I have outlined are among many which face the fishing industry. The great difficulty is that the industry has to look ahead. Its future is uncertain. Whether a 200-mile limit or a 50-mile limit is achieved, the industry will face many problems, not least those arising from entry to the EEC. I speak as one who is absolutely in favour of our staying in the EEC because the benefits to this country far outweigh the disadvantages. But it is imperative that the fishing industry, particularly the inshore fishing industry, should be wholly protected in the negotiations into which the Government will soon enter.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of raising the problems which face the fishing industry, and I am grateful to the Minister and to other hon. Members for being present tonight.

7.50 p.m.

Those of us who represent fishing ports do not have many chances to debate the fishing industry, so we are grateful to the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) for seizing the opportunity to do so. Fishing is the Cinderella in comparison with its massive partner agriculture in that office in Whitehall, but with our new Minister of State I am sure that as well as sympathy we shall have action in the coming months.

It has been said that this is a momentous year, but it is also a dangerous year. Unless something is done, this year will see the end of some fishing firms which fish in inshore waters and have insufficient cash to weather the storm. Families with vessels of less than 40 feet in length receive no monetary assistance, whereas wealthier firms in Hull get, I think, £90 a day while they are at sea. This year will settle the future of many in the industry.

The question is: what is to be the future of the industry? Last Saturday there was a seminar in Hull which was attended by representatives of all sections of the industry, and my colleagues in the House on both sides who buy Fishing News will know about it. That seminar was attended by owners, deck hands, union officials, merchants and fishmongers. Mr. Charles Meek, from Edinburgh, made a helpful speech about the 50-mile limit and the fishermen north of the Tweed who wish to take action now. He talked about the politics of persuasion.

By way of persuasion, I suggest to my colleagues that we are in the same difficulty and that, instead of agitating for a 50-mile limit, we should wait until after the Geneva conference and not take the law into our own hands. I believe that then there will be a consensus of perhaps 70 fishing nations for the extension of limits not to 50 miles but to 200 miles. In that event, I should like my colleagues in the late summer or early autumn to urge the Government to take action to extend our limits.

As Austin Laing said on Saturday in Hull, if we were left behind in claiming limits we should be in an awful mess, and there would be a chaotic scramble involving not only Chile and Senegal but many of the so-called civilised States of Western Europe which might take the law into their own hands. Norway comes to mind. I should not like to see my colleagues north of the Tweed behaving as the Icelanders did. We had plenty to say about that 12 months or two years ago, when they used shot—blank, of course—against our skippers. We did not like it.

We should think twice about trying to extend by force the limits to 50 miles off the Scottish coast. For one thing, we should need fishery protection. How would Russian, Polish or Norwegian vessels, which came within the 50-mile limit be stopped? The skippers of the vessels would say "The Limit is still 12 miles. Stop us if you can." I should deplore such incidents, as we all deplored similar incidents with the Icelanders.

After 30th June, when the £6¼ million expires, what is our future? The fishing industry, whether north or south of the Tweed, or in Northern Ireland, will not wish to continue to receive perpetual handouts from any Government. We must consider some of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty which might help to stabilise our fishing industry and give fishermen a better chance of paying their way and not being dependent on handouts from the Government.

I could not agree more with what the hon. Gentleman said about the control of imports. I had a deputation in Hull on Saturday morning from skippers and others who are deeply concerned about imports from Norway—and the same is true of the skippers in Fleetwood. Norway is not in the EEC and Norway is not usually a lawless State. We have imports from Iceland where export subsidies are immensely increased by continuing devaluation of the kroner. Holland, by artificially low export prices for plaice, is almost killing off the Lowestoft market. Most people will accept that Austin Laing knows a little about this subject. and he said that the Government were aware of the depressed state of the market but he was not sure that they also realised that if imports continued to undermine quayside prices the main object of the subsidy, which was to slow the decline in the fishing fleet might well be defeated. Our task is to stiffen our Government. This is a job for them.

France is in the EEC, which is supposed to have a common fisheries policy. If the French look after their people by stopping the unfair competition caused by putting large amounts of fish on their domestic market, why should not we look after our own people? I do not often like to copy the French The Gaullists are the biggest menace inside the EEC, and they have been the biggest stumbling block of the last few years. The French may quote theology about the Common Market but they do not always abide by it. They take the law into their own hands. We should be acting legally if, on behalf of our own people, we did what the French are doing.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty that we should extend the limits. A lot of nonsense is being talked about Norway, Spain and other countries which object to Her Majesty's Government's planting a flag on the island of Rockall off the north-west coast of Scotland. That island by the 1958 convention is ours by any international understanding. Who wants to fish there, other than ourselves? Who will want to fish off that part of Scotland in future whether it is within a 12-mile limit, a 50-mile limit or a 200-mile limit?

It is important that we should clear our minds about the common fisheries policy. It is extraordinary that during the Dublin meeting the subject was apparently not mentioned. It now looks as though Her Majesty's Government will suggest to the people, in face of the referendum, that we should stay in the EEC, and, indeed that they will so advise our people to vote. On Saturday in Hull I met a large number deep-sea and inshore fishermen who said "Whether we like the EEC or not, if it is a matter of continuing a common fisheries policy, count us out." They are men who, on balance of the other circumstances, wish to stay in the Common Market. Those fishermen have seen a situation where the Dutch, Belgians, Danes and others have fished out their own waters, and they will now be enabled to come the distance of 50, 100 or 150 miles and fish off our shores—the shores of the Yorkshire coast, Northumberland, Aberdeen and elsewhere. This is just not good enough. It will also similarly happen off the South Coast.

All those in the fishing industry are at one on this matter. It is a burning issue, and will become hotter as the weeks go on. It will increase as the debate peps up leading to the vote on the referendum some time in June or July.

There are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, and so I shall be brief. We have indeed been fortunate to have this debate at this moment when this extremely important issue is so topical. I plead with the Minister to remember that we are dealing with the future of some of the finest men in the nation. The fishing industry is the most genuine of all. It is comprised of men who face danger, whether it be in the Arctic or off Lands End. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty said that these men go to sea because they want to do so. They have not opted for a safe or easy job elsewhere. They have chosen to go to sea and face danger. It is our duty to ensure that we do not let them down.

8.5 p.m.

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) on his good fortune in the Ballot and also for choosing the subject of fisheries for discussion. I would point out to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) that both the present subject and the previous one were instituted by Scottish Members of Parliament. I am in almost total agreement with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty. I agreed with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull. West but disagreed with others.

On the question of entry in the EEC, there is no doubt that both the Conservative Government in their day and the Labour Government in their renegotiations have neglected fishing interests. The Conservative Government had an excellent argument for dealing with the original Six in that they had no fisheries whatever to put into the common pool. Therefore, even at that stage the Government of the day might have taken a much stiffer line.

I was much disturbed to hear the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs say recently that fisheries policy was not a matter which had been covered during talks in Brussels, Dublin and elsewhere. It is a matter that will have to be straightened out. Our fisheries are under attack from other countries, quite apart from the EEC nations. The situation will alter in 1982 since other nations' vessels will have the same rights as our own vessels to fish in our waters. Those other nations have an enormous number of vessels—estimated at about 25,000. They fish with more sophisticated gear than that which is used on many of our vessels. Within a short time I can foresee our fisheries being left in a depleted condition.

I turn to the subject of the policing of fishing grounds. Again, over the years Conservative and Labour Governments have neglected the interests of the Scottish fisheries. I discovered from a recent answer given by the Secretary of State for Scotland that in December only two vessels were at sea on fishery protection duties. I appreciate that the Minister said in a recent letter that there are crewing difficulties not confined to the fishery protection service or to this country. However, surely the Department should regard the protection of fishery grounds as a matter of high priority and, through financial inducements or otherwise, seek to obtain officers to crew the ships.

I appreciate the help given by the "Westra" in the fleet, but it is inexplicable that the Secretary of State for Scotland agreed to the "Jura" being seconded to oil-rig protection duties. The Minister has stated that the "Jura" will also at the same time carry out fishery protection duties. With great respect, I find it almost impossible to accept that if that vessel is engaged in oil-rig protection she will at the same time be able to undertake fishery protection within the limits.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West mentioned the 50-mile limit and made a plea for no precipitate action to be taken. I give the hon. Gentleman his due since he did not speak in a party sense about fisheries. The whole point of the argument relates to the degree of urgency. Many of us felt that, although after the Geneva Conference we might well have a 200-mile limit, in the meantime the fisheries might be destroyed. I repeat that the matter is urgent. The damage is so extensive that we can hardly expect to wait any great length of time before anything is done about the situation.

The suggestion has been made by Professor Ian MacGibbon that countries such as Norway, the United Kingdom and perhaps the Soviet Union could come to some ad hoc agreement on the extension of limits.

Is there any scientific evidence that the whole of the stock could be cleaned out in the months ahead in this way? If that is the case, why is it that Charles Meek, the Chairman of the White Fish Authority, should say that we can wait a number of months and that our job is to come together on these matters involving limits?

The fact is that the figures of landings have been falling all this year. The fishermen in their representations have been quite definite. I am sure that they are sincere in their representations.

I turn to the question of subsidies, which seem to have been tailored to the needs of the large trawler fleets. I appreciate that the large fleets need assistance, but it is unfortunate that some of the smaller vessels have been cut out. In my constituency the cutting out of the vessels which fish for shell fish is very much resented because some fairly large-sized boats are engaged in that industry. In view of the difficulties about size and the restrictions on the fish the boats go after, one way out of the problem might simply be to change the subsidies to a system of rebates on the fuel used in the vessels. I shall be interested to have the Minister's reaction to that suggestion.

There is great uncertainty in the industry. For the first time for many years there are no new boats on order in my constituency. About two weeks ago a boatyard was closed on the east coast of Scotland. Boats are for sale all around the coast. I associate myself with what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said about this body of men in a very honourable occupation, working hard, and enduring danger and discomfort. They do not owe anybody a living, but we owe them the backing they deserve when their industry goes through a particularly bad time.

8.11 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) for initiating the debate. It is quite apparent, especially from what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) has said, that there is on both sides of the House a desire to see whether we can all combine to do the best we can for the fishing industry in the difficult time which it faces.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the Law of the Sea Conference. I have been reading with great interest a report in the Fishing News of 14th March of what was said at that conference. Even if we are successful at the conference in getting the limit extended to 200 miles, how long does the Minister think it will be after agreement has been reached that we could achieve general agreement between all the countries for the alterations necessary to bring a 200-mile limit into operation? Is it practical politics to believe that at the stroke of a pen, for example, the whole of the Russian interest in the North Sea would suddenly be removed? I believe that it would have to be phased in over a period of years. This is why the request by the herring fleet in Scotland for a 50-mile limit at present needs to be closely examined.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether there was scientific evidence that the herring stocks could be obliterated in a comparatively short time. He and several other hon. Gentlemen listened about two weeks ago to one of our leading fish research officers, who pointed out that the immature herring was at greater risk outside the 50-mile limit than at any other time.

We should be seeing whether we can get some form of agreement to restrict industrial fishing. My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty asked a Question today relating to industrial fishing, and was kind enough to circulate to me the Minister's answer that these figures were not readily available. But I understand that the OECD Review of Fisheries Yearbook shows that the North Atlantic region's fishing for conversion to fish meal for the year 1972 was about 4 million tonnes, with Norway and Denmark together accounting for 3·3 million tonnes, or 82 per cent. Russia and Poland are not in the OECD, and their catches are not included.

I think I am right in saying that our total catch of fish, which is mainly in the North Sea, is just under 1 million tonnes. Therefore, if the OECD countries are catching 4 million tonnes and there are the industrial catches of Russia and the Polish fleet in addition, there is a real risk that if we do not take steps to restrict industrial fishing the sort of trouble that is threatening the herring stocks will actually come. Whilst we hope that the extension of the limits as a result of the conference will help us, unless we take steps to restrict industrial fishing as quickly as we can there will be a real danger to our fishing fleets.

Other hon. Members have already mentioned the interim award which has been given for six months to the fishing industry, and the fact that smaller boats are not included. One of the figures in the OECD review showed boats of about 60 feet to 65 feet in length having operating costs at £7 a day in 1973 which increased to £16 in 1974. However, for the smaller vessels the costs had gone up from £1 to £3, which showed an increased cost for oil of three times, whereas for the medium-sized boat the costs had gone up by just over 50 per cent.

In the light of these figures there is a very real need to ask the Minister to see whether he can look again at the question of help to boats which are under 40 feet in length. There is a real need to bring back confidence to the industry. I have a boatyard in my constituency which has recently run into trouble. It is likely to close down, but I hope that the boats it is at present fitting out will be completed. However, there is a boat which I saw two or three weeks ago and the keel had just been laid, but undoubtedly this order will have to be scrapped.

The question of stocks of fish which are held in cold store is also something that needs to be looked at. I asked a question of the Minister and was told that there are 48,000 tons of frozen fish held in cold store as at the 31st January this year. Our having all that fish in cold store, together with falling prices for the fish which we land at our ports, must reinforce the need to control the amount of fish allowed into the country. The problem is world wide. It is not only in this country that the stores are full of fish. I understand that the same applies in North America, and that some of our troubles have come from there.

One other subject which has not been mentioned concerning the Law of the Sea Conference, and the interests of the fishing industry in Scotland on a different level, is what is done for the protection of the Atlantic salmon. While we seek to extend our limits, we know that the salmon bred in our rivers feed well outside that limit, and can be, and often are, caught in large numbers there. Therefore, while we may reasonably hope that a 200-mile limit would be satisfactory for many of the species which we should like to catch, and which we have been catching, the North Atlantic salmon could be much at risk without special arrangements.

My other point concerns fishery protection. Could there not be more cooperation between the Royal Air Force and the fishery protection services? We know from experience that many sorties are flown over the North Sea by RAF planes. They should be able, from photographic reconnaissance and so on, to plot the position of ships, so that the fishery protection vessels may be better enabled to take more effective action.

There are many other points that I could raise on this all-important matter for our fishing industry, but the really important one is to see what interim measures we can introduce to bridge the gap between agreement on the 200-mile limit, if agreement is reached, and the time when it becomes effective. I do not believe that it will be possible, by a stroke of the pen, suddenly to go to 200-miles. That is why interim protection is essential if our fishing industry is to survive.

8.20 p.m.

I very much enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), who went right through several of the most important points which we are considering. The port of Fleetwood knows only too well what can happen when a fishery is fished out. We used to be considered the great hake port of the West Coast, but, as hon. Members from Scotland will know, the hake fishery round the Minches was fished out by Spaniards and other foreigners by pair-fishing. Today hake is a rare fish in Fleetwood. Where we used to specialise in it, now we get it purely by chance. Therefore, we should take extremely seriously any threat to a particular fishery.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) for initiating the debate. I must tell the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) that it is not only the Scots who are devoted to the industry. Even nationalist Lancastrians and Yorkshire-men such as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) take a great interest in it and pursue the matter from time to time.

I should like to tell the Minister of the position in my port. The Fishing News of 14th March, under the heading
"Fleetwood Hit By Price Drop",
"Evidence of the tremendous fall in fish prices over the last year is given in the latest statistics provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Nowhere is the trend shown more clearly than at Fleetwood. In November 1974, 48,919 cwt. of fish was landed at the port and sold for £601,613. In 1973, for the same month, the figures were 50,370 cwt. which sold for £746,307."
There are later figures which show trend to be getting even worse.

I have figures from the Fleetwood Fishing Vessel Owners' Association for the last few landings. Total landings were as follows: Friday 7th March, 2,076 kits, of which 781 kits of prime fish went to fish meal; Monday 10th March, 3,672 kits, with 927 to fishmeal; Wednesday 12th March, 3,391 kits, with 919 to fishmeal. That means that one-quarter to one-third of the catch of prime fish which could be eaten by people was going to the fishmeal factories. It was not industrial fishing but edible fish, which the people of this and other countries could eat. In a starving world, that seems remarkable.

At the same time, from the other side, as we call it—the Humber ports—there are reports that in Hull about one-sxith of the catch is going for fishmeal. Obviously the industry is in a bad state when such figures can be given in a debate of this kind.

At the same time as the price has fallen and the bottom has dropped out of the fish market, costs have increased. The association says that in September 1973 the price of gas oil was £16·70 per ton. It is now £54·20. Apart from the increase in oil prices and the remarkable increase in the price of gear, the cost of everything else needed to run a fishing vessel has increased.

We should judge the subsidy against that background. We welcome the operational subsidy, for which we have pleaded for about a year. I do not like to quibble because I know that the Minister has to put up a fight against the Treasury for subsidies of this nature, amounting to £6,500,000. However, the horticulturists in my constituency bitterly regret the decision, which seems to have caused £6,500,000 to be taken away from them. I cannot win on this issue. I regret what has been done for the horticulturists while welcoming the help given to the fishermen.

As regards the 40 ft. limit, at one time length was the governing factor. However, new engines have been fitted to inshore vessels of less than 40 ft., which have a longer range and arc more powerful than vessels of more than 40 ft. The vessels belonging to fishermen in my constituency are 38·5 ft. in length. Five of those vessels were built with the help of White Fish Authority grants and loans. Those vessels are now excluded. I know that this is not an easy matter for the Government. However, the inshore fishing industry feels very strongly about it, and it would be a good thing if the Minister could help the industry along those lines.

The root of the problem of low prices, which is now faced by the deep-sea fishing industry, is tied up with the EEC fisheries policy and the general world situation. It is even more tied up with the fact that we are still trying to obtain cheap food in an age when it no longer exists and when the cost of producing food, including fish, is rising rapidly.

The guidelines set by the EEC policy board for fisheries are lamentably low. We must ensure that our producers of food receive a fair return from the market, and EEC policy should be formed on this basis. It is ludicrous to pursue a policy based on the old limits when there may be a fantastic change in the limits later this year with the adoption of a 200-mile limit, although the industry will claim a 50-mile limit to be totally controlled by the United Kingdom.

I should like to know what is happening in Brussels with regard to the EEC fisheries policy negotiations. A policy must be formulated, preferably before the end of the Law of the Sea Conference if possible.

If the French Government impose a ban on imports, that will show that EEC policy is in disarray. Therefore this is the best time, if we act quickly, to complete renegotiations in our own interests.

A temporary ban on the landings of foreign fish is necessary. Norway and Poland are sending large quantities of fish to the United Kingdom. Their other markets, especially the United States, have fallen, and the United Kingdom is the dumping ground. It is time that every British Government reacted more quickly to dumping.

I wish to refer to the question of what will happen when the Icelandic agreement runs out in September. That problem affects the whole fishing industry, and certainly the Aberdeen and Humber ports. The owners and fishermen in my constituency want to know the present state of the negotiations with the Icelandic Government. Will there be another cod war in October? What plans have the Government in the event of no agreement being reached?

The Minister will come to realise that on all these matters there is much general support in the House for seeing that the industry is put on the right road. It is facing very severe problems, and we should like to hear from the Minister about some positive action. Talk will go down very badly in the fishing industries. It is action that we want, not talk.

8.30 p.m.

The whole fishing industry, deep-sea and inshore, has been overtaken by this crisis in both fuel and gear costs. If there was one small result to come from the crisis it was that the industry was united and came together to the Minister saying "We are all affected and we need temporary assistance." It did not come looking for permanent feather-bedding from the Government. What it wanted was some way of getting over a crisis.

It was extremely disappointing that the Minister chose so divisive a way to deal with the crisis as the selection of an arbitrary limit which resulted in excluding from the assistance almost the whole of the inshore section of the industry at a time when, with other divisive problems facing them, the two sections of the industry were drawing together so well. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) has sought to bring the industry together. I suspect that he shares my disappointment that so divisive an idea as the 40 ft. limit on the subsidy should have been introduced.

I ask the Minister to consider the position at a few of the Northumbria ports. In the port of Amble, for example, there are 14 boats under 40 ft. and six over 40 ft. The under-40 ft. boats are only a few inches below the limit, and three of them are engaged in white fishing. The Minister's explanation of the selection of this arbitrary limit is that it is to distinguish boats in those sections of fishing in which there is what he describes as a serious structural situation. He has singled out white fishing. Vessels engaged in white fishing which are only inches below this limit are excluded from the assistance.

At the port of Seahouses there are 12 vessels under 40 ft and seven over 40 ft. I ask the Minister to think of the divisive effect upon any fishing community when vessels engaged in the same kind of fishing are arbitrarily singled out, with the result that some have benefit and others have none.

At the port of North Shields the situation is even more absurd. There are only a few boats under 40 ft but there are 30 over 40 ft, many of which are engaged in inshore fishing.

The Minister has chosen a limit which does not make sense.

Since the hon. Gentleman is talking about my own home and since I know many of these fishing families, will he say whether in his view the 40 ft limit is useless and whether it should be 35 ft or 38 ft?

The difficulty of using a figure and making it the basis for calculations is that fishing nowadays does not depend on the size of vessels, as the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) pointed out. A number of the boats which I have cited as being just under 40 ft have engines which will carry them over a longer range than some of those above the limit. That suggests that any limit on length is perhaps the least appropriate method to choose. If a limit had to be chosen, I should prefer to see a lower one, perhaps 25 ft or 30 ft. But it is an unsatisfactory measure to use when there are other ways it could be done. At the very least, there should not be an absolute cut-off point at 40 ft but a scale which graded right down to a lower figure.

Whenever I have tabled Questions to the Minister on the subject I have been surprised by his reaction and by the way that replies on issues connected with his statement suggest that the whole scheme had been explained satisfactorily in the original statement. Recently, the hon. Gentleman answered two Questions, one by me and one by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), and in his replies the Minister said that it was explained that the arrangements announced on 27th February were aimed at avoiding the development of a serious structural situation for certain classes of vessels fishing for white fish and herring. Although there were aspects of the statement of 27th February which we welcomed, it cannot be said that it explained anything very much. It did not explain the reason for the limit. It did not explain why shell-fishing vessels were excluded whether under or over 40 ft. The reports of the Press conference suggest that there was confusion at the time as to whether shell-fishing vessels were or were not included. It comes hard for the Minister to suggest that everything was totally and satisfactorily explained on 27th February.

There may well be a basis for different treatment of the inshore industry from the deep-sea industry, but, as the hon. Member for North Fylde has pointed out, the cost effect on the inshore industry is in some ways more dramatic than that on the middle-water and deep-sea industries. Many inshore vessel owners are facing costs which have trebled rather than risen by 50 per cent. of 75 per cent. There seems little justification for so arbitrary a distinction.

Many would agree with some of the things that the Minister said in his original statement. For example, he said:
"In the end, the cost of catching fish will have to he recovered in the price ….".— [Official Report, 27th February 1975; Vol. 887, c. 206.]
Most fishermen would agree with that and would want that to be the basis of the industry. However, the housewife might be forgiven who formed the impression that in recent years the cost of fishing has been recovered in the price. One of the things that have disturbed many fishermen is that the price on the fishmonger's slab has escalated when the price that they are receiving on the quayside is not increasing but falling.

It is for that reason that I have sought to persuade the Minister to consider the whole question of fish distribution and fish marketing. That is an area in which some of the Government's money could be well and usefully spent. Money could be spent on a simple operation of research and discussion with the interested parties to establish where some of the money is going. There is no doubt that there is concern amongst the organisations which represent consumers and amongst those that represent the fishermen that fish prices to the purchaser in the fishmonger's retail shop do not seem to respond in the same way as prices on the quayside. That is a difference that is difficult to explain.

There are some disturbing signs that in this and other respects the Minister is not well advised. There are some disturbing indications, some of which have been mentioned already. The business of choosing a 40-foot limit is one indication. Secondly, there is the failure to renegotiate the Common Market terms to include a common fishing policy. There were clear indications at the beginning of the Government's period of office that there would be such renegotiation. That is another matter which gives rise to concern.

In my area there was the extraordinary announcement by the Secretary of State for Scotland that gill net fishing would be banned. That causes us to wonder whether the Minister is in control of the situation. Does he realise that his right hon. Friend's announcement affects white fishing in an area for which the English Minister is responsible? I suspect that he is not aware of that. It is clear from parliamentary answers that the Secretary of State for Scotland has made no attempt to consult the English fishing interests on which he proposes to legislate by means of an order. That leaves the fishermen in my constituency very much concerned about whether the Minister is in control of the situation. They are concerned whether Scottish Ministers are not allowing their imperialist ambitions to get out of control. That is their fear, as it seems that Scottish Ministers propose to introduce orders without consultation which will affect the livelihood of people outside their normal area of jurisdiction.

There have been other matters—some arose before the Government's period of office began—which are still causing difficulty. The White Fish Authority has insufficient funds for training but the training opportunities scheme of the Department of Employment is still not allowed to make provision for share fishermen to benefit from it.

All these matters leave one wondering whether the advice is satisfactory on which decisions on public spending involving the industry are being made and whether the Minister is receiving the right sort of advice. That is the most charitable assumption to make. That is the one that I choose to adopt. The least charitable assumption is that a structural change is taking place. If that is so, the Minister will find that he is encouraging a substantial decline in the English inshore fishing industry. I do not suppose that to be the case, but the Minister must concede that it is an easy interpretation to put upon some of the things that are happening.

If it were the belief that the inshore fishing industry and the families of the fishermen involved could be set aside and allowed to decline the Minister should think again. He would create thereby unemployment in places where there is no alternative employment. Unemployment would arise of a kind which none of the conventional policies could alleviate. He would bring about a waste of the capital expenditure which has gone, for example, into grants for vessels and into grants to develop the inshore industry. Some of the things that have been happening, such as the 40-ft. limit, lead one to suppose that the Ministry is not well advised or is not well disposed towards the inshore fishing industry. I hope that something can be done to allay that disturbing impression.

8.40 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) on having the good fortune and good sense to give the House the opportunity of debating this important subject.

On a more local note, representing part of Aberdeen, I am glad that the fishing industry is being debated in the House, because so much attention, rightly, has been devoted to the oil industry in recent months. It is worth reminding the Scottish Office and people in the northeast of Scotland that up to 20,000 persons in that area arc closely engaged in the fishing industry. Therefore, we must not allow their interests to be overshadowed by the more glamorous aspects of the oil industry.

There is no doubt that the fishing industry is undergoing an extremely serious time with grave problems—probably unparalleled in its recent history. These problems have many causes, some of which have been mentioned. The industry has had enormous increases in fuel costs from about £17 a ton in October 1973 to over £50 a ton in December 1974. There have been increases in costs of building, gear and wages, and there have been problems over quotas.

There have been considerable and novel problems caused by the arrival of the oil industry in the north-cast of Scotland. Those problems range from restricted areas in which traditional fishing vessels were allowed to operate and are now not allowed to operate—areas which will be increased as more pipelines crisscross the sea floor—to gear being damaged by things thrown overboard from oil supply vessels, and so on.

The industry has also suffered from the effect of low fish prices. In Aberdeen in the first two months of this year there was a decrease on the average price per hundredweight of 11·7 per cent. On the last figure for February the average price per hundredweight has suffered a drop of 18·5 per cent. That drop in price, calamitous as it would be for the industry at any time, must be set against the fact that prices everywhere else are rising. Inflation is going ahead at 20 per cent. Therefore, the industry is being hit from both ends of the inflationary spectrum at once.

The Government, faced with this situation and after prompting from many sources, including myself and my hon. Friends, have given welcome financial support to the industry. I say that categorically. Equally categorically I must tell the Minister that that support does not go far enough. It is difficult to see how any vessel currently tied up because of the problems that I have listed will be caused to turn back to sea because of the Government's financial support. I do not believe that will come about, much as I should like to see it.

Whether that is right or wrong, we must all agree that the majority—probably all —of the problems currently facing the fishing industry will still be there when the scheme comes to an end in June. I therefore strongly urge the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish Office to set up machinery for continuing discussions to ensure the stability of the fishing industry on a more long-term basis than the mere six months' grace afforded by the scheme.

I understand that one of the Minister's hon. Friends at the Scottish Office announced last week that the Government had no intention of continuing the present system of support and that the argument advanced in support of that was the belief that prices of fish would rise and that, therefore, the industry would be able to find its own feet through that mechanism. If that were so nobody would be more pleased than the fishing industry. Nobody in the industry wants to be dependent upon Government aid. It is an unparalleled set of circumstances which has forced this situation upon the industry, and I do not know anybody in it who believes that soon enough in time we shall see a rise in fish prices so that the industry can put itself back on its own feet. I do not believe that the evidence available to us makes such a deduction possible.

Mention has been made of the dumping of foreign fish. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) quoted the astronomic amount of frozen fish still in store in this country waiting to be distributed. To a large extent this is what is pulling down the price of fish, and it is no use the Government thinking that the price of fish will rise while there are these vast stocks ready to be unleashed, as it were, on the British public. France has now imposed a ban on such imports. The fact that she is no longer a market for the unloading of stocks means that we shall be even more vulnerable than we were to the importation of fish that would otherwise have gone to France.

I therefore strongly urge the Minister and the Government to consider the continuation of financial support, though not necessarily on the same lines as before. The Minister will, no doubt, know that the fishing industry did not altogether agree with the lines on which that support was given. I shall not go into that now. I merely say that there should be a continuation of support on a basis to be discussed with representatives of the industry. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there must be a restriction on imports of frozen fish from non-EEC countries. I hope that we can get the support of the Minister to set up discussions at the earliest moment to consider these important aspects.

I now turn briefly to the question of the Common Market fisheries policy. I do not want to lay down in any detail tonight what the various branches of the industry feel they should have out of any renegotiation of the EEC fisheries policy. Various points have been made tonight by other hon. Members, but, no doubt, the industry itself will make quite clear to the Government what it feels should be done. There is to be an important meeting in Edinburgh next Monday at which various aspects of the United Kingdom industry are coming together, and I hope that very soon after that meeting the various branches will let the Government know what they think.

There must be some specific and definite commitment by the Government. before the referendum on the EEC, on what exclusive British rights will be absolutely guaranteed. I believe that it would be wrong for fishermen or members of any other section of the community to vote in the referendum solely on the narrow ground of how their own business or industry will be affected. The voting should be on the basis of the broad and long-term national interest. None the less, however much I may not like it, the fact is that many fishermen have already said that unless they get guarantees they will vote against the United Kingdom staying in the EEC.

Various references have been made to what was said in Hull at the weekend. Perhaps I may read to the Minister a telegram that was sent to his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—a telegram to which, incidentally, a reply has not been received. The telegram reads:
"Scottish Trawlers' Federation demand that renegotiation of common fisheries policy on limits be regarded as essential matter for discussion in current negotiations regarding UK terms for remaining in EEC."
I also find it incredible that the Government did not regard this matter as important enough to negotiate at this early stage. If they had done so, the matter would, no doubt, have been settled.

The telegram goes on:
"If this matter not resolved to satisfaction of industry before referendum, effects seen as catastrophic and industry's opposition to EEC membership likely to harden substantially."
I believe that the herring fishermen sent messages on even harder lines, saying that they would definitely vote against the EEC. So it is important to get some sort of commitment from the Government.

I know the difficulties of giving a commitment, and I regret that the date of the referendum has thrown another spanner into an already complicated works, but this commitment is necessary for the industry's future and also to secure the maximum support in the referendum for our staying in. There must be a commitment that, whatever happens, the negotiations on the EEC fisheries policy will produce the removal of the policy of full access by 1982, and modifications which will give maximum priority to our vessels in our own waters. Those two matters are vital if we are to take the industry with us.

I hope that the Minister will say something about the longer-term proposals for securing stability.

8.52 p.m.

I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) on his good fortune in securing this debate on such an appropriate day. I want to deal with the problems of the fishing industry under the headings of rapidly escalating costs, the extinction of fish stocks and fishing limits.

The Government have recently announced plans for an operating subsidy for fishing boats. A few weeks ago the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, in answer to a Question from me, said that something was just around the corner. I said at the time that that was a reasonably fair answer, knowing that the fishermen of Argyll desperately wanted this kind of subsidy. But I did not know then that there would be a strict division between those who got the subsidy and those who did not. As the Under-Secretary must have known, most of the fishermen in my constituency will not get it.

Many hon. Members have referred to the arbitrary cut-off point of the subsidy. It is worse than arbitrary. Only boats of 40 ft. and longer will benefit, but there are particular reasons why most boats in the Firth of Clyde area are shorter than that, up to and including 39·9 ft.—because the byelaws provide that only boats of less than 40 ft. can fish in the three-mile limit. Therefore, the cut-off point positively militates against a fair deal.

Apart from boats wrongly being cut off from this subsidy, there is also a problem for boats engaged chiefly in shell fishing. Clearly the rationale—if one may use that word—of not giving the subsidy to shellfishing boats is that shellfish somehow are regarded as luxury foods and, therefore, clearly the gentlemen who fish for these luxury foods should not benefit from Government funds. However, I want to point out two things. First, in this day and age shellfish, over and above anything else, are not luxury foods. One thinks of the products of other primary producers and of fillet steak, for example, and even in fishing one thinks of halibut and turbot. One wonders why shellfish should be singled out for opprobrium as a luxury food.

Above all, one thinks of those who are carrying out this job. Even if the Government think that shellfish are a luxury food and that shellfishermen should not be paid subsidy, I would remind the Government that the occupation of shellfishing is certainly not a luxury occupation and that those who carry it out have to work just as hard as any other branch of the fishing industry to earn a living.

I do not want to take up too much time in discussing the question of subsidies. I conclude my remarks about it by saying that the present Labour Government disappoint me. They disappoint all of my hon. Friends because the Government have shown themselves to be, above all, the party of the big battalions. The Labour Party is not prepared to consider the legitimate interests of the small man, be he the small man in the fishing industry or with a builder's business or whatever he is. It has been shown clearly that the Government just do not care. They have let themselves down very badly. The tenor of many of the preceding speeches was that the Government had sacrificed the support of virtually everyone in the fishing industry and will continue to do so until they mend their ways in relation to current policies.

On the question of subsidy, I should like to suggest that in any case we should take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) when he put forward the idea that perhaps a more obvious and rational way of subsidising fishing boats, and a way which would cover boats of all lengths quite easily, would be simply to give a rebate on fuel. The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) mentioned the question of horticulture when talking in terms of the Ministry. If one could do it for fishing, one could clearly do it for the horticulture industry too. It would be simply a question of the owners of fishing boats going to the Government with the receipts they had for payment for fuel supplies and receiving subsidy on that basis. I cannot think of a simpler way of giving the fishing industry the help that it requires.

I want to move on quickly to consider the question of fishing limits. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) asked my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles what scientific evidence he had for prognosticating that the herring shoals off the West Coast of Scotland were in imminent danger of extinction. Clearly, scientific evidence is always bound to vary on such a question, but conversations that I have had with marine biological experts in my area suggest that very soon, by next season, there will not be any herring worth catching off the West Coast of Scotland if something is not done, and done not merely within the next few months, because we are talking in terms of days or weeks and not months.

The Government are taking a very dangerous responsibility if they are pretending that this matter can somehow be postponed until all sorts of discussions have taken place, perhaps until they have got mixed up with some new plan for a revised system of quotas, or perhaps until the talks at Geneva are accomplished and a 200-mile limit is fixed. We do not know how long that will take to bring into operation, as the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) pointed out. The need is urgent and I regret that there appears to be no recognition by the Government Front Bench of just how urgent it has become.

I wish primarily to discuss another matter which was touched upon in the debate—the renegotiations which were supposedly accomplished in Dublin. In this matter the Government have shown a total dereliction of their duty to the fishing industry not only of Scotland but of the United Kingdom generally. How appropriate it is that we should be discussing this matter just as the Cabinet is trying to persuade all Ministers to support the renegotiation. There can be no doubt that the Government's dereliction of duty has been absolute. They have pretended to renegotiate but they have done nothing to help the fishing industry or to change the common fisheries policy which was so wrongly supported by the last Conservative Government.

I and my hon. Friends hope that even at the eleventh hour the Government will change their view and not only go all out to secure a proper limit—we have suggested for the short term a 50-mile limit—but will ensure that the small fishermen as well as those who operate on a large scale get the support they require and deserve.

9.2 p.m.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, which could not have come at a more appropriate time. As the representative of a Cornish constituency, I can well understand the Minister now feeling that this is a matter on which the representatives of the various Celtic fringes are united. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) on initiating the debate. I wish to deal, only with the inshore sector.

We all welcome the assistance that was announced by the Minister on 27th February last. All fishermen, whether deep-sea or inshore, have been faced with significant increases in energy costs which have not been compensated for by increased quayside prices. The Minister specifically excluded vessels of less than 40 ft. from the aid scheme. Like many other hon. Members, I found that disappointing. Fishermen in my constituency based at Looe, Polperro, Downderry and Kingsand used language far stronger than anything I am permitted to use in this House. After all, their difficulties are just as great proportionately as the difficulties of those who operate boats in excess of 40 ft.

I asked a Question on this matter and the Minister of State told me earlier this month that the reason boats of less than 40 ft. in length are not eligible is because the arrangements announced on 27th February were aimed at avoiding the development of a serious structural situation. These considerations did not apply in respect of vessels under 40 ft. in length. This is quite illogical and inconsistent.

I hope that by outlining the situation in my constituency I can show that the structural dislocation that the Minister is anxious to avoid applies as much to the inshore fishing fleet, particularly that of Devon and Cornwall, as to the deep-sea vessels. In those two counties 90 per cent. of the vessels are less than 40 ft. in length. In Cornwall alone there are approximately 200 vessels. This means that about 180 boats fishing largely for mackerel but also for prime fish, such as plaice and sole, and shellfish, will not be eligible.

If I translate the position in Cornwall as a whole to my own area, it means that only six of our 40 vessels will be eligible. These 40 vessels provide direct employment for over 100 men. It is often estimated that about four to five times the number of people directly employed in fishing are employed in the ancillary and subsidiary trades. I am speaking of an area of the country where alternative employment opportunities are limited. I ask the Minister, in the strongest possible terms, to reconsider the position of this important sector of the inshore fishing industry for the following reasons. The cost of fuel for a day's fishing has increased threefold since November 1973. In addition, a limited number of boats under 40 ft. in length have greater engine power than those over 40 ft. and thus use correspondingly more fuel. These boats are fulfilling the same functions as boats over 40 ft. in length.

Rising operating costs have not been compensated by increased quayside prices obtained by fishermen. Many of the boats of approximately 36 feet in length based on Cornish ports have been built in the past few years with the assistance of grant aid from the Government through the White Fish Authority. It is inconsistent for the Government to help with capital investment in an industry but to turn their backs on that sector of the industry when there is a need for short-term assistance.

Another reason why I make these representations, although this is not directly applicable to fishing, is that South-East Cornwall is located within the South-West assisted area. By definition, unemployment tends to be higher than the national average in this area. Employment opportunities are, therefore, more limited. This is particularly the case at present.

Inshore fishing makes a significant contribution both directly and indirectly to the local economy. This is an important tourist area. Why? It is because places like Looe and Polperro are alive. They are not dead villages. They are not full of people who have second homes there. People go to see the fishing vessels coming in, to watch the catch being landed and the fishermen mending their nets.

I ask the Minister to reconsider his earlier decision. I respectfully remind him that on an earlier occasion the operating subsidy applied to vessels in excess of 35 foot in length. What is more, for vessels under that length a system of landing payments on the basis of weight was used. Some form of short-term assistance should be forthcoming. At present it seems as though the Minister is of the view that only the larger vessels need help. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) pointed out that as representative of a deep sea port, this is not the case. The inshore people are just as much in need of this assistance.

I would make a short comment about the conservation of stocks and fishing limits. We are entering a crucial period for the fishing industry, particularly with the post-July 1975 period. It might be appropriate to suggest two possible courses of action. I preface this by emphasising the need for continuous consultation between the Government and all sections of the industry. My first proposal is that the limits should be extended, initially at least, to 50 miles. There seems to be general agreement on this. Second, there should be some control of industrial fishing. We have already seen stocks depleted in fishing areas around these islands. We in the West Country are anxious that this should not happen to us.

I wrote to the Minister on 11th November 1974 expressing concern over this possibility. It came as a surprise to us when he appeared to be taking a great deal of time in reaching a decision about banning beam trawling. Let me stress the current requirements of the inshore fishermen in the short term. In the long term, if we are to continue with a viable industry contributing to the national and local economy, it is essential quickly to work out a future programme for the industry.

The Government must not think that because fishermen from the West Country are not sailing up the River Thames as they did on an earlier occasion all is satisfactory. We in the West are keeping a close watch on the situation. I hope that the Government will respond in a favourable manner.

9.13 p.m.

So much of this debate has been focussed on fishing interests in Scotland and the north of England that I am most pleased to be able to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks). You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the English Channel has got fish in it just as much as the North Sea and the Atlantic. One thing that we have in common throughout the British Isles is the knowledge of the serious situation facing the fishing industry.

I shall not rehearse all the arguments that have been put forward so well already. Instead I shall deal with some points that affect my constituency and the rest of Kent. The first has to do with the extraordinary decision to limit subsidies to boats of over 40 feet in length. This is quite incomprehensible.

I served on a Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee which went round the country studying the proposals of the White Fish Authority. It does not make sense for that authority to give grants for building boats regardless of size and for the Government to say that grants will be given only for boats of more than 40 feet in length. In Kent there are 70 inshore vessels, and 53 of them are less than 40 feet in length. A number of them have to be drawn up on the beaches. There are small fishing fleets at Dungeness and Hythe and some vessels are using Folkestone. The men at those ports will have to give up fishing unless something is done for them.

Let us consider the social consequences if they cease to be fishermen and do not return to the trade. The lifeboats, which are so important in the south of England, are all manned by the fishermen on a voluntary basis. It is no good the Minister laughing. I know that the question of fishing on the South Coast is not considered to be as dramatic as it is in Scotland, but how will the lifeboats be manned if the fishermen go out of business?

The question of safety worries me considerably. Fishermen are going out at night trawling on their own in bad weather conditions. Anyone who has experience of fishing alone at night and of the consequences of warps getting caught up knows how dangerous it is, but men are being forced to do it because they cannot afford to carry on as they have done in the past.

Is the Minister surprised to know that in 1966 plaice was fetching £1·78p per stone in Folkestone auction market and that last year it was fetching only £1·50p? Plenty of examples have been given tonight of the increases in the cost of run- ning fishing boats. The fishermen have given me figures, which I have checked, showing an over all increase in costs of 400 per cent. The price of a coil rope has increased from £8 to £18 in the last few years. The price of twine has increased from 30p to £1 a 1b. Steel wire has increased in cost by 300 per cent.

Much has been said about the import of fish. The Library has kindly provided me with a number of statistics on this matter. If the Minister will look at the Overseas Trade Statistics published under Class 031, he will see the amount of fish being imported. A good deal has been said about the effects of importing fish from the Common Market, but the biggest importation from any country last year was £15 million worth from Norway. Imports of fish total over £58 million. Here is an opportunity of making some savings on the balance of payments. Large quantities of fish are in store. It is hard to explain to fishermen in my constituency why they are getting £1·50 a stone for fish whereas in the shops in London it is nearly £1 a lb.

There is something seriously wrong about the distribution of fish. I sometimes wonder whether the system of auctioning fish is correct. Some years ago I had the honour of introducing a Private Member's Bill which made it illegal to carry out auction practices which did not give the benefit of the proper price to the seller. The time has come to consider the question of redistribution. I am glad to say that at weekends a number of people go to Folkestone market and buy fish retail. It is sold in quite small quantities.

It is pathetic to discover how little people know about fishing. The other day a fisherman told me that he had come in with a landing of fresh fish and one of the ladies from London refused to buy the herring because it did not have pink eyes. The fisherman told her that he would guarantee that if she kept it in store for a fortnight the eyes would go pink.

This debate has been most interesting. I hope the Minister will assure us that the nonsense about grants only for boats over 40 ft. in length will be stopped. I trust that the grants will continue for a sufficient time to put the industry back on its feet.

9.22 p.m.

I apologise for my late arrival in the debate owing to the fact that my aircraft from Scotland arrived late.

I wish to put three brief points to the Minister. This is a time when Scottish fishermen face a difficult situation. They face a record level of costs and a situation in which imports from foreign countries, such as Poland, are being dumped in the form of frozen fish and when the traditional fishing grounds are being fished out.

My three points are as follows. First, is it not wrong that this subsidy should be paid only to those with vessels of over 40 ft. in length? Surely many communities in Scotland with smaller fishing vessels should be catered for. Is it not the case that the temporary six months' subsidy will become payable only in July? Will the Government seriously consider making an interim payment since Scottish fishermen find themselves in great need at this stage?

Secondly, now that frozen fish is being dumped on the Scottish market from foreign countries, will the Government in safeguarding Scottish fishermen consider imposing a strong protective tariff against non-EEC countries?

Thirdly, will the Minister do everything in his power to encourage his colleagues to press as hard as possible at the Law of the Sea Conference in Geneva for a 200-mile limit? This is a matter of the utmost importance. It is a matter which should have been high on the agenda in the renegotiation of the Common Market terms. How can Scottish fishermen be expected to vote in the referendum to stay in the Common Market if their traditional fishing grounds are not safeguarded? It is a tragedy to see the situation concerning the Mediterranean coasts, where the waters have been fished out because of lack of international supervision and human greed. I hope that that tragedy will not be repeated in the North Sea. I emphasise that the Minister must press hard for a 200-mile limit.

There is a degree of urgency in this matter and I hope that the Minister will do his best not only on behalf of the fishermen of Granton but also on behalf of all those who enjoy sea fishing, and on behalf of future generations of fishermen in Scotland and, indeed, in Britain as a whole.

9.25 p.m.

I congratulate hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) on being so fortunate in the Ballot and on initiating this debate, which has given us a useful opportunity to discuss the problems and the future of the fishing industry. From the number of hon. Members who have taken part in the debate the Minister of State can be in no doubt about the anxiety of hon. Members of different parties and from different parts of the United Kingdom about the present situation and what the future holds for the fishing industry.

We must consider both the industry's present difficulties and its future. I will deal with one or two matters raised by my hon. Friends about the economic situation. I will not go over all that has been said because the state of the industry is well known to the Minister.

Many hon. Members referred to the tremendous escalation in fuel costs and in the cost of nets with a large element of man-made fibre, another casualty of the increase in oil prices. The Scottish Trawlers Federation in a letter to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland pointed out that in the three months up to 31st December 1974 boats fishing out of Aberdeen were incurring losses at the rate of £83 a day before depreciation. Losses were also incurred by smaller boats, though not to the same degree. That is a situation in which the industry cannot continue to operate profitably, and it is doubtful whether it will be able to survive.

At the same time, at the end of last year and in the first part of this year there was a fall in the price that the fishermen received, so that in face of rapidly escalating costs they had to cope with a falling financial return for their catches.

I am grateful for the help which the Government are giving to the industry. My only worry concerns the temporary nature of the help. In the first instance it is for only six months. I emphasise what hon. Members said. If at the end of that period the economic state of the industry is no better than it is now, or is worse, I hope that the Government will not hesitate either to continue the scheme or to introduce a similar scheme on a long-term basis. The industry requires that assurance, and it would help if the Minister can give it tonight so that the industry knows where it stands.

I hope that this period of six months can be used for discussions with the industry on ways in which the scheme can be made permanent if the economic circumstances warrant it at the end of the period. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary is "tuttutting" away in his seat. Perhaps he does not understand the serious state of the fishing industry. I assure him that in Scotland, and not so far from his constituency, the industry is going through a difficult period and is anxious not only about the present but about what will happen after the end of June. I am sorry that he, should show so little concern.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Strang)

Come off it.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) and Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). and the hon. Members for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) and Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) all referred to help being given for boats of under 40 ft. The Government spoilt what might otherwise have been a good scheme by limiting its extent to boats of more than 40 ft. in length. I know the reasons for that, but for anything but a temporary scheme it would be better to have a stonage basis, which was the basis of the previous scheme, to help the smaller boats. I accept the administrative difficulties of introducing such a scheme on a stonage basis for a temporary period. Equally, I hope that if the scheme is extended into another scheme the possibility of having a scheme on a stonage basis for smaller ships will be considered. I should be grateful for the Minister's view on this point, because it is of genuine concern.

Hon. Members from all parties have been to see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland about the matter, and to find out why the measurement of 40 feet was used as the cut-off point. A number of my colleagues have explained quite clearly that the boats' technical construction is the same as that of the bigger boats and they do the same kind of fishing. Many boats in my constituency are below 40 feet in length but they are fishing in identical grounds and travelling greater distances. Therefore, I do not believe that the cut-off point of 40 feet is necessarily sensible. I accept that there has to be a cut-off point somewhere, but why did not the Minister use the cutoff point of the old scheme of 35 feet?

I am not so naive as to think—here I answer the question put by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson)—that there cannot be a cut-off point if there is not to be stonage payment, but I believe that 35 feet would be better. It would be more acceptable to the fishermen and better understood. The rate of subsidy for a boat over 40 feet long is, I believe, £5 a day, as opposed to nothing for a boat below that length. The subsidy will last for six months. It is a fair assumption that the boats may be fishing on average for four days a week for the six months. I am probably underestimating. That means that for similar boats of different lengths, fishing out of the same ports, for the same fish, in the same grounds, there will be a difference to the extent of £500. Five pounds a day does not sound a great deal, but over a period it makes a considerable difference.

We received a sympathetic hearing from the Minister's hon. Friend at the Scottish Office last week, but a clear understanding that he will do nothing. I beg the Minister even at this late stage to consider the matter.

Is not the situation made even more ridiculous by the fact that many of the boats are under the length covered by the order because of Government or Highlands Board regulations?

It shows the unfortunate inflexibility which the Government have introduced into the scheme. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take note of that point, even at this late stage.

The question of imports was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty, Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and others. The Government must pay particular attention to what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. What fishermen do not understand is that we are members of a common market. We are members of the EEC. As a result of militant action by the French fishermen, their Government—within the EEC rules, so far as we know —managed to impose restrictions on the imports of fish into their country. How do we explain to our fishermen if the French can do it, why the British Government cannot do it as well?

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) referred to a speech in Edinburgh on Friday by Mr. Paul Tapscott, Chairman of Associated Fisheries. The Scotsman on Saturday said in its report of his speech:
"At Hull earlier this week, 800 tons of fillets had been landed by one Polish vessel—the equivalent of a week's supply to that market".
That is the kind of upset our market is suffering as a result of imports. In the difficult situation facing the industry, the Government must pay urgent attention to the problem of imports, if only in the interests of fairness between the different fishing nations of the Common Market.

I turn to the more deep-seated questions of the future, which I shall deal with in two parts. I take up first what I regard as the interim problems, and particularly the problem faced by the Scottish herring industry and its campaign for a 50-mile limit pending the outcome of the Law of the Sea Conference. We should consider interim measures of conservation of fish stocks, because even if by a miracle in the next month we manage to reach agreement at the conference on a 200-mile limit it will not be introduced immediately. There may well be phasing arrangements, and policing will not be established overnight. Even if we reach agreement in the shortest possible time scale, other action will be needed in the interim in the interests of conservation of fish stocks.

I beg the Minister to have sympathy with what motivates the Scottish herring fishermen. It is certainly not selfishness or greed. It is simply the desire to maintain their livelihood and that of their children, and to make certain that what has been an important fishery is not fished out and lost simply because we are waiting for a 200-mile limit which we hope will result in moreeffective conservation.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West asked how urgent such an interim limit was, and whether it was necessary. I take the point made by a number of scientists that there is nothing magical about the 50-mile limit that would automatically preserve our herring. There arc breeding grounds outside that limit. But—and this is why I emphasise the temporary nature of what the Scottish fishermen are requesting—the hon. Gentleman should look at the figures of the catch. I am sure that the Government are examining the figures of the Scottish herring catch, comparing recent figures with those of a year ago. The catch in December 1974 was about a third down on that in December 1973.

I know that the figures fluctuate from year to year, but I believe that there is some significance in that. Whereas in 1974 the catch off the west coast in the area of the Minches up to 25th January was 13,991 tonnes, with a value of about £1·46 million, in the same period this year it was 11,716 tonnes, to a value of £940,000. Those figures show a definite downward trend. It is obviously because of that trend that the fishermen are worried.

The fishermen are also worried because of what they see. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has met some of them, as have other hon. Members. I believe the witness of their own eyes over the past 12 months, and particularly last summer. The size of the foreign fishing fleet off the Minch, outside our six-mile limit, had to be seen to be believed. The boats were numbered not in tens and scores but in hundreds.

The efforts of foreign fishermen are now much greater than for many years past. Our fishermen, who are practical people, speak from experience and do not exaggerate. They speak of what they have seen and experienced. Fishing runs in families and is an occupation passed down through the family. These men are the sons, nephews, grandsons and grandnephews of herring fishermen who have fished off the coasts of Scotland for generations. They have seen the fisheries of East Anglia, Yorkshire, Buchan and Shetland fished out. The herring fishing industry is of great importance to the fishermen of Shetland, where substantial fish stocks are at risk.

In the light of their experience the herring fishermen in Scotland are justified in their fears that the last remaining native herring stock is being put at risk. Fishing effort is being diverted from other areas, partly because areas such as Buchan have been fished out. The fact that the fishing catch of Shetland is being reduced reflects the efforts made to achieve conservation elsewhere. That applies both to herring and to white fish.

The Icelandic agreement is to be welcomed with regard to conservation and cod fishing in the Faroes and Norway. However, as a result of the ad hoc arrangements, fishing is diverted to those areas where fishing is relatively free. That causes pressure in fishing off the northwest coast of Scotland, and is a source of worry to Scottish fishermen.

It is vital that there should be the maximum policing of our limited fish stocks. Having been responsible for fisheries protection measures in Scotland, I know the problems. During the last three years in office of the Conservative Government there was a considerable strengthening and modernisation of the fisheries protection fleet. The Under-Secretary smiles. I should like to smile too. My smile would be one of sadness, but not because we have a poorer or less effective fleet. The tragedy is that we are unable to man the ships.

Will the Government look at their employment policies in relation to the staffing of these vessels? I realise that there are problems with regard to the social contract and Government service. However, the surveillance of our fish stocks is a vital task, and it is important that we should offer proper conditions to those manning the ships. The conditions must be comparable with what can be earned in other sections of the seagoing profession and the oil industry. I believe that the situation could be alleviated if better financial conditions were offered to those manning these ships.

Before coming to the common fisheries policy, on which I wish to conclude my remarks, I want to ask the Minister to say precisely where the Government stand on the question of an interim 50-mile limit for which the Scottish herring fisher- men are asking. The Minister and his colleagues have been very helpful and cooperative in meeting deputations to them from the industry and from hon. Members. On behalf of all those who have gone to see him and his colleagues, I wish to thank them for the way they have received us and listened to us.

We are reaching the stage where those in the industry want to know where the Government stand. They would like a firm answer. Are the Government prepared to act on the plea for a 50-mile limit, or is it their present inclination to reject it? If they are to reject it, there are doubtless good reasons. It may make more difficult the ultimate achievement of the 200-mile limit being discussed by the Law of the Sea Conference. But if they reject such proposals the Government owe it to the industry and to this House to say why. The fishing industry wants to know what alternative proposals the Government have in the event of their refusing this plea for a 50-mile limit for herring fishing. The industry wants to know what conservation measures the Government have for the interim period until the Law of the Sea Conference comes to a conclusion on a 200-mile limit.

Are the Government prepared to consider a temporary ban on herring fishing? The organisers of the campaign have said that they are prepared to consider a ban on all herring fishing for 12 months. Among members of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission there has been talk of a two-month ban this summer. This is what impresses me about the claims of the herring fishermen. If they are not to get a 50-mile limit, they themselves are prepared to accept a total ban for a period. I know that there are problems of diversion of effort and to know how they are to gain a livelihood in that period. But it is a measure of the integrity of the industry that in the absence of a 50-mile limit it is prepared to see a ban on herring fishing pending the outcome of the Law of the Sea Conference.

We have heard various suggestions tonight about what should be done. The hon. Gentleman asks whether the Government would advocate a ban and the imposition of a 50-mile limit. He is making noises which suggest that the Opposition would be in favour of unilateral action on a ban and on a 50-mile limit. Will he say clearly whether he is suggesting that we should unilaterally impose a 50-mile limit at this stage, regardless of the other consequences?

Of course not. I am neither so naive nor so foolish as to suggest such a silly course of action—nor are the fishermen. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Opposition or the industry are considering unilateral action, he is quite wrong. Those in the industry are fishermen. They understand the position on the high seas. If the hon. Gentleman had attended the lobby of fishermen, he would know that they spoke in international terms about the need to get this agreed. In the cases of Iceland, the Faroes and Norway, ultimately there was international agreement.

It is international agreement that our fishermen seek. They seek it on the basis of a temporary agreement until the Law of the Sea Conference makes its decision. To suggest a ban on herring fishing unilaterally would be even more silly. What would be the use of our stopping fishing if the other nations came in to fish? But agreements have been reached internationally in relation to other areas. I hope that it may be possible for this limited area of the sea.

On behalf of a number of hon. Members in all parties, I wrote to the Minister at the Foreign Office who is conducting the negotiations asking him to let us know as soon as possible his decision about this. If the Minister of State is unable to give us an answer tonight, I hope he will be able to tell us fairly soon precisely where the Government stand on this important issue.

I come next to the question of what happens when, as we all hope, we get the 200-mile limit from the Law of the Sea Conference. I reiterate that we wish the Government well in their endeavours to achieve that limit in Geneva over the coming weeks. We hope that having achieved it we shall have it ratified fairly quickly thereafter. That begs the question of what happens to the common fisheries policy after we get the 200-mile limit. That is a matter to which we should increasingly give our attention. We must consider where we stand on that during the weeks and months ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty tabled a number of useful Questions and elicited much useful information from the Government. It is helpful to consider the size of what I would call the Common Market fisheries pond —namely, the area in the 200-mile limit which would be applicable to the United Kingdom and to the other eight countries of the EEC. My hon. Friend received a reply from the Secretary of State for Scotland which suggested that approximately 56 per cent. of the total common fishery pond would be within the 200-mile limit around the United Kingdom. In other words, 56 per cent. of that pond would be attributable to this country. That means, in fishing terms and in terms of fish stocks, that we would be making a massive contribution to the total fish resources of the European Economic Community. Given the size of that contribution, I believe it is essential that we obtain preference for the coastal States. I hope that the Government will seek to negotiate over the next few months so that we get real preference as in the original negotiations.

I remind the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) that we do not automatically revert to the common fisheries policy in 1982. I ask him to read again the text of the agreement when we went into the Common Market. All that is in question is a review by 1982 of the arrangements for the Common Market fisheries policy. One criterion which has to govern that review is the important matter of conservation. That is the topic that is to motivate the review. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as kindly and respectfully as I can, that I believe he is spreading scare stories when he says that it goes back to fishing off the beaches. It does not.

I believe in the principle of preference for the coastal States, the preference that was achieved in the agreement when we negotiated entry into the Common Market. Equally, as regards the review in 1982 and what happens on the 200-mile limit and the common fisheries policy, I hope we will make certain that we achieve a preference system for the coastal States. It is true that by going out to the 200-mile limit we should lose a large measure of fishing effort from the non-EEC nations unless there were reciprical arrangements. That would be of particular help to the herring industry. In answer to some Questions on the herring industry, the figures that were given show that in 1972 the United Kingdom caught 149,000 metric tons and that the other countries of the EEC caught 143,000 metric tons. The non-EEC countries, such as the Faroes, Iceland, Norway, Poland and the USSR, caught a total of 238,000 metric tons. If that amount of effort for herring is removed, it will be a major achievement and a considerable help to our industry. At the moment the balance is roughly 50–50 between our fishermen and the fishermen of the other EEC countries. Obviously there is a very heavy effort by the fishing industries of the other Common Market countries within our area.

The same applies to white fish. In 1972 the United Kingdom caught 319,000 metric tons. The other EEC countries caught 144,000 metric tons and the countries outside the EEC which I have just mentioned caught the not so important total of 77,000 metric tons.

By having a 200-mile limit and losing some of the non-EEC countries, we increase our potential. But there will be a considerable measure of competition, because there will be substantial catches and fishing effort by other EEC countries. We are bound to see a diversion of our deep-sea effort which currently goes elsewhere. If it is unable to go elsewhere, it will come back to these waters and take up some of the vacuum created by non-EEC countries which have left.

That leads me to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) about industrial fishing. We must be much tougher in future in controlling international industrial fishing. It does not make sense to catch species of edible standards at such high rates when there are so many other trash species, such as the blue whiting off Rockall and such places, available for industrial fishing.

The Government must state where they stand on renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. Whether the 200-mile limit will benefit this country depends on how the common fisheries policy is renegotiated. We are talking about a substantial industry which is most important to Scotland. Indeed, the value of the catch measures in tens of millions of pounds. We are also concerned with men. The industry offers a high degree of employment, and many communities are utterly dependent on it.

Therefore, I call upon the Government over the next few weeks to renegotiate the common fisheries policy in a way which gives preference to the United Kingdom as a coastal State. I ask them to give us answers on these matters over the next few weeks. If they do not give us the answers and obtain the kind of preference that our industry needs, we shall see militancy in the fishing industry. There is a real feeling of militancy amongst not only Scottish but English herring fishermen. They are not given to militancy, but they have seen militancy in other sectors of the British economy. They have seen it also in other countries—for example, France—in recent weeks.

I believe that the response of those in our fishing industry to the Government's policy on the Common Market will be coloured by the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. Fishermen are in doubt where they stand. They are worried and anxious about the future. I give fair warning to the Government that they are ready to be militant if militancy is necessary. At the moment their leaders are determined to be moderate. That moderation has been marked in the speeches today. However, unless the Government give answers to the questions that have been posed, unless they tell us where they stand on the question of the 50-mile limit and the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy, once we get the 200-mile limit we shall not see anything like the same moderation as we have now.

10.0 p.m.

I am pleased to be able to reply to this debate, and I ask for the indulgence of the House in answering a number of issues which have been raised by hon. Members.

I first pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) for raising this debate and giving the House the opportunity, which it has from time to time, though some may say not often enough, to discuss matters of great concern to our fishing industry, which is the biggest of its kind in the European Community and which has enormous resources all round our coasts. It is important that from time to time the House should go into these matters in great detail.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) on his Front Bench performance. He was probably spurred on by looking over his shoulder at the SNP Members who seem to have been making the running in the issues with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned. Nevertheless, I hope that he will continue as Opposition spokesman on fishing for many years to come.

I am glad to welcome to the Government Front Bench my hon Friends the Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), Stirling, Falkirk and Grange-mouth (Mr. Ewing), and Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown). It shows the interest that my Scottish colleagues have in the debate. They are here not only because of their ministerial responsibilities but because they are representatives of Scotland, and they are here to identify themselves with the problems of the industry.

I have been asked many questions, and I hope that interventions will be kept to the minimum.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), whose interest in the fishing industry is well known, on his initiative in holding a seminar in his constituency last week when leaders of the industry and of the workers and people who are involved in fishing at all levels were able to make their contributions to the discussion.

My hon. Friend said that we rarely get the opportunity to debate fishing, and to some extent he is right, but I remind the House that there have been a number of occasions recently, in which I have been concerned personally, when we have been involved with matters affecting the fishing industry and on which the Government were prepared to take action.

It may be within the recollection of the House that in recent months we were faced with the problem of the trawler-free zone action taken by the Norwegian Minister for Fishing, when he threatened before the end of last year that he would recommend his Government to take unilateral action about setting up a trawler-free zone around the north of Norway. This involved my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and myself in meetings both here and in Oslo to avert that situation. I suppose one of the results of success in anything that we do as a Government is that very few people know that a problem has been overcome, but when success is not obtained we are told that we should do something about it.

There were a number of meetings which involved consultations with the Germans and the French. We met the Norwegians both here and in Oslo to settle the dispute. I think that the matter has been settled amicably and without undue harm to the fishing industry. I mention this because when matters are resolved amicably they rarely hit the headlines. A cod war was prevented, to say nothing of avoiding a worsening of relationships between our fishermen and Norwegian fishermen.

I was pleased on my visit to the Council of Agriculture Ministers at Brussels in December to make my maiden speech on the subject of fishing, because the matter of the relationship between German fishermen and Iceland was raised. I was able to say that we identified ourselves with some of those problems, although we recognise that our relationship with Iceland is pretty good.

The Sea Fish Industry Act 1970 (Relaxation of Time Limits) Order 1974, the White Fish Authority (Research and Development Grants) Order 1974 and the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Amendment) Scheme 1975 were other important aids at a crucial time for the industry. Under the last of these we could give £6 million a year in the form of 25 per cent. grants for new and improved vessels. That represented about £24 million and was a great help to the industry. Fifty per cent. loans are available towards the capital costs of vessels, and there is also the temporary financial aid to which I shall refer shortly.

The Opposition have the right to demand action, but we gave this new aid to the industry in the form of grants for new vessels and improvement because in the autumn of 1973 the previous Government saw that the expenditure provided for was running out. In June 1974 we lifted the moratorium imposed by the Conservative Government and made those grants available again.

I must ask the Minister to be fair. He said that the moratorium was imposed because funds ran out, but does he not acknowledge that the rate of building at the time was far above the capacity of the yards, that the moratorium had very little effect in terms of holding back fishermen's plans for building vessels and that it was only temporary?

I note the word "temporary", which we may find useful in future. But instead of increasing the amount, which was the alternative to a moratorium, the previous Government decided to bring a sudden halt to building.

Will the hon. Gentleman please answer my question—if not now, later? The industry's building was not halted, at least in the yards that I know. Any delay was due to the pressure of building in those yards at that time.

The hon. Gentleman must know that my point is that if the Government of the day say that grants are available for a certain period and then fail to make more money availaible when the earmarked funds run out, that discourages the industry from building—

I am not denying that, but the industry was gravely discouraged. Instead of the grants which had been available until then, no grants were available at all.

Would not the Minister agree that all this is totally irrelevant to the debate? There is no point in haggling about the money to build boats when there is no fish to catch.

The Government have been attacked for not doing enough to help the industry. Most hon. Members have talked about the temporary financial aid to the industry, and there has been no mention of the grants made after the moratorium was lifted last June or of the money that we put into the fund to be available from the beginning of this year. We should not overlook this substantial aid, which has been welcomed on both sides of the House and by the industry. There is also the fact that in the Vote that we are discussing, whereas the provision in A6—"Other Assistance to the Fishing Industry"—was £80,000 for 1974–75, we are increasing that now by £70,000, making £150,000 available, apart from the other Vote with which we are concerned.

A great deal of huffing and puffing has gone on this evening about the financial aid we are giving to the industry. I can well appreciate the very sincere points that have been made by hon. Members in all parts of the House in relation to this aid. The important fact is, however, that there were discussions between the authorities concerned before the announcement was made. The points that I want to draw to the attention of the House tonight are the reasons why the temporary financial aid was given.

I know that reference has been made tonight to the replies we have given to those who have asked about the basis for the aid at all. I want to quote from the reply to the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West on 27th February, when we said:
"Rising costs of running the fishing fleet and particularly increased costs of fuel have not been matched by prices at the quay. Vessels are being taken out of fishing."
I went on to say:
"Some restructuring of the fishing fleet is inevitable and right"—
I am reminded of the comments of Austin Laing at my hon. Friend's seminar last week when he made the point about inevitable changes which will come about in the structure of the industry. I continued:
"but we must avoid radical contraction leading to permanent structural damage. In the end, the cost of catching fish will have to be recovered in the price; but time is needed for the adjustment to take place in an orderly way."—[Official Report, 27th February 1975; Vol. 887, c. 206.]
I do not think anyone will really say that that is an unreasonable policy.

I should like now to deal with some of the points which have arisen on the temporary financial aid to which I have referred. The length bands were selected after informal consultation with the industrial bodies as being most representative of vessel cost categories. The rates for each band were determined broadly on a proportionate basis relative to known cost structures. Any banding exercise of this type will inevitably produce anomalies. We believe that the groupings selected are both fair and reasonable. The 35 ft, to which some hon. Members have referred, was not a cut-off point in earlier schemes because boats of less than this length qualified on a stonage basis. But the fact remains that there must be some way of making limitations dependent on the amount of money which will be available.

I know the views of the Conservative Opposition and their dislike of subsidies of all kinds. I recall that earlier this evening there was strong pressure for the Government to reduce subsidies quite substantially. But we recognise that subsidies are important. One must take account of the particular problems of the industry concerned and decide what amount of money should be made available and how it can be applied in the most sensible and fair way.

The hon. Gentleman has said that discussions took place. Will he say with what sections of the inshore fishing industry he had discussions before the order was introduced?

Beyond saying what I have already said, no. I do not have the information with me, but I am prepared to write to the hon. Gentleman about the consultations which have taken place. Consultations have taken place with the industry in order to make sure that the money was applied in the fairest way.

One Opposition Member has talked about helping the big battalions and not the small chaps. He deplored the fact that we give the grant to the 40-footers but not to the 39 ft. 9 in. boats. The difference between the big battalions and the small battalions is a matter of three inches. Such points have been made. It seems clear—we must come clean on this matter—that it really means that we either have to increase the amount of money available in order to extend the range down to the lower limits or we have to say that if no more money is available we shall take money from other sectors of the industry in order to help the smaller men.

I have had no indication from Opposition Members tonight about whether they think the Government are wrong because they have not put more money into the kitty for a restricted range of subsidies, or whether we should take money away from the big boats in order to help the smaller operators. I have had no guidance. It might have been helpful if someone had said something along those lines.

We have been as helpful as we could, while recognising that it is for the Government to decide how much is made available for the purpose. However, the scheme was not constructed in such a way that the money can now be redistributed. Surely it is up to the Minister to grade the assistance so that all sections of the industry benefit. Is it the intention that the restructuring should take place in such a way that more boats of less than 40 ft. than boats of more than that length are taken out of fishing?

My reply to that is that we have had to take into account the amount of money we can make available, the problems of the industry and how the money can be distributed in the shortest possible time so that those in greatest need get it. As I said in my reply in February, we have sought to avoid undue contraction in the industry and the severe distortions of structure which would have been very harmful.

The other factor which must be borne in mind, although this is not a fundamental aspect, is that, as Austin Laing said last weekend, there are bound to be changes in the structure of the industry as a result of the Law of the Sea Conference and the common fisheries policy. This will mean that we can thereby ensure that the temporary aid helps the industry at a vital time. It is backdated to January and continues until June and will give an important breathing space. This is a holding operation.

Is the Minister saying that, having initially decided to introduce a scheme in which there was a cut-off point for boats of less than 40 ft., he is now prepared to review that scheme within the existing budget of £6 million-plus so that there is a gradual grading to take in all ranges of vessel?

I do not think it is possible at this stage to make the kind of review suggested by the hon. Member. If we reduced the limit to 39 ft. 9 in. we would then be asked to reduce it to 39 ft. or even 25 ft., and we should be accused of being arbitrary and discriminating against what some hon. Members might claim to be important parts of the fishing industry.

Generally, the grant has been welcomed. We recognise the problems facing the industry—the higher costs for gear, fuel and so on—and it is part of the Government's policy that in the regulation of fuel costs and other overheads we have to do our best to keep inflation down and overcome the economic problems which face the country. There is a limit to the amount of aid which can be given. I notice on the Order Paper today that there are about five Early-Day Motions signed by Conservative Members calling for subsidy and financial support for a number of industries with which my Ministry is concerned. It is about time the Conservatives said that they were in favour of increased public expenditure so that these subsidies could be financed.

What is the sense of the White Fish Authority saying in its wisdom that it will give a subsidy to build a boat, the fishermen putting their money into it and the Government then devising the limit of 40 ft. below which subsidy will not be paid?

It does not follow that because the Government give one kind of grant to a particular part of the industry we should give other kinds of aid as well. Other forms of aid are available under the Industry Act for example. The Government help to provide basic essentials for the industry, but the operating costs and general support must be a matter for the industry itself.

Not only is time needed for adjustments to take place in an orderly way, but ultimately the cost of catching fish will have to be recovered in the price. It is not much good for Conservative Members to say that there is no such thing as cheap food any longer and that the housewife must pay a realistic price devoid of subsidies, and then to deplore the fact that the higher cost of fish must be a factor in overcoming these problems.

Let me deal now with the justification for the qualifying period. The purpose of this subsidy is not to deal with simple maintenance or to recompense for rising costs. It is intended to provide temporary help to those sectors of the fishing fleet which, because of excessive cost pressures, are becoming increasingly vulnerable the more they incur voyage costs to the point when there is a risk of permanent structural damage. The qualifying period is well within the historic days-at-sea pattern of the classes covered and should allow for short-term interruptions.

May I make a short-term interruption? I do not think that this point was raised in the debate. Perhaps the Minister will deal with some of the points that were raised.

I think it is relevant. I shall deal with some of the other points raised about inshore fishermen. We should be clear about the purpose of aid for the industry. Economic pressures could lead to permanent withdrawal. Many of the vessels of less than 40 ft. in length may not be affected to the same extent as the larger vessels.

I turn now to this question of what happens after 30th June when the subsidy comes to an end. The measure announced on 27th February is essentially short-term. It is to enable the industry to adjust in a more orderly manner to future needs. As my right hon. Friend said in Hull on 20th December, the cost of catching fish must be recovered from the market. Unless the consumer is willing to accept this, a shortage of fish may result.

The market in fish and fish products at home and abroad is going through a difficult period. We are discussing the reasons for this and possible solutions with the Community and involved third countries. Our aim is that markets should be stabilised and able to ensure the catching industry a return commensurate with the cost and effort involved.

There is also the question of distributive prices and margins. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. We have kept in close touch with her Department on the question of minimum reserve prices and the relationship between first-hand prices at the quayside and those charged by the retailer.

The House must remember that a highly perishable commodity like fish is bound to show a considerable difference between the two price levels, to reflect handling, boxing, storage, transport, icing and so on, not to mention the cost of filleting, which more than doubles the cost of the raw product.

Hon. Members may like to know, if they did not hear the announcement today, that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection, has said that his Department is considering asking the Price Commission to undertake a study of prices and margins in the distribution of fish. We hope that an announcement will be made about this in the near future.

With regard to the increase in the minimum price, the Hull trawler owners are members of the Fish Producers' Organisation Limited which is recognised under the EEC regulations. Producer organisations such as this, which are set up on the initiative of the producers, are charged with the task of implementing the objectives of the common fisheries policy, which include stabilising the market as well as guaranteeing a fair income to producer members. The fish producer organisations are expected to operate a market intervention system comprising minimum withdrawal prices below which their members' products will not be sold on the human consumption market.

The other questions with which I want to deal—

I initiated the debate, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give way. Perhaps he is not too well; he is having a drink of water. He may have a temperature. I have never listened to such a droning lot of rubbish. When will the hon. Gentleman wake up and answer some of the points raised in this debate instead of reading a Civil Service brief which he obviously does not even understand? I have never listened to anything quite like this in my life. It is an utter disgrace. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should make an apology to the House for the disgraceful attempt which his representative has made in answering this debate. It is a lot of irrelevance. Practically none of the points raised in the debate have been answered. I ask the hon. Gentleman to have another drink of water, think again and give us some answers.

It is unfair for the hon. Gentleman to refer to what the Minister has said as rubbish. Perhaps he is steaming at 35 knots, but that does not make it rubbish. He is trying to answer every point. Perhaps some have not been raised which the Minister thinks are more important.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As it is obvious that the Minister has no intention of trying to answer the points of a Scottish nature which were raised, may we ask that an Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office who is competent to deal with them be brought to the House to answer them?

We cannot at this stage say that the Minister will not deal with the points. He has not said that he is about to conclude. There is no time limit to the debate.

I appreciate what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If Opposition Members did not intervene so much, they would get answers to the questions which they have posed. Although the debate is not timed in the usual way, there are 17 more subjects to be debated and I am anxious not to delay matters unduly. I want to deal with the points which have been raised. Indeed, I have been doing that since I began to speak.

The question has been raised of the banning of herring fishing which was announced last week. We have recently withdrawn all licences for herring fishing in the North Sea and Skagerrak. The United Kingdom quota of 18,900 tons agreed within the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission for the year July 1974 to June 1975 has now been reached and all fishing must cease. Our share of the total allowable catch for this stock was based broadly on our historic catches over the past 10 years. All other nation members of the commission have quotas calculated on the same basis.

I appreciate that the closure of the quota will cause hardship to a number of fishermen but, as the commission made clear, the herring stocks of the North Sea are heavily taxed—this is an important point for those who care about conservation—and are in continuing need of protection against overfishing. It is vital in the longer-term interests of all fishermen to abide by the agreed quotas.

I wish to answer several supplementary points which arise from that regarding the reasons why the quota has been exhausted so quickly. The United Kingdom quota has been very close to the average North Sea herring catches over the past few years. We had every reason to hope that our 1974–75 quota would be sufficient to meet our needs, but the unexpectedly high catches last autumn meant that we have to call a halt in fishing in mid-November as the quota was by then nearly taken up. Fishing for the remainder—less than 1,000 tons —began on 1st February, and the quota has now been fully taken.

If it is asked why the quota was not larger, I can only say that the shares of total allowable catch of 488,000 tons for all member countries of NEAFC were calculated on the basis of individual nations' historic performances in this fishery, and the United Kingdom quota of 18,900 tons was close to recent levels of catch.

Several other questions have been raised about the administration of the quota in the United Kingdom. My officials are consulting the industry on how best to administer the quotas for cod, haddock, whitting, sole, plaice and herring caught in the waters round the United Kingdom. These quotas were agreed with in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and for 1975 the majority of the quotas are not greatly different from the catches in previous years. Where sacrifices have been made to conserve stocks, they have been made by all fishermen of all countries, and the national quotas have reflected these proportionate sacrifices in cases where, on the basis of international scientific advice, the commission has agreed that lower total catches are necessary to safeguard the stocks. There is no question of United Kingdom fishermen having been discriminated against.

I believe that the quotas are necessary as a conservation measure. In both the short and the long term, the only effective way in which stocks can be adequately safeguarded is by internationally-agreed quotas. I am sure that Opposition parties do not disagree with the idea of quotas, to ensure both fair fishing and conservation. Only in this way will the efforts of other nations be held in check. We are aware that the imposition of quotas is an irritation for the fishermen and can interfere with the making of fishing plans, but we are fortunate in that all quotas agreed so far correspond fairly well to the quantities we have been catching in these waters.

With regard to conservation and the danger to stocks, one matter which causes great concern to fishermen is the danger of the disappearance of valuable stocks of fishing off our shores. It is essential for the future well-being of our industry that these stocks are safeguarded. The situation has already gone much too far with North Sea herring, and the cutting back of fishing is necessary so that stocks may be allowed to build up again. That is an important factor for the future.

Several hon. Members referred to industrial fishing, which I know causes widespread concern. Our fishermen are greatly angered by seeing other nations fishing large quantities for industrial purposes. To some extent such fishing can be justifiable where it is for industrial species and where there are adequate stocks of such species. We share the fishermen's concern, however, where that fishing is of valuable human consumption species or where considerable quantities of these species are taken as a by-catch.

Again, such a problem can be dealt with only by international agreement, and the United Kingdom Government have pressed hard, already with some success, for measures to combat overfishing of this kind. We shall continue to press, and I am glad to say that there seems to be an increasing awareness, even among countries which have industries dependent upon such fishing, of the strength of feeling generally on this issue. I am sure that the views which have been expressed in the debate will help in that direction.

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) raised the question of fishery protection generally, and I have dealt with that. I assure him that we are fully seized of the need for adequate protection and will continue to keep the matter in mind.

The question has been raised whether other countries are keeping to the quotas which were agreed by the NEAFC earlier this year. The trouble with quotas is that no country's fishermen think that any other country is keeping to the rules. There is a temptation to be less than honest about catches once quotas are in force. Therefore, we and the other countries involved must take every possible step to ensure that the quotas are observed. There are bound to be difficulties in enforcing quotas, especially when they are first introduced, but I am sure that all Governments represented in NEAFC are very conscious of the importance of the quotas and will enforce them as fully as they are able. The Government have been very active in NEAFC in pressing for stronger enforcement measures, and we shall continue to press accordingly.

The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty asked whether we should ban certain types of nets. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has taken note of the point made on the order relating to gill nets. We shall certainly draw that matter to his attention.

I am sorry, but I must get on.

In regard to other countries involved in fishing I should like to deal with the French situation, which was a matter raised by several hon. Members. Under the EEC regulations member States can ask the Commission to introduce measures to deal with market disturbances. In response to requests by the French Government, the Commission made a regulation banning imports into France of frozen boneless fillets and tunny for processing. The ban was for a limited period only, until 17th April, but it will give the French industry a breathing space to adjust to competition from the countries concerned. The ban does not affect our own trade in those products, which is minimal.

When the Council of Ministers recently discussed protection for the Common Market it concluded that the banning of imports from third countries would not in the long term be the best means of market protection and that in some cases measures could be counterproductive. These are matters which we should bear in mind in future discussions.

With regard to the situation of Norwegian fishing and imports from Norway, while it is true that supplies of frozen fillets from Norway in 1974 exceeded the 1973 total by 2,000 tons, an increase of about 36 per cent., nevertheless supplies overall of frozen boneless fish from that country were 270 tons less in 1974 than in 1973. Together with representatives of the industry, we have been consulting informally with the Norwegian authorities in order to seek solutions to our difficulties and we are confident that the problem will be resolved in the very near future.

The question of the 50-mile limit was raised with the Norwegian Minister concerned earlier in the year. Norway has said that it will extend limits to 50 miles later this year. I assure the House that discussions will take place in the near future to minimise the adverse effects of an extension to the United Kingdom industry. We have warned the Norwegians that any unilateral action which they take in this direction will be detrimental to the wider discussions which must take place at the Law of the Sea Conference and in regard to a common fisheries policy.

Will the Minister explain the situation in regard to Polish fish imports, which I am told by the British Trawler Federation are on a large scale? What talks is the Ministry having about those imports?

While I cannot say exactly what discussions are taking place with the Poles on this matter, I can say that we are bearing in mind the situation in regard to the Polish, Norwegian and Icelandic fishing within our waters and that we shall be taking such action as we can within the regulations to restrict it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West stressed the importance of the Law of the Sea Conference. This is a very important matter which has engaged the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Agriculture for some time. The House will note that the conference reconvened today in Geneva to discuss, among other matters, fishery limits.

Perhaps I can say a few words about British objectives at the conference. As I have said before, the United Kingdom Government's policy on fisheries is to support the general trend towards extended zones of 200 miles, provided that our fishery and other interests are adequately safeguarded. Our aim is to reach an agreement which will include the concept of a 200-mile zone, including fishing rights. We think that it would be wrong to decide now what to do if that aim is not achieved or if some States anticipate formal ratification procedure.

With regard to the possibility of any unilateral extension by the United Kingdom, we would not contemplate any unilateral action by the United Kingdom beyond the limit sanctioned by international law. There are good reasons for so deciding. First, it would be inconsistent with our past and present attitudes to international law. It would gravely prejudice the prospects of the extension of limits at the Law of the Sea Conference. As we saw from the other side of the fence during the Icelandic dispute, other States may not observe such an extension, thus involving costly and counter-productive defensive expenditure. Conservation of stocks is better done by internationally-agreed quotas. Action is best decided in the light of the current session of the conference.

Does the Minister wholly reject the plea of the Scottish herring fishermen for a temporary 50-mile limit, internationally agreed?

We certainly do not reject any points of view put forward here or outside the House. The question is whether we would support the Scottish fishermen or the people who may be goaded on to some extent by the Scottish National Party.

May I rephrase that by saying "on the initiative of the Scottish National Party"? I know that it has taken a leading rôle in the matter and has expressed the deep concern of the Scottish fishermen. It is not alone in doing that. We recognise the strong feelings that exist.

We do not believe that unilateral action would be helpful to our prospects. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns agrees with me on that. I say sincerely to the Scottish fishermen that we do not think that that kind of action would help their chances. But I assure them and all who represent them that we have their problems very much in mind and that we shall raise the matters involved continually at the conference table.

I was surprised by the Minister's speaking of the Scottish National Party goading on the Scottish fishermen. If anything, the party has been trying to moderate their strong feelings about the need for action. I associate myself with the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) in asking whether the Government are prepared as a matter of urgency to negotiate a 50-mile limit for herring quite separately from the outcome of the Law of the Sea Conference. It is on this issue that the Scottish herring fishermen wish for action, and wish to hear the answer. If the Government are not prepared to do that, what is the alternative? The situation is explosive in the herring industry in Scotland.

These matters will be taken into account. I know that the 50-mile limit is strongly supported by fishermen in Scotland, and perhaps elsewhere. It is also supported by Norway, which has already threatened to take unilateral action. We feel, however, that it would be a retrograde step at this stage to take unilateral action. These are matters which will be discussed in the conferences with which we are concerned.

A move to a 50-mile limit now would not achieve the conservation which we and the industry seek. Even assuming that it was feasible to get that limit, we must remember the mobility of stocks and the situation at spawning grounds. These can be safeguarded only by measures such as the quota.

The common fisheries policy has been referred to by a number of hon. Members. The Government believe that the trend towards wider fishery limits will be confirmed following the conference. This will inevitably require changes in the CFP. The EEC Commission recognises this, and discussions with the rest of the Community have already begun. The House may rest assured that the Government regard the fishing industry as a major national economic interest and are aware of the vital local importance of the industry throughout the coastal areas of the United Kingdom.

I was asked whether we should have involved the common fisheries policy in the renegotiations and at Dublin. This is a separate matter. The Government accept the general line of the common fisheries policy in the present circumstances in view of the Treaty of Accession and the fact that the policy is to be reviewed in 1982.

It is now clear that the outcome of the Law of the Sea Conference is likely to be general acceptance of the 200-mile limit. This will create a new situation, calling for modification of the CFP. We see these modifications as part of the continuing work of the Community, which has to respond to changing world circumstances and to the changes which are taking place rapidly in the fishing industry.

It is surprising that the Conservative Opposition, who were responsible when in power for our entry to the EEC, now make demands and talk about the changes which should have taken place. Those points should have been raised by the Government of the day when they took the United Kingdom into the Community.

We have an important interest in the fishing industry. The Government hope to ensure that we safeguard these vital interests in the negotiations now taking place.

The Minister referred to the part played by the previous Government in the EEC negotiations, in which I was involved. Does he realise that one of the reasons why this matter is urgent is that the Labour Government have chosen to hold a referendum in June and, therefore, the fishing industry wants to know where it stands by the time the referendum is held? It is the action of the Government which makes this an urgent matter.

It may well be that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about some of the attitudes taken by the fishermen regarding their future in the EEC. This is a matter which will be debated in the next few months before the referendum takes place. Since fishing is so important to our country, much greater safeguards might have been included in the Treaty of Accession when the Conservative Party was in power.

I believe that I have answered most of the questions asked by both sides of the House. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No."] I give the assurance that the views which have been expressed will be taken very carefully into account. The Government recognise the importance of our fishing industry. We recognise that of all EEC member States the United Kingdom has the biggest fishing interests. It is our intention to do our utmost to safeguard the interests of all sections of the fishing industry during the Law of the Sea Conference, the negotiations on the common fisheries policy and other negotiations of interest to an industry which has an important rôle to play in providing food for our people.

National Consumers' Council

10.48 p.m.

I rise with a sense of relief at being the third, not the seventeenth, person to initiate a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

In a fortnight's time we shall mourn the fourth birthday of the assassination of the original Consumer Council. That organisation, which was set up by the Conservative Government in 1963, was subsequently murdered by the same party on the grounds of economy. At least that was said to be the reason for its disposal, although the Consumer Council pointed out that the cost of its operations was equivalent to one old penny per year per head of the population.

The other grounds which were given in public why the Consumer Council was to disappear were that it had worked itself out of a job and that it had done so well in representing the consumer that it had stimulated more voluntary organisations to take on the jobs which it had itself done so successfully during the eight years of its existence. However, the destruction of the Consumer Council was unanimously lamented not only by the Press and by the women's organisations but by every organisation with any experience of consumer protection. The very organisations which were quoted as being capable of taking over the work of the Consumer Council immediately denied their ability for a variety of reasons to undertake this task.

Perhaps I might remind the House of the kind of topic that the council took up during the years of its existence. One of the first was its campaign on flammable nightwear for children. After many years in which there had been a long and tragic pattern of accidents to children wearing nightwear which caught fire easily, the campaign which the council set up led speedily to the introduction of standards to ensure that nightwear was safe from this hazard.

The council took up the problem of the provision of school uniforms and the poor quality of school uniforms provided in many schools and by many suppliers throughout the country. The council set off the campaign against resale price maintenance, and this subsequently led to legislation.

There was a whole range of subjects which are obvious as being of consumer interest. There was the matter of guarantees, which has been put right subsequently in legislation. Guarantees at that time were calculated to remove from the consumer the protection of the Sale of Goods Act if people were so unwise as to sign them. It was only by the constant pressure of the council that the Government eventually undertook to legislate to get rid of this abuse.

It was not only in these obvious areas that the council was active. It played many other parts during its life. It brought together a wide variety of interests to cover a tremendous range of topics of general concern to the public. It brought together industry. It brought together wholesale distributors. It brought together retailers and consumers in order to exchange views, to exchange knowledge and to ensure that the consumer had the opportunity of making his views known.

As a result, over the years more and more protective legislation came along and a greater understanding developed between all sides in consumer provision about the need for protection of the buyer of goods and services.

In addition, the council undertook a wide range of education—in schools, in teacher training colleges and amongst women's organisations throughout the country. During its lifetime it distributed more than 5 million pieces of literature far and wide, giving advice on many topics. I have one on the subject of toys, but there was a great variety of literature given away in post offices and in the voluntary organisations to inform people not only about their rights but about the quality of goods of various kinds which were available.

The council entered the field of battle on decimalisation, probably one of the most notable struggles which took place between consumer interests and the Government. Even today, I cannot help feeling that had the council's campaign for the new unit of money to be based on the old penny been successful, instead of, as was finally decided as the result of pressure from the Treasury, on the new 2½d equivalent, many of the inflationary problems in retail prices in recent years might well have been minimised considerably.

The council also had an important part to play in keeping the Press and other organs of information advised about topical matters of consumer interest. It published a journal called Focus which was widely read not by the general public but by specialists in consumer matters, and through them a great deal of information went out to the general public.

At the same time the council was responsible for setting the pace in consumer protection right across the world. I stress that because it is of great importance. When the council was wound up it was the only international voice which Britain had on the international consumer scene. It was that voice which had initiated many consumer organisations in other countries. It introduced the Teltag market scheme for comparative labelling. I have with me a couple of examples. They showed how the performance of various goods could be measured, giving consumers some clue to what they could expect from the goods they were buying. The Teltag was the subject of years of preparation and years of negotiation with various parts of industry.

Overnight the council was destroyed. When the axe fell, the Teltag was in the early stages of its development and starting to be a great success. One of the immediate results was that the council and the many trade interests which had invested in the scheme were at their wits' end to know how to continue the service for the consumer. Although strenuous efforts were made both within the council and in industry at large, it was not possible to save the scheme. Like so much of the work which the council had done over the eight years of its life, the Teltag was wontonly thrown away by the actions of the Conservative Government.

There was another reason for the council being different from most other organisations. As far as I know it was the only organisation set up by the Government in which there were more women than men. Perhaps that is an appropriate point to make in International Women's Year. When I joined the council—I was a member of the council for five of its eight years—it had a woman director and the 12 members were evenly divided between male and female. During the years when Lady Elliott was chairman and Miss Elizabeth Ackroyd was director, there was a majority of women. I hope no one feels that the council suffered because of that aberration on the Government's part.

When the decision had been made that the council was to go, when the shouting had died down and when the protests were over, the council produced the last issue of its annual report. The report for 1970 appropriately bore a black cover. It told the world of the work of the council during its lifetime. The chairman, Lord Donaldson, finished his statement in the reporting by saying:
"I am convinced that the axing of the Consumer Council cannot mean the axing of what we have done or what we have started. Someday someone will have to invent a new, publicly financed body to promote and protect the consumer interest. And when they do I suspect it will cost more than the modest 1d per head of the population which the Council has cost the country."
I am pleased that we have at last had, as Lord Donaldson predicted, the first evidence of the setting up of a new consumer council. I welcome the appointment of the chairman. It is very satisfying to know that someone of independent mind and of broad outlook has been appointed to take the chair of this important council.

I have read with great interest the statement that Mr. Michael Young has made on his views about the way in which the new consumer council should proceed. I would have hoped that he might say a word or two in acknowledgment of the existence of his predecessor and of the preceding authority, which he omitted altogether from his statement. Nevertheless many of his views are worthy of serious consideration.

I disagree with Mr. Young's suggestion that the development of the consumer interest, as he calls it, is largely the result of inflation. I remind the House that the setting up of the original Consumer Council was nothing to do with inflation. It was the result of the submission of the Molony Committee's report to this House. The person responsible more than any other for the eventual setting up of the Consumer Council was Mr. Michael Young by his founding of the Consumers Association. Therefore, it is well not to feel that the newly-formed council is merely a tool to beat inflation. I hope that it will be a long-term project and will have an effect long after the present inflationary spiral has been reduced to more manageable proportions.

Nevertheless, looking at the wide area to which Mr. Young referred in his recent statement, he appears to be undertaking a fairly daunting task. He envisages taking on almost every agency in the country on behalf of consumers. I ought to remind him that the various aspects that he has brought up in his statement will involve him in doing battle with local authorities at every level, with the whole of the National Health Service in its reorganised form and with the whole of trade and industry. He will find that he has bitten off a pretty sizeable lump of the national cake if he feels that this new council can adequately deal with all these subjects.

I regret that in the White Paper and in the statement made by Mr. Young there is no mention of any method of dealing with individual complaints. I realise that other agencies are doing that. However, it is worth remembering that the Consumer Council in its original form felt at the end of its life that not being able to undertake investigation of complaints made it somewhat remote from the people it was trying to serve. In fact, many who criticised it at the end of its existence did so on those grounds, although its original powers did not allow it to undertake that work.

I also regret that the new council will not have powers to disseminate its own literature or to be involved in educational work of the kind done by its predecessor.

On the other hand, I welcome the idea of the setting up of regional offices, because in my experience on the original Consumer Council, although on almost every possible occasion protests were made about the lack of regional activity, the Government were completely unwilling to allow anything of that kind to take place. If there is to be regional work, I wonder whether the cost is to come out of the budget of £30,000 which is being allowed to the new council. I wonder to what extent the work will be inhibited by the fact that it may have to be restrained within this amount.

Another sphere in which I hope the new council will be able to help is in the encouragement of local authorities which are now having to hold back the suggested plans they have already made for developing local authority advice centres. Those which have already been established have been most successful. Many authorities are ready, willing and anxious to play their part in this area. I hope that the Government will encourage the council to press authorities to start up this activity as soon as funds become available to them.

The council has a vast job in trying to co-ordinate the myriad voices which at present represent the consumer in different fields. The Consumers Association has done its job as far as it is able to as a member organisation, and the Federation of Consumer Groups does its job too. Finally, there is the Weights and Measures Inspectorate or, under its new title, the Consumer Protection and Advice Service—I am always in difficulty about what it has changed itself into. They all do a good job in their own area, but there is a tremendous need at national level to bring together all the knowledge and experience of these various organisations, and I hope that apart from embarking upon its own activities the council will consider that it has a duty to act as the final spokesman in coordinating these various bodies.

I am pleased to see in the statement which the Minister made that a number of voluntary organisations have been called upon to submit nominees for the council. I hope that when the names are received they will be added to by others who are prepared to speak out freely and fearlessly in defence of consumer protection. One cynical view when the last council was being wound up was that that was being done because it had been too free and fearless in its condemnation of certain aspects of Government policies. I am not saying this in a party sense, because I think that if one looks back over its history it will be obvious that from its inception the Consumer Council spoke out against either Government when it felt that it should do so. In the latter stages of its life it was perhaps being a bit wayward according to the views of the then Government, but it is important that if we are setting up a new non-statutory body of this kind it must be free, and seen to be free, to express the views of all the population and not just go along with the views of the Government.

I am well aware that since the Consumer Council was wound up many things have changed in the field of consumer protection. I am aware that the Director General of Fair Trading has entered the arena, that he is taking up a number of points about the dissemination of information, that he is watching over fair trading matters and that he has taken on board all the consumer credit legislation. Nevertheless there are still gaps which need to be filled by this new organisation.

Mr. Michael Young makes the point in his statement that the poor are doubly disadvantaged. I think that this is true, and I go back to what I said originally: that he is taking on most of the statutory bodies and many of the Government Departments if he tries to deal with the double disadvantages from which the poor suffer, particularly in the take-up of benefits.

It is worthy of note that the former Consumer Council was accused of being a middle-class organisation. I think that those who accused it in that way did not look carefully at the position of the council, because it represented all interests from the trade union and the cooperative organisation to the employer's organisation.

But there is no doubt that it is very difficult to get to and attract the people who most need consumer protection. In this area, the work which I look forward to seeing particularly is that in connection with the consultative committees of the nationalised industries. I remind the House that here again the earlier council spent a tremendous amount of time studying in detail defects in the nationalised industries' consultative services and suggested remedies, some of which I am pleased to see are starting to be implemented.

The Conservative manifesto of June 1970 said that the Consumer Council had proved an influential and powerful spokesman for the interests of the consumer. That made it all the more ironic when a few months later it was decided to wind it up. But that statement was true and I hope that the new Council will act in exactly the same way as its predecessor.

As I said, in just two weeks it will be four years since the last council died. I feel that it is not too optimistic to hope that on that anniversary we shall know the names of the members of the council, so that it can start operating as soon as possible this year.

11.11 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on her initiative in bringing this subject before the House. It is an opportunity which I welcome. I have expressed before, in Committee, the note we take of the hon. Lady's utterances on consumer protection because of her experience. I hope she will not take offence if I say that we have also heard her express her views about the termination of the Consumer Council in Grand Guignol terms, involving death, assassination and murder.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has allowed a political note to creep into what I had hoped would be a useful debate on consumer protection, but since she has done so I must point out that no Government had such a good record in introducing significant and comprehensive measures of consumer protection than the last Conservative Government, not only in Bills but in regulations and various initiatives. It ill behoves any hon. Member to criticise that Government—

I do not dispute the work which was done, but it would be difficult for the hon. Lady to give a better explanation than I did of the end of the previous body, simply because, as a member, I knew the ramifications of the debate between the Government and the council in its dying days.

I still would not use such colourful adjectives about its demise.

Initiatives on consumer protection have been slow to come from the present Government. I do not believe that their intentions are not good, but there initiatives so far seem to have followed the course we set. They have reintroduced measures which fell by the wayside because of the General Election, including a Bill on unit pricing, which was a Private Member's measure under the previous Government. What I reject utterly is the hon. Lady's claim that the Consumer Council was axed because it was in some way criticising the Government. I cannot believe that any Government, Conservative or Labour, would axe such a body for such reasons, especially if it was effective.

I am sure that this will prove an interesting and welcome debate. I would add to the welcome that the hon. Lady has already given to the new National Consumers' Council my own by no means unqualified welcome. I have a number of reservations about the new body, not least the suspicion that anything rooted, as the NCC is, in a Labour Party manifesto has at least a political pedigree. We shall have to see whether it is a prisoner of its own heredity or whether it is, as its first chairman has claimed, born free.

I was disturbed to hear from the Secretary of State at Question Time today that she intends to make political appointments to this body. The right hon. Lady was careful to say that these political appointments would be balanced. That is fair enough. But why make political appointments at all?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), the former Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs, bent over backwards not to make political appointments in the case of the Office of Fair Trading. The Minister of State's mouth has fallen open. Perhaps he would like to contradict what I have said and give examples. If so, I should he delighted to give way. Apparently he does not wish to do so.

My second great reservation is about the apparently—one says "apparently" in the early days of a new organisation—extraneous nature of this new council in relation to the existing comprehensive structure for the protection of consumers, which it could well serve to distort. In claiming that the existing structure is comprehensive, I do not wish to imply that there are no longer any vacuums which need to be filled. Far from it. Indeed, it is because the NCC as proposed does nothing and can do nothing to fill the main vacuum that I express reservations and ask whether the money that is proposed to be spent on the NCC could not be spent more effectively by building on to the existing structure.

The great and overriding need in consumer affairs is the provision of easily accessible advice, arbitration and education for consumers. It is no use legislating or regulating for consumers if they do not know of their rights or do not know how to pursue them. Despite what the hon. Lady the Member for Ilford, North has said, all too few local authorities have opened advice centres. That is partly because of economic stringency but partly—we must face this—through lack of intiative. My own district council in Gloucester has shown the initiative and has somehow found the money to open a housing advisory centre, which will be very useful indeed. I regret to say. however, that my county council has not shown similar initiative in opening consumer advisory centres.

We know that economic stringency is involved, but as the cost of running an average advice centre is about £20,000 a year I cannot help thinking that a great many advice centres could have been opened with the money which will be spent eventually on the NCC, and perhaps even more mobile advice centres.

I was rather disturbed to read in a debate in another place, which turned out to be a debate mainly on the NCC, that Baroness Phillips said:
"There is an ominous sentence in a circular which has been sent out to local authorities about the rate support grant, in which it is suggested that there should he a deferment of consumer protection in the consumer protection field."
She asked:
"Where are we going? On the one hand the Minister is saying that we need these throughout the land, and another Department —a rather feared Department, f would suggest —is telling local authorities that they must hold off."—[Official Report, House of Lords. 30th January 1975; Vol. 356, c. 600.]
I shall be interested to learn from the Minister of State what representations his Department made to the Department of the Environment before that advice was circulated.

Then there is the danger of a proliferation of consumer bodies causing confusion as to their rôle. We already have the statutory office of the Director General of Fair Trading. We have the British Standards Institution, with the very important consumer rôle that it fulfils. We have the Offices of Trading Standards. As the hon. Lady said, they are changing names so often that one cannot keep up with them. We have also the very important voluntary bodies.

The hon. Lady spoke of the views of newspapers when the old Consumer Council was axed. The views which have been put forward in the newspapers about the new council are not all entirely unqualified in their support. In an article in the Financial Times of 3rd February this year, headed
"A watchdog barking up the wrong tree",
Sandy McLachlan said this in speaking of perhaps the political background of the new proposed NCC:
"The root of the confusion starts from that point"—
that is, the political point—
"since the idea of an independent consumer pressure group—however welcome in theory—does not fit easily into the rest of the consumer protection framework so carefully constructed on a virtually non-political basis by recent Labour and Conservative administrations.
There is also a suspicion that a quite separate and non-statutory body may at best be a red herring."
He went on to say later in the article
"Certainly the general public is likely to be confused since the NCC, which one would have thought might be the focal point for consumer complaints, will not want to get involved in the detail of individual problems."
That was the great drawback of the original Consumer Council and it is partly the drawback of the Office of Fair Trading which is deprived of a national network of consumer advice centres as envisaged by my right hon. and learned Friend from which to glean the very important grass roots information on which it can work. It is this lack of direct access for the consumer, which is not only needed in its own right but is a very important reservoir for research and information, which is also a great drawback for the NCC and which perhaps serves to emphasise its extraneous nature.

There is a report concerning its chairman in The Guardian of 30th March 1975. This is not a direct quotation of him and I hope that certain aspects of it are incorrect. The article is called "Crosscheck" and it says:
"Michael Young believes that the consumer movement in this country have failed to meet the needs and concern of the majority because it has been dominated by the middle classes who sometimes do not care, but more often do not know what oppresses those who are least able to fend for themselves."
I hope that hon. Members will not object if I say that I take some offence at those remarks. Repeatedly since I have been a Member of this House, in Committee and on the Floor of the House I have stressed that it is the poor, the less articulate and the less literate consumers who are most in need of protection.

In a pamphlet published by the Conservative Political Centre in 1972 and entitled "Square Deal for Consumers", of which I and a number of my hon. Friends were co-authors, we particularly recognised that point. As many hon. Members who have taken part in debates on consumer affairs will know, if this protection is not available to some consumers it is not because we do not know or care but is because communications have not been established with such people, because elementary consumer education has not been provided for them and simply because there is no direct access for them where local centres do not exist.

With the best will in the world I cannot see how the NCC will speak for consumers when it is not widely in touch with them except at second hand. Although I was much in sympathy with a great deal of what Michael Young had to say about the position of the consumer in relation to local authority departments —I found myself agreeing with practically every word he said—I am not sure how far he will be able to widen his remit to bring this within the ambit of the NCC, although I hope that he will be successful.

There is then the important question of the overlapping, or apparent overlapping, of the functions of the Office of Fair Trading and the NCC—for example, in promoting action to ensure that the voice of the consumer is heard, the voice that the NCC will not hear for itself, and making information available to consumers. The Director General of Fair Trading has a statutory duty to do all these things, certainly to investigate, report and recommend action. What happens when these two rôles conflict? Perhaps the Minister of State will be able to tell us when he replies.

The White Paper says that the Director General is too busy with monopolies, mergers and consumer credit. Does this imply that Sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Trading Act are to be allowed to lapse, and will recommendations be made to the Government by the NCC and then referred to the CPAC for investigation? At national level there are the excellent voluntary organisations which will be campaigning for consumers as they have always done. Will there be any crossed lines here?

Hon. Members who hold regular constituency "surgeries"—not least the Minister of State when he was in opposition—are closer to the disadvantaged and inarticulate consumers who need the most help where there are no advice centres. That is why constituency issues are so often aired on the Floor of the House and why the persistence of right hon. and hon. Members has resulted in the legislation we have had so far. There is also the valuable advice that people receive from the various consumer organisations.

I welcome the function of the new agency of dealing with product safety. This is certainly necessary. I welcome, too, the fact that product safety has now been brought under the wing of the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection, where it should have reposed for a long time. How is the NCC to collect information? How is it to make representations? What testing facilities will be available to it on its limited budget? I compare this with the rôle of the United States Product Safety Commission, which has an enormous budget and which, although it has no testing facilities, has money to spend on testing.

It is the extension of the United States Product Safety Commission which has made it a focal point for people such as the geneticists who discovered that there could be an genetic malfunction from the use of certain spray adhesives. They asked "To whom shall we go with this information?" They went to the commission, which was able to spend money on research and was then able to warn nationally and finally to ban the product.

We have been told that the NCC could make such recommendations. What will the Minister do when the NCC makes such recommendations since he does not have the power to ban products? Will the power to ban be taken? If so, I shall be delighted to give such a step my wholehearted support. The hon. Lady mentioned flammability of children's nightwear. I remember the campaign carried on by the Consumer Council. We should accord credit to the Safety Sub-Committee of the British Standards Institution, which carried on this campaign, did the research and continued to promote the campaign successfully. That leads me to ask whether the problem of product safety could not have been handled more adequately by expanding the budget of the BSI, which is already experienced in this kind of work.

I am delighted that the NCC will have the function of liaising with the EEC on consumer protection affairs. There is a big vacuum here. It will be able to harmonise and discuss harmonisation of the EEC regulations concerning consumer health and safety of consumer products that we have not yet taken on board in this country. I think particularly of warnings of potentially hazardous household products by labelling.

No Government seem to have paid attention to that, although draft directives have been in existence in the EEC for many years. I hope that the NCC will recommend to the Government that they should adopt and adapt the principles in the excellent consultative document on consumer protection and information which we debated in an extremely irrelevant and inadequate fashion late at night. This was no fault of the Minister. As is so often the case with EEC legislation, the debate became a Second Reading debate on EEC legislation and was not in the interests of consumers.

I also welcome the new rôle accorded to the NCC with regard to the nationalised industry consumer councils. It should be a difficult job. The councils have shortcomings and they suffer from a shortage of facilities to do what consumers wish them to do. They are not sufficiently independent and are often criticised.

In a debate in the other place, attention was drawn to the rôle that a nationalised industry consumer council might have played in connection with the proposed 70 per cent. increase in charges for night storage heaters. It was not a nationalised industry consumer council which made representations. They were made and pressed by the Opposition. There was the problem of a nationalised industry consumer council in respect of gas conversions. That operation could hardly be said to have been covered in glory. It was an occasion when consumers were irritated, put to extensive costs and exposed to considerable dangers on a number of occasions. Obviously, that could not be said to be a satisfactory state of affairs.

Then there are the difficulties of billing nationalised industry consumers, particularly with electricity bills. When consumers want to make inquiries about faults, they often have to go to an obscure office upstairs to be met by somebody different each time to explain their queries over and over again. When I have complained that pensioners find it difficult to walk upstairs to make such inquiries, I have been told that if they wish they can ask someone to come down from the query office, no doubt a very junior member of the staff, to deal with them.

These aspects and many others of the nationalised industry consumer councils are not satisfactory, and I hope that the NCC will exert its full influence in its rôle when investigating these matters. However, the Office of Fair Trading has not been backward in this respect. In a report on the new servicing code and independent arbitration scheme launched by the Electricity Council—the first such scheme for a nationalised industry—The Times of 14th March said:
"The principal aim is to offer service on breakdowns in a reasonably quick time at a reasonable cost to meet reasonable demands, to resolve consumer complaints and to promote effective communications between the boards and consumers. The Director General of Fair Trading said he considered the willingness of Electricity Boards to submit to independent arbitration 'a most significant advance'."
I am sure that the House would agree with that. But this is an example of the Office of Fair Trading apparently fulfilling the same function as that proposed for the NCC.

I welcome the proposed rôle of the NCC regarding monitoring the advertising code. The Advertising Standards Authority is not unsuccessful in its job, but neither is it entirely independent. There are some very black spots in advertising—patent medicines, hearing aids and the large composite advertisements which use such terms as "worth so much", which can hardly be disproved under the Trade Descriptions Act.

There is the question of cosmetics advertising. I beg the Minister, when he prods the NCC on this, to remember that a great deal of cosmetics advertising depends on the vanity of women and that half the women, including me, want to be deluded, but I respect the fact that half of them do not wish to be and that they should be protected as far as possible. But with regard to such extravagant claims in advertisements as that for a shampoo which says "You can have the loveliest, shiniest hair in the world if you use this shampoo", how many people who used it would complain that it had not produced those qualities for them?

There are the harmless over-claims of advertising which I would not want to see touched in which there is a great deal of pure entertainment value, particularly in beer advertisements. My favourite beer advertisement, which we do not see very often these days, is that in which a good-looking hero is rescuing a highly improbable damsel in distress from highly improbable dangers, the improbability of which is exceeded only by the claim for the beer—"It's Tankard which helps you excel; after one you do anything well". I shudder to think of the disappointment this must have caused in the one-in-a-million breast in which hope had been raised by the advertisement.

In consumer protection we too often hear of the wicked trader, and we cannot stress too strongly that the vast majority of traders provide valuable services and excellent goods. One of the worst areas of complaint which I hope the NCC will deal with is after-sales service, particularly of major domestic appliances and cars. The consumer is a captive caught by the fact that he has to buy the spares for the car which he has bought and has to pay the price charged. He must have repairs carried out which he has been told are necessary, whether or not he can positively find out whether they are necessary.

The Director General of Fair Trading has done a fine job in obtaining a number of voluntary agreements with the shoe trade, manufacturers of electrical appliances and motor traders. If these voluntary agreements work, it will be by far the best way of solving these problems. But he will have to monitor them carefully, because if he does not do so inevitably and regrettably legislation will have to be introduced.

I hope that the initiative of the new Chairman of the NCC will lead him to look into the whole question of certain car insurance policies which are misleadingly described as comprehensive so that when a person is involved in an accident which is no fault of his and the owner of the other car is convicted at the magistrates' court he is told by his insurance company, because he has a comprehensive policy, "It is all right. We will reclaim it for you", and afterwards he finds that he has lost his no-claim bonus. It seems to me that this is an area that needs looking into.

Like the hon. Lady, I regret the fact that the NCC will have nothing to do with education. Like her, I wish that this education could take place in schools, so that we might see a whole new generation of consumers emerging with a clear idea of their rights and obligations and of how to pursue those rights. I was interested to read the new chairman's views on consumer interests and representation in companies. I have often thought that, certainly in the private sector, the interests of those who work in the companies and the interests of shareholders were supreme, but I should be interested to hear a shareholder stand up at the annual general meeting of such a company which was engaged in manufacturing consumer products and ask how many complaints had been received in the year and what was the nature of those complaints about the product. I should be interested to know what effect that could have in terms of an improvement in standards, not only in the work carried out by management but on the shop floor.

I hope that the new chairman, Mr. Young, will pursue this point and bear in mind the excellent consumer relations which exist between a number of private national supermarket chains, which have set up their own local consumer councils to consider the needs of their consumers and which produce specialist goods to meet those needs, because that sort of communication between trade and con- sumer should be encouraged, prevention being a great deal better than cure.

I hope that the Minister will press for a new Supply of Services Bill to deal with exclusion clauses in services as soon as the Law Commission is ready to report, and I hope that the Law Commission will be ready to report before long.

I hope that the NCC will in no way cut across the rôle of the enforcement authorities. They are grossly understaffed and they have enormous burdens to carry. I wonder whether the money that is being used to finance the NCC would not have been better employed to replenish the staffs of the trading standards offices throughout the country, because they represent the consumers superbly.

Like the hon. Lady, I was concerned about the statement made by Michael Young as he sees his rôle in terms of price restraint. As the hon. Lady will know, the Molony Committee made it clear that pricing should have no part in consumer protection policy, which is to do with trading practices and not pricing. Mr. Young has set himself an enormous task —a task which is right outside his remit of consumer protection—in talking about incomes and profits and about the effect of profits and not wage restraint.

I was disturbed to read, in the Yorkshire Post of 10th February 1975— hope that he is not a political appointee —the following report of Mr. Young's remarks:
" 'The consumer interest is in keeping prices down. The problem is how we might make it stick.' Mr. Young calls for income restraint —and promptly adds: I didn't say wage restraint. Those with the higher incomes ought to show the greatest restraint.' "
If I say that I detect a slightly political tinge in those words, I hope that the Minister of State will not disagree. I wonder whether he thinks that restraint has gone far enough in the middle income groups.

Finally, in qualifying my welcome to the NCC, in posing a number of questions as to its rôle and its likely value and effectiveness and in expressing doubts as to its chances of success in its appointed rôle, I would now like to say, without any qualification whatsoever, that I wish it and its new chairman every success. I hope that all my doubts and fears will be proved wrong and that the NCC will provide another facet of consumer protection that will contribute to an ever-improving and more effective level of consumer protection.

11.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection
(Mr. Alan Williams)

Somewhere among that myriad of questions I almost detected a speech. It might save time if I answered the speech and ignored the questions. However, I have debated with the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) for a sufficient length of time to appreciate that I should not be allowed to get away with that.

I was glad that by the end of her speech the hon. Lady had talked herself into a happier mood about the National Consumers' Council. She showed a certain sourness which I do not normally associate with her, and I suspect that it was because she had detected a political pedigree in the origins of the NCC. In fairness, when the Office of Fair Trading and the Director General were established, speaking from the Box from which the hon. Lady spoke I made clear on behalf of the Labour Party that we honoured the creation of the OFT and that we would retain the Director General. Indeed, the Director General has been kind enough subsequently to say that that commitment by the Opposition helped him in deciding to take the post. I hope, therefore, that Michael Young will pay more attention to what the hon. Lady said at the end of her speech than to what she said at the beginning.

The hon. Lady spoke of political appointments and referred back to Question Time today. Ignoring the party debating points that inevitably arise on an occasion like this, I am sure that with a balanced body representing consumers' interests some members will have political opinions. They would be rather empty, wishy-washy characters if they did not have political views. It is, therefore, likely that the members will include people of known political views. The hon. Lady is welcome to put forward any names she may wish to consider. When we were in opposition the Minister responsible for consumer affairs asked his political opponents to put forward names. In appointing councils both sides have tried to ensure a balance, so that the body was not a shadow-like body unrepresentative of public opinion.

The hon. Lady complained of several of Michael Young's utterances. I find that encouraging. There may be some things he has said that I would complain about. That means that he is the sort of person we want in the job. In Committee on the Fair Trading Bill the Under-Secretary of State was in favour of appointing a diplomat as Director General. I said then that diplomats had their places and there were times when they were appropriate but that it was also appropriate to have a person who could fight for things. The Director General is doing an excellent job. It is right that the head of an independent body acting on behalf of the consumer should feel free to express points of view which may offend the hon. Lady and which may offend me. Then I know that he feels independent of either party. I am sure the hon. Lady does not disagree with that proposition.

The hon. Lady said—with a degree of truculence—how glad she was that safety had eventually come under our wing. We were set up in March 1974 and took over safety on 1st October. When the Conservative Government were in power they had ample opportunity to give that responsibility to their Minister responsible for consumer affairs, but they did not do so.

The hon. Lady hoped that the NCC would be able to undertake tests on products. The NCC is independent. It will make up its own mind what it wants to do. If it wants to make tests, if it wants to commission outside consultants or if it wants access to Government laboratories, it is for the council to decide. It is an independent organisation which must make its own decisions. That does not necessarily mean that I think it would be sensible for the council to set up its own laboratories, which would be under-used, but it could use existing resources on, say, a contract basis if it thought it appropriate to do so.

We faced this problem in assessing our budget for the first year. Until we see the way the council wants to operate, we have had a stab at guessing at the figure. As we see its work developing in the first year, we shall be able to decide its future requirements. The hon. Lady knows, since this is an interest which we both share, that I put high emphasis on the safety of goods. I should be only too happy to see further action. She knows from private conversations that my right hon. Friend and I are reviewing the machinery and policy on safety.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) for giving the House the opportunity to debate the National Consumers' Council. My hon. Friend referred to the assassination of the Consumer Council. This brought a slapped hand from the hon. Member for Gloucester, who preferred a rather coyer term, such as the "termination" or "demise" of that body. Nevertheless, the poor animal lay dead at the end. However, I shall not enter into a political discussion as to how that happened. Everybody knows that it was killed off allegedly to save £240,000.

My hon. Friend regretted the fact that individual complaints will not be dealt with by the NCC. We examined this matter, and there is a difference between being aware of individual complaints and dealing with them, as the hon. Member for Gloucester will discover in her role of trying to advise her party, as I have found, and indeed as I am sure Michael Young will discover for himself. If one deals with all the complaints that come one's way, one never has time to cope with the policy thinking. We must be sure that there is the facility for complaints to be dealt with. We must make sure that the nature of complaints is available to us all in our varying roles. But our job at the centre is to synthesise the information which is obtained and to turn that into policy by a change in the law, leading to additional protection, rather than to spend time dealing with matters that could be dealt with more effectively, and certainly more cheaply, at local level.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North regretted that there was no power to disseminate literature and information. The reason why literature is not to be disseminated is that the OFT has this function, which rested with the Consumer Council, and in a situation of limited resources I am sure that hon. Members would not wish there to be any duplication. The NCC is free to comment if it wishes to do so. Indeed, the NCC would be free, if necessary, to make recommendations.

The matter of consumer education is a question for the NCC. We put no limitation on its wider propagandist rôle on behalf of the consumer. We want to set up a completely independent body which can speak at national level. I sought to stress this point in opposition when we were dealing with the fair trading legislation. The producers, the CBI and the trade unions have gone down well-trodden paths into Whitehall; they are experienced lobbyists. There is no such lobbying experience on behalf of the consumer. We want to establish such a lobbying power.

The hon. Member for Gloucester will appreciate that lobbying is a matter not of occasional questions but of continuous daily discussion and argument with officials, sometimes of beating down barriers which have been erected over years of entrenched stonewalling against change.

As for the structure of the committee. I can inform the House that it will have about 15 members. I say "about" because the aim is to get a body which is as small as is reasonable so that it can get down to hard, detailed work instead of having general meetings every time it meets. The individual members will perhaps be able to head study teams to specialise in particular sectors. That is very much in line with Michael Young's thinking.

There will be regional committees, the Scottish, Welsh and Irish committees. We have gone for something which I recommended to the previous Government during the passage of the Fair Trading Act —the direct participation of what we have called the nominating bodies, existing independent consumer and women's organisations which will be allowed to put forward names. Those chosen will not be delegates from the nominating organisations, having to report back and get a mandate before they can decide anything. They will be there as individuals to express their individual viewpoints but drawing on their experience within those nominating bodies.

There will be five names chosen from the 10 nominating bodies. In addition the Secretary of State will appoint a series of members, because there will be a delicate problem of ensuring a geographical and sex balance. As my hon. Friend said, if any committee is likely to consist predominantly of women members, this is probably the one. But that does not preclude men from membership, and I hope that quite a number of able men will take part in the committee's work.

There is also a matter of age balance. We want people who can speak for the elderly, the deprived and the young consumer. It is a difficult job, when we are thinking of only 15 members, to draw together names. If the hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester has any names that she would like us to consider, without commitment, I shall gladly consider them, particularly if she can think of a geographic spread. But I should like to receive them as quickly as possible. We want as best we can to balance all these factors in a small group of people.

The secretariat will probably consist of about two dozen people, headed by a director and deputy director. Advertisements have now been placed for the posts.

The remit is wide. The council can choose its own issues, including issues going way beyond the responsibilities of the Office of Fair Trading. The hon. Lady has read Michael Young's Press statement and will realise that he takes a far wider view of consumerism than many people in this country do. It is nearer to the Nader view that almost anything that touches the consumer is consumerism.

We are not imposing unnecessary limitations on the council. We shall ask it to help us in certain respects, the nationalised industries being one instance. I stressed during the passage of the Fair Trading Act that the existing structures needed reassessing. First, many of them are a quarter of a century old. When a new department is taking over these responsibilities it is as well, as happens with a firm taking over a new branch, to look at the operational efficiency of the units for which it is assuming responsibility.

Secondly, they will now operate against a somewhat different background from that of their first 25 years, because we are gradually—more slowly than we would wish—spreading a network of consumer advice centres. There are about 50, with more to come. I am opening one on Wednesday. These centres create a new dimension in that it is inevitable and desirable that they will become a point of first contact for the consumer.

I want consumers to feel that if they have a complaint against an electricity board they can go straight to the advice centre and do not have to look up a list on a board and find the address of a local representative of a consultative council. Consumers should be able to go to the advice centre in the same way as they would go to a private firm with a complaint about an electrical appliance. Therefore, we are now playing a slightly different game. We are establishing a more methodical system of first contact over a wide range of consumer operations.

In that context there could be an inefficient overlap with the working of the old consumer councils, which had to operate without such obvious points of contact. We hope, therefore, that for the sake of efficiency we may be able to operate the system more closely. I want a thorough review of the consumer councils to take place. A lot of money is being spent. It might well be spent in a different way within the consumer structure which we are evolving.

I should like the Minister to answer my direct question about the passage in the Department of the Environment's circular on the rate support grant, specifically regarding the cutting back of expenditure on consumer protection. What representations has the Department made?

The document says "no significant increase". There should be no cutting back. The hon. Lady demands greater expenditure by the local authorities, while the Government say that there should be no significant increase. The hon. Lady says that we are not doing enough. She must want a significant increase. She must bear in mind the complaints that the Government receive from her right hon. and hon. colleagues that rates are rising too rapidly. The two points of view seem to be incompatible.

I did not say that. I said that the money being made available to the NCC could well provide a number of centres in cities which would not otherwise be provided.

The money might provide approximately 10 centres. Its rôle might be to establish centres which might otherwise be delayed. It is a question of balance between the local and national machinery. I believe that both have their place. I stand by our priorities. The hon. Lady is free to continue to disagree. I say that genuinely and not in any patronising way. We have followed the correct course in establishing a partisan voice on behalf of the consumer.

This organisation will not be serving in the rôle of the existing independent bodies. We want it to be free to criticise Government, local government and industry. It will be free to speak in any way it sees fit on behalf of the consumer and to campaign as it sees fit. If it does this job, even if my Department is at the wrong end of the criticisms, I shall feel that we have added something worth while to the machinery of consumer protection.

Police Pay And Conditions

11.59 p.m.

My main purpose in initiating this debate under Class IX of the Estimates is to highlight the manpower crisis which I believe is now crippling the efficiency and the effectiveness of Britain's police service.

Britain's police forces are in many cases undermanned, overworked and underpaid. It might be said that the thin blue line is not simply getting thinner. In some areas it is wasting away almost to vanishing point and certainly to vanquishing point, since the chronic manpower shortage is causing the police to be defeated on many fronts in their continuing war against crime.

The only constructive way of beating the police manpower deficiency is by improving the pay and conditions of policemen. I shall make some suggestions on this in a moment, but I hope that the House will bear with me if I first give one or two figures in order to outline the dimensions of the undermanning problem.

Virtually every police force in the country is under establishment strength. Against an establishment for England and Wales of 115,000, the actual police strength is 101,000. It is worrying enough to know that the official figures themselves show that we are 14,000 policemen short, but the position is much worse than the official statistics indicate. These establishment figures must be treated with considerable scepticism, because they are determined somewhat arbitrarily by the Home Office largely on the basis of recruitment possibilities rather than on true police requirements. As a result, most senior police officers regard the present establishment levels as unrealistic.

In a paper presented to the autumn conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire calculated that nearly 125,000 policemen were required for adequate everyday policing, and his is by no means the highest assessment. It is no part of my case to argue the need for an excessive number of policemen, but I think it is right to be suspicious of the Home Office establishment figures and to say that the true position is that we are short of at least 20,000 policemen in England and Wales.

If the police manpower deficiency seems parlous when looked at on a national basis, it appears positively dangerous when studied in the conurbations, especially in London, where there are now 800 fewer policemen than there were in 1920, even though the crime rate is 20 times higher. Today the Metropolitan Police are 5,500 officers short of their establishment strength of 26,500.

This 21 per cent. manpower shortage in the capital is already causing a breakdown in the ability of the Metropolitan Police to cope adequately with most categories of crime. In any one day in London some 180 burglaries are committed, and so also are some 335 thefts of and from motor vehicles. The police are so undermanned and overworked that they can spend only a maximum of two or three hours investigating each of these crimes, with the result that the criminals, most of whom are thought to be juveniles, have a nine-out-of-ten chance of going undetected.

In other categories of crime the burden being carried by Metropolitan Police officers is no less intolerable. Despite the invaluable back-up work being done by civilians, two-thirds of Flying Squad officers are working more than 99 hours of overtime a month, and some officers are doing 120 hours. In the Fraud Squad the overtime figures are even higher. On top of their case loads, every member of the Metropolitan Police force has to be prepared to cope with the 1,500 bomb alarm calls each month, of which nearly 700 are made in good faith and all of which have to be taken seriously.

Another major cause of pressure on the police is the numerous political demonstrations on Saturdays or Sundays. Sir Robert Mark has said some strong words about these today, and I agree with his comments about "derisory sentences". But the impact on manpower of these demonstrations is such that many Metropolitan Police officers are called up for weekend duty on seven weekends out of eight.

If the policeman is prepared to put up with this continuous disruption of his weekend leave, his wife may not be so tolerant. Certainly the manpower shortage in the Metropolitan Police force puts grave strains on a policeman's family life, and this is a major factor in the high wastage rate.

The wastage rate in the Metropolitan Police deserves a moment or two of close analysis. The year 1973 saw the worst wastage in 18 years, with 1,627 officers leaving the force, despite a substantial pay increase and a higher rent allowance. In 1974 the wastage figure was slightly lower, with 1,459 officers leaving the force, the reduction being due perhaps to the introduction of the London weighting allowance of £201 per annum. However, it is worth noting that in the period from 1st January 1973 to 31st December 1974, 423 of the officers leaving the Metropolitan Police transferred to other forces, principally to areas like Dorset, Hampshire, Lincolnshire or the Thames Valley and Devon and Cornwall, where the policeman's lot is a more rural and, perhaps, a happier one.

The most important and depressing point in these wastage figures is that they exceeded comfortably the figure of incoming recruits. In the two years 1973 and 1974 the Metropolitan Police suffered a net loss of 768 officers. During the same period the crime rate rose substantially, with indictable crimes increasing by 16 per cent. to more than 400,000 offences.

The picture of high wastage and low recruitment against a background of rising crime traps the force in a vicious circle. The more that wastage increases, the more onerous and unpleasant becomes the job for those who stay. That in turn leads to inadequate recruitment, further wastage and an even more impossible workload for those who still serve in the force. Unless the manpower drift is reversed, we shall soon be approaching a humiliating defeat in London's battle against crime.

It is a remarkable tribute to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Mark, and to his men that despite the shortage of manpower the morale of the Metropolitan Police has been kept at a high level and that the specialist squads have achieved several successes, such as a reduction in the rate of bank robberies and a falling-off in the rate of muggings. However, we shall be living in a fool's paradise if we attach too much importance to short-term tactical triumphs and neglect the steady deterioration in the London crime situation caused by the manpower shortage.

I have discussed the problems of the Metropolitan Police at some length because they illustrate most dramatically the disturbing nature of the manpower shortage. Although some of the London problems are special, the general London picture is far from unique. Throughout the country the manpower shortage is changing the fundamental nature of police work. A few years ago the first priority of any police force was the prevention of crime. That preventive rôle is now being whittled away. Those most effective units of police work, the copper who knew his beat or the detective who knew his "manor" are fast becoming anachronisms. Those men are scarce on the ground and are becoming scarcer. London now has only three policemen for every square mile. In cities such as Leeds and Birmingham the police are stretched even more thinly.

Instead of preventing crime the police have been forced, largely by manpower difficulties, to react to crime only after it has been committed. This change to "fire brigade" policing, as it is known, is a change for the worse. This deterioration in the prevention of crime will continue unless the Government of the day can be persuaded to exercise their political will in favour of reallocating the resources of the State to improve the police manpower situation.

The first priority in overcoming the manpower situation is to pay all policemen a basic wage which compares reasonably well with other occupations. This does not happen at the moment. The basic initial pay of a constable is around £36 a week. That basic minimum figure is far too low, especially in view of the responsibilities taken on by a constable. That view appears to have been shared by the Seventh Report of the Expenditure Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Newham, North West (Mr. Lewis), which reported in July last year.

The Committee made the interesting suggestion that a constable's pay might be linked with the pay of an average industrial employee. At the time the Committee reported, that average with £46 a week. It is now well over £50 a week. These linkage matters are under consideration by the current comprehensive police pay review, but certainly it is right to say that there is a strong feeling amongst the police themselves that the basic floor of the constable's pay is too low even though overtime rates may push up gross earnings to an acceptable level.

Overtime earnings are quite irrelevant in attracting recruits because the recruit or potential recruit knows nothing about such frings benefits as boot allowances and rent allowances, and probably less above overtime rates. All he may consider is the basic rate of pay, and that probably is not good enough to attract new men and women into the force.

For the officers already in the force, overtime is inevitably something of a hit-and-miss affair depending upon the force in which they serve. I urge the Government is give priority to tackling the problem of improving the constable's basic rate. That is the fundamental unit of police pay on which the structure of other ranks' pay can be built. Improving the basic wage is far more important than tinkering with overtime rates or fringe benefits.

Next, I should like to say a word about how overtime rates affect the ranks of superintendent and chief superintendent. In the police service overtime payments are made only to the federated ranks—namely, the ranks between constable and chief inspector. As a result many superintendents have discovered, on promotion to their new rank, that their gross earnings have reduced by as much as £1,000 or £1,500 a year from what they were earning in the lower rank of chief inspector. That means that a superintendent has a real problem about the erosion of differentials. I doubt whether there is any differential problem more worthy of sympathetic attention than that of the superintendents of police—the operational high command of the police service.

I am told that some chief inspectors now coming up before promotion boards are seriously asked the question "Can you afford to be promoted to superintendent?" That is a sad indication of how the differential rates have gone astray.

These differential problems can get worse when a superintendent or chief superintendent takes charge of a major incident such as a murder hunt or a rail disaster. In these circumstances the superintendent or chief superintendent in charge, being a non-overtime grade, will be overtaken subsequently in earnings by many of his subordinates.

To illustrate the point, I should like to give the House some figures of gross earnings of police officers currently engaged on the Lesley Whittle murder case. For the 28 day period 9th February to 9th March, the pay of the detective chief superintendent in charge of the case was £503 and the pay of his deputy, a detective superintendent, was £434. These ranks are, of course, non-overtime grades. But in the federated ranks, where overtime rates are paid, the gross earnings during that period were very much greater. For example, during the same 28-day period, on the same murder hunt, a detective chief inspector was paid £695, one detective inspector was paid £782, another detective inspector was paid £699, several detective sergeants were paid between £500 and £540 and several detective constables were paid between £440 and £465.

I should like to make it clear that I am not for one moment suggesting that those policemen did not deserve their overtime. On the contrary, I am sure that they deserved it many times over. But what I am saying is that, when a constable earns more in a month than a superintendent or when an inspector earns £70 per week more than his chief superintendent who is in charge of the case, the overtime differential problem has got ludicrously out of control and must be remedied by replacing the present overtime rates by better basic rates of pay for all ranks. This is also the main way of attracting men of good quality into the police service and persuading them to stay in it for life.

I turn now to police housing. The offer of a police house should be a big attraction for recruits, and indeed it is, but it can also be a disincentive for a man in a police house to stay his full term in the force if he knows that he will be out in the cold at 55 years of age without a home of his own.

If we are to stop this big problem of wastage in the police, the most effective step that could be taken, other than increasing the basic pay, is to introduce a scheme making it easier for police officers to buy their own homes. I am thinking in terms of 100 per cent. mortgages at concessionary interest rates. Such schemes are already run by the big banks for their employees. I do not see why the Home Office should not introduce a similar scheme for police officers, particularly in areas such as London where they are most needed. I also understand that the Greater London Council is introducing some form of concessionary mortgage scheme for London's firemen, so that it would not be such a revolutionary step to offer a similar concession to London's policemen.

After talking to a number of police officers from the Commissioner downwards, I am certain that a concessionary mortgage scheme for Metropolitan Police officers would do more than anything else to halt the wastage of manpower and the drift of trained officers to other forces. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on this idea and be able to overrule the mandarins of the Treasury when it comes to arguing about it.

I turn now to recruitment. According to the Expenditure Committee's Report to which I referred earlier, only £628,000 out of a total police expenditure in England and Wales of £521 million was spent on advertising for recruits. The Estimate shows that in London only £170,000 of the Metropolitan Police budget of over £170 million was spent on recruiting advertising. When I reflect that a small advertising campaign, such as the £10,000 spent on advertising for special constables in the Metropolitan Police, managed to produce an increase of 30 per cent., I doubt whether we are doing enough to advertise recruiting for our police. I suggest that more money should be allocated to this purpose.

I have said a lot about money tonight but I recognise that the police service has much more to it than financial rewards. Sir Robert Mark put this thought very well in a recent interview published in the Listener, when he said:
"It is not just a question of getting the material rewards right. We can only attract the kind of people we want by raising our reputation for integrity and effectiveness."
That is right. The police service must have both good morals and good morale. In this country we are remarkably lucky on both counts. We are lucky, too, in the general high quality of service that we receive from our police, but the fact that so many of our policemen are dedicated to the concept of service and duty partly out of a sense of vocation is no reason why we should exploit the vocation by giving the police unsatisfactory pay and conditions.

Finally, it may be argued that in presenting the case for easing the police manpower crisis I have asked for the implementation of certain policies which will mean increased public expenditure. When the inevitable cry goes up "Can we afford it?", my reply must be "But can we afford not to have an adequate police service?" Our society today is suffering from all kinds of internal strains, of which the alarming rise in juvenile crime and the terrifying growth of terrorist activity are just two examples. These conditions require an increasingly effective police service.

I believe that the police service is slipping backwards and is steadily losing ground in the war against crime largely because of these manpower problems. If we wish to halt this adverse decline, the only safe and honest answer is better police pay and conditions. The police service today costs in round figures £520 million, compared with about £4,000 million spent on defence and about £2,000 million on social security. It is my belief that a much higher priority should be given to the police service by reallocating more of our national financial resources to strengthen it. I realise that this will require a strong political will in the difficult days ahead. I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether the Government have the necessary will.

12.17 a.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) has displayed a formidable knowledge and insight into the realities and morale of the Metropolitan Police and the wider police service. The analysis that he has presented to the House is extremely disturbing. The points that he made, particularly about the differential effects of the rates of overtime between the different grades in the police service, are profoundly disturbing. This is an original and striking piece of research which must have been carried out with great intensity to derive these figures so recently in the aftermath of the case to which my hon. Friend referred.

I hope very much that the Under-Secretary will be able to reassure the House in the context of what my hon. Friend said. I hope, too, that she will be able to comment upon the words contained in the Vote and subhead which my hon. Friend specified in selecting this debate, namely, the fact that the extra money we are being asked to vote, the increase of £8·8 million, represents increased pay and prices and additional goods and services offset by a shortfall in recruitment.

My hon. Friend pinpointed the frightful dilemma, particularly in the metropolis, which is presented by the shortfall in recruitment. I hope that the hon. Lady will not overlook the fact—and the House must have some reassurance in the light of what my hon. Friend said—that in the relevant part of the Public Expenditure White Paper—I refer to page 87, column 15, under the heading "Police" —the projected increase in police manpower to 10,525 over the current quinquennium is lower than that which was assumed in the White Paper published by Mr. Anthony Barber as he then was. It is very disturbing that the present Government have apparently settled for a lower figure for police recruitment, and this sticks out all the more sombrely in the light of the facts which my hon. Friend has drawn to the attention of the House.

I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the fall in estimated expenditure shown in Table 2(9) of the Public Expenditure White Paper between Mr. Barber's White Paper and the current one of £43·7 million for the financial year 1975–76 is not expected to fall wholly on the police service. I hope that the hon. Lady's advisers will find means of presenting her with information on which she can assure us that the reduction will be spread.

My hon. Friend has deployed a formidable indictment of the complacency, as it appears to many of us, of the Government in public expenditure in this sector in the context of the severe strains suffered by the police. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us.

12.22 a.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by the initiative of the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) to discuss the financing of the police service. The House discusses the police generally from time to time but it seldom singles out the financial aspects for special attention.

As has been recognised, the police are necessarily a costly service. In the coming financial year total expenditure in England and Wales, both local and central, will be about £600 million. It is important to draw a distinction between expenditure as a whole and the way in which that expenditure is met. No one would suggest that we spend too much on our police and that we could therefore do with fewer of them. We get value from our police, not only because of efficient methods and careful administration at all levels—although that is important—but because the people giving good service are dedicated to the work they do.

There is much more to an efficient service like the police than is apparent from the accounts which we are discussing. The subhead to which the hon. Member referred comes under the main heading of "General Protective Services". When discussing financial matters we must remember the other aspects which go into the higher standard that the community receives from its police.

The hon. Member did not go into great detail about the arrangements, which are complicated, under which the police service is financed, but I should like to remind the House that expenditure is incurred in the first place by police authorities, which receive from the Home Office a specific sum of 50 per cent. of their approved expenditure. In the City of London the rate is 33½ per cent. This specific grant originated in the last century and was linked to inspection, the grant being payable only to a force which is certified as efficient. The remainder of the cost of the police service is met from rates and the rate support grant. Police expenditure is included in the total of relevant local authority expenditure for the calculation of the aggregate Exchequer grant for rate support grant purposes.

Although this system may appear complicated, the division of the cost of the police among specific grant, rate support grant and the rates may reflect a number of different considerations. To start with there is the local nature of the police service. On the other hand much of police expenditure is on manpower costs, over which police authorities have a lesser amount of discretion. Yet if all, or nearly all, of the cost were to be met by central Government this could lead to gradually increased centralisation, with far-reaching constitutional implications. I have no doubt that these considerations are among those which the Layfield Committee will have in mind.

I am sure the House realises that I cannot today make a statement of Government policy on a matter which is among those being considered by the Layfield Committee on Local Government Finance. It does, however, involve questions of pay and conditions of the police and the system of Government grants to police authorities. The Government are studying very carefully the report of the Expenditure Committee on police manpower and recruitment, which made some very detailed recommendations. The reply will be available shortly, so I would not wish to anticipate it. I would point out, however, that action has already been taken on one issue—the lowering of the age limit. The Committee regarded that as important.

Most of the cost of the police—some 80 per cent.—goes on manpower. That was emphasised very strongly by the hon. Member for Thanet, East. The cost of the service as a whole is, therefore, very susceptible to change as manpower levels, salaries and pensions change. Other items of police expenditure are for the most part tied to manpower levels—vehicles, for example.

With that in mind, I should like to tell the House where we now stand as far as police recruitment and pay are concerned. At 31st January this year the total strength of the police forces in England and Wales was 101,926. This is a reduction of 160 from the figure of 102,086 at the end of 1974. It was due to a lower intake in January following a very high intake in November and December. The net gain for 1974 was 1,520. Recruitment during the year, at 7.545, was the highest for many years and the indications are that the drop in the intake in January was a temporary one.

The House will be aware that a feature of the rate support grant settlement for 1975–76 was that it provided for little increase in manpower, and it may be asked how this is reconciled with the Government's intention to build up police strength. The Government have placed no restriction on police recruiting and police authorities are free to recruit up to the authorised establishment of the force. The rate support grant settlement provides for an increase in strength of 1,000 police officers. This increase was that which seemed to be capable of achievement—this covers one point made by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison)—in the light of recruitment figures at the time of the settlement, but police authorities were told that if it was exceeded specific grant would be paid on any additional manpower recruited within the limits of authorised establishments. Provision was also made for a small increase in the number of police civilian staff, including traffic wardens. I am aware that this unfortunately means that the expansion of the traffic warden service, particularly in London, cannot go forward as quickly as one would have hoped and as might otherwise have been the case.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash pointed out an apparent fall in provision from that of Mr. Barbers' White Paper. I should make the point that the Home Office is committed in this financial year to provide the funds needed for such recruits as there may be within approved establishments. That is the point I have just made. The Government will continue to be guided by this attitude in making future financial provision.

As regards the Metropolitan Police, on which the hon. Member for Thanet, East laid stress, I am glad to say that there was a net increase of 21 in the strength of the Metropolitan Police during January—small though the hon. Gentleman may consider it, nevertheless it was an increase—bringing the figure to 20,871.

I think I am right in saying that of that increase of 21, 20 are women police officers and that there was a slight falling-off in the number of men police officers. The increase referred to was due largely to the new equal pay structure, which is to be welcomed, but it does not alter significantly the picture of a steady deterioration and wastage from the "Met". I hone that the Minister will not continue with the argument that one month's figures showing a sudden surge of women coming in alters in any way the fundamental truth of the picture I was painting.

Since the Government are about to bring in the Sex Discrimination Bill I would not suggest that because these recruits are women they should not be considered in any sort of serious way. I would not like the recruits concerned to feel that that was how they were so regarded.

I must defend my hon. Friend. He did not say anything of the kind. He said that these women came in because they wanted to take advantage of special inducements. He said that this was a good thing.

I share the hon. Member's welcome of women recruits.

The gain in 1974 as a whole was 67, though this included 326 officers transferred from the British Airports Constabulary.

The Minister is scratching around in order to present a much more optimistic picture of the police than the situation deserves. Of course there was a gain where a new police force was taken over. If we discount that takeover, the overall picture gives a figure of about 280. I gave the figure for two years combined. The situation is therefore quite serious.

I am not trying to make out that the position is not serious. I share the hon. Member's concern. I am giving the House the figures as they are. I am not trying to make out that this is a happy situation. There is certainly a great deal to be done in getting more men to join the service. I realise full well that there is much ground to be made up before the losses of the last two years can be recouped. My right hon. Friend has announced his intention of reducing the age of entry into the police service from 19 to 18½ and we hope that this may produce some increase in numbers.

The manpower situation generally is not good. However, it must be appreciated that efforts are being made to increase manpower but that there are special difficulties in some areas, and not only in London. All the large conurbations make special demands on their police and place strains on individual officers, all of which create difficulties for these areas.

It is recognised that premature wastage in the Metropolitan Police rather than some sudden and dramatic fall in recruitment has been the main cause of the manpower difficulties of this force over the last few years. The causes of the wastage are many and complex, although in a broad sense the strains imposed by working and living in London must lie at the root of many. Clearly, however, the fewer the men, the greater the burdens placed upon them.

No single step which my right hon. Friend or the Commissioner can take will end premature wastage, but I can assure hon. Members that no practical opportunity to improve conditions and so to help the manpower situation will be lost.

The hon. Member referred to recruitment publicity. Recruitment is the responsibility of individual chief officers of police, and police authorities are encouraged to make provision for necessary expenditure on local publicity. The Home Office, with the agreement of the local authority associations and the Commissioner of Police, arranges for national publicity. This includes direct advertising in the national Press, aimed primarily at those seeking to change their jobs, longer-term advertising intended to influence those who have not yet decided on a career, and representation of the police service at national careers exhibitions and conventions. The general effort is greatly assisted by the approaches made to schools by individual forces. Expenditure during 1974–75 is likely to be about £680,000. We intend that it should continue at this level during 1975–76. The Metropolitan Police expects to spend about £130,000 during 1974–75 and will also continue at that level in 1975–76.

The hon. Member mentioned demonstrations, and I am aware of the difficulties created for the Metropolitan Police by these. They strain the resources of the force and the patience of the officers of all ranks whose duty it is to be present at them. Moreover, many of them tend to deny officers concerned the rest and relaxation which they have earned at other times of the week. It is not easy to relieve police of this burden. A number of demonstrations present threats to public order and yet the right to free assembly is not one to be lightly restricted.

In his recent report Lord Scarman, after careful consideration, concluded that the balance of the law in these matters had not been shown to be unsound. Long and careful thought would have to be given to any proposal which limited these rights in an effort to relieve police of a difficult and sometimes dangerous job.

I am aware of the Commissioner's remarks today about demonstrations, to which the hon. Member referred. The Commissioner's views about sentences are, of course, his own and ones which he is free to express. I think that the figures he gave of the number of demonstrations underlines the point I have already made about the burden they place upon the force.

I come now to the question of pay. A Police Council for the United Kingdom is established under the Police Act 1969 to consider questions of police pay and certain other conditions of service. Pay negotiations are the responsibility of the council, which operates on Whitley lines, with an official side consisting of representatives of the police authorities and the Home Department and a staff side comprised of representatives of police officers. Chief constables act as advisers to the official side. The council is very much aware of the needs of the service and the importance of adequate remuneration in meeting the problems of recruiting and wastage.

Last year the Police Council reached agreement on new pay scales which gave substantial increases for all ranks from 1st September. For example, the salary of a newly-appointed constable outside London was raised to £1,632 per annum, an increase of 20·6 per cent. of the previous year. In addition all police officers receive threshold payments amounting to £229·68 a year, so that a new constable now starts at £1,861. Other important features of the settlement were the introduction of a supplement to compensate for the large number of unsocial hours worked by the police, and the full implementation of equal pay for women officers. Police officers are also entitled to free quarters or a rent allowance in lieu. Maximum limits of rent allowance vary from £8·40 to £15·78, effectively tax-free. The highest allowance in England and Wales—£15·78 a week—is paid in London and is due for review from the 1st April this year.

As part of last year's agreement the Police Council agreed to undertake a review of the structure of police pay, and a working party was set up. Considerable progress has been made, and it is hoped that a report will be submitted to the Police Council at about the end of this month. If so, this will be a speedy conclusion to an extremely complex task, and I can assure the House that the Government will take very seriously the report and any recommendations which the council make on it.

In the light of the extremely revealing figures produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) on differentials between ranks, particularly in overtime, can the hon. Lady assure us that it will not be too late for the Home Office representative on the council to take these remarks into account and give some recognition to the extraordinary situation to which my hon. Friend referred?

The hon. Gentleman's speech will be carefully considered and the points he made will be looked into.

As for London, the London allowance for the federated ranks and superintendents was increased from £74 to £275 a year from 1st April that year, following the Pay Board's report. I hope that this gives some indication of the progress which has been made and which I hope will be made in police pay.

Housing was another important issue which the hon. Member for Thanet, East raised. Clearly the problems of manpower and morale in the large urban forces are exacerbated by housing problems. The Government are very conscious of the need for an effective and progressive policy. The Police Advisory Board has reconvened its working party on housing to examine schemes to facilitate house purchase by police officers. The working party has met on a number of occasions and is now preparing a report for submission to the full board as soon as possible. I can assure hon. Members that everything practicable is being done to implement proposals arising out. of this examination which will in any way contribute towards improving matters for the police service.

This has been a useful discussion, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the points he has raised will be carefully studied and borne in mind. The debate has reminded us of some of the issues which bear on the complex question of financing the police and on the matters now being considered by the Layfield inquiry. Finance is one of the cornerstones of an efficient and contented police service, and I hope that what I have said will remind the House of the constructive attitude and constant vigilance of the Government in all matters related to the police, including pay and manpower.

The Arts

12.43 a.m.

The new National Theatre building was due to be opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 23rd April 1975. That date is a very special day for playgoers. It would be unpardonable if the new National Theatre were not fully operational by 23rd April 1976.

I am very pleased to see present the Minister with responsibility for the arts, because on 15th November 1974, in the debate on the National Theatre Bill, he said about the date for the opening of the new National Theatre building:
"I shall be the first to announce it. I do not want anyone to imagine, because I am not in a position to announce a date today, that I do not have a pretty good idea of when it will be".—[Official Report, 15th November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 777.]
If the Minister had a very good idea last November, he must have a much better idea now. Therefore, I hope that we shall have from the Minister a little more information in this debate. I must press him to take us into his confidence and give us a date.

I know that there have been difficulties. As anyone who has tried to gain possession of a new building knows, there comes a time when one has to move in, whether it is finished or not, in order to get the builders out. Perhaps we have reached this stage with Mr. Denys Lasdun's splendid building.

The National Theatre Act 1974 provided for the final finance for the construction. I put a query against that. Have we voted all the funds that will be needed to complete the construction?

What we ought to know now is whether we can have a definite promise that we shall have made available the necessary funds for the running of the theatre on a scale worthy of this splendid building. We have had quite a number of ministerial statements on that subject. I do not want to weary the House, but I must quote what Lord Strabolgi said, as the Minister responsible in the other place, in reply to a question from my noble Friend Lord Eccles. Lord Eccles had asked that all proper forward budgeting should be allowed for, and Lord Strabolgi said:
"I am sure we can give this assurance."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21st November 1974; Vol. 354. c. 1167.]
Then the noble Lord quoted what the Minister had said in the House of Commons on 7th November, namely,
"I have indicated to the House that the Government are fully aware of the problem of running costs and that we have no intention of allowing this great new project to run down for lack of ability to maintain itself."—[Official Report, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 1377.]
That all sounds very encouraging. Lord Strabolgi had said elsewhere that the country had got a most impressive and well-planned theatre complex which would be unique and second to none in the world. He went on to say something which was perhaps not quite as encouraging as what the Minister had said in this House, because he said that it was all really up to the Arts Council to find the money to run the National Theatre, as if somehow the Arts Council had some special genius in discovering the necessary money, when we all know that it is our Minister in the House of Commons who has to extract from the Treasury the funds which will run the National Theatre.

Lord Strabolgi said that the Arts Council had
"long been aware of the future needs of the National Theatre and arc in regular consultation with them and of course with all the other theatres concerned. The Government have confidence in the judgment of the Arts Council."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21st November 1974; Vol. 354. c. 1130.]
So have I—but judgment with what funds? That is the question. They were brave words but not quite as specific as we might have hoped.

The Minister said in this House on 15th November, at the end of his speech—and only after he had been pressed pretty hard by the Opposition:
"It is the full intention of the Arts Council that the theatre shall operate fully."—[Official Report, 15th November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 779.]
That was a nice, crisp little sentence, but we want to know a little more about that today.

If those brave words—and some words that were not so brave—were translated into action, I believe that it would be possible for two of the three theatres in the building to be operational by the autumn—perhaps one in August-September and the other in November-December. That is possible, if one looks at the building and reads between the lines of the public statements of various interested parties.

I wonder whether the National Theatre Company has yet been told that it will be provided with money even to make the move into the new building. Will the Minister tell us whether that money will be forthcoming? Does the Arts Council grant for 1974–75 which has been announced take the National Theatre into account? How is the money in the Vote we are discussing to be spent? If it is all going into the building, there does not seem to be anything left over for running the threatre within the building. We need to know a good deal more about that.

Then there is the running of the new building, quite apart from what happens in it. A new building of 500,000 sq. ft. containing three theatres is bound to cost a deal of money to run. My guess is about £1 million a year just to keep it in use as a theatre, and probably about one-third of that a year to keep it closed. That suggests that it would be a good thing for the building to become operational as soon as possible.

It is not difficult to do the arithmetic and work out that it would probably cost £2 million a year to run the National Theatre in its new home over and above the cost of running it in its present form. So we need probably £1 million a year just to run the building—the Minister knows what I mean by that—and another £2 million to have performances in it, and we have 30 per cent. inflation. I do not envy the Minister his task, but it is important to come to a firm decision which will enable those concerned with the National Theatre to plan ahead. The Arts Council has not quite known where it was for a long time, and the Minister must have been as unhappy about that as we were. We knew that it was all the Treasury's fault, but the National Theatre should not be put in that position.

For every day that the new buildings are not in use we are losing money. That ought to appeal to the Treasury. The building contains three theatres capable of earning a substantial amount at the box office. It is no secret that the talented Director, Mr. Peter Hall, has said that he hopes that in the new theatre complex there will be greater involvement with television, film and so on, and one realises the great scope for revenue. I hope the Minister will give an indication whether my guesswork is near the mark. If it is not, we ought to know. If it is, where is the money coming from?

In talking about an artistic subject it is rather sordid to have to keep harping on finance. I have to do so because the subject is raised under the Consolidated Fund Bill. When a substantial sum is being voted, one is entitled to ask how it will be spent.

It is no secret that the new National Theatre building is aimed at being a truly national theatre. Here I paraphrase the publicity put out by the new National Theatre. The building should not be the province only of the National Theatre Company. Theatre of every kind from all over the world is the aim, and the building should be used to the fullest possible extent. The people should be encouraged to think of the place as belonging to them, a theatre for the whole nation, with all kinds of formal and informal activity taking place within it. Mr. Peter Hall used very much that kind of phrase to describe the theatre. He wants other theatre—regional theatre, alternative theatre, foreign theatre—to think of the building as theirs too, as a London platform for their work.

It is important to stress this aspect because some people have called the National Theatre a white elephant. Far from it. Provided that the money is there to open it and keep it going, it will be very much more than just a London affair. The National Theatre can belong only partly to the National Theatre Company. Theatres up and down the country will be coming to London; the National Theatre Company will be visiting the provinces. This is part of the fabric built up by the Conservative Government. I am glad to think that it will be maintained by the present Government so as to make sure that we do not concentrate the arts in London. We can go out into the provinces and also we can welcome the provincials back here.

If we do not obtain the money to open the National Theatre and to run it, we shall find ourselves as a nation looking pretty ridiculous. I cannot resist one quotation from Shakespeare's Othello:
"If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, I can again thy former light restore, Should I repent me …"
Well, not on the present financial indications, because I feel that they may have run out of shillings for the meter. In other words, we do not know where we are, and I hope the Minister can give us some enlightenment.

It must be stressed that if the theatre is used to the full, the cost per seat will not be more expensive than the present arrangements at the Old Vic, but if we are to assist the National Theatre in difficult times surely it is all the more important that it should get a good start in regard to forward plans. What is being done in that direction? Is the future of the National Theatre being worked in with the whole fabric of the Arts Council's overall planning? We must spare a thought for the Arts Council's other children all of whom are existing, so they say, on a shoe-string.

Some Conservatives have suggested that there might be merit in separating out the big spenders in the arts, of which the National Theatre will be one. The Minister was asked about this matter in a previous debate and did not give very much of an indication as to how he felt about the situation. There may be some disadvantages. Some of the noises made by the Arts Council are to the effect that "Yes, we take on board the fact that we have to finance the National Theatre, but it will be difficult to find money for other things." Covent Garden is one of our most expensive and worth-while undertakings, and the National Theatre will he no less expensive and no less worth while.

If the Minister has to do battle with the Treasury, perhaps he will remember that the British Tourist Authority says that this year we shall earn £1,000 million from tourism. What is it that tourists come to Britain to see? We are told that top of the list are our theatres and our national heritage. Surely even the most cautious Treasury Ministers can be persuaded to back a winner in this regard.

Perhaps I should return briefly to the Minister's rôle. I know that he is devoted to the theatre. He has spent all his life striving for better pay and conditions for his profession. Here is the great opportunity. The audience is waiting for the curtain to rise on a project which has taken more than a century to reach completion. I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if Mr. Speaker had still been present I could have reminded him that as long ago as 1962 he appointed the National Theatre Board. The theatre is still not open. It was in 1848, I believe, that it was first suggested that we should have a national theatre.

At least the building is complete, and now needs fitting out. We must get it into operation. I do not imagine that the Minister plans to find himself on stage, or even on the three stages, on opening night with nothing to offer but a noncommittal parliamentary reply. I am glad to see that he smiles at that. I am sure that the genius of Mr. Peter Hall and the inventiveness of the audience on that first night could make the Minister's appearance memorable, should he have to explain that it has not all happened as he had hoped. But that is not what he is aiming at, we know.

The hon. Gentleman is on the stage now, in not a particularly full House but in the full glare of the parliamentary footlights. We eagerly await the final scene in the drama when all is made plain.

Now I have an epilogue—I hope not an epitaph. The Consolidated Fund Bill has one other item which I discovered was in order on the subject of the arts: the purchase of the site for the extension for the Royal Opera House. I could repeat all the arguments I have already used, but I shall not. They may be taken as read. We need a progress report here, too, tonight.

The Royal Opera struggles heroically. The Arts Council cannot find enough for it. We have a great deal of welcome help coming to the Royal Opera from industry, the National Westminster Bank, Imperial Tobacco and the Midland Bank. I hope that the Minister will see that these great national institutions get the credit far the work they are doing, and that the talks which he has told me he is having with both sides of industry, with a view to further participation in the arts, are going well and will soon come to fruition.

One of the difficulties is that people who have tried to help in the arts have had scant credit or attention for their work. We have the extraordinary situation that the BBC, I am told by the Home Secretary, is not allowed to put on sponsored programmes, and yet it is broadcasting "The Masked Ball" by Verdi, which the Minister saw recently. I think that he was even invited by one of the sponsoring institutions. I am sure he had a splendid evening.

I know that the Minister appreciates the work being done, yet the Home Office says that the BBC cannot put on sponsored programmes. It is doing it, yet it will not give the National Westminster Bank or Imperial Tobacco a credit line on the title of the opera saying that they sponsored it. Those institutions are only human. They deserve a little bit of good public relations in that direction. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter. He heard me tackle the Home Secretary, who said that I should have a word with him. Now I have had a word with him. I believe that the BBC needs only a gentle nudge and that the hon. Gentleman will find that the other side of industry is not unreceptive.

What about the forward planning for the Royal Opera House? The site is purchased. May we have a progress report? If we get these new facilities, have we provision for running them? It will be a pity if we have a splendid new building adjoining the Royal Opera House and nothing going on inside it.

I end by referring again to the Minister's previous speech, when he said:
"We have bought land earmarked for a future extension of the Royal Opera House. We are finding money to complete the building of the National Theatre. Go where one will—it is all happening."
Is it? The hon. Gentleman also said:
"Soon I shall be issuing a publication provisionally entitled ' Arts with the People'. Those who read it may find it difficult not to take pride in belonging to this nation and in being one of these people."—[Official Report, 10th February, 1975; Vol. 886, c. 104.]
Those of us interested in the arts take pride in the achievements of this country in recent years. A crisis point has now arrived. These two great institutions are worthy of a little more consideration and support. I know that the Minister is doing his best. We shall do our best to back him in extracting from the Treasury, with which we have all battled in the past, sufficient funds to make both great institutions an effective reality in the future.

1.6 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) for raising this matter. He is especially well informed on the National Theatre, so much so that I sometimes think that he must have special sources of information. It is valuable to have the matter raised by someone who has the welfare of the theatre very much at heart.

The more often the House looks at these problems the more likely we are to arrive at a true appreciation of the difficulties and to see what we can do to achieve our ends. Happily there is no difference about what those ends are. All of us want to do everything we can to maintain and advance the great eminence which this country currently enjoys in every form of artistic activity.

However, before we discuss the problems we should recognise that they are aspects of our success. This is not, as it used to be, a Philistine country spending nothing on the arts, content with a short season at Covent Garden, with the National Theatre just a pipe dream, with the BBC struggling away at the foundations of music, with Shakespeare at Stratford for the summer and the Old Vic and Sadlers Wells doing marvels on a grudging pittance, which used to be the case; with nothing outside London but a collapsing commercial theatre and where strangulated voices and amateurish dancing filled a West End which was a great deal less glamorous than the roseate haze of memory sometimes deceitfully pretends.

At that time, before the war, Britain counted for little on the world's stage. Now the situation is greatly changed. Britain is one of the few Western countries where opera plays all the year round. We have two major houses in the capital, we have Scottish and Welsh opera and one or two others. In addition 57 publicly-supported theatre companies are operating in their own buildings, including 11 in London, and a great theatrical building is nearing completion on the South Bank. As I said in the House once before, "It is all happening".

This is our problem. Theatres used to lose money because they were empty. Now they are full and they lose even more. How has this come about? The answer is that our attitude to the arts has changed. We no longer take the view that only that which pays can and should be done. We now say that we must do it the best way it can be done. We must do it even if it is expensive, because the theatre is as necessary to urban civilisation as an art gallery, a library or a museum. If we cannot take enough at the box office with reasonable prices, just like these other necessities of a full life, the State has the duty to step in and fill the financial gap. The trouble is that the gap is growing larger, not because public appreciation is falling away but because it is expanding and the demand is increasing all the time. The demand comes not only from our own people but also from those who come from abroad to visit us.

In these circumstances, the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that limitations on public expenditure are hard to bear. We are in a growth situation and much of the growth cannot be stopped. If we were to stop the completion of the National Theatre at once and leave the great building empty, it would cost several hundred thousand pounds a year for it simply to stand there, warmed, guarded, protected but empty of theatre.

There are great problems and the hon. Member has touched on some of them. I have said repeatedly both in relation to the arts in general and in relation to the National Theatre that the Government are fully aware of the situation and will do what is possible to safeguard the arts in general against high costs. In particular we have no intention of allowing the National Theatre to become a monument to the incapacity of capitalism to resolve its contradictions.

The hon. Gentleman is clearly seized of the nature of the problem at the National Theatre. I shall make further reference to it in a moment. Before doing so, however, I want to refer to the fact that I was able to announce in this House on 3rd March that the Arts Council would receive £26·15 million, subject to parliamentary grant, for next year, including £25 million for current expenditure. So far as total expenditure is concerned, this represents a 22½ per cent. increase on spending in the current year. In his introduction to the council's annual report for 1973–74, the chairman said that the £25 million I have mentioned would be needed to keep going the activities sustained in the current year.

As I have said previously, I think that the mention in public of figures of this kind before the Government are able to announce their decisions on the level of grant-in-aid for the ensuing year can carry a risk of being counter-productive. Various kinds of confusion can arise, including on what basis the figures are compiled. For their own part, of course it is the established policy of the Government—and the same was true of previous administrations—for forward planning purposes, that prices are on a constant price basis, and this enables a true measure to be given of actual growth.

Anyone who predicted exactly what inflation was likely to be a year hence would be rash indeed, but all planning bodies have to make assumptions about what is likely to happen on the best information available. It does not pay to concede defeat before we have striven. I must therefore say that our task now is to strive to the best of our ability to use the resources which we have got to achieve what we can for the arts. As I have said, the Government are in close touch and will keep in touch.

I return to the National Theatre, having set the scene. The prospects of completion of the National Theatre raise a particular aspect of this problem. The building is nearly complete, but it is not yet possible to say precisely when the various parts of the building will be ready for use. This remarkable new structure with its three auditoria will raise our facilities for the performing arts to a new level. For this we can be grateful to those who over generations have planned to achieve this ideal. But equally it raises commitments to a new level; and the Arts Council is therefore faced with an acute problem of a substantial rise in the requirements for grant for the supported theatre solely due to the size and scale of the new facilities. There is already evidence that the step in expenditure is likely to be between £500,000 and £1 million in order to bring the theatre into full operation, though the precise stages and timing have still to be determined.

I estimate that it will cost £1 million a year to run the building. Presumably the Minister is talking about another £1 million on top of that. That would mean that it would have the three auditoria in use. This would be £1 million extra for actors and productions, as well as £1 million extra for running the building.

The figures that I was giving relate to running costs, the cost of bringing the theatre into full operation. I am not in a position to give the continuing costs after that. That is a matter which the National Theatre Board will have to determine. It is not possible for me at this stage to determine the precise running costs for 19760–77. That is not possible to forecast now.

Up to the day that the theatre opens it will cost in the order of £1 million a year merely to run the building. How much extra will the National Theatre need to pay for productions to fill the three theatres over and above its present budget?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman those figures. I am talking about the additional cost to get the building completed. The precise stages and timing of the opening and all the details have yet to be determined. The Chairmen of the Arts Council and of the National Theatre Board have kept me fully in the picture and, as I have said previously, I shall give the facts as soon as I can. I had a meeting with the two chairmen only 10 days ago. I shall be having a further meeting, if that proves necessary, before very long. The matter is under active discussion. I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that at a time between meetings it is a little difficult, before matters are finally concluded, for me to supply the precise information he wants. At this moment the information is not available.

Some have argued that the National Theatre—the hon. Gentleman has mentioned this point and perhaps he will let me deal with it now—having been constructed under an Act of Parliament from capital grants paid direct to the South Bank Theatre Board and not through the Arts Council, should be in receipt of a separate grant direct from the Government. I am opposed to this idea because it would not produce any extra resources and would put the Government into the position of dictating to the Arts Council what proportion of total arts resources should be given to the National Theatre as opposed to all its other commitments. It is the duty of the Arts Council under its charter to take these decisions, and I am satisfied that it does not want this function usurped by me. Neither do I wish to usurp the function from the council.

It has also been argued that a separate grant should be made for the maintenance of the South Bank building and that the Arts Council should be responsible merely for the grants to the National Theatre Company, which operates in the building. Such an arrangement would, of course, provide no extra resources, because all expenditure on arts buildings, including the museums and galleries, has to be found from the total available for the arts. However, it is up to the Arts Council and the National Theatre Board to decide whether, in presenting the outcome of their calculations, they split their sums between these two heads for the sake of clarity. The idea that either of these two proposals would result in a net increase in total funds needs to be put on one side.

The Arts Council is naturally concerned about the implications for its grant in future years and of the need to put life into this great new building, which has been provided for the greater part at public cost by collaboration between the Greater London Council and the Government. I am aware of the importance to the Arts Council of being able to plan ahead in such circumstances. The Government will give an indication of the level of the 1976–77 grant just as soon as we can. We hope not to be as late with it as we were last year. The difficulties were then peculiarly great.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He will appreciate that I am trying to be both Front Bencher and back bencher. Is £1 million which the Minister has mentioned the money already in the National Theatre Act that is being added to complete the building, or is it some other £1 million that is coming from somewhere else? That we must know.

What the hon. Gentleman said about next year's Arts Council grant is helpful. Has the Arts Council got the money in its coffers to get the National Theatre off the ground? Presumably it will not have to wait beyond 23rd April next year. May we know more about that?

It is difficult for me to be specific. On the first point, I have been referring to capital expenditure—money intended to complete the building. I have not been discussing the running costs. That question is currently under discussion. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if we were to allow the theatre to stand empty—we have no intention of allowing that to occur—to keep it warm, light and functional would cost several hundred thousand pounds a year without anything happening in it. That was as far as I went in talking about running costs. I hope to say more about that matter before too long.

I turn now to the question of help which is given by private organisations to the arts. The hon. Gentleman referred to assistance given to productions at the Royal Opera House as an example. As he rightly said, I saw a splendid production of Verdi's "Masked Ball", which was assisted by the National Westminster Bank and the Imperial Tobacco Company.

I have been having discussions with representatives of business organisations on this matter—for example, Mr. Campbell Adamson of the CBI. I understand from other sources, not Mr. Campbell Adamson, that there is uncertainty at the moment whether business organisations would welcome the disclosure of all that they are doing in this connection. I hope that British business organisations will not feel that their shareholders would resent their doing anything for the arts but will take the same view as some American companies—that this is something of which a company should be proud and be prepared to boast about. As soon as I have an indication that such a step would be generally welcomed, I shall be glad to answer a Question in this House about what business organisations are doing and for whom with a view to encouraging others to do likewise.

I am not in a position to do that at the moment. I do not wish to embarrass or inflict discomfort upon any organisation which prefers, for one reason or another, to hide its light under a bushel. I wish to disclose those organisations which wish to be disclosed without lifting the veil on others which may wish, for perfectly valid reasons, to keep the situation private—at least for the time being.

Unfortunately I can give no undertaking about the proposed extension to the Royal Opera House. By any standard that would be an expensive project, and the Government have no plans at present to embark upon it. However, we have ensured that the opportunity provided by the move of the Covent Garden Market to Nine Elms has not been missed. We have therefore provided in the Estimate that we have discussed tonight funds for the purchase of the land required for the extension. I can announce that the Arts Council is now the owner of this land and that it will determine its usage in the intervening period.

I and my colleagues in the Government remain firmly of the opinion that the secret of the success to which I referred in my opening remarks is partly, perhaps even largely, to be found in the response doctrine support for the arts outlined by Sir Hugh Willatt in the Arts Council's report for 1973–74. We are committed as a party by our manifesto to making the Arts Council
"more democratic and representative of people in the arts and in entertainment."
That we shall do. Indeed, we have already taken the first steps in widening the trawl from which names are drawn from representative organisations. But that does not mean that we intend to change the fundamental basis of arts support. On the contrary, we are firmly committed to the view that we do not want and will not have a Minister for Culture who lays down a Government line on the arts which all who wish to be financed must follow.

The Government regard those of their citizens who promote, practise and perform in the arts as being among the most precious assets this country possesses. It is not within our power to prevent them from being frightened by the consequences of inflation—they would be foolish if they were not so frightened—but we shall do our best to see that the reality is less alarming than their present apprehension.

It is usually the case that the prophets of doom prove to be no more than people indulging in an enjoyable game which all children like to play—that of scaring the pants off the rest of us. My advice to artistes is "Do not fall for it. You have done and are doing great things." The record of Labour Governments in the arts from 1964 onwards is a proud one, and in spite of economic restraints it is a record which we intend to maintain and as soon as we can to enhance.

In that endeavour it will be our intention so far as the National Theatre is concerned not only to encourage the development of this great building but to ensure that it opens as soon as possible and brings great pleasure not only to the House but to the hon. Gentleman, who is a Front Bencher and back bencher combined. It is in the spirit of common endeavour and the intention to be as frank as we can as soon as we can that I have replied to the debate.

Matthew-Skillington Report

Before I call the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) to begin the next debate I should point out that his remarks should be limited to the increase of staff and that he should not debate the policy issues involved in the Matthew-Skillington Report.

1.27 a.m.

Class VIII, Vote 7, Subhead A1, deals with salaries of the Department of the Environment, and we read in paragraph (3) that the existing provision of £35·8 million for the salaries of 11,563 staff

"in support of various programmes"
has been revised upwards to £38·3 million. This increase gives me an opportunity to seek to establish from the Minister what provision, if any, has been made within that sum of £38·3 million for the implementation of the Minister's various decisions which he announced on the Matthew-Skillington Report.

I appreciate the narrow scope of the debate, and I shall confine my remarks solely to the staffing questions arising from that Estimate. As this matter indirectly concerns building I, as always, declare an interest as a non-executive director of Lovell Homes Ltd., although that has no relevance to this debate.

It was in December 1972 that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) appointed that distinguished architect Sir Robert Matthew and that fine public servant, since retired, Mr. Patrick Skillington to inquire into methods by which the Department of the Environment could promote high standards of design in Government building. I say in passing that it is ironic that the Department of the Environment should be housed in arguably the worst example of 1960s architecture in central London, with its three brutalised towers and windswept, dreary appearance.

Sir Robert and Mr. Skillington completed their report last April and it was made available for comment to a limited number of organisations and trade journals at the end of July. I suspect that the relatively slow and cautious attitude which Ministers took towards publication was due to the extremely careful and outspoken nature of the recommendations in the report. This is also borne out by the fact that despite regular Questions from me the Secretary of State for the Environment did not announce his decision until 4th March 1974, nearly 11 months after the publication of a report which is only 41 pages long in toto. In saying that, I make no party point at all.

The administrative and financial arrangements governed by this Estimate and which the authors commented on so unfavourably in the report have existed for many years through a succession of different Ministries—Housing, Public Building and Works and so on—and any experienced Whitehall observer knows that departmental reshuffles of staff usually involve the same people doing the same jobs under different titles but not, as in local government, for more money.

There are three different aspects of the report and the staffing implications which I wish to consider. The first deals with the Property Services Agency. According to answers that I have received from Ministers over the past 12 months, on 1st June 1974 the agency directly employed 411 architects who designed slightly less than half the annual workload of about £250 million of new construction in 1973, of which £28 million worth was overseas.

The authors of the report say bluntly that the agency was falling down on its job of promoting high standards of design and was restricting good architects. For example, in paragraph 2.7 they say:
"… if the quality and variety of opportunities could be taken as the sole measure, the Property Services Agency could well be expected to attract consistently high levels of talent without difficulty. This is not happening."
We read of great difficulties in recruiting good architects, of ageing staff, that
"the general level of quality of buildings is mediocre",
and in paragraph 3.7 that the Property Service Agency follows
"some inherited professional practices which are now largely discredited amongst the professions at large—e.g. the use of 'drawing offices' not forming integral parts of the design teams and the use of partial commissions."
In short, they say, the agency is in a self-defeating situation. High-quality design requires high-quality architects, and high-quality architects will only be attracted to an organisation which clearly gives maximum opportunities for the deployment of total professional skills.

The report therefore recommended the appointment of a chief architect of deputy secretary rank with wide-ranging responsibilities, but without immediately the line management control of design which would give him effective supervision of client programmes, cost targets and so on, although there was to be a pilot scheme of direct control of one design office. Wider responsibilities would come later through a series of separate regional design offices.

The Minister has partly accepted the recommendation by appointing a Director-General of Design Services, Mr. W. D. Lacey, as a deputy secretary at a salary of £14,000 per annum. That was announced on 4th March. Is that appointment budgeted for in this Estimate? The director-general's role, we are told, will be broadly as recommended by the report, except that there is no real suggestion of total line management or regional design offices. There is only a very tentative genuflexion to that end in paragraph 13 of the Secretary of State's decision letter of 4th March.

How many staff will be directly responsible to Mr. Lacey in the forthcoming year? How many of them will be architects? How many will be newly recruited to the Department of the Environment? What is the overall budget for this exercise and how does it fit in with this Estimate? Secondly, how many of the architects already employed by the PSA will be responsible to Mr. Lacey directly, how will they he chosen and on what basis?

Thirdly, what proportion of the design commissions of the PSA will be given to the director-general for his unit and under what criteria will they be allocated to him? If the same architects are used as under existing arrangements, how will design standards be improved? Fourthly, will Mr. Lacey be able to implement the recommendations in paragraph 6.7 of the report that architects in the PSA should be called architects and not P & TO IIs?

Fifthly, is it intended to continue to process normal regional design projects through the regional offices of the agency? If so, will there be any alteration of staffing arrangements there, and is it covered in this Vote?

Personally I do not think that the report, the Minister or this Vote, have gone far enough. When one reads statements such as
"The PSA, as at present constituted, carries an unsatisfactory, even daunting image. It is one of a large impersonal administrative machine",
it is not enough simply to recommend that the name of the agency be altered to seem more environmentally conscious. What is now needed is a full-scale review of the PSA, including whether it should employ designing architects at all—a major question which is quite inadequately dealt with in paragraph 7.2 of the report. That is something which could well be looked at by the Expenditure Committee.

I turn to the second part of the report, which arises under this Vote and which deals with the central Department of the Environment. Here again, with the exception of the Department of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings, the report is highly critical of present arrangements. The report recommended that there should be a Directorate of the Built Environment in the Department of the Environment, as well as the existing Housing Development Directorate, and that it should be headed by a chief environmental architect. Fortunately the Secretary of State has rejected that recommendation. I say "fortunately" because I do not believe that such an appointment would have served any useful purpose. For example, the Housing Development Directorate in June 1974 already employed 25 architects and 13 chartered surveyors, who perform a useful research rôle which could be expanded to meet the Matthew-Skillington recommendations at less cost.

The right hon. Gentleman's alternative decision is to set up an environmental board comprising various departmental heads and some outside professionals. This looks to me like a suspiciously nebulous exercise. I therefore pose these administrative questions to the Minister. First, arising out of this Vote, what will be the size and staffing costs of the secretariat of the board and, since they will presumably be taken from their existing duties to undertake this administrative work, will they be replaced by newly-recruited civil servants or will their work be allocated among existing officials. with no staff increase?

Secondly, will the external members of the board be paid under this Vote? If so, how much, and how will they be chosen? Thirdly, we are told that the first job of the board is apparently to help local authorities to implement certain sections of land nationalisation. What has that got to do with design, and why should these duties be remitted to a body which involves officials without any departmental responsibility in that regard? Why cannot the Chief Planner's Department do it on its own?

I have a strong suspicion that this board will be just another Marsham Street talking shop. I very much doubt whether it will in any way improve design standards because I doubt whether the very senior and busy men involved will be able to devote sufficient time to such politically unexciting fields of endeavour.

My final set of comments concerns the Minister's decision on that section of the Matthew-Skillington report which deals with liaison with the construction industry. Once again the report was sharply critical of the Department for failing to act effectively in its sponsoring rôle, but there was also trenchant criticism of the industry's collective structure, with the undoubtedly true statement that
"The industry tends to present its case in a fragmented, ill-organised and sometimes contradictory way."
The report very sensibly recommended that a new section should be set up in the DGER to study the details of economic behaviour in the building industry. Is that recommendation accepted by Ministers? Is it part of this Estimate? hope so, because when I was director of the House-Builders Federation I felt that the grasp of the practical problems of the housebuilder at the highest level of the Department of the Environment was something less than satisfactory. That is a sphere to which both the Minister and his adviser, Mr. Warren Evans, should turn their attention.

In this necessarily limited debate I have dealt not with the policy of the Matthew-Skillington Report—that would be out of order—and still less with the important design considerations which arise, but with some complex administrative matters which raise important matters of financial policy and control. I hope that the Minister has taken note of them and will endeavour to answer them. However, it is only right to conclude by congratulating Sir Robert and Mr. Skillington on their very thought-provoking report. Like Ministers, I did not agree with all of it, but it dealt with these serious problems in a refreshingly frank way.

1.40 a.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) not only on raising this most interesting subject but also on his skill in remaining in order while he did so. I had the feeling that a number of the interesting questions which he posed to me were not questions on which he expected precise and immediate replies but were rhetorical questions put in order for him to remain in order. However, knowing the hon. Member's almost insatiable appetite for information connected even remotely with the building industry I feel sure that if he were to be given all the answers he would be pleased with them and would profit from receiving them.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's decision to raise this subject. I wish he had been a little more successful in the Ballot so that we could have gone home a little earlier, but this is as suitable a time as any to discuss the matter.

Though the decisions on the Matthew-Skillington Report relate to the internal organisation of the Department of the Environment, they have a potential impact on the built environment which is far-reaching. As the House and certainly the hon. Member for Melton will know, the inquiry carried out by Sir Robert Matthew and Mr. Skillington was initiated in 1972 by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). Its terms of reference were:
"to advise on the possible means of promoting high standards of design in Government building in the conservation of the built environment and in new physical development within the purview of the Secretary of State for the Environment; and to report on those means and their organisational implications."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, whose suitability to the post of Secretary of State for the Environment was not noticed as widely as it should have been —he had a considerable experience in local government and had interests in all the matters pertaining to the Department—chose well.

Sir Robert Matthew is one of our leading architects, and in Mr. Skillington he was supported by a distinguished administrator with extensive experience of the construction responsibilities of government—and who was later to acquire certain more controversial experience to which the House will be turning its attention in the next few days. Their report is warmly to be commended for its valuable contribution towards the more effective promotion of good design. I am certain that the hon. Member for Melton will join with me on that point even though he and the Department have not been able to accept everything put forward.

However, in view of the wider interest in the report my right hon. Friend thought it right to consult widely on the findings. and in particular to seek the views of the professional institutions and the local authority associations. That consultation yielded a wide spectrum of views which my right hon. Friend was bound to take into account. This inevitably took time. The report was made public on 19th July last year and the decisions were announced only a few days ago.

The commissioning of the inquiry reflected the view that there was a need to strengthen the architectural contribution both to the Department of the Environment's wider environmental policies and to its works, and that view is also now taken by my right hon. Friend. That is not to say that the Department has cause to be ashamed of its record to date. A great deal has been done by those already working in the Department in the last year or two to develop more sensitive policies towards the built environment; policies which are more discriminating in deciding what to replace and what to conserve, which are better directed to moulding the pattern of change so as to blend the new with the old.

The steps now taken are therefore to be seen not as a big revolutionary leap forward, but as a further important move along a road on which we are already travelling. It is inapposite to use language such as alleging that the Property Services Agency is falling down on its job. It is an organisation which has been in existence for only a couple of years. It has not had time to fall down on its job. It is an organisation which is only getting into its stride.

Part I of the report deals with the Property Services Agency. My right hon. Friend entirely endorses what the report says about the potential influence of the PSA on architectural standards. Those who work in the agency have managed already to create a body representing the practical arm of the Department of the Environment in the area of constructional design. They and it are in a unique position to demonstrate in practice the significance of Government policies on the built environment. Those who work for the agency and are responsible for its activities are responsible for a large programme of building at home and abroad. The works for which the PSA is responsible include offices, law courts workshops, prisons, military installations, housing for the Armed Forces, embassies—a number of which I have visited—and a variety of specialised works.

The report, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, recommended the appointment of a chief architect in the PSA. As the hon. Member has said, we have instead appointed a Director General of Design Services. This difference is important. We have not appointed Mr. Lacey to be a chief architect but to be chief professional in relation to all the various forms of expertise involved in building design. This difference reflects the view, strongly held by many consulted on the report, that an enhancement of design standards depends on an integrated approach, embracing all the professions represented on design teams.

My right hon. Friend has accordingly welcomed the main proposition in Part I of the report that there should be a top-ranking professional in the PSA with the central aim of promoting high standards of design. As I have said, he has therefore created the new post of Director General of Design Services in the agency and he has appointed to it Mr. W. D. Lacey, an architect with a distinguished record of service in the Department of Education and Science and in local government. Mr. Lacey is a widely-respected figure in the architectural profession.

Mr. Lacey's job will be a key one. He will have deputy secretary status and play a full part in the top management of the agency. He will have both a general advisory rôle on design matters and direct control over a new multi-disciplinary design office. He will be particularly concerned with advising on recruitment and career management of professional staff, and with securing an effective contribution from private consultants towards the work of the agency. We must always be cautious about the engagement of outside consultants. Those who work in the agency can often be jealous of their position within the agency and rightly so.

Can the Minister say whether there is any significance in the fact that in A1(4) of the Vote there is a revised provision downwards in consultation fees for the coming year? Does this involve a policy indicating the use of fewer private architects?