SEA FISH INDUSTRY BILL
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This compact, but very important, Bill is designed to implement the undertaking given by the Prime Minister on 4th July of last year in the following terms:The difficulties of the white fish industry are basic, complex, and of long standing. There is, therefore, no simple solution to them. The view has often been expressed in this House that their difficulties are not likely to be overcome by the industry itself. The Government agree with this view and have decided to promote legislation to set up an Authority with adequate powers to regulate, re-organise and develop the white fish industry. It will he composed of independent members and will have statutory powers, but it will naturally work in consultation with the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 237.]I do not propose to dilate upon the difficulties of the industry mentioned by the Prime Minister. They have been described many times in this House. To a large extent, they are still those noted by the Duncan Commission, which reported as long ago as in 1936, though some of them, unfortunately, have grown in intensity meanwhile.
On the catching side, Sir Andrew Duncan and his colleagues observed that, while the reputation of fish as a food had been built up in this country on the rich variety of fresh and prime species taken inshore and from the near and middle waters, a new and competitive industry has since been developed in distant water fish. The near and middle water fleet was even then getting bogged down in its own difficulties. The vessels themselves were, in the main, becoming old and uneconomic, and their condition has grown worse with the succeeding years.
The Duncan Commission also drew attention to the need for more ordered spacing of the arrival of vessels from all the fishing grounds and for improvements in the stowage of catches and in methods of preservation. They pointed out that, beginning with the daily auctions and following through all stages of distribution 323 financial advantage would accrue from greater freshness in the product. On the distribution side, that Commission recommended substantial changes in the organisation of wholesale distribution, and were of opinion that there were far too many port wholesalers. They made many other suggestions in their Report.
Various attempts have already been made to find means of dealing with the various known difficulties of this industry. In 1938, following the Duncan Report, an Act was passed setting up a White Fish Commission and providing for marketing schemes covering separately the various sections of the industry. But that Commission had hardly begun work when the war broke out and operations were therefore suspended. It has since become fairly clear that that particular method of approach would not be likely to produce useful results within a reasonable time.
The last full debate that we had on this subject took place in April of last year. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), whom I do not see in his place this afternoon, but whose abiding interest in all fishery matters is so well known, opened that debate in what he described as the longest speech he had ever made in this House. Since then, I gather, he has become a television star and does not think fishing debates as necessary as they used to be. He was followed by a number of other hon. Members representing fishing constituencies and far-reaching proposals were put forward for dealing with the problems of the industry, not on a sectional or piecemeal basis, but as part of a co-ordinated and long-term plan.
I think it is fair to say that the debate in general showed a realisation of the need for positive and even drastic measures if we were ever to allow the industry to find its feet again. I should like, if I may, to quote briefly from two of the speeches in this debate; and I have selected them not because the hon. Gentlemen concerned sit on these benches, but because they seemed to pinpoint what was rapidly becoming the generally accepted view. My hon. Friend who so ably represents Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), at the end of his speech, said this:… I am convinced that unless we can get an overall authority for the industry, not 324 only for marketing but for production, allocation and, particularly, distribution, we shall not get very much further in rehabilitating this great and important industry. … I would urge the Government to consider very strongly the setting up of a board or commission—call it what we will—of independent people, who are not to be swayed other than in an advisory way by the trade itself, to regulate this industry.He was followed later by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) which includes Milford Haven, the largest fishing port in Wales—wha supported what had been said by the hon. Member for Lowestoft, and said:I hope the Government will go into the suggestion and, if they do decide to act upon it, that sufficient power and teeth will be provided so that the job may be done adequately and successfully. This is no time for half measures so far as the fishing industry is concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April. 1950: Vol. 474, c. 1201–2 and 1227.]In replying to that debate, I made it clear that in my own view the mere revival of the White Fish Commission would do little or nothing to help this industry back to a state of prosperity. I indicated at that time that I was much more attracted by the idea underlying the two speeches to which I have just referred.
The two vital points that stand out are first, that a strong independent body should be made responsible for re-organisational plans; and second, that they should be given sufficient power to ensure that the job can be done properly and successfully. That is the line that has been followed in the Bill now before the House. These two essential matters are contained in the first six Clauses of the Bill, and it is on them in particular that I propose to concentrate. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 deal with the White Fish Authority, its Scottish Committee and the joint Advisory Council; while Clauses 4, 5 and 6 deal with the powers that the Authority will be able to exercise.
Clause 1 provides for the constitution of the Authority and describes in general terms its functions. As I hinted a moment ago, in considering the constitution of a body to undertake such functions there are two broad principles either of which might be followed. One would be to set up a representative body—representative, that is to say, sectionally and geographically. Such a body would have to be very large since there are so many sections and groups that could properly demand adequate representation.
325 On the catching side alone, there are the distant water section, responsible for at least 60 per cent. of the catch in Great Britain, may be more in the case of England and Wales; the near and middle water section, responsible for 31 per cent.; and the inshore fisheries, which produce the remainder. There are port wholesalers, inland wholesalers, retailers, fish fryers, skippers and crews of the vessels, workers at the ports, and last but by no means least, consumers. Clearly a body composed of representatives of all those interests would not be a committee but a general meeting, and a mass meeting at that. Certainly, it would, in the nature of things, be sectional in outlook.
The second alternative, which we have adopted, is that of a small independent and impartial body which will take advice from all but orders from none except the Ministers and Parliament. This Authority will consist of five members appointed jointly by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Minister of Food. It will be seen from paragraph 4 of the First Schedule, that no person may be appointed who has any such financial or commercial interest as is likely to affect him in the discharge of his duties. The chairman and members are in no sense representatives of the industry or any section of it. Sectional representation is left entirely to the Advisory Council which is to be set up under Clause 3.
The members of the Authority are individuals chosen for their good sense and broad experience, though some of them, I happen to be aware, know a good deal about the various aspects of the industry, including transport and distribution. As the House is aware, the chairman and members were appointed last September—as "designate" of course, since they can have no statutory existence until this Bill becomes law. I should like to say on behalf of all three Ministers concerned how grateful we are to Admiral Sir Robert Burnett and his colleagues for taking on this intricate and vital task, and how glad we were to see them get down so speedily to their first job of making themselves truly familiar with the conditions and problems of the industry. I may add that that has not been their only preoccupation, because we have 326 brought them into consultation, as we originally intended, in the preparation of this Bill.
Before passing from Clause 1, I should like to draw attention to subsection (3), which specifically requires the Authority to have regard to the interests of consumers in a plentiful supply of white fish at reasonable prices.
Clause 2 and 3 provide respectively for the Scottish Committee and the Advisory Council. The fishery problems of Scotland are in some important respects different from those of either England or Wales; and it is of course true that the fisheries administration in Scotland is separate from the fisheries administration for England and Wales. It was for those reasons that we thought it desirable to have this Scottish Committee, which will not only be able to advise the Authority on peculiarly Scottish fishing problems, but will also be able to exercise powers delegated to them by the Authority itself.
The Advisory Council will be widely and generally representative and will form a permanent link between all sections of the white fish industry and the new Authority. I should like it to be as fully representative as possible but I hope we shall exercise some ingenuity in trying to keep down the numbers to manageable proportions.
The powers and duties of the Authority are set out in Clauses 4, 5 and 6, and it will be seen that they are in three general gradations. Those in Clause 4 will be exercisable as soon as the Bill becomes law. The powers in Clause 5 to make regulations will not become operative until the regulations are confirmed by the Ministers and the instrument confirming them will be subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament. The powers under Clause 6 require not only the approval of the Ministers but also affirmative resolutions of both Houses of Parliament.
Clause 4 sets out a fairly wide variety of powers that the authority may exercise. Some, such as the power to carry on or support research and experiment and the power to encourage co-operation, need little explanation or justification. But there are powers in subsection (1, c) and (1, d) the need for which may not be quite so obvious to hon. Members. There is no intention, 327 of course, that the Authority will set up generally to act as agent for the first sale of white fish; or that it will undertake generally the purchase and sale of fisher- men's requisites; or that it will necessarily become the sole agencies for the sale of white fish and fish products abroad. While existing facilities are adequate, it is fairly obvious that it will let well alone.
But conditions in different places vary very widely indeed. There are little fishing ports as well as large ones, and it is safe to say that powers of these kinds are likely to be needed in some measure in some places. Hon. Members representing particularly the inshore fishery ports will recall the possibility of quite a large number of inshore fishermen but only one buyer; and where those circumstances obtain the fishermen would not necessarily get a square deal. Therefore, if the Authority felt that some competition with the one buyer for all the catches was necessary then it could, to help the fishermen, step in and do the job, perhaps even temporarily.
The powers to provide fishing vessels to be operated under charter, and to give financial assistance by way of loan for the provision of fishing vessels, set out in Clause 4 (1, e) and (1, g), and the powers described in Clause 4 (2) and Clause 4 (3) should perhaps be looked at together: and paragraph (f) is similar in principle.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
Before the right hon. Gentleman ends his reference to these paragraphs, will he deal with paragraph (d), and say what "by other means" in that paragraph means?
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member will contain himself in patience, I intend to come back to him and to what he said in the "Fish Trades Gazette" about the Bill before he read it.
It is now generally recognised, as the Duncan Commission pointed out 15 years ago, that a great deal of scrapping and replacement must be done in the near and middle water fleet if that important section of the industry is to be made efficient and economic. Over 80 per cent. of the vessels in this class are more than 30 years old; some of them are even as old as I am, and that is unfortunately too aged to be either economic or efficient. This section of the industry is of vital 328 importance, because it produces most of the prime., best quality fish on which the national taste for fish is founded.
There is virtually no chance at all of the industry itself undertaking the huge financial commitments involved without some outside help. That help might take the form of grants or loans; or it might take the form of the Authority taking shares in fishing companies or themselves acquiring vessels and letting them out under charter. Grants for this purpose have, however, been rejected by the Government, because once the money is paid out there is an end to it. The money is gone, whether it has been used well or ill.
Alternatively, the help could be given by means of loans, but the Government came to the conclusion, on the advice of the Authority, that the best course might sometimes be either to tit out fishing vessels for charter, or—probably better still—to take shares in fishing companies: because either of those ways would provide greater security and more effective control. Let me make it abundantly clear—and I address myself particularly to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne)—that the power to take or acquire shares does not include any element of compulsion. While the hon. Member is thinking about that I propose to quote something he said, which I think is not a reasonable statement for an hon. Member to make: and I doubt if he had read the Bill at the time. He said—I am going to quote only one or two short extracts—
§ Mr. Williams
Yes, it is from the "Fish Trades Gazette" of 20th January:The new Bill … is only a piece of window dressing.Then he goes on to sayTo my mind the proposals are politically dangerous. …First "window dressing," secondly "dangerous." Third:It is an attempt at nationalisation by the hack door"—
§ Mr. Williams
It continues:It can he nationalisation for the merchants as well as the trawler owners.
§ Mr. Williams
I have just assured the House, and the hon. Member for Louth, that the power to take or acquire shares does not include any element of compulsion whatsoever. No one can be required to sell shares to the Authority unless they themselves wish to.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. May I say that he has no authority for saying I made that statement before I had read the Bill—and for getting a cheap laugh, by saying it. I had react the Bill. I consider it is unworthy of him.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member had read the Bill, then I apologise. But his crime is infinitely worse than if he had not read the Bill. He has clearly not understood one line in the Bill, since he says it is nationalisation by the back door. He cannot find one word in the Bill where any trawler company is compelled to sell shares. He cannot find one word in the Bill which indicates that any merchant is compelled to sell shares. Therefore, when he suggested that it is nationalisation by the back door it might be good Grimsby politics but it is not understanding—
§ Mr. Osborne
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; at least he is better than his back benchers. There is nothing in this Clause 4 to say that the word "take" has not more power than the word "acquire." The word "acquire," as I read English, means something as between willing buyer and willing seller. The word "take" has a note of compulsion in it, and if that be so, then it will be nationalisation.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member will be a little more patient I intend to say something about the words "take" and "acquire." I am not an expert on Stock Exchange matters, but I understand that "take," in this connection, is to take shares in a new company. I am telling the hon. Member for Louth and the House that that is how to understand the word "take" in this connection.
§ Mr. Williams
To take shares in a new company; not to expropriate them, but take then on conditions. To "acquire" shares obviously means to acquire shares in an existing company.
§ Mr. Williams
What I am saying is obviously correct, and if the hon. Member for Louth has put a wrong interpretation on the terms of the Bill, I hope that he will now sit down and reflect upon it, read it again, and see if he can get to the real truth of the matter. But there is no possibility of compulsion in any form in any part of the Bill. There is no power for the Authority to compel anybody to sell what they do not wish to sell.
It is in this same context that subsection (3) of Clause 4, which gives the Authority limited powers to operate fishing vessels, should also be read. I commend this also to the hon. Member for Louth. Where the Authority decide to put money into a fishing company, perhaps to help that company to replace one of their worn-out vessels, they will no doubt do so only on suitable terms. The terms would have to be agreed, and the limited provision for them to operate temporarily fishing vessels in which they have a financial interest is intended to enable them, in any agreement they make, to safeguard their interest—and the interest of the Exchequer—should any such company wish to go into liquidation. Therefore it would be a purely temporary period during which they operated the vessel or vessels.
In general, Clause 4 may be criticised on the ground that the powers set out there are very wide. Well, they are wide, and they have been deliberately made so; though they are not dissimilar in the main from those powers already exercisable by the Herring Industry Board. But I repeat that there is no compulsion on any person or any branch of the industry. The powers are purely permissive. It would be useless to set up such a body and then to hedge it round with restrictions which prevented it from doing those very things which most of us think are really necessary. The Authority are carefully selected men, and we must equip them with suitable powers and 331 trust them, subject of course to reasonable safeguards.
Clause 5 furnishes the Authority with a further set of powers to make regulations for the purpose, broadly speaking, of improving the conditions of the fish when it reaches the consumer. It is also the Clause which empowers the Authority to make regulations for prescribing anything that needs to be prescribed under any other Clause in the Bill. One of the items is to time landings, if possible—I said if possible—so as to secure as far as possible greater regularity of supply. I know that this is a very ticklish matter. It will require careful handling, but the Authority themselves feel that if they can capture—as I am sure they will—the willing co-operation of the trawler owners, something may be done to relieve the succession of gluts and shortages at the large fishing ports. The Authority are not expected by the Government to work miracles, but we feel sure that, given time, they will bring about many desirable improvements in the economy of the industry.
Clause 6 provides still further powers, and in more general terms. It authorises the Authority, after consultation with the industry, to prepare schemes having as their object the better organisation, development or regulation of the industry or any section of it. It is, of course, impossible to foresee what the schemes of the Authority may be. There is no limitation to their scope, except in the general terms which I have already mentioned, and I have no idea just where they intend to start. They may look at marketing, the timing of landings, the conservation of fish stocks in the North Sea or any other subjects which would require their careful study.
I want, however, to emphasise these essential points about schemes under Clause 6. I commend these safeguards to the hon. Member for Louth in particular. First, in preparing any scheme the Authority are expressly required to consult with representative organisations. Secondly, a scheme must be for the purposes set out in the Clause. Thirdly, Ministers have to be satisfied, having regard to the interests of consumers as well as to those of the industry, that the scheme will have the desired effect.
332 Fourthly, provision is made in the Third Schedule for due notice to be given of a proposal to make a scheme, for the submission and consideration of objections and, where necessary, for an inquiry to be held. Fifthly, no scheme can come into force until it has received the approval of the Ministers, and then been approved by both Houses of Parliament. I hope that explanation will remove many of the legitimate and some of the illegitimate doubts and anxieties that have been expressed.
The registration of persons engaged in the white fish industry and the licensing of vessels are dealt with in Clauses 7 and 8. These provisions are basic to any plan or scheme for reorganisation. There is nothing in the nature of a "closed shop" in these Clauses. Anyone who wishes to enter any branch may do so after giving full particulars and paying a small fee of 5s. Similarly with licensing a vessel, except that the fee will be £1.
The Authority will have power to refuse a licence only in one set of circum stances. Subsection (7) of Clause 8 provides that where a person is convicted of an offence under the Clause, and the court is satisfied that conditions of licences have been consistently disregarded by him, it may make an order directing that a licence need not be granted to that person as of right. Only in such a case can a licence be refused. Even then the applicant has a right to make an appeal to the Ministers. Moreover, a licence may not be withdrawn or revoked except by an order of the court, so there is little or no chance of doing an injustice to trawler owners.
Clauses 9 to 14 are more or less pedestrian and I need only say that the powers of entry in Clause 12 do not extend to private dwellings. It will be understood by hon. Members that inspection of vessels, railway vans or motor lorries will be necessary, and perhaps of premises used for processing.
The financial provisions are contained in Clauses 15, 16 and 17. The general line taken in the Bill is that the Exchequer should bear the cost of the salaries and travelling expenses of members of the Authority and of the Scottish Committee, and should also be prepared to provide up to E1 million during the next ten years by way of grants for research and experiment. But the ordinary 333 running expenses of the Authority and the financing of schemes for the better organisation and development of the industry will be the responsibility of the industry itself.
Clause 15 accordingly empowers the Authority to make a levy on persons engaged in the white fish industry not exceeding one penny per stone of fish landed in Great Britain each year. On last year's figures this would produce an annual income of about £450,000. They will also have power, through schemes, to make special levies for the purposes of those schemes. These schemes, as I explained earlier, will have to secure the approval of the Ministers as well as affirmative Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament.
I repeat that if the industry, under the guidance and leadership of the Authority, is to undertake large measures of re-organisation, that is bound to require heavy capital expenditure. If old vessels are to be replaced by new and more efficient ones in order to reduce the cost of catching, many millions of new capital will be required. Other projects, too, such as plant for quick freezing, to even out supplies, will cost a great deal of money.
The Authority have, therefore, been given power in Clause 15, subject to certain safeguards, to borrow up to such amount as the Treasury may agree, so long as the sum outstanding does not at any given time exceed £15 million. Moreover, Clause 17 authorises the Ministers, with the approval of the Treasury, during the next 10 years to advance money for such purposes so long as the amount outstanding at any time is not more than £10 million. The £10 million is not additional to the £15 million but will be part of it, so that if the Authority choose to borrow from the Treasury in the early years they will be permitted to do so. It is fairly obvious that even after 10 years it may still be necessary for the Authority to continue to borrow, but by that time, if the industry is as successful as I hope it will be, I hope that they will be able to borrow on their own credit.
Part I of the Bill applies in the first instance only to Great Britain; but Clause 20 permits its extension to Northern Ireland if a resolution to that effect is passed by both Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland. In that case, 334 certain adjustments of the machinery will take place, as shown in the Clause. I do not feel that I ought to trespass longer upon the time of the House by going into much detail over the miscellaneous and relatively minor matters dealt with in Part II of the Bill. Perhaps a sentence or two about each will be sufficient at this stage.
Clause 21 finishes off a job that was begun by the Fishery Harbours Act, 1915. The purpose of that Act was, in effect, to transfer from the Minister of Transport—then the Board of Trade—to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries the responsibility for small fishery harbours in England and Wales. Certain gaps were left, however and the question of what constituted a "small fishery harbour" for this purpose was left a little uncertain. This Clause is intended to put those two matters right.
Clause 22 brings up to date the power of the Board of Trade in certain circumstances to make orders regulating the landing of foreign caught fish. I doubt whether I should be in order in going into the merits or demerits of regulating foreign landings now, but perhaps I may just be allowed to say that I hope discussions with other European countries may be started. It is desirable to put our own legislation in proper shape. That is what this Clause sets out to do.
Clause 23 is designed to enable Ministers to deal with the practice of cutting off the heads or tails of small fish in order to disguise the fact that they are under the prescribed minimum size. There are tricks in every trade, including fishing. Clause 24 is similar in effect to the proviso to subsection (1) of Clause 13 in Part I of the Bill. Together they enable the Herring Industry Board and the White Fish Authority to disclose information to Ministers which they may not disclose generally. Clause 25 gives the Fisheries Ministers power to appoint British sea fishery officers. Oddly enough, although several other Ministers have that power, the Fisheries Ministers at present have not.
The last two Clauses of Part II relate to two Scottish matters. Clause 26 repeals certain provisions about the qualifications of fishery officers which are now out of date; and Clause 27 repeals the earlier provision for a Scottish Fisheries Advisory Council, because there will now be pro- 335 vision under the Herring Industry Acts and under this Bill for Advisory Councils to cover the whole field. These are, of course, small matters compared with those dealt with in Part I of the Bill.
What we set out to do is to provide machinery of a strong flexible character capable of locating the faults and weaknesses in the industry, and of working out and applying the remedies as soon as possible. We think, and it seems to be generally agreed, that there must be a strong outside independent lead. That is said in no spirit of criticism against the industry itself, because I realise the extremely complicated and difficult nature of its problems, but any independent authority will not be enough in itself. It must also have wide powers. We must, therefore, be broadminded enough to expect that, having chosen the members of the team with very great care, they will exercise those powers reasonably. At the same time, we have been careful to preserve the rights of Parliament through the machinery of affirmative and negative resolutions.
Finally, I would say this. However capable and competent the members of the Authority may be, they will depend almost throughout—and I am certain that no one knows this better than they—upon the whole-hearted co-operation and assistance of every section of the industry itself. This new Authority will have a task of the utmost importance to the fishing industry and to the nation, and I hope that the House, if only as a gesture this afternoon, will not only give this Bill a Second Reading, but will wish the new Authority God-speed in their great task.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)
I hope the House will forgive me if, before turning to the detailed provisions of this Bill, I make a few general observations on the white fish industry and the reason for the introduction of the Bill.
It would appear to hon. Members on this side of the House that, at the termination of hostilities in 1945, the situation in the industry was in many ways comparable with that which arose in 1918 and the years immediately following. In 1918, the inevitable results of the general scramble for fish in the North Sea soon 336 became apparent in a pronounced decline in the weight of fish caught per unit of fishing power. The vessels had to fish longer and go much further afield to fill their holds, and this automatically increased costs.
One development of this period was the greater use of the far-distant fishing grounds, and I think there will be agreement on all sides of the House that the Hull trawler owners played a very prominent part in that development. Costs increased so rapidly during those years that very few, if any, sections of the industry were able to make a profit, and the channels of distribution appeared complex and uneconomic. During the period 1918–32, imports of fish, and especially of coarse fish, increased so rapidly that our fishermen were not only facing the problems of too few fish in the sea, increased costs and difficulties in distribution, but also of a market glutted with cheap imports.
In 1933, the National Government introduced the first major step designed to alleviate conditions in the white fish industry, and to this fact the Minister has already referred. It was the Sea Fishing Industry Act, 1933, which provided for the introduction of orders restricting foreign landings, regulating the minimum sizes of mesh in nets and the minimum sizes of certain species of fish for sale. It also provided for the constitution of the Sea Fishing Commission to investigate matters relating to the catching, landing, storage, transport, distribution and sale of sea fish, and to report to the Minister what steps, if any, ought to be taken for the re-organisation of any branch of the sea fishing industry.
This Commission is better known as the Duncan Commission, and it actually produced the Duncan Report, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in introducing this Bill. This Report was considered by the Government, and in 1938 the Sea Fishing Industry Act reached the Statute Book. This Act covered the major recommendations of the Duncan Report and included among its most important provisions the setting up of a permanent White Fish Commission with wide powers for regulating the reorganisation of the industry. In addition, the White Fish Industry Joint Council, which was representative of the interests in the industry, was set up to advise the Commission.
337 The Act provided also for the promotion of co-operative schemes for the inshore fishing industry where a marketing scheme was not considered to serve a useful purpose. As a result of this Act, the White Fish Commission was set up in July, 1938, it prepared the first register of the industry, and its first Report was produced but not published just before the outbreak of war in 1939. The Minister has explained to the House that the Authority which is to be set up under this Bill will have much the same kind of power as was envisaged for the White Fish Commission in those days, and I think the new Authority will probably be the more appropriate for the purpose at the present time.
During the war years, as the House will recollect, the white fish industry played a very vital part, not only as food producers, but also in the defence of our country. I think it is appropriate today to remember that, out of a total of 1,030 steam trawlers available at the outbreak of the war, about 800 were requisitioned at one time or another, and that fishermen played a vital part during the war, not without grave losses of men and vessels.
Then, at the conclusion of hostilities, efforts were made by the industry to rehabilitate itself. Many owners engaged in fishing in distant waters built modern vessels at very high cost, and on this point it is interesting to recall what was written by Mr. Jackson Wallace in the magazine "Progress" at the end of 1949. He used these words:The closure of fishing of the North Sea during the war gave the fish a much-needed respite, and the total weight of fish there increased threefold by 1944. When the war ended, however, the fishing effort applied was greater than ever; our fleet was less"—and this is the important point—but others, especially that of Denmark, had increased, and we are now almost back where we were before the war.During those years, the industry naturally expected that imports would be controlled to a reasonable level on the pre-war basis, but far from the expected re-imposition of quotas for foreign imports, they were allowed to come in like a perpetual avalanche, irrespective of demand. In the first 11 months of 1949, they reached the huge figure of just under 3½ million cwts., compared with 1½ 338 million cwts. in 1938. The House will recollect that, in the first 11 months of 1950, imports were on a very much lower level, but by that time the damage had been done and the industry had lost all confidence.
While this situation had been developing and making the task of our fishermen appreciably more difficult, costs had continued to rise very considerably. To give the House a few examples, I would instance, first, the cost of building a long-distance boat. It was about £30,000 in 1939, and has risen to approximately £120,000 today. With regard to the smaller details of equipment, I will give the House one or two examples. An Iceland trawl costing £22 in 1938, cost £68 in 1949 and £92 in November, 1950. As just one other example, landing baskets, which could be obtained for 4s. in 1938, now cost 25s.; and so one could go on through all the various items of gear necessary for the fishermen to use. I hope that the examples I have given will show the House that the fishermen have been going through difficult times which have not made any easier their task of selling practically—and I use that word advisedly—unsubsidised food in competition with subsidised commodities.
The state of the industry went from bad to worse after 1948, until after pressure from hon. Members on this side of the House and from hon. Members sitting behind the Government, the Prime Minister announced the Government's policy for the industry on 4th July last year. He told the House that he proposed, as a temporary measure, to provide a subsidy for those in the greatest difficulties, that is, fishermen in the near and middle waters.
He also said that the Government intended to initiate discussions in O.E.E.C. with a view to evolving a common policy regarding excessive landings of cod and other coarse fish from distant waters and the prevention of over-fishing in the North Sea and other areas. I wish to ask the Minister whether he can tell the House what, if any, progress has been made along those lines, because it is very important, in the view of hon. Members on this side, that there should be provisions in the Bill for the control of imports to a reasonable level, and it is essential to combat the over-fishing problem in the 339 near and middle waters in order to restore the confidence of the industry.
Finally, the Prime Minister in his statement told the House that the Government had decided to promote legislation for setting up an Authority with adequate powers to regulate, re-organise and develop the white fish industry. The Authority was set up under the chairmanship of Admiral Burnett, and the Bill to give it its terms of reference is now before us. In the main, that is the object of the Bill. As this Bill has been available to hon. Members for only a very short time, and in view of the importance of many of its detailed provisions, I would urge the Government to give hon. Members ample time in which to consult with their constituents before taking the Committee stage. I think that this request which I make on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends is a very universal one.
We on this side are fully aware of the fact that the fishing industry needs help. There are sections that need reorganisation and development, and there are sections to which loans are essential if they are to play their part in the future. For these reasons, we do not intend to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill this evening. But at this point I think it is my duty to tell the Government that there are provisions in the Bill which are causing much concern to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and, indeed, to some sections of the fishing industry. We shall table Amendments during the Committee stage designed to improve the Bill, and we shall reserve our right to take what action we feel necessary during the Third Reading.
§ Commander Pursey
Having made that statement, surely the hon. and gallant Baronet is going to substantiate it by giving some indication of the points he has in mind in view of the fact that, generally speaking, all sections of the industry have announced publicly and in the trade Press that they agree with the Measure in principle, and also very largely in detail?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
That is what I was saying, but many sections of the industry and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are in grave doubt in regard to certain provisions in the Bill.
340 In his speech the Minister explained in considerable detail the various Clauses and he referred, I think, to some of the anxieties that have been in the minds of my hon. Friends; but there still remain certain points to which I will refer very shortly. With regard to Clause 1, I think it is accepted on both sides of the House that the small, independent and impartial body to which the Minister referred is the right body for the purpose we have in mind. But under subsection (4) of that Clause—and I am sorry that the Minister did not refer to this particular subsection—very wide powers are given to the Minister to give directions to this Authority.
I am not suggesting that those powers are totally unnecessary, but I think they should be qualified to the extent that the Minister should, as far as possible, make public all directions so that the industry and the public may know what action is being taken. If a direction is given in regard to National Defence, then, of course, the whole House would be satisfied if the Minister made that clear. But, by and large, I think that the industry and the country should know what directions the Minister is giving under Clause 1 of this Bill. Further, my right hon. and hon. Friends want to be assured—and the Minister referred to this matter today in dealing with another Clause—that the Government have no intention indirectly of nationalising the white fish industry by any directions the Minister might give to the authority under Clause 1 (4).
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Not on this particular Clause. I am only saying that we should like to have an assurance on that point.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Perhaps it may help if I say right away that nothing of the kind could happen under Clause 1 (4). Actually the directions that we have in mind would be on the following lines. If, for instance, there were an agreement to limit the import of foreign fish, which would mean a parallel reduction of catches by our own trawlers, we should have to have power to give the directions that the agreements entered into were observed. Again, for instance, if there were to be limitation of the catching of fish in the North Sea to avoid diminishing 341 returns from which the industry is now suffering, and if all the European countries who ratified the convention agreed, then we should have to have power to see that the provisions of the 1948 Act were observed. That is the sort of thing foreseen under Clause 1 (4).
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for intervening, because I think it will help.
I now come to Clause 3, which refers to the constitution of the White Fish Industry Advisory Council. We on this side of the House would like, if possible, to have more information from the Minister about this Council. For instance, we should like to know who is to be represented on it and how many members will serve on the Council. We should like also to know what sort of members the Government have in mind, because in our view this Council should be a very influential and important body representing the industry, and if it were too big it would tend to be unwieldy and ineffectual, and if it were too small it would not be representative of all the vital interests of the industry. As the Minister is to appoint the members of the Council, I should like to suggest to him—and, if possible, to receive his assurance about it—that he should appoint them from panels of names submitted to him by various sections of the industry. In that way the industry would feel that, although they were not responsible for selecting the individuals, the members would be selected from a panel of names submitted by them to the Government.
The Minister dealt with Clause 4 at considerable length. The authorities are to be given very wide powers under this Clause, and many of my hon. Friends will want to discuss it during this debate. I hope that when the Minister replies he will deal further with the Clause and will give his assurance that these powers will not be used without a considerable measure of agreement of the sections of the industry to be affected. I was glad that the Minister dealt with subsection (2) under whichthe Authority may take or acquire shares or similar interests in any company.He told the House that it was not his intention to introduce compulsory acquisition. That is one of the main points upon which many of my hon. Friends 342 were anxious. However, my hon. Friends would like to have a definite assurance that such powers will only be used on a voluntary basis, and I hope that the Minister will go one step further and say that they are only to be used as a result of an agreement between the Authority and the company concerned. If that is so, I think it will give complete satisfaction to my hon. Friends.
On Clause 5, which gives the Authority almost unlimited powers to make regulations affecting the industry in all spheres of its daily routine, the question is whether these regulations apply to vessels not registered in Great Britain. It seems an unfair discrimination that a high standard of vessel is to be maintained in this country and yet we will accept fish from different parts of the world out of unhygienic ships. I think that point should have further consideration. I should like to make special reference to subsection (1, b) which gives the Authority, in our view, exceedingly dangerous powers to interfere with the responsibility of the skipper. We attach considerable importance to this subsection, because with regard to timing landings, it must be obvious that the industry will do its utmost to ensure that the fish do arrive at the appropriate time, and that it is of very great importance that the authority of the skippers of trawlers should not be interfered with.
There are other minor points which, no doubt, will be raised in Committee relating to Clause 5, but I ask the Government why they recommend the negative resolution procedure for the introduction of regulations, while agreeing to the affirmative procedure for schemes under Clause 6. My hon. Friends and I consider that the regulations might cover such a wide field that the affirmative resolution procedure would be more appropriate.
Under Clause 6, the Authority may submit schemes to the Minister for approval by Parliamentafter consultation with such representative organisations as they think fit.We feel that it should be the duty of the Authority not only to consult representative organisations, but to obtain their general approval of any scheme before it is introduced, and I would suggest that to protect the interests of those who will be most affected by this Measure, the Bill 343 or this Clause might be amended along the lines of the Herring Industry Act, 1944, which provides that schemes are only introduced when the majority of those affected are in favour of them. I hope the Government will consider that point.
The next few Clauses deal with licensing, and I think there are no Second Reading points contained in them, but so far as the finance of the Bill is concerned—Clause 15—I should like to ask the Government a question about the White Fish Industry Fund. At what point during the period from the time the fish leave the sea until they reach the consumer is the general levy of 1d. per stone to be charged, and who, in fact, is to pay it? If it is to be paid at the moment the fish are landed—and this would appear to be the simplest method—I presume that fish from foreign sources are to be subject to the levy, also. If that is the case, will foreign fish which arrive in boxes from cargo boats and which go straight to inland markets, escape this levy? The actual quantity of box fish may be small compared with the total landings, but I am advised that, as the port wholesalers have no method of finding out how much is arriving at any given moment, it upsets their buying plans and undermines, or might undermine, the whole structure of their market.
I wish to say a word about Clause 22, to which the Minister referred only briefly. In our view, this is a very important Clause as it opens the door to more effective action by the Government in controlling imports, and in our view it is essential that they use their powers.
I am afraid I have delayed the House for a considerable time, but I must say a word or two about the members-designate of the White Fish Authority, as we hear on all sides from different sections of the industry in different parts of the country of the good impression which the personnel of the White Fish Authority have made in their travels round the ports. If this Measure is to prove successful, it is vital that the Authority should have the confidence of the industry. I cannot emphasise too strongly that the Authority will not be able to play their part effectively unless the Government 344 apply their minds and energy to the problems of excessive imports and over-fishing. It is the Government alone who can take effective action in these fields.
When we are debating this Bill this evening, we should remember those sections of our fishing industry who at this moment are on the high seas, in distant waters in the Arctic regions, in the middle waters around Iceland, in the near waters around our own coast, not forgetting our inshore fishermen. Our thoughts go out to them from this House, and we wish them well in their occupation and in their daily toil. The food produced by our fishermen is an essential part of our diet, and with the recent reduction in the meat ration the housewife becomes more and more dependent upon fish as one of her main protein foods.
We must also remember that there are many people directly and indirectly dependent upon the fishing industry for their livelihood; and furthermore, today, when our minds are forcibly turned to matters of defence, we again recall the service they rendered to the nation in its time of peril. For all these reasons it is the duty of this House to help our fishing industry to help itself, and we hope that by the time this Bill reaches the Statute Book it will be a useful Measure to achieve this end.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I do not propose to detain the House very long. My remarks will be of a very general character indeed, much of what I intended to say has been stated very eloquently by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), with a great deal of whose initial remarks I thoroughly agree. We may draw different conclusions, but I am sure that the House, and particularly those hon. Members who have any knowledge of the fishing industry, are glad that this Measure has been introduced. It is a difficult industry to understand. I have been on the periphery for 22 years, and I think I now know no more than I knew 22 years ago. We know that it is a very difficult industry, and that it requires a great deal of consideration and sympathy from the House, and we are delighted that at last the Government have seen fit to bring in this very important Measure.
345 I am grateful to the Minister for his kind references to what my colleagues and I said from this side when we discussed this matter last year in a debate initiated by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby). From what I said then I do not retract. I believed then—and I believe now—that the industry was of itself quite unable to face the great problems with which it was confronted; and I believed it was the duty of the Government, of whatever colour, to go into this matter with the greatest energy, with the greatest understanding, and with a very keen desire indeed to help the industry.
We on this side must, I think, take a little credit for the pressure that we have brought to bear on the Government. We have been consistent in this, and ever since that debate in which we stated our views we have taken every opportunity to put before the Government the feelings of our Members in regard to the setting up of this Authority. I am sure that there was evolved in that debate, to which the Minister has referred, a desire on all sides that there should be some controlling element with considerable powers to co-ordinate, integrate and assist the industry with finance and also by the provision of facilities for discussion and for advice, and for the intricate measures that are needed to stabilise this great industry.
It is a great industry. Very few people in this country are aware, I think, of the very important part it plays in our national life. The capital invested in it, the numbers of men employed in it, its contribution to our food resources, the importance of its stability as an economic element, contribute to its greatness; and, as the right hon. Gentleman said very movingly, and as we all agree, its supreme importance as a strategic factor in time of war also contributes to its greatness. None of us, and particularly those who lived at the seaside during the war and who knew those men who went down to the sea and performed their duties, is ever likely to forget what they did, even during the period of the "phoney" war when people thought there was not a war at all, and when we saw those lads coming in maimed, battered, their vessels sinking within sight of land. It would be catastrophic if we allowed a further decline to go on in this industry.
346 As I said, it was felt, and has been felt for some time, that the industry, under all the great difficulties that have faced it over a long period, should be assisted by direct Government intervention; and we felt that an Authority, armed with adequate powers and with substantial financial backing, should be set up. The fishing industry itself has already had some experience of an overriding authority. The Herring Industry Board has been in operation for a long time. There has been the criticism, not only in this House but throughout the country, that, excellent though its work has been—and it has done a great deal to save the herring industry—it has been largely inhibited by lack of adequate powers and certainly by lack of adequate finance. I believe that the example of the Herring Industry Board has influenced the Government to take their courage boldly in their hands and provide a Bill to see that the powers of the new White Fish Authority are adequate. Although opinions differ, I believe that the financial provisions, and the arrangements that are made possible to secure adequate funds, are, for the time being at any rate, adequate, until experience teaches us what will be necessary in the future.
Now, what are the disabilities? What is the disease we are trying to cure? Before the war, as my right hon. Friend has said, there had been a steady decline in the fishing industry, in its effectiveness and in its economics—and particularly in the economics. During the war large sections of the fleet were out of commission. In the ports of the East Coast on the North Sea men and vessels were diverted to war use. Then after the war—and history repeats itself—owing to special and largely fictitious conditions, there was plenty of fish in the sea, and there was an enormous popular demand for fish, owing to shortages of meat and fats. There was a boom.
I hope I am not being invidious in this. I come from a near-water port—in fact, the major near-water port—but I believe the conditions have been better for the long-distance fishing. The operation of controlled prices helped, as figures will show. Prices for cod landed per cwt. in 1938, as compared with those for 1949, showed for Lowestoft, a near-water port, in 1938 £1.176 a cwt., which in 1949, had risen only to £1.77. In North Shields, another near-water port, the price pre-war 347 was £1.20, and in 1949 was only £1.8. In Hull, on the other hand, a long-distance-water port, prices were £0.596 and rose by more than three times by 1949 to £1.878 a cwt. For Grimsby there are very similar figures. So the comparatively long-distance-water people benefited by comparison with the near-water people.
Huge profits were made. Some of the earnings of the trawler owners were fantastic. There is no denying it. They did not last long, I admit; but they lasted long enough to attract a good deal of very dul5ious money into the industry. They led to a boom in building, and there was indiscriminate building at enormous costs. My right hon. Friend has given us some figures to show what modern trawlers cost today. Yet the industry embarked on this enterprise without any regard whatsoever to what the demand was going to be, and for that reason only I would suggest that an authoritative body able to control and regulate this aspect of the industry is essential.
The result was that the quality deteriorated, and we had gibes about the slabs of cod which were, very properly, put to the House. Once consumer resistance is created, an industry suffers, and this industry has done so; and I believe that it is only by creating variety and quality that the fishing industry can come back into its own. By the end of 1949, of course, there was a collapse, and that has continued ever since. There were a good many reasons for it. Other foods were coming in, and there was the bad quality of a great deal of the fish that was landed, and so on.
The industry itself, of course, by its very nature, is resistant to control. The rewards go to the adventurous, to the daring, to the skilful, and to the brave. A man of that calibre feels very disinclined to be imposed on from without, to be told what to do and directed as to what he ought to do. However, I am quite sure that at last the industry has begun to realise that its salvation does lie in co-ordination and integration, and that for that purpose an effective control is essential. I am quite sure, too, that it is the aim, not only of those of us here but of the industry itself throughout the country, to see a well organised, prosperous, and co-ordinated industry emerge.
348 The removal of price control, which had been strongly advocated by the industry, failed to produce stability. Since last year there has been a progressive decline. A great many other factors operated against it. The soaring prices of gear, fuel, maintenance and repair, coming on top of a lessening demand, have added to its troubles. Last year the Government listened, as Governments ought to do but do not always do, to the feeling of the House, which was very vocal on this point. Some of us made our own personal representations to the Minister pointing out how difficult it was for an unsubsidised commodity to compete with highly subsidised commodities which at that time were coming more and more to the assistance of the housewife. It has been said that the White Fish Authority-designate has won a golden opinion throughout the country, and I can confirm that. It augurs well that they have shown themselves accessible to the industry, anxious to learn the difficulties and eager to do what they can to help the industry out of those difficulties.
I do not propose to discuss the Bill in detail, because there are others more competent than I am to do that. The Bill has received a general welcome. In my own constituency I have been at pains to consult not only the owners but the trade union elements, and I am pleased to say that the Chairman of the Fishing Vessel Owners' Association said:I feel that this Bill is the best thing ever proposed for the fishing industry.The workers' representatives are no less enthusiastic.
As I see it, the main task of the White Fish Authority will be to relate supply to demand. I consider that that is the major problem facing the industry. The Bill goes into great detail with regard to the powers that will be vested in the Authority. The Authority also has to ensure variety and quality, particularly during that period when the quality can deteriorate so much, namely, between the landing and when the fish appears on the fishmonger's slab. One has only to buy fish in a port just after it has come out of the sea and compare that with fish bought in some of the suburbs of London to notice the difference in quality and to appreciate how quickly the fish deteriorates. That is one of the tragedies of the industry, that the commodity, is so 349 perishable. Much more drastic action is required in that respect.
The Authority must also see that the distribution machinery works effectively and reconcile the different elements, particularly the catchers and the merchants. There is constant warfare between those two vital elements in this industry. I do not say it is a bad thing; there is naturally a fighting for position, with a sort of mistrust of each other. That must be eradicated, and only a very effective and powerful body can resolve those difficulties.
The question of foreign landings relates to the first point I made with regard to the responsibilities of the Authority and the relation of supply and demand. Whatever the Authority does, it will not be effective unless there is some sort of control by agreement. It will have to be by agreement: we cannot impose this sort of thing in the present international situation, having regard to strategic problems, Iceland, and so on. It is not as easy as merely saying, "Cut out foreign landings." Besides, the consumer must be thought of. The first duty of government is to feed the population. All those considerations must be borne in mind.
I believe that gradually the White Fish Authority will build up for itself a prestige which will give it a great deal of power in its influence on Governments, particularly in relation to such organisations as O.E.E.C. and others. I am hopeful that its prestige and influence will grow and be effective in making international agreements, as well as on the equally vexed question of over-fishing, a subject which continues to cause anxiety. I raised that subject in 1947 very soon after the International Convention on Over-Fishing issued its report. It is disappointing to find that little has been done. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) to make noises. We appreciate that he knows all the answers, as he has shown in the "Fish Trade Gazette"!
§ Mr. Evans
It is not as easy as all that to put the screw on a foreign country with which we are in the middle of negotiations on many other things. We understand those difficulties, but they are not 350 insuperable. The Bill naturally concentrates on productivity, but we must not forget marketing, processing, distribution and frying. What an important part frying can play in the prosperity of the industry! I believe that much of the salvation of the industry lies in the fish fryers. If they can provide a good cheap palatable commodity at a reasonable price, nothing will do more to stimulate the consumption of fish. It is up to the White Fish Industry to get the fish fryers to co-operate in this respect.
I should like to compliment the Minister on the very lucid way in which he explained the Bill, but there are one or two minor points that I want to raise. I hope that the Authority will exercise a wise discretion in the vessels it takes over, particularly as regards their age and their seaworthiness. I am sure they will. There is at the head of affairs an admiral, who ought to know something about it. However, I do hope they will not buy the "Aunt Jemimas" of the fishing fleet. There is in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries a research department, and not very long ago I heard criticisms of it among the vessel owners of my own port, who said that they could not remember having had any good advice out of the research department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
§ Mr. Evans
I know it is nonsense. There is plenty of scope for research by the Authority, and I hope that a great deal of research will be done in what I might call the mechanics of fishing, because there is a great deal to be done. I get letters, diagrams and blueprints—though I find it very difficult to understand them—describing some marvellous gadget which would appear to save the whole industry in two minutes. To whom can we send them? We send them to some obscure Government Department which deals with tanks, and so on, but they are not particularly interested. I do not want to be flippant about this, but I must emphasise that there is scope for the Authority to examine what can be done to improve the mechanics of the industry.
I am particularly glad to welcome the provision of maintenance grants for 351 to do all we can to recruit the best type of young fellows to the industry, and to ensure a channel of promotion. It is tragic that young fellows should enter the primary industries of fishing and agriculture without being able to see where they will end up. Any measure which will add to the technical efficiency of young men entering the industry is much to be welcomed. I do not propose to say anything with regard to the financial aspects of the Bill. As I said earlier, they appear for the time being to be adequate.
In warmly welcoming the Bill, I congratulate the Government on taking such a courageous stand in giving these very wide powers to the White Fish Authority, with the ample safeguards that are stipulated in Clauses 5 and 6. I think that with these safeguards, the Authority can be vested with these powers with safety. I look forward to the time, as I am sure all of us do, when we shall see a great improvement in the stability of the industry, which will be of great benefit to the producer, the consumer and the nation as a whole.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Duthie (Banff)
I should like to begin, as did the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), by paying my tribute to what the fishermen did during the war. I welcome this Bill, and I have been pleading since 1945 for the setting up of a White Fish Authority on the lines of that in the Bill. The House must clearly understand, as I am sure they do, that this Bill does not set out to effect any remedy. It sets out to create a tool with which to do a job. That job, I can assure the House, is going to be extremely difficult. I do not agree with some of the provisions of the Bill, but I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading this evening, because I am sure that the quarrels which I have with the Bill can be ironed out during the Committee stage.
When this Bill passes into law, it will set up an Authority to do a job, and it bids fair to launch itself on this task without the disastrous inhibitions and difficulties which beset the Herring Industry Board. It would almost seem that the architects of the Bill had before them as a pattern to be avoided the setup of the Herring Industry Board. I am not without hope that some day the diffi- 352 culties of that particular organisation will be remedied.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft said something about integration. In my view, the fishing industry, as we know it now, is a complete negation of integration. It consists of a whole welter of conflicting elements but it is essential for the sake of the industry, as it is essential for the country, that these differences should be resolved under this Authority, as I believe they can be.
I crave the indulgence of the House to deal in some detail with the fishing industry of Scotland, and in particular the inshore fishing industry, on which I can claim to speak with some degree of authority. The inshore fishing industry of Scotland consists of some 600 diesel engined vessels. The present method of seine netting began in the Moray Firth. It was copied from the continent, and the first vessels designed for seine netting were built in 1921. Since that time, the original model has not been departed from enormously, although the vessel has been greatly improved in efficiency. These 600 vessels are all owned by their crews.
There are virtually no company ships at all in the Scottish inshore fleet. They employ something like 4,000 fishermen, with many thousands of ancillary workers on shore. This industry in Scotland stands to gain more from the operations of the White Fish Authority in the immediate future than the comparable fishing industries in England and Wales. We admit that, but we do not admit that this is a special advantage to Scottish fishermen. We claim that it is in some measure a restoration of equity, because the industry has got completely out of balance. So far as the Scottish industry is concerned, it is true to say that if our fisheries are to survive as a factor in the nation's food supplies and if there is to be a deterrent to prevent young men from leaving the industry and their own localities, immediate action of an urgent nature is overdue.
As is well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House, in our coastal villages and towns in Scotland, fishing is the economic mainspring of their neighbourhoods. There has been a great deal of talk recently in the Press, and an article appeared last Monday week in the London "Star," on fish 353 prices. A great deal of attention has been focused on fish prices, and the people have the idea, rightly or wrongly, that the fishermen are getting too much for their fish. I should like to put a true picture in front of hon. Members concerning the prices which fishermen have been getting for prime fish in the Scottish ports during the last week.
Incidentally, the fish that I am talking about is fish of the very highest quality which can command the highest prices at Billingsgate, Manchester, Liverpool or any of the other central markets, because it is fish that is landed the same day as it is taken. Cod fillets were being sold at Billingsgate wholesale at 1s. 1½d. per 1b. last week. Our fishermen at Moray Firth ports got 6¾d. for the same fish. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where did the balance go?"] There are middlemen's charges and so on. That is a job for the Authority to ascertain. Haddock was sold at 1s. 6½d. wholesale. The price at the portside was 11d. Whiting, 11½d. wholesale: at the portside, 4¼d. Plaice, 1s. 8½d. to 1s. 10½d. wholesale; at the portside, 1s. 5d. Soles, up to 2s. 10d. wholesale; at the port side 1s. 7d. Herrings from the West side of Scotland were sold at 10d. per 1b. wholesale in London and the price which the fisherman got was 4¼d. These are wholesale prices only. There is still the retailer's profit to come on to them.
We must consider that our fishermen are producing essential foodstuffs in competition with the subsidised foods, and I think it is true to say that the cost of production in the fishing industry has been infinitely greater in recent years than that of any other food producing industry in Great Britain. We are up against this sort of difficulty in competing with subsidised food. Bacon home cured is 1s. 6¾d. per pound subsidised and imported at 7¼d. per pound. Eggs, home produced, 1s. 5½d. per dozen, imported 3¼d. per dozen. Meat, home produced, 5d. per 1b., imported ¼d. per 1b. Butter, home produced, 1s. 0½d. per 1b., cheese 9¼d. per 1b. and tea 9d. per 1b. There is a subsidy on fish it is true, but the subsidy on inshore fish is under ¾d. per 1b., and for the bulk of our fish which comes from long-distance vessels there is no subsidy at all, and that is 75 per cent. 354 of the total quantity of fish consumed in this country.
The cost of catching has risen disastrously. Indeed, last Monday week the cost of sisal rope rose £2 per coil and the seine netting vessels have to use something like 20 coils of rope to shoot their nets. The life of these ropes is about one month, whereas in 1938 we were able to get manilla ropes at a little over £2 per coil, and their life was three times that of sisal ropes. Let us compare 1938 prices with 1950 prices.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
Will the hon. Gentleman indicate what measures he would take to bring down the cost of gear?
§ Mr. Duthie
I am afraid that I cannot indicate any way in which to bring down the cost at the present time. That is a matter bound up with raw materials, manufacturing costs, etc. I have not access to costings. These are facts my constituents have to face, and I have to put them before the House. A vessel which cost £2,800 in 1938 is now costing £10,000 to £11,000. Nets have risen from £12 12s. to £55 5s. Manilla ropes cost £2 17s. 6d., and sisal now cost £11. Fuel oil cost 6½d. per gallon in 1938, and it has now risen to 1s. 1¾d.
During the last fortnight, I have been making inquiries into the working of the fishing industry which I represent. I have investigated the returns of 40 first-class seine net vessels, vessels which can be taken as good fishing vessels and pay their crew good wages for 40 weeks. All have shown a loss on their operations—that is without taking depreciation into account. It is largely due to the fact that the cost of gear and maintenance has increased so much.
Incidentally, the method of distributing the gross earnings of these vessels is perhaps the finest profit-sharing scheme in existence. The crew are all interested in the venture. The money is divided into two, after certain overhead expenses have been paid. Half goes to the vessel and gear, and the other half goes to the crew. The trouble is that the money which has been allocated for gear and upkeep has been insufficient to keep these boats going. The Joint Under-Secretary well knows that in many instances boats which were bought under the grant and loan scheme 355 were unable to pay their insurance premiums last year. That was not due to any lack of effort, but to economic circumstances.
Our small ports are in danger of dying out, with the result that our harbours and villages will become moribund, and the splendid fish working staffs on shore will not get enough work to keep them going and will lose the knowledge of their craft. Unless the Authority gets to work quickly, we shall see the centralisation of the fishing industry on the southern markets, with all the attendant housing and other difficulties. It will mean that our villages will become derelict and our fishing grounds will be handed over to the foreigners.
The picture in Aberdeen is not very much better. Since the end of the war, six new trawlers have been added to the Aberdeen fleet, comprising some 150 vessels, many of which did splendid service in the 1914–18 war and during the last war. The bulk of the vessels are 20 to 50 years old. It may be said that the trawler owners have not ploughed enough money back into the industry. From such accounts that I have been able to see—and I have seen a fairly representative lot—I find that there has never been a sufficient allowance granted by the Treasury for depreciation and maintenance. The result is that most of our boats are obsolete or obsolescent, and these are the vessels which have to compete with modern foreign vessels, particularly those of Iceland, which is one of the most intensive competitors so far as the Aberdeen boats are concerned. Many of these new Icelandic trawlers were paid for by Icelandic cod sold in this country while our trawlers were on service.
I shall now mention some of the things that the Authority should deal with immediately they get going. One is the point made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft which is absolutely vital, and that is that the Authority should have a fairly accurate day-to-day assessment of the consumption requirements of the country for white fish. Secondly, something must be done to prevent bottle-necks arising when there are excessive landings and the market cannot absorb all the fish. My view, and it is the view of those I represent, is that we must have refrigera- 356 tion storage on the quayside to take over these excessive landings which can be released later on when the market can absorb them. The venue for excessive landings at the present time is fishmeal. It is very necessary to have fishmeal, but it is most regrettable that fish of the highest quality should be converted into fishmeal within a day or two of being landed.
Thirdly, there is the question of the control of foreign landings, which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. I could not find any mention of this in the Bill, but I was glad to have his assurance on the matter. Another thing that the Authority must deal with immediately is the dumping of foreign fish in England without the fish passing through the quayside markets. Without the control of foreign landings, the usefulness of the Bill and the Authority will be very greatly discounted. Then there is the question of research. I maintain that the best research that can be carried on is research in collaboration with practical fishermen and done under practical fishing conditions.
If subsidies are to be avoided, the Authority must carry out costing inquiries, and eventually, sooner than later, it must establish essential minimum prices at the quayside. I now come to the matter touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill, and that is that the Authority must set its face against buying rings. Such rings do exist, and the smaller the port the greater the chance of there being a ring in existence. The Authority will have the wholehearted thanks, not only of the fishermen, but of the country as a whole, if these rings can be killed.
Another point on which I feel very strongly and which I would commend to the attention of the Authority, is the seasonal lifting of the three-mile limit for certain areas where it can be proved that mature fish are coming inshore to feed. There are certain areas where this happens. The over-riding consideration is to make the industry sufficiently attractive to bring in the young men and women we need to maintain the industry in peacetime, and upon whose service we depend in times of war.
There are one or two questions concerning the scope of the Bill to which 357 I should like to draw attention. In connection with Clause 2 (1), we feel that the Scottish Committee should be an integral part of the Authority and should function in Edinburgh, or some other part of Scotland, charged specifically with the duty of dealing with Scottish fishing affairs. In an area such as ours, we believe that our problems are peculiarly our own. In addition, we think that there should be a Scottish advisory committee to advise on Scottish matters. I am glad to have the assurance as to the type of activities upon which the Authority will be engaged on shore.
Then there is Clause 4, which deals with education. Education is a matter which I am sure will meet with the consideration of the chairman of the Authority, Admiral Sir Robert Burnett, when he eventually takes over. Here there is an opportunity of integration of the very best kind. All R.N.R. training and that for the fishing industry should take place in the same vessel and virtually at the same time. The type of vessel which most of our fishermen operate in war-time is the type which prosecutes inshore fishing at the various ports. It seems to me that training for fishing and for the R.N.R. and Navy should be integrated and take place at the same time. I am sure that such a scheme would be very practicable.
In Clause 4 (3) authority is given to take over vessels and operate them in certain conditions. That is absolutely to the good. One of the weaknesses of the Inshore Fishing Industry Act and to a certain extent the Herring Fishery Act is that when the men obtained a vessel under a grant and loan and have been unsuccessful, there was no power to pick another crew to work the vessel. There have been one or two instances where crews have stepped ashore and have left the vessel tied up to the quay. There was no power for the mortgagors to exercise their rights in that type of vessel. When a crew walks ashore and leaves a vessel it would be a splendid thing if the Authority could say to a skipper, "Get yourself another crew. Here is a boat, take her, go to sea and get some fish." That is the sort of thing we want. It is a tightening up which is very necessary in these grant and loan vessels.
358 There is one point I wish to raise on Clause 5 (1, d). I am sorry there is no representative of the Ministry of Food present, because this is of vital consideration to them. Clause 5 (1, d) deals with the standard of fish that are to be landed. The Herring Board set a standard for herrings, and it was that no fish which was 24 hours old could be used for freshing or kippering. What happened? Though the Herring Board made that regulation, the Minister of Food completely spreadeagled it. He allowed trawlers, indeed he encouraged trawlers, to trawl for herring in Aberdeen and land them there anything from a week to two weeks old when boxed and iced. Those herrings were used for kippering and also I understand for freshing purposes. It is utterly vital that when standards for fish are set by the Authority, Ministers will also conform to those standards and do nothing to upset them.
I think the penalties in the Bill are good, because the Herring Board has been largely held up as they could not exercise any authority over their vessels in respect of licences and registration. Another way to strengthen the hands of the Authority is that it should be in a position to contemn the actions of local committees, when they threaten to upset what has been done. The lack of such powers has severely damaged the Herring Board in the past.
I was glad to hear what the Minister had to say about the international convention. This is one of the most serious, fundamental considerations in the fishing industry today. There are four countries which have not ratified the Convention—Belgium, Iceland, Portugal, and Spain. Let us be frank; Belgium and Spain are doing an enormous amount of damage in waters that are more or less territorial to this country. The Spaniards have very largely dissipated the hake stocks in Southern Ireland and Belgians in the North Sea and in inshore fishing grounds are doing a lot of serious damage, particularly in the Moray Firth and the Firth of Clyde.
I have come back from seeing the Belgians operating just outside the three-mile limit in the Moray Firth. What happens is that one of our local vessels just begins to fish, and indeed may be dragging its net on the sea bed, when along comes a Belgian, and without any 359 respect for our vessel, drags his trawl right across where our vessel is fishing, hauls up our vessel's gear and then hacks it clear. If the local fisherman is fortunate he may get the number of the Belgian, when a claim for compensation will go to Ostend for consideration. But that takes time. It is illegal for these trawlers to trawl in territorial waters, and it is absolutely vital that all vessels should conform to a certain standard of fishing here. I hope these trawlers will be excluded from territorial waters just as British trawlers are excluded.
I hate to think of the quantity of immature fish which is being slaughtered even now in the Moray Firth by these foreign trawlers using a microscopic cod end mesh. That is one matter to which the Authority must apply its mind. They must dissuade these people from this action, because therein lies the future of our fishing industry. Unless something is done to preserve stocks and get uniformity of action in fishing methods, and the policing of all vessels in our territorial waters irrespective of nationality, we are going to get nowhere. I believe a strong lead can ensure that that w ill be done. In the Bill there is no reference to any particular Scottish fishery harbour, and I hope the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will tell us what is a Scottish fishery harbour and how many there are.
I am afraid I have detained the House longer than I intended. I will close with this—I reckon that this Bill will be the means of salvaging our Scottish fishing industry, and I am sure that in its operation the Authority will receive from our Scottish fishermen and our Scottish processers all the help and collaboration which they require. I have been very much impressed by the way in which Sir Robert Burnett and his colleagues have set about learning their job. It is a difficult task which they have in front of them, and I re-echo the words of the right hon. Gentleman when introducing this Measure—we heartily wish them God's speed.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Slater (Sedgefield)
I am glad that there is a large measure of unanimity about this Bill. Hon. Members from both sides of the House and people up and down the country have expressed their appreciation of the Measure. Everyone 360 is agreed that it k an important Bill as it deals with one of our main food supplies. The need today to conserve our food supplies is as important as ever. This also has some relation to our policy of defence. It is generally recognised that from our fishing ports we have been able to draw a company of magnificent men for the Royal Navy and the Merchant Service. We recognise the contribution that they made during two world wars.
What of the Bill itself? According to the opinion of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, it is long overdue. This cannot be a reflection upon the policy of this Government. The industry itself has failed in its own job and now the Government have to act. The proposed White Fish Authority, though small in size, has a difficult task, as everyone will agree, and its work is urgent. The old White Fish Commission had very limited powers, and I am glad that the Minister has gone in for a much more powerful authority under this Bill, which can get down to the job of developing the white fish industry. It is essential to have a small compact authority with wide powers.
I understand that the new authority will not be representative of any specific interests. I hope we shall not have a power producing interest with this authority. The Authority has the task of reorganisation on- behalf of the nation, which is a big consumer of white fish. The nation has a responsibility to the producer. The House of Commons, which is responsible for the setting up of the Authority, must ensure that the workers in the industry have proper safeguards. I believe that this Authority is analogous to other public bodies, such as the National Coal Board.
I want to refer to the position of the consumer. I wish to stress the importance of the consumer. In food production for which the Ministry of Agriculture has direct responsibility, the principle of consumer representation has been granted. In the series of marketing Acts specific mention is given to consumer representation upon production boards. There is further protection for the consumer through the committees of investigation. There is no such specific mention in the Bill. In Clause 1 (3) it is stated that for the purposes of their general functions the Authority shall have 361 regard to the interest of the consumers in a plentiful supply of white fish at reasonable prices as well as to the interests of the various sections of the industry, is this really adequate for the consumer?
Subsection (4) of the same Clause mentions ministerial direction and consumer interest. If the Minister does nothing to give specific consumer representation under Clause 1, will he consider giving it under Clause 3 and appoint consumer representatives upon the proposed White Fish Advisory Council? The Authority will have full responsibility, but the advisory Council will have considerable influence upon any decisions that will be arrived at. Clause 3 (2) states that the Council shall represent different sections of the white fish industry and other interests. Will those other interests include the consumer interest? I would remind the Minister that under the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1938, a Consumer Committee was provided for in Section 15.
I hope that the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister of Food, will bear in mind the great need of consumer representation and safeguards. We are anxious to produce not only more fish, but fish of better quality at reasonable prices for the housewives. We have had shocking examples of high prices recently. I have stressed one aspect of the Bill because it is important, but I join with other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill as a whole, and I compliment the Minister upon his initiative in presenting it.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Captain Stanley (North Fylde)
I should like to carry on the wholehearted agreement which has been expressed today. Even though I represent the industry and the port of Fleetwood I agree with the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) that we must look after the consumers. The Bill is good and must be helpful, although the powers seem to be rather wide. With the present team of Ministers that we see in front of us I do not think that one could possibly grumble at those powers, because I do not think that team would do anything wrong. Anyhow, I hope not. I think they will behave in the spirit of the Bill, although parts of it, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, seemed very strong 362 to some of us, until we had them explained.
Though the assurances given by the Minister were all right, I felt that he was only committing himself and he would do nothing wrong with these powers, but he did not commit any Minister who might follow him in that office. We might have a very much worse Minister there. He has given assurances, and I hope that he will somehow try to put them into the Bill so that we can be quite satisfied on that point.
As to the Advisory Council, I should like to see who the members are to be and how many people will represent the industry and the consumers upon it. Every view should be represented, if possible. We shall have a chance of pointing out during the Committee stage how we think the industry should he represented. It should not be very difficult for the Minister to work out a composition for the Advisory Council something like the council included in the Cinematograph Films Act, to give one example.
On the question of research, I hope that in future it will not be financed wholly by the Fishing Board. It seems to be a habit of the Treasury to push off to someone else as much expense as they can. The Authority must be allowed to carry on and to develop the present research station, which of course they must pay for themselves, but the Ministry of Agriculture must go on paying for the main research that they are doing at the moment. I hope that we shall be able to hear more about it and that it will give greater benefit to the industry as a whole.
Clause 4 (1, h) deals with specialised training. I hope that the Authority will remember the dependants of people who lost their lives in the industry. I know that they will have a pension but we want the sons of good fishermen, however young they were when their fathers were killed, to come into the industry. Let us do what we can to see that they have good training and become a credit to their parents and to the industry. I feel rather frightened about Clause 4 (3). It may be quite all right for the Authority to run one or two vessels for a short time, but I am very frightened that they may go on doing it for a long 363 time. We ought to have a time limit beyond which they cannot go. It is obvious that none of us want the Authority to be forced because of a firm's failure to sell a new vessel at the very lowest price, but I do not want to see the Authority setting themselves up in competition with the people now in the industry.
As to the controlling of imports, we certainly must not control imports so much that the price of fish to the consumer becomes prohibitive. In times when we are doing well and plenty of fish is coming in, let us control it but let us not do so in times when not much fish is being caught, as during this month and probably next month. Probably there will not be very much more fish for us to import because the other people will be experiencing the same difficulties.
It is essential to limit imports during good catching times. When good catches were made last year we saw the Icelandic boats reach Fleetwood first and get the cream of the market so that when our trawlers came in they got a poor return. We must see that our men get a fair return for their work. I suppose that the Board of Trade will make it difficult for any agreement to be reached because they will say that keeping certain other countries out will harm other trade agreements, but it is about time that the fishing industry ceased to be the whipping boy of all other industries in this matter.
We all realise how serious the over-fishing problem is becoming. Any of us who have taken an interest in breeding anything know how careful one must be. It seems that nothing is being done to solve the problem at present. The other day a man in the industry told me that if the Government did not do something the industry would have to take it into its own hands. He had in mind the rather crude method of sinking some old ships in certain areas so that if attempts were made to fish there the nets would be broken. We must either arrange for areas to be put out of bounds for fishing for periods or must reach some agreement with other countries. Agreement about a larger mesh, different cod nets and so on might do some good, but I should feel happier if we could arrange for areas where the fish could be left alone to breed.
364 There ought to be some publicity against those who support price control. In the last three weeks or so we have heard a tremendous amount about price control and people have said that price control must return. They said, "Look at the ridiculous price of fish" because two 10-stone kits of hake were sold at Fleetwood for a record price. But that was all the fish sold at that price. We are never told when the price of fish is going down. We are only told this sort of thing when a small quantity of fish comes in and makes a ridiculous price. Anyone who knows anything about the industry will agree that that is the worst thing for the industry and that the industry does not want it. It is no good continuing to quote top prices; we should let people know what the ordinary prices are.
Control of the price of fish is obviously ridiculous now. When we have an "under delivery" of fish—to use the phrase of the Minister of Fuel and Power; it means "a shortage of fish"—we must realise that the price of the good and rare fish for which people compete must go up. That is human nature and it happens in the case of every commodity. I gather that in the next fortnight the price of fish will anyhow remain very high because the weather at present is particularly bad. I hope that while the Bill is still going through the House the Ministry of Food will not re-introduce price control. I hope that the Government will be content with the present position and will give the industry a fair chance to show that when it is properly organised and helped it can bring prices down a little. It ought to be pointed out to the public that prices will not come down when there is such a great shortage.
Most people do not realise the disadvantages of price control. They believe that under price control they can still go to the fishmonger and buy their usual fish just at the controlled price. What they forget is all the very good quality fish which has been caught by the English and Scottish trawlers ever since price control was removed. The purchaser of this very good quality fish can eat all of it; before that, a large percentage of the fish had to be given to the cat. Those who travel on the railways will know the difference. Before price control was removed it was unnecessary to tell a man 365 in a train that fish was on the menu in the dining car because he could smell it three carriages back. Now travellers on the railway are able to have nice pieces of fish.
Considering the high price of gear, ships, rail transport, coal and everything else, the average price of fish has not risen tremendously. Soles, plaice and hake have gone up to very high prices, but cod, which forms about 70 per cent. of the catch, has not gone up to any great extent. It is because people want the better fish that the price of the better fish has risen while ordinary fish prices have not risen very much.
The Government have already been asked if the levy of a penny a stone is to be paid by the person who lands the fish or by the merchant. We ought also to know whether the levy is to be paid if there is no market for the fish which is landed and it goes to a fish meal factory. In such a case the man has still sold it technically but he will not be very well off if a penny a stone is to be taken from his pittance. I join with other hon. Members in hoping that the Bill will help the industry, and I hope that the Government can really get it on the right lines again.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Captain Hewitson (Hull, Central)
I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member for North Fylde (Captain Stanley) in his small lecture on why fish prices should not be controlled. He did not say whether he was speaking of the price of fish on the fishmonger's slab or the first sales overside on landing. There is a wide difference. Too much is made of the idea that the fisherman is making a small fortune when he goes to work because he has a corner on his landing.
§ Captain Stanley
I have not tried to make out that the fisherman has been making a small fortune. I have tried to point out that the one thing we wanted to do was to help the fisherman who has been having such a difficult time.
§ Captain Hewitson
That is the point I am coming to. The innuendo was that someone at some place was doing something that was not quite correct, and that some price was wrong somewhere. The hon. and gallant Member did not say whether it was on the fishmonger's slab 366 or at the quay on overside landing, but the inference was that it was on the quay—
§ Captain Stanley indicated dissent.
§ Captain Hewitson
—and that if there were no control the economic laws of supply and demand could take command. At times the fisherman would go to sea with practically no return for his work, and control of the price on the first landing at the quay would always ensure that the man who goes to sea could earn a decent living.
§ Captain Hewitson
That is what I understood from the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member. If I misconstrued them I am sorry, but that was my impression.
§ Captain Hewitson
I am trying to put the point to the hon. and gallant Member that controls would be much better because we would be sure that they would be for the benefit of the fishermen.
§ Mr. Richard Law (Hull, Haltemprice)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman arguing that controls raise prices?
§ Captain Hewitson
In certain instances, yes, but not for the fishermen. They allow the intermediate merchants, from the first landing to the fish slab, to increase their commissions and profits. They allow the man with the fish slab to increase his prices for fish if there is a shortage on a given date, and women shopping when there is a shortage of meat and other foodstuffs are compelled to pay these extra prices to get foodstuffs into their homes. It is immoral and wrong. The Fishery Board should try to do something to control those sections on the fishmonger's slab. I would go further and say that even if we had to subsidise fish heavily, to the extent that we are subsidising other foodstuffs, it would be worth it in the interests of our people.
May I leave that point and refer to the Bill? Apprehension has been expressed from the other side of the House that this Bill savours of nationalisation or Socialism. I say to the Minister that this is one of his typical efforts. It will cause 367 a little heartburning on the other side of the House but it is causing a cold feeling in some of his colleagues on this side. He is taking the middle course when some of us on this side of the House would have preferred him to go all the way—I will not say take the bull by the horns—and introduce a strong Measure for the complete taking over of the fish and dairy industries of our country.
After all, we are a small island. The fishing industry has demonstrated that this section of private enterprise has completely broken to pieces. It just cannot operate the industry and someone must come to its help. The help must be in one of two forms. One method is that there should be built up a huge monopoly with one controlling interest running the industry. The other method is that there should be some control or guidance from the State. Only by one of those two methods can the industry prosper in the future and, of course, I would prefer the State to take control. It could do that in several ways.
There is no denying the fact that, by and large, our fishing fleets are obsolete with the exception of the port I represent, Hull. I think there we have given a demonstration, in spite of the allegation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) about the huge profits made by the Hull fishing fleets at the end of the war. At least most of those profits were ploughed back into the industry, so that today we put to sea some of the most up-to-date trawlers in this country. That is an example, to the whole industry.
As I was saying, the Government could have taken three courses. They could have introduced a much stronger Measure than this Bill. They could have made provision, first for the Government heavily to subsidise the present owners to rebuild their fleets, allowing the present owners to run them. When I say heavily subsidise. I do not mean small grants; I mean a subsidy that would practically cover the cost of rebuilding. Secondly, the Government could rebuild our fishing fleets, rent the boats to the present owners, and remain in control and ownership of the craft. Thirdly, the method which I would prefer would be for the Government to rebuild the fleets and run them under a nationalised industry.
368 We may differ on methods and ideas but there is no gainsaying the fact that our fishing fleet is in a deplorable condition.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
I would like to know whether my hon. and gallant Friend has any idea of differentiating between inshore fishing fleets and big trawler fleets?
§ Captain Hewitson
At the moment I am referring to the larger, distant water fleets. The inshore and the middle water fleets are another problem, possibly the greater problem. Taking a survey of the boats, the inshore fishing boats and the middle water boats are in a deplorable condition and some of them should not be allowed to go to sea even in present circumstances. In time of stress they are nothing but a danger to the men who have to sail in them. The fishermen have a job to do, to supply food to our country.
Coming back to the question of controls, when these were taken off, fish prices immediately rocketed on the fishmongers' slabs—
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Before my hon. and gallant Friend leaves the point about the deplorable condition of the fleet, does he not think that the point is met by Clause 4 (1, g)? This enables financial assistance to, be givenby way of loan to others to meet capital expenditure incurred in providing, acquiring, re-conditioning or improving—(i) fishing vessels or their gear.
§ Captain Hewitson
That covers it up to a point, but it is a form of mortgage which will have to be repaid with interest. We should establish our fleets, which are so badly needed in time of stress and rearmament. We should be big enough to say that we are prepared to put our fishing fleets into order and let the nation pay the cost, and not place mortgage debts around the necks of those who carry on year after year towards bankruptcy and its effect upon wages and working conditions. We should be very bold.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
Does the hon. and gallant Member disagree with the Inshore Fishing Act, 1945?
§ Captain Hewitson
No, but I think that we should be more generous and that the terms of the Bill should have demonstrated greater generosity. The interpretation of the Clause must depend upon those who administer it, and we know 369 very well how, from anyone with a Civil Service mind, we shall get a parsimonious handing out of the dole instead of a readiness to do something which ought to be done for the well-being of our fishermen.
I return to the question of controls. In Hull, when controls were removed, when prices on the slab increased and housewives went on strike and refused to buy fish at exorbitant prices, arrangements were made not to send the whole of the fishing fleet to sea. Boats did three, instead of four, journeys in succession, with the result that 25 per cent. of the fleet did not put to sea. That gave us an unemployed problem, with 600 of our fishermen standing idle. It was a grave matter to have 6 per cent. of our working population unemployed. There were no shore jobs for them.
We have had the spectacle of foreign deep sea trawlers landing fish at Hull, yet we have had the soft pedal statement from some of my colleagues and especially from the Front Bench that we cannot even consider prohibiting foreign landings. If I had my way, I should not allow a single foreign landing into this country so long as any of our own men were unemployed.
One single foreign landing of that kind meant the loss of a full month's work for any one of our trawler crews amongst those 600 men lying ashore idle. That is the only way in which those men can regard those landings. I should like my right hon. Friend to look again at these matters before the further stages of the Bill, so that something more firm can be incorporated in it to give greater protection to some of our own people, who are eager to fish and are willing to accept the dangers which are entailed.
I should like to convey to the House an impression of deep sea fishing at this time of year. People read from an evening newspaper that a trawler which has been fishing off Bear Island, in Icelandic waters, has landed a record catch which will result in a bonus of £60 or £70 per head of the crew for that trip. It is not generally realised, however, that those men will have been away for a month, inside the Arctic Circle, working approximately 20 hours a day and not merely five or even seven or eight hours a day. Those men sometimes work the clock round for as much as 30 hours if they are in a good sea.
370 Too often when crews receive a bonus of £50 or £60 from a large catch there comes the cry, "Look at the money these people are making," while the people who are dealing in the fish, from the quay to the fishmonger's slab, are making many times that amount. It is these latter people upon whom a check should be made and who should, if necessary, be put out of business. Some arrangements should be made of co-operative buying direct from first sales to the slab, with a controlled price on the slab which cannot be exceeded. Had my right hon. Friend been braver and come forward with a Bill which carried a greater measure of control, the Opposition might not have liked it. But why worry about that? We do many things which they do not like, but we have not worried. My right hon. Friend has not taken full advantage of the opportunity which was open to him.
The recent subsidy by the Ministry of Food to the industry was approximately £1,700,000. It provided assistance for inshore and middle water fishing, but nothing for distant water fishing. That was an injustice to distant water fishing. Fish is fish, whether it comes from distant, middle or near waters. It may be argued that there are differences in quality—undoubtedly there are; but some provision should be made to cover working costs if they do not show an economic return, and this can only be done by subsidy.
When we talk of subsidies, either here or in the country, we get all kinds of letters from all kinds of people; we get letters from everybody except the fish. The industry has a case for a generous measure of help from the Government, and we hope that when the White Fish Authority is constituted the Minister will give them directions to err on the side of generosity and to make this great fishing industry of ours what it should be.
I should like to pay my respects, as did the opening speaker from the Opposition benches, to these men who go down to the sea in ships to provide our food, the men upon whom we make the first call—always the first—in times of danger, and the men we send to sea in boats that are really unworthy of our great nation. We should say at all times that the wellbeing of these men, who go to sea in these ships, will be the concern of the Government, so that we can look to them, as indeed we do, and as they always re- 371 spond, to look after our welfare around our shores in time of danger.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. A. Hudson (Hull, North)
I am not going to attempt to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) into the intricacies of control with which he began his speech, nor to say anything in regard to what was virtually on his part, I thought, a plea for all-out nationalisation, but I can follow him in his tribute to the Hull fishing vessel owners who over many years have ploughed a great deal of money back into the industry and have produced and operate what is I think the finest fishing fleet in the world.
§ Captain Hewitson
If the bon. Member will permit me to interrupt, I tried to convey to the House that in Hull we have rebuilt our deep sea fleet.
§ Mr. Hudson
That is what I thought I had supported the hon. and gallant Member in saying.
On both sides of the House we were very glad to have some clarification on the part of the Minister in his opening speech of one or two Clauses which have created considerable doubt in our minds. I thought the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who preceded me rather justified those doubts when he referred to their desire for all-out nationalisation. The Minister has cleared up one or two things, certainly to his own satisfaction and perhaps to our satisfaction. We do not want to overlook one very important point about any Clause in any Bill—that interpretation quite frequently is the subject of very considerable and deep legal argument and every Clause should be made as clear as possible when the Bill is constructed.
I regretted that the Minister thought it necessary to tell the House that the Government have abandoned any thought of marketing schemes, because in his statement he suggested that any such schemes would be too long delayed in their effect. I am indeed sorry because, as has been said, there was a first class marketing scheme in operation prior to the war.
I speak from a different point of view from the inshore and middle water sections of the industry represented here. I sympathise with their two main difficulties, which surely are the cost of 372 replacement of gear and vessels and the shortage of fish on the fishing grounds. I do not want to say much about the cost of gear. That has been very well illustrated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), but the shortage of fish is another matter. Of course it is due to over fishing and, while the project of providing a considerable amount of money for the purpose of building and equipping new vessels in itself is admirable, new vessels of themselves would be quite ineffective in producing the fish if in fact the fish were not there.
The point I am trying to emphasise is, that, in going back to the statement of the Prime Minister on 4th July last year when he expressed the intention of the Government to initiate discussions on an international level, the Minister today used words which disturbed me very much when he said he hoped the discussions may be started. It seems to me we have been a very long time in getting down to these discussions, which were referred to by the Prime Minister as long ago as last July.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, said at once that we were prepared to support the Bill. We do so because we regard it as an attempt, although misguided, to give practical recognition to the immense importance of the industry to the economy of the country in war and in peace. I do not want it to be thought that we welcome the Bill in its present form. We still think it is badly constructed and vague. The first thing I would ask the House to do is to regard with a great deal more weight and importance the vital differences between the three sections of the industry—the long distant water, the near or middle water and the inshore sections.
We who represent the distant water section feel that there is great need for the Bill to take full account of the differences between the three sections and in any schemes and in their treatment throughout the Bill they must be dealt with separately. A great many hon. Members can speak with authority regarding the near water section and the inshore section, but I think only three on this side of the House can speak for 373 the distant water section—my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Fylde (Captain Stanley) and myself.
The distant water section has been built up to its present immense proportions by the policy of providing an abundant supply of fish at a moderate price, I would even go so far as to say at a low price, certainly at a price within the reach of the large mass of wage earners. Sometimes it has been suggested that the price has been too low. I was interested to hear the comment of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) who suggested that in the port I represent the price had increased in recent years to a much greater extent than in his own port. What he overlooked was that the starting point of the price in Hull was very much lower than the starting point in his port which, I think, amply bears out the statement I made that the Hull industry has been built up on a policy of producing an abundant supply of fish at a low price.
In that respect the distant water section is already fulfilling one important duty which is imposed upon the Authority by Clause 1, subsection (3), to… have regard to the interest of consumers in a plentiful supply of white fish at reasonable prices.The distant water section is already doing that and I would draw attention to what I think would be evidence of their public spirited character and intentions in an incident which occurred quite recently. It is well known that when the Minister of Food announced the meat cut which was about to take place, the first thing that happened was that the distant water vessel owners immediately put pressure on to their fleets to see that the largest possible quantity of fish could be landed and public necessity in that way could be met. The vessels are run with complete efficiency; they are run economically. There has been some mention of the profits and large fortunes which have been made in the industry, but it is on account of their efficiency and their economical running that money is to be made in the industry, and the crews themselves derive a direct and tangible share in the proceeds, whether the voyages are profitable to the owners or not.
374 The real point is that the owners, although they are able to deal in very big money, have ploughed back into the industry an enormous amount of money in research, experiment and co-operation with scientific bodies and almost every other way for the benefit of the industry. As the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull pointed out, they have rebuilt the finest fleet of fishing vessels in the world, and that I am sure must go on. There must be no attempt to interfere with that process. In view of all this the distant water section is not in need of financial assistance; it does not desire it. I suggest that on that account alone there is a very good case for the distant water section being left entirely out of the scope of the Bill so that it may carry on the good work which it is already doing.
A point of great importance to the consumers refers only to the distant water section. That section produces approximately 70 per cent. of the total quantity of fish landed in England and Wales, and well over 50 per cent., probably nearer 60 per cent., if Scotland is included. Of that total 69 per cent. consists of coarse fish, cod, haddock and the like, and 31 per cent. of prime fish. It is the coarse fish so largely produced by the distant water section that provides the nourishing and cheap meals and the bulk of the fried fish upon which the great mass of the people depend.
The prime fish, which accounts for about a third of the total, goes to the luxury trade, hotels, restaurants, etc. Clause 15 (2, a) provides for a genera] levy of 1d. per stone on all fish landed. It therefore follows that the large bulk of the cheaper varieties, the diet of the masses, will bear the same levy as the luxury fish served in hotels or on the tables of those who are wealthier. That seems to me to be a great anomaly which might be described as an inverted subsidy. The same position exists in and is a feature of our system of food subsidies today by which subsidised food served in luxury hotels receives the same subsidy as that available to the old age pensioner. That seems to me to be a very serious anomaly which will be further aggravated if moneys are raised by special levies and are not devoted to the sections from which they are raised.
375 Turning for a moment to the detail of the Bill, so much has already been said on the various Clauses that I do not wish to say a great deal. Clause 1 got off to a bad start by the use of the words "reorganising, developing and regulating the white fish industry." Those words occur repeatedly throughout the Measure, and despite what has been said they are capable of very wide interpretation. The Minister himself said that there was to be no limitation. He said "We do not want a limitation," which I think supports our contention that there should be a much more detailed statement as to what those words really mean.
They may or may not—the Minister said they do not—amount to nationalisation. We must accept what he has said, but if nationalisation is not intended, as might be suggested by the reference in Clause 4 to the taking or acquiring interests, why not say so? Why not include some words which will make it abundantly clear that shares or interests in an undertaking cannot be taken without the consent of the undertaking concerned? That would then put the matter beyond any shadow of doubt.
By the terms of Clause 1 (4) it seems to me that the Minister might give secret instructions without the usual procedure of a statutory instrument. That seems to be far beyond any power Ministers may have—
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)
I hope that the hon. Member will look at the Bill, and he will see that is quite impossible.
§ Mr. Hudson
I was referring to Clause 1 (4). If that point is covered I am quite prepared to acknowledge that I have overlooked it, but I do not think that, as the Clause stands, I have done so. If the Clause provides as I have suggested it does, I am sure that the House would not approve of Ministers having those powers; some amendment or qualification is essential.
The appointment of the Advisory Council has already been dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, who very properly pointed out that there should be provision for a panel of names to be submitted by the industry. Clause 5 (8) appears to 376 place the Authority above the law. I have not yet heard this point mentioned, but it is one which merits careful consideration. Under Clause 4 (3) the Authority may itself operate vessels which presumably should be subject to the regulations provided for by Clause 5 (1). Those are the regulations which the Authority is empowered to lay down. Yet the Authority is specifically excluded from the penalty provided for contravening the regulations. If regulations have, as they will have if and when this Bill is passed, the force of law, surely there is every reason to ensure that the Authority itself observes regulations which it has deemed it expedient to make.
I shall deal with only one more Clause. The provisions of Clause 6 (1) seem to me most dangerous when considered in conjunction with Clause 4, which deals with the acquisition of shares. There seems to be no obligation whatever on the Authority to take account of the views of representative organisations. Surely that must be provided for before the Authority submits schemes to the Ministers. Surely the experts within the industry ought themselves to be allowed to produce schemes. As the Clause now stands the Ministers will themselves put forward the schemes without necessarily consulting the representative organisations in advance. The concluding words of that subsection:(including provisions conferring further functions on the Authority).seem to give the Authority the widest possible powers. As the Minister has said, there seems to be no limitation upon the Authority.
Speaking for the distant water section of the industry, I conclude with these criticisms: first, the section itself is in good heart, it does not desire financial assistance and could well be left outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Commander Pursey
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, would he answer a question? He has made the point that the distant water section is the largest part of the industry. If that is to be taken out of the Bill what is left of the Sea Fish Industry Bill?
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. and gallant Member appears to regard this Bill as an attempt to put the other two sections 377 of the industry on their feet at the expense of the distant water section. I do not think that that is the intention.
§ Commander Pursey
That is not my point. The point is that this Bill is one for the whole of this industry. The hon. Member says that the distant water section is the largest part of the industry. If that part is taken out of the scope of the Bill, what is left of the Sea Fish Industry Bill? Seeing that the industry was in this precise position 30 years ago. I should like to ask the hon. Member and Members opposite why they did not introduce a Measure to deal with all the problems that are now arising, and which they neglected to deal with between the wars?
§ Captain Hewitson
Has the hon. Member any authority for his statement that the deep sea fishers do not need assistance?
§ Mr. Hudson
I am able to speak with authority when I say that the distant water section of the industry does not need, nor does it require financial assistance.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. and gallant Member has had his turn, and would he please allow me to finish? I am able to give that assurance and I have already done so.
To come back to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), it is perfectly true that the distant water section does constitute the largest part of the industry. There are left the near water section and, of course, the inshore section. If it is the intention of the Government to put those sections on their feet—and quite properly—there seems to be no reason whatever why they should not do it while leaving the distant water section to do the good work it is already doing without interference. The price levy of a penny per stone should not impose a disproportionate burden upon the cheaper varieties of fish which is the fish for the masses. Finally, I would say that while consultation is at present an obligation, the views of the industry may quite easily be disregarded, and members of each section should be in a stronger position to exert their influence as experts.
378 In spite of all the good features of the Bill, I do not believe it will be passed in anything like its present form. I beg the House to take note of the criticisms which have been made, and I hope that in Committee it will be drastically amended.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Donnelly (Pembroke)
This is the second time in succession in a fishing debate that I have had the good fortune to follow the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. W. R. A. Hudson). The first time was after he had made his maiden speech, which rather tied my hands; but this evening I am able to say a little more freely what I think about his speech. I hope he will not mind my being very surprised and astonished by his remarkable plea for the exclusion of the whole Hull fishing industry from this Bill. It seemed to be a plea to enable some of the larger trawler owners in Hull to make large profits at the expense of the rest of the community.
§ Mr. W. R. A. Hudson
I did not say the Hull trawler owners. I said the distant-water section, meaning Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I accept that correction, but the substantial argument still remains the same so far as the distant-water section is concerned.
Perhaps I may begin by saying how much I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries upon his courageous action in bringing forward this Bill. We have had over a long time a number of debates in which we have mourned the fishing industry. This House has become a kind of public mourner for the sorrows of the fishing industry, and I am very glad indeed that we are at last having a debate in which we are discussing something tangible to bring some kind of help and real benefit to the industry, and a solution of the difficulties facing it.
Having congratulated my right hon. Friend, who I am sorry is not in his place, on his courageous action, may I also compliment him on the lucid and clear way in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill? While I am saying all the nice things, may I also say how very glad I was to see the provisions in Clause 4 (1, c) which enable the setting up of 379 co-ops to help the local inshore fishermen. In my division we had a very successful small co-operative venture for inshore fishermen which ran well for a time but, because of the limited resources behind it, it was not able to carry on during a difficult period for the industry. Had there been a White Fish Authority in existence to bolster it up, it would have made all the difference in the world in this case in Pembroke, and the same thing probably applies to inshore fishermen wherever they may be.
I was also glad to note the powers given to the White Fish Authority to enable loans to be made to the industry for the replacement of the fishing fleet. It seems to me, looking at the industry from a long-term point of view, that there is no permanent solution to this problem unless the fishing fleet is kept in good fettle and replacements made from time to time. One of the tragedies at the moment is that we have far too many out-dated ships still left in our fishing harbour, a great proportion of those being tied up when times are bad, with the resulting tragic unemployment which follows.
Now I would like to turn to the less complimentary things I wish to say to my right hon. Friend. First, I should like to know why, after a special committee had been set up for Scotland, with provision to enable representatives from Northern Ireland to sit on the committee, nobody has ever thought of Wales at all? It is all very well my right hon. Friend saying that there is no particular section of the industry represented on the White Fish Authority. That may be true or not, but there is a special Scottish Committee. I accept that if there were no Scottish Committee there would be no case for individual Welsh representation. However, there is, and I do not think it is good enough that Wales is left out. I should like to give a warning to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that he may hear a good deal more about this from my colleagues in Wales on Committee stage.
I would be the last person to seek to quarrel with my hon. Friend on this subject, but I think my right hon. Friend has already explained that the basic reason for this representation is because the Scottish fisheries are separately administered. From a com- 380 mercial and economic point of view also they are in many ways separate, and bear no comparison with the situation in other parts of the country.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I appreciate all that my right hon. Friend has said about the administrative difficulties which do exist, because there is a Secretary of State for Scotland, but I do not think that affects the economic side of the argument in any way at all when applied to Wales. There could easily have been a Secretary of State for Wales, and then things would have been different.
I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), who made a very able speech earlier in the debate, and also the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks, (Sir T. Dugdale), with relation to the question of imports. I consider it very important indeed that a great deal more thought should be given to the question of imported fish. I share with my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson), the very definite feeling that so long as there is a single British fisherman out of work, foreign fish should not be brought in to the detriment of our own industry.
I should also like to support hon. Members who raised the points about distributive costs in the industry, which are not tackled by this Bill in any way. One of the fundamental problems facing the industry today is the colossal gap between the prices paid to the men who bring the fish ashore and the prices paid by the housewife for the fish on the slab. While there may be various reasons for these high costs that exist, it must be the task of the industry to reduce those costs. Otherwise they will not have any satisfactory basis for the industry in the future.
I hope, too, that the White Fish Authority will bear in mind, and my right hon. Friend will bear in mind, that there are also a whole lot of problems in dealing with the primary costs of the industry. There is the cost of raw materials and. for example, the Purchase Tax on fishing gear. These are all things which need to be looked at speedily if the industry is not to continue to get into difficulties because of the prohibitively high cost of overheads in the future. That brings me back to the point made by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) who, when mentioning the high cost of fishing gear, 381 found he had no real solution to the problem of how to bring down its cost. The whole reason why we on this side of the House support this Government and the Labour Party is that we prefer to take the economic powers of various industries into our hands and to try to tackle those problems. There is no point in having a political democracy unless we are ready to give it some economic powers—
§ Mr. Osborne
Can the hon. Gentleman give one example where what he calls economic democracy by control through officials has reduced the price of the commodity to the public?
§ Mr. Donnelly
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) is even more out of touch with affairs than I thought. He does not appreciate that most—in fact, all—nationalised industries are industries where the costs would have risen far more than they have done but for nationalisation. For instance, railway fares would have risen far more than they have done but for nationalisation. The hon. Member should read the "Economist." The hon. Member, who appears, from what I have heard in this debate, to know very little about fishing, also appears to know very little about economics. I agree with one of my hon. Friends who says that he is a fly fisherman. I conclude by congratulating the Minister and the Government and by saying what a change it is to have a fishing Bill as a result of which we can get something done.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
For the benefit of many hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to join in this debate, I start by saying that I hope to be commendably brief. I wish to join with the hon. Member opposite who paid tribute to our fishermen both in peace and in war. I have had the honour of serving with them in war and I know what magnificent service they gave to their country. Also, I have served in Arctic waters and I know the conditions in which these men are serving their country today in the distant and not so distant waters.
I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us on several points during the Committee stage. My first point is on Clause 4 (1. h). This relates to grants for the training of young men in the in- 382 dustry. Especially in the inshore side of the industry, where men fish on a share basis, it is important, if we are to get the right type of young men, that they should not be carried as passengers in a boat. When men are fishing on a share basis, they cannot afford that. I hope that consideration will be borne in mind.
I hope that under Clause 5 there will be adequate powers to regulate foreign landings. I agree with those who say that the Authority must do the job adequately. Clause 12 (1) deals with the powers of inspection of our own vessels; but can the Authority do the job adequately if they have not power to inspect foreign vessels which may be landing at our ports fish from dirty conditions? Like other hon. Members, I have visited the fishermen in my division and have heard many views which they have formed in the time they have had to discuss this Bill. Two of the main views are on costs and shortages.
On the question of costs, I heard recently of an Egyptian cotton net which cost £4 10s. in 1940, but today a similar net of inferior quality costs £29. On the question of shortages I think that, with the situation in the Far East being as it is, we face a possible diminution to nothing of manilla supplies. It has been said, I think with reason, that sisal is not a very satisfactory substitute. I am glad to see that under Clause 4 (1, a) the Authority will be able to encourage research and development and to spend money on it.
I ask the Authority to consider the important aspect of development covered by nylon research. I have here a letter from a man in my division who has been using nylon rope for the last six months. He reports that it is thoroughly satisfactory and that it is an answer to the poor quality sisal rope which they have had to put up with. We know that nylon rope is expensive, but I suggest that some scheme could be devised whereby every section of the industry was given—and I stress the word "given"—nylon rope with which to experiment. If it proved satisfactory, then we could consider the price and how to reduce it. These steps must be taken now. Nylon will be used to a large degree in rearmament. If this development is to take place, we must make plans for it now. Such other matters as air spotting and experimental 383 craft so that experiment can be carried out under actual working conditions, improved echo sounding apparatus, and so on, should be borne in mind.
Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the chairman and members of the Authority. I have heard it said that some people have been a little unfair to them. I remember that during the war, on one Russian convoy, I was extremely glad to see a certain cruiser come up over the horizon wearing the flag of the present chairman of the Authority. I trust that the fishermen in peace time will come, through experience, to trust the chairman and members of this Authority as much as some of us who learned from experience in war time.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Howard) that the high cost of gear is one of the most serious difficulties facing the industry today. If his suggestion about nylon can be pursued, I am sure that the Authority will take note on his remarks. I had heard that there is great difficulty over knots, which tend to slip on nylon ropes.
I feel that this Bill offers an opportunity. But it must be said that the success of the Bill depends partly upon fortune and partly upon what the Authority, when it is in action, can make of the powers given to it. Criticism has been levelled at the wide, and even the rather vague, powers given under the Bill. I am not at all sure that that is valid criticism. We agree that the fishing industry varies very greatly. It would be impossible to draw up a Bill which precisely defined the powers which the Authority should have in relation to each part of the industry.
At least as far as the Scottish inshore fishing side of the industry is concerned, we have been asking the Government to take drastic steps. In my view, it would be illogical to fetter their hands as to the means by which those steps might be taken. Certainly, we must have adequate safeguards and certainly there may be parts of this Bill which need amendment in Committee; but in general I think that the Authority will need to be extremely firm and energetic as well as extremely wise, and it will probably need most of the powers given to it under the Bill.
384 In Shetland most of the difficulties faced by Scottish inshore fishermen all round the coast are greatly accentuated and in particular we have this tremendous debit of the freight charges. But there are assets. While fish are to be caught in the sea, the Shetlander will go to sea and catch them if he can get a reasonable price for them; and I think it will be agreed that no section of the coast has a better record of co-operation. If the Minister goes to the Herring Industry Board, I am sure they will confirm that, and I am sure that this Authority will find the same spirit. I should like to add my good wishes to those which have already been offered to the Authority on setting out on this extremely formidable task. I do not think anyone should incline to underestimate its difficulties.
I have a letter from a most energetic and ingenious fisherman in Shetland, and he tells me that, on coming back from the East Anglian fishing he intended to try seining, but on going into the matter he found that he could not do it with the present prices of gear and the present high cost of transport. He feels that the best hope of satisfactory remuneration lies in herring fishing in the off season; but even then the outlook for the regular herring fishing seasons is very gloomy.
I make no apology for mentioning herring fishing, because in Scotland today the same boats, and to a great extent the same men, very often go in both for white fish and herring fishing, and it seems to me that the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board will need to work in the closest collaboration, both on the question of fishing boats and the vital question of refrigeration and quick freezing. Both these Authorities will be using the quick-freezing plants and refrigeration, and they must work together to make full use of the plant which we hope will be set up.
The great problems of our industry are marketing, freight charges and the cost of gear. As to marketing, almost any fish, freshly caught, decently handled and well prepared, is good to eat. I sometimes feel that certain districts of Britain are too conservative, not to say reactionary, in their attitude to certain types of fish. Ling is widely eaten in the far North, but hardly ever seen down here. Around the Shetlands, Norwegians 385 come in and catch a good number of dogfish, and I strongly suspect that these dogfish later appear in some expensive restaurants, but not under that name. At the same time, it is equally true that almost any fish is uneatable if it is stale and has been lying about in icy water for weeks.
Some doubt has been cast on what the Authority may be able to do about marketing, but they have powers under Clauses 4, 5 and 6 of this Bill to take very considerable steps, and I hope they will take very firm action both to cut down the margin between the price paid by the housewife and what the fisherman receives, and also to see that there are not only adequate supplies of fish but that the fish is in really good condition. We often see fish very badly packed in rickety baskets, and I have heard of lobsters sent from the North being covered with other fish-boxes packed with ice. As the ice melted, the water ran through to the lobsters, and they were dead before they reached their destination.
There is a great need for more quick-freezing plants and for refrigerated vans on the railways. Then, secondly, there is this question of freight charges, and, again, it seems possible that, under this Bill the new Authority will be able to take certain steps, and I very much hope they will. These charges are literally a matter of life and death for fishing in my constituency. The third major problem of the industry is the high cost of gear. The Authority can experiment and encourage the cooperative buying associations.
Those seem to me to be the basic problems the Authority must face. Their aim must be to ensure for the housewife a supply of good fresh fish at reasonable prices, and after taking into account the very great costs which the fishermen now have to meet. Some criticism has been made on the subject of a return to price control. If a control scheme can be devised which will guarantee fairly stable prices with an adequate minimum return to the fisherman, and at the same time avoid severe fluctuation in price, I hope it will be tried, and I am sure that almost every fishing district in the country would welcome it. But it must be a scheme which gives assistance over freights and takes account of the costs which the fishermen face today.
386 To turn to the detailed proposals in the Bill, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) drew attention to the desire of Wales for treatment similar to that given to Scotland. Scotland, very rightly, has a committee of its own, because it is a very important country. Wales is also important, though it is rather smaller, but coming on. I understand that this Committee is set up for functional, not nationalist reasons, but I support the hon. Gentleman's plea though with some trepidation. Some of the same conditions exist in Wales as in Scotland and, if this Committee for Scotland works well, perhaps the Minister would be able to look at that request again.
Clause 5 deals with the sale and condition of fish when it reaches the market and also with the timing of landings of fish. So far as inshore fishing is concerned, if the fish are there to be caught the fishermen must go and catch them and land them, but no authority can attempt to regulate the fish. I feel that the key to this section is refrigeration so that the fish may be stored and put on to the market in good condition at any time when it may be required. Under Clause 8, I notice that vessels under 40 feet are exempt, and Clause 8 (2) deals with the granting of licences. There are some places in Scotland where the crofters still want to go off and catch a few fish with which to supplement their food supplies. In some of these places there are practically no fish to he caught.
One hon. Member has also made the suggestion that there are other places where the three-mile limit should be abolished at certain times. I think there should be flexibility in both directions. In some areas there may be genuine cause for anxiety. It is difficult to say what is the effect of fishing on the continued reproduction of fish, and I am not at all certain that we know what does exactly happen if we leave the fish alone for a long time. Apparently, round Shetland, they come and go and their numbers are perhaps unconnected with over-fishing. But experiments in restricting netting in small areas might be tried both to assist the crofters and to prevent over-fishing.
On the question of granting licences, the Minister said that anyone with a boat who could satisfy the conditions laid down will be granted a licence and that there will be no restrictions, but that the licence 387 might be taken away from them later and there was power to control, if necessary, the operation of the boats. There is a provision in Clause 8 (5, a) for the prevention of over-fishing. What is intended here? Is it intended to give certain districts licences for a limited area, so that there is some restriction on the places where they might go fishing? We ought to have some more information on this point? On the subject of the levy, it seems to me there is a slight anomaly in imposing a levy on the weight of fish and not on its value. That seems to me to be an anomalous method.
I hope the Government will continue to pursue international agreement on the whole question of over-fishing in the North Sea. There is, too, the question, which is very important in Scotland, of harbours and piers. There are fishing communities in the far north that are still very badly served in this respect, and which urgently need additional facilities in the way of harbours for landing fish. I feel that this industry has a very good case for some assistance when compared with other industries receiving far bigger subsidies, as in the case of agriculture. I do not think anyone will consider that this Bill is over generous to the fishing industry. The industry has had a very hard time, and I hope that this is the beginning of better and more stable days for it. Again, I should like to offer my very best wishes for the success of this Measure and of the Authority.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
In rising to support this Measure, I am fortified by the thought that many of the points which I desired to make in support of the Bill have already been made by other hon. Members. When listening to the very agreeable speech of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), who I think shares with myself some practical experience of working in the industry as a fisherman, I could not help remembering—when he referred to the price which the fisherman gets for the fish as compared with the price which the housewife has to pay for it—an experience I had in that part of the country bordering the Moray Firth, when I was asked, before the last war, to attend a meeting of fishermen to ex- 388 plain to them what a Labour Government could do for the fishing industry.
Having explained to them to the best of my ability what I hoped a Labour Government would do for the industry—which is, of course, in this Bill—I was asked by one man, who was obviously not a fisherman and certainly not a supporter of the Labour Party, what a Labour Government would do to protect the fishermen from the damaging effects of the sharks which were then infesting the North Sea. I was somewhat nonplussed at being asked that question, whereupon an old fisherman got up and said, "Never mind the sharks at sea; we will look after- them. What are the Labour Government going to do about the sharks ashore?"
This Measure goes some way, although, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) said, probably not as far as many of us would have liked, towards dealing with the large number of interests which have always seemed to make a very good living out of the fishing industry, but who never catch fish themselves. I am referring, of course, to the large army of middlemen who stand between the primary producer, the fisherman, and the housewife; and with all respect to the Minister and those associated with him in the production of this Bill, I am somewhat disappointed that they did not go a little further in seeing that the price paid for fish by the housewife, or at least a larger proportion of it, found its way to the hard-working fishermen who by their toil bring in the fish from the sea under such perilous conditions.
I think, nevertheless, that this is a very good Bill, and if I have one very slight criticism to make of it, it is not of the terms of the Bill itself. My criticism is in regard to the delay which has occurred in bringing this Measure forward. I think it might have been introduced earlier but, of course—
§ Mr. Robertson
Everyone knows that successive Conservative Governments did nothing for the industry, so there is no object in making that obvious point.
When reading this Bill, I was reminded that many of my hon. Friends and I gave very serious thought to this matter as far back as 1945. We produced some infor- 389 mation for the Government, after giving very careful consideration to the matter in an advisory capacity, and we hoped that the then Government would seize the opportunity of putting our advice into operation. As I say, my only criticism is that there has been this five years' delay. I believe that had this Bill been brought forward some five years ago, the fishing industry today would have been in a much more prosperous condition than it is at the moment. Therefore, I would say to the Government that in future, when back benchers who specialise in some particular subject bring forward proposals, they should not have to wait for possibly four or five years before such proposals are put into effect, or perhaps have to wait until the condition of a sick industry prompts the Government to take action.
The basis of the whole Bill is contained in Clause 1, which sets up this Authority. No one is going to believe that the newly-appointed Authority will be able to put this industry right in a matter of a few weeks or months. That is going to take a considerable time. I believe that the personnel of the Authority has been very carefully picked and is representative of interests which have had at least some experience of the fishing industry.
I think it is a very good thing that the body concerned is headed by an admiral, because the fishing industry should be regarded as an auxiliary fleet to be used in time of national emergency. Therefore, I welcome the fact that someone from the Senior Service is going to take an interest in and look after the fishing industry. But it is tremendously important that this new body should have the confidence of the fishermen. That is absolutely essential, and I sincerely hope that it will succeed in that direction.
With regard to the responsibility of the Minister under Clause 4, I hope that we are not going to have the experience of perhaps asking the Minister a question about the industry or about some action which the Authority has taken, and the Minister telling us that he cannot give a direct answer because it is a matter of day-to-day administration of the Authority for which he is not directly responsible. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will carry the fullest responsibility for the actions of this body, always consistent, of course, with a con- 390 siderable degree of freedom for that Authority so that the people serving on it will be able to get on with the primary job of bringing some order into this chaotic industry.
With regard to Clause 2, in which power is given for the setting up of a Scottish Committee, some reference was made to it by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), who suggested that we might have a similar committee for Wales. May I respectfully point out to him that there is a special problem in the fishing industry in Scotland inasmuch as a large proportion of the inshore fishing fleet of the nation belongs to the Scottish fishermen and is operated from Scotland. In fact, it would be more correct to call it an inshore fishing committee, because it deals primarily with the inshore fishing of Scotland. There are, of course, special problems concerned with inshore fishing fleets, one of which is the necessity for conserving fishing grounds, and here I would make a suggestion which I think may be worthy of consideration.
Since the war, we have had the dual-purpose boat—that is, the boat which can be converted to a herring fishing boat or a white fishing boat. I suggest it would be a good thing if this Authority had the power to regulate the fishing times so that the white fish could be caught during the winter months, and during the summer months, when the herring shoals are running, the concentration of the inshore fishing fleet would be on herring fishing. When the fleets were not catching white fish, they would help to replenish white fish stocks, and at the same time by careful scientific processing there need not be a shortage of fish during the summertime because the process of quick freezing would release white fish when necessary.
With regard to Clause 3, I think it is a good thing that the Advisory Council members should be representative as broadly as possible of the interests concerned, but I am not certain that it is right that the Chairman of the Advisory Council should be a member of the Authority. While in some circumstances this may be desirable, I do not think it is right to stipulate that the Chairman shall be a member of the Authority, because we might want to go outside the Authority for a chairman.
391 I now come to what I regard as the kernel of the whole Measure. I refer to the conferring of wide powers on the Authority. One or two hon. Members have criticised the scope of the powers conferred on this Authority. If we expect the Authority to do their job properly, they will require to have those wide powers, and so long as they are controlled by Parliament I can see nothing in the Bill to which one could take exception with respect to the powers of the Authority.
With regard to Clause 4 (1, b) relating to the setting up of fishermen's cooperatives, I believe that this is one of the ways in which something can be done to reduce the cost of fish to the consumer and the cost of gear required by the fishermen. This question of the cost of gear is the most urgent problem facing the fishermen today. I have a letter with me from a fishermen's co-operative mutual association in my constituency. In it they refer to the tremendously high running costs of gear. Even over the past year the price of a 1cwt. coil of rope has soared from £7 to just on £11, and that bears very heavily on the inshore fisherman.
Here I would make a suggestion of which I hope the Authority will take note. I hope that when the Authority are properly under way they will become a central buying agency for the bulk purchase of gear and material necessary for the fishing fleets. If that could be done, I think it would do much to assist the fishermen. Meantime, I appeal to the Government not to remove the subsidy granted to the inshore and middle water fishermen. I think it will be necessary to retain that for some time, at least until the new body comes to the rescue of the fishermen.
I should like to make a point concerning the purchase of gear by the co-operatives. The British Hard Fibre Cordage Federation do not pass on to the fishermen's co-operative associations the percentage of reduction which they pass on to the ship chandlers who handle their material. That is very unfair. The 5 per cent. reduction which is allowed to the private ship chandler without any question whatsoever is reduced to 2½ per cent., and indeed in some cases there is no reduction whatever, in the case of the fisher- 392 men's co-operative societies. I hope that point will be noted and that the Government will be able to persuade this body to treat the co-operative societies in the same way as they treat the commercial undertakings.
I wish to make a point about the quality of fish. Everyone knows that the inshore fishing fleets handle the best quality fish, and I hope that the Authority will try—it may be a job for the Ministry of Food—to see that the inshore fish commands a higher price in the retail shops than the coarse fish which is often landed by the trawlers. Certainly the quality of inshore fish justifies a higher price than the trawled fish, and such a classification is most necessary. I think those are the main points I wanted to make. There are many others which, no doubt, other hon. Members will raise before the debate closes.
In conclusion, I should like to say how pleased I am to be in this Parliament to see a Measure of this kind brought in by a Labour Government. No other Government at any time has brought in any Measure which is so likely to bring order and prosperity to this industry as this Bill is likely to do. We owe a great debt to the fishermen. I do not think the fishermen want to be eulogised. I think we are prone merely to say what fine fellows they are, but, after all, it is what we do for them that counts. This Government has gone a long way in the past, and in this Measure, to do more for the fishermen than any of its predecessors have done.
It would be a mortal blow to this country if this fine type of British citizen, the fisherman, and his mode of life, were to pass out of existence. We were very near to that state of affairs just before the last war broke out, and we do not want to reach that situation again. I trust this Bill will save us from that, and we shall be able to pass on this great tradition of the British fishermen and their way of life to future generations. It is my hope that ways will be found for future generations to make use of that heritage.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Captain Orr (Down, South)
In order to allay the anxiety of hon. Members who still wish to speak in the debate, let me say that I am going to try to be very brief indeed. I want to say one or two words about the Bill generally and about 393 Clause 20, which allows it to be applied to Northern Ireland. We had a debate in April and the Prime Minister's statement in July, and now that we have the Bill to set up this Authority, with its very wide powers, I hope that the Government will not imagine that they can claim to have dealt with all the problems which were raised during the debate and that they can now say, "We are handing it over to an Authority; let them get on with it."
There are still many problems to be dealt with. There are the questions of the high cost of fishing gear, the high freight charges and the control of imports. I wonder whether the Minister, when he replies, would say something about control of imports, because I think that in July the Prime Minister said that the Government intended to initiate discussions in O.E.E.C. on the subject and that the Minister, when introducing the Bill today, said that discussions might be started. May we know which in fact is the case? Have any discussions been initiated in O.E.E.C. or are they still to come?
Concerning the Bill itself, I welcome it if only as evidence of the Government's interest in the fishing industry and their intention to grapple with some of the difficulties. I appreciate fully the argument that in this industry, above all other industries, the Authority must have very wide powers, but I do not share entirely the lack of apprehension of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), because I am not quite convinced that Clause 4 (1, e), taken with subsection (2), does not in fact give the Authority the power to nationalise the industry. Certainly on the question of the acquisition of shares, there is no compulsory power of acquisition, but I am not satisfied that there is not power of competition to reduce the value and make people want to sell their shares.
§ Commander Pursey
The Minister definitely stated that there was no question of nationalisation. Furthermore, there is no compulsion. Surely that ought to reassure everyone in the House and in the country. The fact is that the industry has definitely welcomed this Bill and is not worried about the words "take or acquire." The Minister gave the technical explanation of these two words in Parliamentary language which ought to satisfy every Member of the House. It 394 is bringing in a political red herring to try to argue that there may be nationalisation and nationalisation by the back door.
§ Captain Orr
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not misunderstand me. I am not saying for a moment that it is the intention of the Government or of the Minister, or even of the members of the Authority, to nationalise the industry. I am saying that I am not quite satisfied that in these two subsections, taken together, there is not the power in the future to do so if somebody wants it. Perhaps the Minister, when he is replying, may be able to satisfy us a little bit further on that point.
§ Captain Orr
I am still not satisfied that Clause 4 (1, c) does not give the Authority, for instance, the power to compete with the merchants. The Minister has given an assurance that it is not the intention to do so, but I am still not satisfied that the power is not there.
§ Captain Orr
Provided that we can be satisfied on that point completely. I welcome the Bill. I think that it is a good Bill, and I know that all the fishermen in Northern Ireland welcome it, and for that reason alone I give it my best wishes.
Clause 20 deals with Northern Ireland. This Clause has been agreed with the Government of Northern Ireland, but the view which I am going to express now is entirely a personal one, though I know that it reflects also the views of many of my hon. Friends from Ulster and the majority of the fishing interests in Ulster. This Clause, which provides that the Bill may be applied to Northern Ireland by a resolution of both Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, provides that if that takes place there shall be one member from Northern Ireland to represent Northern Ireland on the Scottish Committee.
We are not quite satisfied that that is in fact satisfactory. We are inclined to feel that if there were a committee of 395 some small number—say, three—for Northern Ireland alone, that would be a better arrangement, because although the problems of Northern Ireland and Scotland are very similar in many ways—the question of transport charges, and so on, affect us both in very mush the same way—we feel that there are cases where we might get divergence of interest and where we would be very much outnumbered. A representation of one in six on a committee which is in itself advisory and representing the Authority by one in five—an Authority in which Northern Ireland is not represented at all—is a very small representation.
For instance, the argument that the Scottish Committee is set up because Scotland is separate administratively can be applied in the case of Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland is separate administratively as well. The Ulster interests are different in a number of respects. There is, for instance, the consideration that fish landed in England and Scotland are generally caught by steam trawlers. We have no steam trawlers in Ulster, but we are on the verge of the fishing grounds. It requires coal and a day's steaming for a trawler to come to the fishing grounds, and a day's steaming to get back again. Our fleets are on the very edge of these fishing grounds. Our boats can land their catches at the Ulster ports and have them in England or Scotland in a day, whereas the trawlers come in about fortnightly. Perhaps the Minister would express a view on this point which I am putting to him about a separate committee for Northern Ireland.
§ Commander Pursey
I do not want to enter into guerilla warfare, but is not it a fact that Northern Ireland is not in the Bill, and cannot come into the Bill until both Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland have passed the necessary resolution? Therefore, any question of Northern Ireland being shorn of representation does not arise at all because they are not in the Bill, and there is no justifiable demand for representation.
§ Captain Orr
I should have thought that with the hon. and gallant Member's acumen he would have grasped that if this is applied to Northern Ireland by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament of 396 Northern Ireland and then by Order in Council, there is no power to amend the Measure, and if the Ulster representation is to be altered, it must be altered here in this House at this stage of the Bill and not afterwards. This is the only time that it can be done, and therefore I think that I am relevant in asking that this matter should be considered now. I believe that all the fishing interests in Northern Ireland are satisfied with the Bill and are gratefully impressed by the character and knowledge of the members of the Authority whom they have already met. I have met some myself, and I can heartily endorse that. I welcome the Bill and wish the members of the Authority well.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I wish to say a few words about the arguments that have been presented before I address myself to the Bill. In particular, I should like to deal with the argument in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). He harped on the question of compulsion under Clause 4 (2). I should like to tell him two facts about that. First, if he had been here when the Minister spoke he would have realised that the point was raised in the course of interruption, and that the Minister categorically said that there was no intention to operate that subsection in a compulsory way.
But it did not need the Minister's assurance, because it is settled law that where powers are given to a statutory body, that statutory body cannot act compulsorily unless there are in the Statute words expressly giving compulsory powers to the statutory body. Therefore, as a matter of law, apart from any assurance by the Minister, there are no compulsory powers in this subsection. The relevant words are:For the purpose of their general functions of reorganising, developing and regulating the white fish industry, the Authority may take or acquire shares or similar interests in any company.There is not one word about compulsion, and the statutory body set up will not have compulsory powers.
I should like to say a word about the observations made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and to praise the admirable suggestion made by the hon. Member for St. Ives 397 (Mr. G. R. Howard), that further investigation should be made in the use of nylon in relation to the industry. That was a valuable suggestion, but it is not new. Nylon is already used extensively in the industry. What is valuable is that further inquiries, research and investigation should be made into the use, not only of nylon, but of other technical processes, to increase the effectiveness of the industry. Indeed, the Bill already contains sufficient powers for that purpose. We find, in Clause 4 (1) (a), that amongst the powers the statutory Authority is to enjoy areto carry on research and experiment either alone or in collaboration with others and for that purpose provide or acquire, equip and operate vessels or plants, and to give financial assistance to others carrying on research or experiment.So I think the hon. Member for St. Ives can sleep quietly in his bed, realising that the Bill gives sufficient powers to investigate into the uses of nylon and into other technical processes.
The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. W. R. A. Hudson) made a speech with which I profoundly disagreed. His speech was in contrast with the speeches made by other Members in support of the Bill. He said that the Bill was too vague and general, and he then proceeded to demolish his own argument by making a number of particular points, showing that his argument was quite unsound. He said that it would take a lawyer to construe the Bill. As a lawyer, I have had to read a great many Bills in my time, and I have seldom come across a Bill more clear, logical, plain and intelligible, even to my simple mind.
I should like to congratulate the Minister, not only on this very useful Bill, which is wide in scope, practical in application, clear and compact in design, but on the clarity with which he summarised the 28 Clauses, relating each one to the general scheme of the Bill. This scheme will give great satisfaction to everyone concerned with the industry, from the producer to the distributor, as well as the consumer, who is too often forgotten. Since this Bill came to my hands, I have taken the opportunity of consulting the various interests that will be affected, such as trawler and drifter owners, crews, fish market porters, distributors, merchants, shopkeepers and consumers, and I have not come across anyone who has had 398 anything adverse to say about this admirable Bill.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
There must be something wrong with the Bill if no one can say anything adverse about it.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
That is the observation of an iconoclast. In this instance the hon. Member stands alone, or perhaps stands with the hon. Member for Hull, North, in the objections he may have to this admirable Bill. The reason why everyone supports the Bill is that this industry has been the victim of serious slumps and booms—ups and downs—from the '30's to the present time, and there has not been a serious attempt made to solve the problems with which the Bill deals.
The appointment of the White Fish Industry Authority is to be welcomed. I am glad to see that there will be a Scottish Authority, and that it will be advised by representatives of every section of the industry. I join with previous speakers who have said that it will be a pity if the Advisory Committee has not representatives of the consumers upon it, because in the last resort the consumer is the most important person. He, or rather she, is the person for whom the ships go out, for whom the nets are cast—
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
I hope that the consumer will be represented on the Advisory Committee. The hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) argued strongly that the Government should build fishing vessels and that the public should bear the cost of such fleets. That is not a criticism of the Bill because that is already met by the Bill. Among the powers given by Clause 4 (1) are powersto provide or acquire and equip fishing vessels to be operated under charter from the Authority;to give financial assistance by way of loan to others to meet capital expenditure incurred in providing, acquiring, reconditioning or improving—If I had any comment or criticism to make of that subsection it would be to delete the word "or" and to put in the 399 word "and," so that both of these benefits could be conferred upon the people concerned.
- (i) fishing vessels or their gear; or
- (ii) plants for processing white fish in Great Britain."
There is a great deal more that I should like to say about this admirable Bill, but there are so many other Members who wish to speak that I must cut my observations short, and content myself with saying that I congratulate the Minister on his Bill and on his manner of presentation. I hope the Bill will pass.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I always enjoy following the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), because he manages to make legislation very clear inasmuch as he reads so much of the Bill outright. On this occasion even his forensic skill did not reveal to us whether he was still of the opinion which he once held that he was in favour of the nationalisation of the fishing industry.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
If the noble Lady will allow me for a moment, I did say that and I still adhere to it, but I did not say a word about it on this Bill because it would not have been relevant.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
That statement will be of extraordinary interest to his constituents and to mine in the city of Aberdeen.
I am sure hon. Members will be glad to hear that I shall be very brief, because I feel that at this stage everything left unsaid can be most usefully kept to the Committee stage. Also I must confess that although I have given a great deal of thought, like many other hon. Members, to this problem of the fishing industry, actually the Bill itself only reached me yesterday in Canada. Therefore, the only opportunity I had to study it was through the night five miles above the Atlantic. I should like, however, to say that I very much welcome this Bill because I think it gives a clear indication that the Government are at last—
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
—giving confidence to the industry. I say "at last" because one hon. Gentleman opposite—I think it was the former Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for 400 Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Robertson)—said that he thought that this Measure should have been brought forward earlier.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his own speech if he catches, your eye, Mr. Speaker.
We must have confidence in this industry if we are to encourage capital investment and the taking of commercial risk. We on this side of the House have always been in favour of the establishment of an independent authority, chiefly because for a long period of years it has been very difficult to get all sides of the industry to work together. I know that in the city of Aberdeen, part of which I have the honour to represent, they will be very pleased that there is to be a Scottish Committee.
A number of my hon. Friends on this side of the House are concerned at the very wide powers given to the Authority. On the other hand, we have the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) saying quite plainly that he thought the powers were not great enough, and that if a Government are in the position of having brought in a certain Measure and the Opposition object then—to use his own words—"why worry about it?" But surely the whole purpose of Government is to try and insure that any design put forward does not suppress the energy or skill of the people who have to carry it out. I think it is very important that in trying to regulate a very important industry, we must bear in mind that in the old days Parliament thought it good business to try to remove laws from the Statute Book rather than put too many on it.
It is said that any decision that would be taken through this Authority will have primary regard to the interests of the consumer and a plentiful supply of white fish at reasonable prices. That, of course, is of prime importance, but it has been a little misunderstood that when the 401 decontrol of fish came about though prices rocketed, three days later they dropped very heavily indeed. While we should have the interests of the consumer in mind, we must also always bear in mind the very great difficulties of the producer.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
Is the noble Lady implying that since decontrol became operative fish prices have dropped?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
The hon. Lady will remember that first of all prices rocketed and then they dropped very heavily indeed.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I think the hon. Lady will also realise that since decontrol the housewives have had a very much better quality of fish. Housewives do not wish to buy fish which, even if controlled, was of the quality which we were getting during the war, and which made them absolutely sick of fish. The housewife wants good quality.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I shall not give way again to the hon. Lady, because there are so many hon. Members who wish to speak and we have argued on this problem many a time.
I think it is important that the Government should make their intentions more specific. We must remember that today we are discussing the instrument or machinery by which we hope to regulate the white fishing industry. We are not discussing the actual measures which will he taken, and it is most important that if any measure is taken in the interests of the fishing industry quality will be put first.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
There are certain things which cannot be really overcome by the Authority which we are discussing. There are certain things entirely in the sphere of the Government. I refer particularly to this question of over-fishing. What is the good of having a Clause in this Bill regarding licensing, which, it is specifically stated, is to prevent over-fishing, if at the same time we do not also 402 on a wider scale do our best to insure the ratification of the International Over-Fishing Convention. It is not easy to get other countries to fulfil their obligations, as I am very well aware, but surely the Government could consider stronger Measures against those Governments which do not honour their obligations, such as those who carry out open flag discrimination.
Furthermore, it is important that with the discussions on fishing there should be bound up the question of foreign landings. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he replies, will be able to tell us how far the discussions in this matter have gone with O.E.E.C. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will clarify Clause 9, because as far as I read it, it seems that the Government once more are going to be judge and jury in their own case.
There is another question I want to ask on finance. Apart from the levy that is to be imposed on the industry as a whole, the Authority is given power to borrow up to £15 million in 10 years at any outstanding time. The Ministers are also to be empowered during 10 years from the start of this Bill to make advances to the Authority of another 10 million pounds. Is this coming out of the food subsidies? I remember in the summer the Prime Minister, in reply to a Question, specifically stated that any sums for Measures such as this were to come out of the total food subsidies. If that is so it will be interesting to know whether any increase is going to be made in other food prices in consequence.
Quite apart from the constitution of the Authority we are discussing today, there are some other measures which the Government must consider if they are to make a success of these regulations for the fishing industry. For instance, what are they going to do to increase the efficiency of transport? Over and over again we find that the fish trains from Aberdeen are late. What are they going to do in their general economic policy? Devaluation has meant a rise in the price of fuel oil of 38½ per cent., which to a 150 foot trawler means a cost of £4,000 a year. These are all general questions of Government economic policy. We cannot expect an authority, however, well-designed, to succeed unless it is backed up by sound Government policy.
403 I shall draw these few comments on the Bill to a close now because a great number of other hon. Members are waiting to speak. I welcome the Bill in principle but I feel that there are many matters of detail which we and the whole fishing industry will have to regard with very great care if the Bill is to bring stability to one of the most valued and important industries of the country. We should do so with added urgency today, not only because of the need for food production in time of emergency, but because the fishing industry has provided the men who have served the nation with such distinction. In spite of all the researches of science, we know that the sea is still our life and our shield in this country, and anything we do in the Bill to help those who ride her waters will be good work.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
The noble Lady twitted hon. Members on this side with having abandoned nationalisation. But I confess surprise at her coming along here and giving such hearty approval of such controls as are offered us in the Bill. I am sorry that she used the words "at last," when she said, "The Government have put forward at last a Measure to help the fishing industry." We have to go back much longer than the five years that the present Government have been in power. There are fishing problems and trawlers in Aberdeen which are much more than five years old. Many of them are 30 years old. That is why we have today proposals by the Government to help with replacement of obsolete and obsolescent vessels. I should have thought the noble Lady would have been most grateful to see this money coming from a Socialist Government.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I think the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I welcomed the Bill in principle—
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
—and that I referred to the Measures which had been passed between the wars by Conservative and National Governments.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I quite appreciate that the noble Lady welcomed what was 404 done by Governments in pre-war days, but it still remains true that there is no part of the British fishing fleet that is more obsolete, and in regard to which there have been fewer attempts by private enterprise at replacement, than that which is in Scotland, and particularly in Aberdeen. The Tory representation of that area—[An HON. MEMBER: "Misrepresentation."]—has now expressed itself as being completely grateful that at last a Bill has come forth which the noble Lady accepts completely in principle. No Tory or Liberal has criticised the Bill seriously, except for its being belated. It is one of the most useful and important Measures introduced by the present Government.
Over all, I think it is a good Bill, but I do not for one moment imagine that the setting up of the White Fish Authority will, alone, provide a complete solution of the problems of the industry. Private interests have to put their backs into the effort, and some of their money into it too, and not all the time be taking money out and stuffing it somewhere ashore in comfortable investments. They must put money back into the fishing fleet and modernise it. I will say for the English section of the industry that it has put far more money back into the industry and done much more by way of replacement than has been done in Scotland. There is almost a study in contrast between those two sections.
That is our misfortune after 50 years of political Toryism, encouraging private enterprise to take everything out and put nothing in. It was showing a great lack of responsibility and enthusiasm for putting money back into a great industry which they saw fit to exploit and not to develop. There should be no criticism from Members opposite of a Bill of this kind, which is endeavouring to make up even at this late stage—the Bill is belated, and that is one of my criticisms of the Government—for the years of dilapidation and serious neglect.
I wish we could have had the Bill when we were pressing for it in 1945 and 1946. I blame several Ministries for that, not only the Ministry of Agriculture, the Scottish Office, and, but more so, the Ministry of Food, which is responsible for seeing that the nation has an adequate supply of good quality fish. I do not intend at this stage to enter into con- 405 troversies about seats on the Authority or the committees with our English neighbours and Welsh subsidiaries. As Scotsmen we welcome the reasonably adequate representation provided for Scottish interests under the terms of the Bill and hope for full delegation of power to the Scottish Committee in time.
We shall not see quick results from the operation of the Bill. The White Fish Authority have done a good job of work with enthusiasm and considerable success. They have greatly impressed people with the alacrity and enthusiasm with which they have done their job. This is an important Bill which goes far in its effects beyond food supplies. We must remember the strategic point of view, and the ancillary fleet which is required in war-time, as well as peacetime food production. We must safeguard the maintenance of the race of trained fishermen-seamen upon which this country has in the past depended and may very well depend again. Now, at last, we appear to be giving as much consideration to our own people, and to our own fishing areas in the Orkneys and Shetlands, and in the Western Isles, as we have been doing in the past to Icelandic areas, for political and strategic reasons.
However, let us not imagine, in our enthusiastic support for the Bill, that the White Fish Authority will solve all the problems of the industry. We have had similar proposals and hopes, and some similar powers before, which have not solved the difficulties of the herring industry. I would say in passing that the Herring Industry Board is utterly inadequate for its task, and ought to be reconstituted. It ought to be cleaned up, if not cleaned out, and something more effective and vigorous put in its place. It has lost the confidence of the industry, especially in the Scottish north-west. I urge early action upon the Ministers on this point.
I should be sorry to think that that was the model which we aspired to copy in the case of the White Fish Authority. One hears about the Herring Board only when some member of the body shouts a little more loudly than some section of the herring industry with which they happen at that moment to be squabbling. In view of the auspicious beginning of the new 406 Authority, I hope that the same sort of thing will not happen in its case. I hope it will have a happier history and a more effective life than the Herring Industry Board.
Hon. Members opposite mentioned North Sea over-fishing. We cannot deal with the over-fishing problem in a piece of British legislation. It is a matter for international agreement plus ratification and plus—even more important—enforcement by the nations concerned, loyally co-operating, or by an international authority which has confidence and respect and the power to enforce such agreements. It is no good nagging at any one Government, especially this Government, which has sought international agreement and has demanded over and over again both here and at Strasbourg agreement and ratification, but has failed to get it from certain countries. But the Government should certainly continue to press for international agreement and above all, ratification.
As the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South, says, quality is vitally important now. Whatever the price for fish was in the past, the housewife had to pay it because of the shortage of food generally and the housewife had to accept whatever fish was flung at her by private enterprise. The tendency latterly was to tire of fish altogether. We now have to tempt the housewife's palate with the best possible quality of fish, and we must also try to tempt the housewife with a reasonable price in view of the greater variety of food which can now be obtained.
The problems of the big ports are urgent, but I am anxious that the Minister should also have regard to the difficulties of the smaller ports in places like the Western Isles where the industry is now suffering from acute unemployment. The problems of distance and the lack of decent transport and excessive freight charges are among those to which attention ought to be given if the industry is to be helped. That is one job the Herring Board failed in. This Authority must tackle it. There must be piers and shelter for the boats for which the Government have been offering loans. In many cases, even the insurance companies refuse to insure the boats because they have no shelter and no proper pier and jetty accommodation.
407 I welcome the Bill overall, though I do not place all my faith in the White Fish Authority alone. It still remains largely a private industry and it is up to private interests to put their back and their money into it with more enthusiasm than hitherto.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne
—opened his remarks in explaining the Bill, he thought fit to make a personal attack on me. I have had to wait a long time before I could reply to him. I was surprised that the Minister, who is usually the most fair-minded among his colleagues, should have gone out of his way to be so personal towards me.
§ Mr. Osborne
It was a pity, because the Minister was so ill-informed. This is a fair-minded House, except for the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), and the house will usually listen to a person who is trying to make a statement in defence of his honour. I was accused by the Minister of making a statement to the Press without having read the Bill. I was asked by the national Press to make such a statement. I refused to do so for three days. Until I got to Grimsby and saw both the trawler owners and the merchants, I refused to make a statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the fishermen?"] I have four times tried to see the trade unionists in Grimsby and every time they have refused to see a Conservative—
§ Mr. Osborne
To deal with such an hon. and gallant Member is rather difficult, but to other hon. Members I should like to say that a large proportion of the workers, the fish merchants and the trawler owners live in my constituency, which rings Grimsby, and I now have 22,000 votes which were previously in the old Grimsby Division.
408 The second thing of which the Minister accused me, which I deeply resent, was this. He accused me—and sneered at me because I had said what I had said—of playing cheap party politics in Grimsby. Is it wrong for me to do it in Grimsby when he does it in the Don Valley whenever he likes? [HON. MEMBERS: "So the hon. Member did it?"]
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am sure that the hon. Member will not accuse me of having misrepresented him, no matter what other accusation he may make. I merely quoted what the hon. Member had said. I did not abuse him personally.
§ Mr. Osborne
This is an important point. The Minister accused me, and he accused me wrongly. He said that I had made that statement without reading the Bill, which was a lie.
§ Mr. Williams
I could not imagine that the hon. Member had read the Bill since his statement was so utterly contrary to the contents of the Bill.
§ Mr. Osborne
If that is the quality of membership on which the stability of this Empire depends, then God help us. I said this Bill could be a back-door to nationalisation. I said that because I had read the Bill carefully and in Clause 4 (2) it says:… the Authority may take or acquire shares … in any company.When the Minister came to explain, he said that "take" meant to take an interest in new companies. Let him look at HANSARD tomorrow. The Bill, without his explanation, said "in any company." Any company means every company. Therefore the Authority could take or acquire an interest and the word "take" has a more partial meaning than the word "acquire." And if the Authority could take it, it could take over every company in the industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] This is the English language. It could put out of business every man in the trade. On that I think 409 I was perfectly entitled, without having had the benefit of the Minister's explanation, to say that this could be used as a back-door to nationalisation.
§ Mr. Osborne
I thought that they and their party were pledged to the nationalisation of all industries, including fishing. Why should they be frightened of it? [HON. MEMBERS: "We are not frightened."] Because it may cost them votes. [HON. MEMBERS: Nonsense."] Having said that, I would like to make one or two real criticisms of this Bill, which I do not like. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the same old private enterprise."]
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order. I think we might have a little less interruption. There is not much time left.
§ Commander Pursey
That is an attack on me. I wish the hon. Member and everybody else to know that I am a total abstainer, so that any question of whether I am sober is entirely irrelevant.
§ Mr. Osborne
I beg to withdraw that, and I humbly apologise, but I think I was subject to some provocation.
§ Mr. Osborne
The Bill has two aims. One is to provide cheaper fish; the other is to guarantee prosperity to the industry. When I talked to the people in Grimsby about it, they were divided as to what would be the result of these suggested regulations. Most of them, whatever section of the trade they were in, hoped they would get something out of it and would be better off. I ask the Minister this question: if the trawler owner and the merchant and the worker is each to be satisfied in his expectations 410 of being better off, how on earth is the Minister to produce cheaper fish? I want to know that. I say that it is impossible, and that in those respects the Bill will fail the expectations of those by whom it has been produced.
§ Mr. Osborne
No. I want hon. Members opposite to apply their minds to this question. Unless the foreign-caught fish is subject to the same strict regulations as to quality, quantity and price as the British, this scheme will fail, completely and utterly. So far, the Minister has given no assurance that he will re-impose even the pre-war quotas of foreign-landed fish. Therefore, I say again, as I said in my article after having read the Bill carefully, that this is a piece of political humbug—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Hon. Members must listen—unless the Minister can give some guarantee that foreign-caught fish will be subject to the same rules as those to which British-caught fish are subject and will be controlled. I know, and other hon. Members know, that the Minister is not in a position to give that guarantee. Therefore, all the provisions that follow will prove to be utterly useless.
§ Mr. Osborne
The hon. Member says "nonsense," but it seems to me that it is as though one were taking a broom to sweep a small piece of snow from one's front door while ignoring the avalanche coming in at the back door.
§ Mr. Osborne
Ten per cent. is sufficient to make just that difference to the price. What can the Minister tell the House and the three sections of the industry as to the promises he can give regarding foreign-caught fish?
I come now to my next question. I speak for myself, and not for my party—[An HON. MEMBER: "I am sure you do not."] This House respects men who speak for themselves.
§ Mr. Osborne
This is what I want to ask the Minister. Can he give an assurance that when the Authority is set up, it will not enter into direct trading, for this reason: if it is allowed to enter into any phase of direct trading it can, if it so wishes, use the taxable power of the country for a period of years to trade at an uneconomic level, to drive out of business by unfair competition—
§ Mr. T. Williams indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am saying that it can happen—it can do that. It could ruin the industry and take it over at any price it wishes.
§ Mr. T. Williams
If the hon. Member wants the assurance now, let me say that the Authority can do nothing of the kind without direct Parliamentary consent.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am obliged for that assurance. I was asked for it by people in the industry who fear these things. [Interruption.] I intend to do the job for the people whom I am sent here to represent, and I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance.
The first and most important aim of the Bill, with which Members opposite, I think, would agree, is that more and cheaper and better fish shall be produced—mostly cheaper fish—to fill the gap caused by the shortage of meat. I ask hon. Members opposite whether there is any commodity that has been controlled by politics which has yet reduced prices, be it coal, gas, electricity, airways, railways or monkey nuts.
§ Mr. Osborne
In no industry which has been taken over from the men who understand it has there been a reduction in prices. I do not see why tonight we should assume that in fishing officials will be able to do what officials have been unable to do in other nationalised, semi-nationalised or controlled industries. For that reason, I am against the whole thing.
The Grimsby fish merchants asked me whether I would make on their behalf a 412 special point, which answers, I think many of the points raised by hon. Members opposite. Time and again reference has been made to the high cost of fish and the high prices which housewives have to pay. The inference has been that there has been profiteering by the fish merchants, which this Bill would in some ways try to control. But what are the facts? Even "The Times" seems to have got the facts wrong this morning, for in a leading article it says:So fish prices rose more than for most food, though the control kept the rise within moderate bounds.It did nothing of the sort. From Grimsby, which has the biggest direct trade of any port in the country, about 70 per cent. of the trade is in cod fillets. The first control was imposed in 1942, when the price of cod fillets was 16s. 9d. per stone. When control ended in April last year, those cod fillets were 15s. 1d. per stone. Is there any other article of food, or clothing, or raw material which can compare with that fall from 16s. 9d. in 1942 to 15s. 1d. last year? I say there is none. Therefore, fish merchants at the ports, instead of being reviled, ought to be praised for what has been done.
Compare those prices with what has happened to coal under control. In 1942 the London price of coal was 62s. a ton. Today it is 95s. a ton, and if cod fillets had gone up in the same way they would be 25s. 6d. a stone, whereas the price at the end of control was 15s. 1d. In the first three days of decontrol there was panic and the popular Press did the industry and themselves a great disservice by misrepresenting those panicky temporary factors. Since decontrol, cod fillets from Grimsby have averaged 12s. 6d. to 15s. a stone, and today they are cheaper than that. Of course, hon. Members say that I know nothing about it, but I am advised by the fish merchants' secretary that thousands of stones came to the inland markets at shillings less than 12s. 6d. to 15s., so that decontrol has reduced prices eventually.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am giving the facts as given to me and I am prepared to have them verified to the entire satisfaction of the Minister, who, when he gets facts. I know can be a reasonable and fair-minded person. Control generally not 413 only put up prices, but decontrol has actually reduced them since, and substantially. The fish merchants say, "We do not want a lot more regulations, Mr. Minister; we want the regulations which are already in existence properly applied and used well."
I will give the House and the Minister an example. Last Thursday there were landed in Grimsby 11,187 kits of fish. I would like the Minister to have something done about this matter. There is a rule that unless 12,000 kits are landed the big London fish train will only take deliveries from the fish merchants up to 4 o'clock. Under special circumstances, only a week ago today no fewer than 185 lorry loads of fish were refused even though they had got to the train by a few minutes past four and the train did not leave for London until five minutes past seven.
These 185 lorry loads of fish were sent to London a day later than they need have been. The secretary of the fish merchants' association rang up the authorities and asked whether sense could not be used in the application of these regulations and that big load be got into trucks which would otherwise go to London half empty. The answer was "No," partly because there was no labour. The official was rung up again and was told there were between 150 and 200 men standing there waiting for 5 o'clock—this was at twenty minutes past four—doing nothing. They could have been transferred from one section to another to get this fish loaded for London, but the official had not the authority, or would not exercise it, to get the work done. So the fish train from Grimsby last Thursday came to London with trucks only partially filled, and it had been three hours before it pulled out—
§ Mr. Osborne
I am trying to point out that, instead of having more regulations and more officials, we require fewer officials and fewer regulations, and that those we have ought to be more intelligently used. In support of that I am giving two concrete examples.
§ Mr. Osborne
It was an official of the nationalised railways. I am saying that this fish was kept on the lorries and was refused by the railway authorities because only 11,187 kits instead of 12,000 kits had been landed that day.
§ Mr. Osborne
It is a good job that the hon. and gallant Member is not in the Bill. I am saying that instead of more officials and more Government controls, we want fewer of both, and we want those that we now have to do their work a great deal better.
I should have liked to say a great deal more, and there is one thing I must say. The "Economist" of 13th January said of the Bill, and I entirely agree with it:Unfortunately the Authority is also empowered—subject to the weak check of Parliamentary confirmation—to establish a"—I should like the Minister to note this word—compulsory scheme of regulation for any branch of the industry. What is the purpose of these further powers? There is plenty of recent evidence to show that administrative regulation is no cure for inefficiency. Its effect is much more to ossify an industry—defects and all—and thus enable its prosperity to he guaranteed at the consumer's expense.That brings me back to my point, that I fear that as a result of this Measure fish will be dearer and not cheaper in price. The "Economist" concludes:This Parliament ought not to he willing to give another doctor's mandate to another public body.Had my party agreed, I would have liked to oppose this Bill, because I think it will disappoint the people who are expecting much of it. It will add to our costs and raise the cost of our fish.
§ Mr. Osborne
After waiting all the time I had to wait to make my personal statement to defend myself, I think I was entitled to say what I have done.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
If the hon. Member cares to divide the House, I will be a Teller with him, just to be a sport.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn (Yarmouth)
There are only a few minutes left for me to make the speech which 415 I have waited all day to make. I never did have much liking for the Act we passed in the last Parliament, the Representation of the People Act. Now I learn that it has put one or two fish dealers into the constituency of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and I hope he will not occupy too much of the time devoted to our debates on fish, which have been of a high character so far—there have been no smells, shall we say—or that it will take him away from his squabbles with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I see that the hon. Member has kept one or two of his old friends out of the debate tonight.
Everybody, apart from the hon. Member for Louth, is in favour of this Bill. We have been wanting this Bill ever since the end of the war. We on this side of the House who have pressed within our own party for such a provision, are very pleased that we have got it. That does not mean to say that once we have passed this Bill we can sit back thinking that everything in the garden is lovely; that we can put all the responsibility on this new Authority and that they will put the industry on its feet. There is a lot of hard work ahead both for the Authority and for us. I hope that we shall keep in touch in our constituencies with that body, and let us also hope that it will not be so remote that we cannot keep in touch with it.
This is an old—an antediluvian—industry. I do not put all the blame for its position on the party opposite. It is rather like the building industry where there have been few improvements in methods since the time of the Pyramids. We seem to have gone on in the spirit of the little boy who goes to a stretch of water with a bent pin on a line at the end of a stick and hopes that he will catch something. We hear of the great modern trawlers going to the Arctic, and so on, but when they get there they too hope that they will get something. That is true of the great herring fleet which comes into my constituency from October to December. On some days they go out in the same spirit of hoping that they will catch something, and they catch practically nothing. On other days they catch much more than anybody wants. Last year our champion vessel 416 had such a large catch that another boat had to go alongside and take part of the catch because they had more fish than they could carry.
In these modern days, with Asdic in the Navy and Radar in the Air Force and Army, we should have some authority who in the future will be able to say that there will be fish on a certain night of a certain month and it will be near one of the ports controlled by the Authority; and that if the fishermen set off on a certain course and get to a certain place at a certain time they will find the fish. During the war the Air Ministry said they wanted to send a small aeroplane flying fast to the middle of Berlin. The pilot would not see anything of the ground on his journey, but when the machine reached a certain spot a bomb would be released to fall on a selected target in the middle of the city. That was done, despite all natural obstacles.
I suggest that part of the money to be devoted to research should be spent in obtaining available scientists and putting before them a simple problem such as was put before the scientists by the Air Ministry when they stated that fast flying aircraft would be over this country before the guns could be brought into action to stop them. The Air Ministry said that instruments were wanted which would pick up an aircraft which would be invisible to us perhaps a hundred miles away, and long before it got to this country. The scientist said that they had something to do that, and the outcome was Radar.
We ought to do something on the same lines in peace-time for the fishing industry and I hope this Authority will be able to use within the first six months much of the money put aside for research. I hope that then they come along and say that they want still more but they think that they are on the right lines and that any millions spent now will repay the people ten, twenty, or thirty fold as the months go by and they have made this elemental conquest of nature which, so far, humanity does not seem to have made in any country.
There is a lot more I could say especially in criticism of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) when he talked about prices. If he had heard the speech of his colleague the hon. Member for 417 Banff (Mr. Duthie) he would have heard a very good speech showing the prices paid to the fishermen who do the really dirty work and catch the fish. He would have seen how the price increases when it goes to the wholesaler, and then the hon. Member for Banff told us that generally one can reckon that 33⅓ per cent. can be added to the wholesale price to get the price which our wives must pay when they see the fish in the shops. Usually they look at it twice and say they cannot afford to buy it.
The hon. Member for Banff mentioned that a catch of a certain type of fish brought 6¾d. to the man who did the job and risked his life to get it. After that the wholesaler's price suddenly became 1s. 1½d. The hon. Member for Banff will correct me if I am wrong. We should add 33⅓ per cent. to that and then we should have the price which the poor housewife must pay. If there is one job which this Authority, or any other, should do it is to try to knock down that big discrepancy between 6¾d. to the fellow who does the work and the awful inflated prices which our wives have to pay. We all agree about that.
If the hon. Member for Louth will come and help us on this, we shall be very pleased. If he can prove that he can bring down these prices so that our wives will pay much less than they are paying now, and so that we shall have an organisation with his friends the fish dealers—not the fellow who catches it but the dealers—then we shall be with him. Perhaps we shall persuade the Government to give us another Authority if necessary. But we think that we are on the right lines at the moment. We may turn out to be wrong, but we have history behind us. I put the housewife first. She is the one we should look after. She is getting less and less meat at present, and she should be provided with a far greater variety of fish at cheaper prices. I do not know who is to blame—perhaps it is the Government—why this Bill has not been brought in earlier. We must also remember that we are taking part in re-organising this industry in the rearmament programme. Days before a war started, if there was the slightest threat of war, my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), would disappear as fishing ports. They would become naval bases at once, and 418 these fellows who get 6¾d. for their fish would be keeping the mines and the submarines from sinking our food and raw materials as they come into the country.
When I had a few moments to spare during a very hectic Christmas Recess, I went to one of my favourite books for relaxation. If I were ever asked on the B.B.C. which book I would take on a desert island with me, I would say the "English Social History" by Professor Trevelyan. On page 189, he talks about the fishing industry as we are talking tonight. Speaking of Elizabethan days, he says:The fishermen were favourites of government, because they so often helped to man the mercantile and royal navies. Laws were passed ordering the observance of 'fish days': none of the Queen's subjects were to eat meat during Lent, or on Fridays—sometimes Wednesdays were added. It was expressly stated that the object was not religious but political—to maintain our seafaring population, to revive decayed coast towns, and to prevent the too great consumption of beef and mutton which resulted in the conversion of arable into pasture.It goes on to show how this legislation was built up. He says that the fishing laws were enforced by actual penalties, and he records that, in 1563, a London woman was pilloried for having flesh in her tavern during Lent. It would not surprise me to hear that that woman came from Louth.
Professor Trevelyan goes on:In this and every other way, Secretary Cecil strove to maintain the seafaring population and shipping of the country. He exempted seamen from military service on land, and he enforced Navigation Laws against foreign ships, particularly in the coasting trade.If this new Authority required a text for setting about its work, I can recommend none better than that extract from Professor Trevelyan's "English Social History." We always have to remember that in such an event as we have witnessed twice in our lifetime, these men constitute our first line of defence. No treatment can he too good for them, and I hope that the Authority will be able to carry out our wishes in that respect.
Secondly, we are not just keeping this industry alive for its own sake. These islands are surrounded by fish, as was said by a famous oracle at one time, and that fish should be made available as an addition to the diet for every housewife. It can be done; the 419 fish can be caught. There is money now available to refurbish our fleet, and we have a huge organisation to see that this food is caught and is kept clean from the catcher at the port, through the nationalised railways down to that slab in the shops in the high streets of the towns in which we live. They have every facility to watch that fish and to see that we get it clean. It is up to them to use their powers to look after both the fishermen and the housewives.
Of course, they must also have power to keep out foreign fish, and they must see that we get rid of some of this dirtiness which has been affecting some of our food supplies in the last few years. There is great headway to be made here, and it might save us a great deal if we could improve the conditions under which food is still sold today. I think that the way in which fish is exposed for sale on slabs in open streets, with buses going by and all the dust of traffic, is too old-fashioned for us to put up with in these days, and I hope the job will be tackled, so that fish can be sold uncontaminated right from the man who catches it, to those who have to eat it.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)
I think this debate has served a very useful purpose, because it has demonstrated one fact very clearly. It is that it is the general desire of this House, and I am sure of the nation also, to see that this fishing industry is maintained on a sound and healthy, and I hope prosperous, basis in the future. I think it is for two important reasons that we all feel this, and these have been touched upon more than once in the course of the debate.
It is of vital importance that this country, in these days of scarcity, should have assured a good, healthy supply of food from the sea. Fish provides a very good foodstuff, highly nutritious and of great value to health, provided, of course, that it is conveyed to the consumer in a sound and healthy condition. That is one of the things which it must be the duty of any Authority, or persons connected with this industry, to do their best to ensure.
I should like to say that I thought that the Minister of Agriculture presented the Bill in his opening speech today in a very fair manner, and we are grateful to him 420 for that. Of course, there will naturally be, in any Bill presented by any Government, points which will require probing and elucidation, and perhaps even divisions in Committee; but that does not mean, as was the case yesterday when the Secretary of State for Scotland and I were both enjoying ourselves in this same Chamber, that the main principles of the Bill are opposed by either side of the House.
I think that the other main reason why we all feel it is so essential to see the industry maintained in a sound and healthy state is the fact, as has already been stated, that it is of vital importance to this country, as in the past, to have in all times or stress and danger this reserve for our Fleet, for minesweeping and for Royal Naval Reserve men, and so on. There is no finer type of man than those who operate the fishing fleets round our coasts. I am not now referring only to Scotland, as I wish to be quite fair in dealing with the matter; I am not talking purely as a Scottish Member at this moment, and I must even include Northern Ireland in those remarks.
Having said that, I realise that I must not take up too much time because, of course, it is the duty of a Government to reply, and I do not want to cut into the time which the Secretary of State for Scotland will require. One good thing has been achieved in this debate which I hope will make all who have taken part in it, including myself, popular with the Chair. It is that speeches have been kept to such reasonable length that a good number of hon. Members have been able to take part in it, although I very much regret that one or two of my hon. Friends, and, I am afraid, others in the House, have not been able to do so, long though they have waited in the hope of being able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
Representing as I do a north-east of Scotland constituency that has several fishing ports, I have some knowledge of these people and of their activities. I am always very much impressed on my visits to them by the complicated nature of the industry and by all the various sections and repercussions within the industry. We have these long-distance trawler men, of whom we have heard a lot today, and then there are the seine net men and the drifters—although I know that this Bill does not deal with the herring fleets—the line 421 fishermen and the shell fish men; and it is a highly competitve trade. In my opinion, those engaged in the industry are great individualists. They believe in trying to get on as best they can in spite of the difficulties of the life they have to lead, and in spite of the competitive nature of the business in which they are engaged.
I believe these all to be good qualities, and we do not want any Authority to discourage that sort of enterprise and individualism. Therefore, I am very glad that the Minister of Agriculture stated that the object of this Bill was not to impose State ownership and management upon the whole white fishing trade. Indeed, I think it would be a great pity if that were the case. It is such an extremely complicated trade, with the various sections not always actually working in close harmony with each other, that I think it will be found to be a difficult job to achieve what we all desire. However, I hope that the remarks made by the Minister will go some way towards allaying the fears and anxieties of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), although I admit that it might be difficult entirely to allay his fears. At any rate, I think it is generally agreed by the House that we are glad the Government realise the importance of this matter, and have introduced a Bill on which, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) has already stated, we do not intend to divide on the Second Reading.
I feel that the Authority have a most difficult task to undertake. They are given all sorts of opportunities for exercising their ingenuity, but they are not told in the Bill precisely what they are to do. The Prime Minister announced, I think last July, that the Government were going to take action towards assisting the white fish industry, and now we have the Bill. I do not wish to be facetious or rude in any way, but it reminded me of something which I read in the "Daily Telegraph" last Saturday. It was in Peterborough's column and referred to an extract from an evening paper—I do not know which paper—dealing with the Government's deliberations on the subject of the call-up of Reservists. The quotation said:The Government have decided to make a quick decision.422 The Prime Minister informed us in July that the Government had decided to make a decision. Now we have the decision; but, of course, the truth is that the Authority will have to take the decision as to what is to be done for the good of the industry. That I do understand, however, because, as I have said, it is a highly complex industry, and the Authority is certainly given very wide powers in order to undertake its difficult task. Some of us are naturally slightly worried about certain of the powers which are given to the Authority, but the Minister's statement went a long way towards allaying our anxieties, and I hope that the Authority will find themselves able to carry out this difficult task efficiently and without too much delay.
I know—and I agree with those who have said so—that the Authority have been getting on with the job with great keenness and energy. They have been collecting evidence and information from all sections of the industry, not only from those who go down to the sea in ships but from other sections, as I know from my connection with a livery company called The Fishmongers' Company—an interest which I have declared in connection with another Bill which we were debating yesterday. I do not know whether I ought to declare that interest again; at any rate, it is not of a lucrative or financial character, but it is one which interests me and it is a position which I am very proud to hold.
I think that Clause 1 has been dealt with sufficiently fully. All I would say on Clause 2 is that it is very wise to decide to set up a special Scottish Committee of the Authority. That will be of great value, and it will also be a great encouragement to the section of the industry which operates in Scotland. On Clause 3, relating to the Advisory Council, I should like to support the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, who referred to the advisability of ensuring that it is composed of the right type of men with knowledge and experience of the industry, because otherwise it will not be effective. I support the view that the various sections of the industry should be asked to supply panels of names and that the members of the Advisory Council should be selected from the names suggested. At any rate, I hold that out as a suggestion. The im- 423 portant thing is to ensure that this Council has the full confidence of the industry and of the various sections of it.
Clause 4 is, of course, of outstanding importance, and it has been dealt with in considerable detail. I would, however, like to refer to one or two points in it, if I can read my own writing. It outlines very far-reaching powers and duties. Subsection (1, c) deals with the Authority as agents and principals in the sale of white fish and the buying and selling of material. I know that the Minister referred to that in his opening remarks, saying that they were not intended to have the power generally or necessarily to undertake State trading, but naturally we would like to look into the wording of that subsection and consider it further in Committee.
Then there is the acquiring and equipping of vessels to be operated under charter. I understand the point there, and indeed there may be reason for this, as was stated by one hon. Member, where we get boats which have been assisted by grant or loan, and which may fail to make the grade. Rather than see them laid up and rotting, it might, indeed, in certain cases be advisable that the. Authority should have the power to operate these boats by charter. While I at first viewed this with considerable dubiety—to use a good Scottish word; I do not know whether it is also an English word—I was somewhat relieved after listening to the Minister of Agriculture on this subject.
I am rather interested—and I do not think this has been referred to; it is a very small point—in Clause 4 (4), which states:It shall be the duty of the Authority, if so required by any Minister of the Crown, to act as his agent in matters relating to white fish.I do not know whether that is a misprint, because, as I understand the Bill, there are three Ministers concerned. Does it mean any one of these three Ministers, or can it relate to the Postmaster-General and the Minister of Pensions? Is it that the Postmaster-General may want to charter a vessel for Christmas mails or something like that?
I pass from that, which is a small point but perhaps worth noting, to Clause 5 (1, b), which deals with the timing of 424 landings. This has been dealt with, but, of course, it is a terribly difficult problem. I have no doubt that the Authority in their investigations in the country and around the coast and into various sections of the industry will learn of these difficulties, because it would be a most frightful hardship, or unkind or unfair, when a skipper of a boat has done his fishing and has his catch on board, to delay its landing while the catch is deteriorating. I cannot believe that that would be the intention.
In connection with the timing of the landings, it is obvious as the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and other hon. Members have said—refrigerating plants at the ports are of vital importance in order to spread over the catch and enable it to be dealt with in times of glut. I am sure that the solution is not so much the timing of the landings as the ability to keep the catch in good condition when the landings are too heavy for the market to manage.
I am interested in Clause 5 (1, d) about these prescribed standards of quality for white fish. All I want to say is that I hope the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Authority are not going to have one of these harebrained schemes such as the Ministry of Food were talking about not very long ago—what is called by them "Suggested score sheets for the organoleptic characteristics of white fish." When one thinks of an inspector dealing with literally thousands of fish in a big port I do not see how he can possibly go through this business.
It will perhaps be of interest to the House if I read a few points. In the case of score sheets in regard to odours, one gets 10 marks for odours. The full score of 10 is obtained for fresh seaweed odours. We then go down to eight marks, which is for slight, musty, mousey or milky (not sour). We drop another point for lactic acid and sour milk odours, and so on, until we get to cabbage water. One still gets five points for cabbage water. Eventually, fish is condemned if it is just nauseating or there are putrid odours. There is a very interesting point on textures and eyes—whether the eyes are sunken or perfectly fresh, although it does not say anything about bloodshot eyes. I sincerely hope that we are not going to be led astray by this. Fish is fit for human consumption or it is bad fish. At 425 any rate, the inspectors and the fishmongers are fully aware of what is fit for human consumption and what is not.
Finally, it is necessary to get the Convention of 1950 agreed to by all the countries, as the position is unfair to our own people and others who have ratified it. I hope that the powers are adequate to deal with the landing of foreign fish when our own landings are sufficient for consumers in the country. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) spoke of long-distance boats making huge profits during the war. I would point out that they had the Profit Tax and controlled prices at that time. He said that these profits were used to build new boats in excess of the requirements of the industry; but these boats were built to replace boats that were obsolete or were lost during the war. These boats are more efficient and provide better crew accommodation.
He said that the Authority must have powers to prevent the building of long-distance vessels. I am sure that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland, as well as all concerned, will agree that it is not the intention that the Authority should help one section of the industry at the expense of another. It must be their duty to hold the balance and, complicated though the matter may be, I believe that they will endeavour to do it, and I shall retain my confidence in them until I am forced to another conclusion.
Finally, we wish the Authority well in their difficult task. I know that they are active and keen on the job already, and I hope they will be successful in producing schemes that will be of genuine assistance to this important industry whose welfare all of us have at heart. It is a complicated and technical business, and I admire the chairman and others who have taken on this great work. I think we all agree to give this Bill a Second Reading and to examine it further in Committee.
§ 9.30 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)
I want right away on behalf of my right hon. Friends and myself to thank both sides of the House for the very generous and helpful suggestions they have made in reference to this Bill. I must confess that I have always hoped that I might be associated 426 with a Bill which would be presented in English—the kind of English that people read. I was highly gratified that several hon. Members went out of their way to pay tribute to the lucidity of the Bill. I think it is a long way short of English, but because there is not so great a necessity in it for references back as most Bills carry, perhaps this one is a little bit easier.
I am sure I also speak for most parts of the House when I say to the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) how glad we were to hear his simple, direct Scottish English applying itself to such a subject as this. Whips are very fine people and very important, but we like to see them take part in the general work of the House instead of ordering us about all the time. I do not intend to attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman into those highly entertaining score sheets on organoleptic characteristics, which I take to be a way of describing the science of perception. We have put a fighting admiral at the head of the show, and we are all agreed that it looks as though he will get right down to business, and is not likely to be put off by side-tracking, interesting though it be to statisticians or scientists.
For fear that I might be accused of side-tracking, perhaps I should attempt to deal right away with the only major reservation which was displayed on the other side. If I have time I shall come back to some of the smaller though not unimportant points, and I daresay I can meet most of them except what was said by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), though, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we are not very likely to be able to satisfy him at this stage.
I will, if I have time.
The major fear that was expressed was that this was a back-door method of nationalising this great industry. My right hon. Friend dealt with this in anticipation, and let me again say flatly on behalf of the Government that there is no hidden purpose in this Bill. When we want to nationalise we do so openly, first having consulted the electorate. In this case our intention is no more than to set up an Authority with the powers which we have been examining.
427 Inside this major fear, four Clauses were dealt with. Several hon. Members pointed to the powers which they found inherent in the Clause, which lays it down that the Minister may direct the Authority. This is not an unusual provision. We have all become familiar with it in the Herring Industry Board, and it operates in all the nationalisation Acts. In this case, as in the Herring Industry Act, the Minister can only issue directions that can be undertaken within the powers with which this Bill will endow the Authority. The Minister cannot, from whim or prejudice, reach out and require the Authority to do something for which it is not legally equipped. Any direction will be inside the powers of the Authority.
The hon. Member for North Hull (Mr. W. R. A. Hudson) expressed his fear that the Minister would give directions in secret. Far from this being the case the very opposite is explicitly laid down in the Bill, where it is provided that the Authority in its annual report, must cite any directions which have been given from the Ministry. If hon. Members are doubtful I may be able to give them the reference although I am sorry that I have not the reference beside me. I know from my reading of the Bill that that is so.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
This is a very important point and a lot of my hon. Friends are worried about it. When will the annual report be published?
The Herring Industry Board manages to put out its annual report three or four months after the completion of its operative year. However, I understand that as a reasonable point. Since we are providing that the Authority must cite annually these directions—
My recollection was that the Authority were directed in their annual report to cite these directions from the Ministry upon which they have acted, but I now beg the hon. Member's pardon. I am indebted to the hon. Member for Croydon, East. It is plain that if that disclosure would be in contravention of national security it would not be made. That is always an over-riding provision. The citation applies to the normal commercial operations of the Authority in respect of which the directions of the Minister will be cited annually. I was going on to say that my right hon. Friends recognise these anxieties as reasonable ones and will consider if there is any step that can be taken to make publication more frequent than annually.
Let us turn to another point which has worried many hon. Members, and that is the provision that the Authority can take or acquire shares. As my right hon. Friend said in introducing the Bill—and I repeat his words—the power to take and acquire shares does not include any element of compulsion. No one can be required to sell shares to the Authority. He said that he understood "take" in this connection to mean "take shares in a new company just formed," and "acquire" to mean "purchase them later," and that there was not a word in the Clause to authorise expropriation or forced sales. I hope that has displayed beyond doubt that we do not want to endow the Authority with any powers with which they could operate unfairly against any section of the industry, but if we can discover a form of words to which the lawyers take no objection which means precisely this and makes it a little plainer, we shall offer it to hon. Gentlemen.
Two other points in the same strain were made. My right hon. Friend referred to one of them in closing. There are fears about the power which we vest in the Authority to make regulations and schemes. Quite frankly, I believe that these fears, which I quite understand, are nevertheless misplaced. I think it will be difficult to cite any other enactment where greater care is taken to ensure that the House will have reasonable control over such operations. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will concede that it would be utterly impossible if we so crippled the day to day 429 operations of the Authority that it could not move without reference to this House, but the machinery envisaged for the making of regulations is straightforward and. I think, appropriate. A regulation will not be operative until it has been approved by the Minister and until this House has been given a normal Parliamentary opportunity by negative check of dealing with it.
Then when we come to the following Clause, where we deal with schemes, even greater care is taken, and, of course, it is proper that this should be so. The schemes will come from the Authority, but the Authority are directed that they must consult with the interested people in the industry. Further, they must publish their intention of making a scheme. They must also hear representations from those potentially affected by the prospective scheme. They may have to hold an inquiry. Then the scheme, with any objections which have not been withdrawn after consultation, must be presented to the Minister and the Minister in turn must, most properly, come to the House. So it will only be after these steps of intimation, publication, perhaps inquiry, and submission to the Minister with such objections as have not been withdrawn, and after an affirmative resolution by both Houses that the scheme will become operative.
I should perhaps have said that I am very grateful to the Opposition that they are not to divide on the Bill, and I quite understand the reservation made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Moray and Nairn that this agreement does not necessarily mean that they will not divide on other points, but I plead with them to go very carefully with Clauses 5 and 6 because we have tried to make sure that a high degree of answerability is embodied in those two Clauses.
I have absolutely no doubt that there will be objections both to regulations and schemes. However, as several speakers reminded us, notably the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), no one has ever produced a scheme acceptable to this whole industry. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman referred to that in his closing speech. So that if anything is to be done for the general benefit of the industry, undoubtedly there will be sectional objections and, in the end, however hard the 430 Authority may try, it is unlikely that in all cases they will reconcile these internal conflicts. But we have tried to make sure that the people affected, and the legitimate interests, will be given expression and consideration in the making of schemes and regulations.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Is there any particular reason why in the one case an affirmative resolution is to be allowed and, in the other, a negative resolution?
Yes, it is a matter of dimension. It will be fairly plain to the hon. Gentleman, with his intimate knowledge of the Herring Industry Board, that regulations which will deal mainly with the quality of fish will be more frequent and of lesser dimension than schemes. Therefore we thought it proper that the Authority should not be asked to take this more laborious course for these measures of lesser importance, the regulations. My right hon. Friend reminds me that we have certain indication of these regulations from the Clause itself, such as handling and stowage, regularity of landings, and the prescribing of standards of quality. So the hon. Gentleman will see that there is a fairly precise definition of the nature of these regulations and, since they will be more frequent, we thought that a negative check by the House there would be sufficient.
These were the four substantial objections offered. There were some other questions asked which I should like to try to answer. The noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South wanted an assurance that the sums which may be borrowed against the Treasury are not deductions from the food subsidies nor from the subsidy for the industry. Of course the subsidy for the industry, as everyone knows, has a limited life and, in a sense, the Treasury must always have some sort, of balance through all its operations. However, I want to say in a flat and literal sense that these powers, made available to the Authority for borrowing against the Treasury, have no relation either to the subsidy presently payable to the industry or to the food subsidy account as a whole.
I was also asked how this levy upon the fish would be collected. The point at which it is to be taken off is a matter for the Authority. It is an administrative problem to which no doubt they are 431 already framing an answer. But the levy is meant to be paid by the industry and the proceeds of the levy are completely available to the Authority since the salaries of the Authority are carried by Vote. I was also asked if that levy would apply to foreign fish. Of course it does. The levy applies to one penny for every stone of fish put ashore.
§ Mr. D. Marshall
Would the right hon. Gentleman forgive me for interrupting? He used the words "one penny," but it is up to a maximum of one penny surely and, in fact, it may be lower.
§ Mr. Duthie
Would that penny levy also apply to imported boxed fish that goes right through to the central markets without passing through a quayside market?
I repeat that that is a matter for the Authority. My guess is that it could apply here, but we shall have to leave this to the Authority.
One hon. Member speaking against the scheme said that this was a tremendous charge which would show itself in the price of the food of the masses. That is a little unreasonable. Many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have had experience of a much heavier levy upon fish, which has gone; there are regrets, and there is relief, about it; but this ceiling of 1d. per stone, which is obviously a reasonable sum for the Authority, and would probably yield about £400,000 or £450,000, is not a charge which will produce any great price rise in the food of the masses.
An hon. Member opposite and several of my hon. Friends, most understandably, explained their interest and distress about the landings of foreign fish and asked what was to be done. There are two points to be considered: first, the question of landings, and second, the question of over-fishing. An hon. Member referred to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The position regarding landings has changed a good deal since that statement was made. At the time the industry was in very substantial distress. The subsidy approved by the House as a whole has made a great difference.
432 I pay my tribute to the very responsible behaviour which the distant trawler associations displayed in this situation. Since then, however, it has changed and we have seen the whole fleet go back, because, of course, there was a demand for as much fish as they could put ashore and they were receiving, certainly not unreasonable prices, although prices which some consumers might consider to be high. However, we are discussing this within O.E.E.C.
On the question of over-fishing, we have had direct conversations with the two Governments—Belgium and Iceland—who so far have not found themselves able to come into line. Hon. Members will have seen statements which were made at Strasbourg and have learnt that the representatives of those two Powers indicated their complete sympathy with the project and have shown that, in the one case, it was constitutional, and in the other case technical, difficulties which prevented their falling into line. I think that I would be expressing the wish of the Opposition if at this stage I recorded our thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) for the resolution which he moved on this subject at Strasbourg and the arguments which he deployed so effectively, with a great deal of support.
I was asked whether the regulations under Clause 5 would apply to foreign vessels. I cannot see how we can reach out to foreign vessels except by intergovernmental action, but I say flatly that the intention of the Act and the anticipation of the Authority is that the Clause will apply to fish from foreign vessels. Our interest more directly arises when the fish is landed here, but without agreement between governments we might not have direct control over their vessels. As we are anxious to get the Money Resolution passed tonight, I now conclude. I hope that I have met most of the major points, and repeat our indebtedness—
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the point which was put from this side, that it is necessary that a long interval be arranged before the Committee Stage?
Oh, certainly, that could be discussed through the usual channels. It is a long Bill and a complex one and this most reasonable request we shall be 433 very anxious to meet. Finally, I say on behalf of the Government that while reasonable time must be afforded, we are anxious that the Authority, which has started so well, should be given a good push-off as soon as we think it reasonable.
One point I shall dismiss in a sentence. Everyone has referred to the consumer and we share that anxiety. We have not provided directly for the consumer on the Advisory Council—we thought the Ministry of Food might be asked to do that—but, in response to the pleas made to us, I say that between now and parting with the Bill, we shall consider if we can do anything, if we think anything is essential to meet that criticism. I hope that the co-operation we have received inside the House will be mirrored outside, because we are concerned for the whole industry. All their views will be most carefully considered, but it is the health of the industry as a whole that worries us and it is towards that end that the Authority must apply themselves.
§ Mr. D. Marshall
In regard to over-fishing, are any negotiations going on between the United Kingdom and Spain on the subject?
Yes, I have already explained that we have direct diplomatic contact with the three Powers affected.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.