§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I beg to move, in page 5, line 35, at the end, to insert the words:and such Regulations may provide that in the case of an insured person employed in the sea service any period, not exceeding twenty-six weeks in any contribution year, in respect of which no contribution is compulsorily payable under this Act, not being a period of incapacity for work or a period during which the insured person is engaged in a remunerative occupation which is not employment within the meaning of this Act, shall be deemed to be a period during which he was available for but unable to obtain employment as aforesaid.This Amendment raises a subject which was discussed in Committee upstairs, and on the last day of the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman indicated that if we could find a satisfactory form of words to meet the difficulty we are endeavouring to overcome, he would at least give them sympathetic consideration. Whether or not I have succeeded in finding a form of words which will meet with his approval, we shall know in a few moments. May I explain briefly what is admitted to be a very complicated matter? By Clause 19 it is proposed to bring into insurance a class of workers who have not hitherto been within the ambit of these Acts. Share fishermen were excluded from previous Acts because of the great diffi- 1974 culty of squaring the conditions of their calling with the provisions which the law sought to enforce, but with the introduction of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act it has become urgently necessary to bring these fishermen within this legislation. If they are left out their widows and orphans will be debarred from the beneficent widows' and old age pensions' scheme. For that reason, if for no other, it is essential to bring these share fishermen within the national health and unemployment insurance legislation.
As the Minister said upstairs, many difficulties were encountered in bringing these fishermen into the Bill at all, and even now that they are in the Bill certain difficulties remain. By the very nature of the share fisherman's calling there are periods when he is not engaged in fishing. He is occupied, perhaps, in drying his nets and cleaning his boats, and he is not then employed for wages. He is not then in remunerative employment, but he is still employed, and everyone knows he is employed. He is engaged upon an essential part of his occupation, but he is not in remunerative employment and cannot be regarded under the provisions of the law as being available for but unable to obtain employment. It could be held that he might obtain employment in other occupations. It might be said to him, "Why not go into a big city and look 1975 for work? You are not searching for employment as a wage earner." Still the man is engaged in an essential part of his employment, because he is preparing for another fishing voyage. While he is thus engaged he is piling up arrears against himself. The Minister has made provision whereby he will forgive the arrears, but it is the fisherman's society which will have to bear the burden of those arrears. The society would, however, very soon be in financial difficulties and, accordingly, by a subsequent Amendment which I am proposing, we seek to enable the Minister to make a grant out of the seamen's fund—a surplus fund raised from lascars and other seamen not domiciled in this country—to the approved societies with which these fishermen are insured.
As far as I know, no other class of workmen is placed in similar difficulties. These men have no employer. They are their own employers, sharing and sharing alike according to the result of their catches, and the Minister has been compelled to arrange for one member of the crew of these share fishermen to be regarded as the employer for the purposes of this legislation; or, if some member of the crew is not selected, the Minister may appoint some other person on shore. That fact alone shows the exceptional difficulty of this case. Now we are asking the House and the Government to go one stage further, and make the necessary provision whereby neither these fishermen, who are engaged in one of the most esential callings in the country, that of the production of food, nor their approved societies shall suffer. In Committee upstairs neither the Minister nor anyone else regarded the claim of the men in a hostile or critical spirit, and in practically the last speech made in Committee the Minister expressed himself as sympathetic towards their difficulties. He advised me to try to devise a form of words and to put it down before the Report stage, saying he would consider the matter again; but, of course, he made it perfectly clear that I was not to interpret that as a pledge that he would necessarily accept my form of words. If he can find a more satisfactory form I am sure every Member who is interested in the case of these share fishermen will be delighted to accept 1976 it, but if he cannot I trust the form of words I have submitted will meet his approval, and that the House will take the necessary steps to prevent a very deserving, a very bard working and a very essential class of the community from suffering unmerited hardships which they and their families will suffer unless they can be fully brought within the ambit of this Bill.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am grateful for the opportunity of seconding the Amendment, which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). There are at least two occasions in the year when the share fisherman experiences unemployment of this very exceptional character, unemployment which, on the one hand, has the common characteristic of unemployment in that the man is not earning wages, and, on the other hand, unemployment during which he is carrying out work which is vitally necessary to his calling. Those two occasions are at the end of the season when he has to dry and repair his nets and clean his boat, and at the beginning of the season, when he very often has to wait long periods for suitable weather and market conditions before he can set about his work.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
There are three seasons. The most important of all is the summer season which, while it varies very much, lasts roughly from about now until the end of August or the beginning of September. Then there is the autumn season, the Yarmouth season, which starts about the beginning of October and lasts for about six weeks. Then there is the winter season, starting about January or February and lasting till about March or April. That, again, is a fluctuating season, depending enormously on the weather conditions. There is now a proposal in respect to the summer season to have a close time, which will differ, again, between the West coast and the East coast, because the herrings on the West coast mature earlier than on the East coast. On the East coast the herrings are less 1977 mature, and therefore fishing is started later on the East coast. There is a proposal that there should be a close time on the East coast, and that it should not be permissible to start fishing on the East coast until 5th or 10th June. That proposal has not yet been approved, but the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is present, will be able to give the Minister more accurate information as to how that stands at the present time. I understand it is shelved in the meantime but is likely to be discussed between now and next year. As I was saying, there are these exceptional periods of unemployment. The Minister, on the last day of the Committee, when we were discussing the Schedule, said that he could only meet the views of those who were in favour of this Amendment to the extent of Sub-section (5) of Clause I. That Sub-section provides that:an insured person shall not be subject to reduction or suspension of benefits by reason of arrears of contributions for any period in respect of which he proves that he was available for but unable to obtain employment within the meaning of this Act.If you leave it at that, the Employment Exchanges or committees will say that these men were available for employment. They are to the extent that they are not receiving wages in any other employment, but, if they went to any other employment, their own boats and nets would suffer, and, therefore, it is essential for them to remain at their employment, drawing no wages, looking after their boats and nets and preparing them for the work of the coming season. Although in a technical sense they are available for other employment, they are, in fact, compulsorily unemployed. You might also include the case of other seamen. There are some seamen, for example, who have two or three weeks leave at home while their ship is in port. In other trades for a holiday like that they would get their wages paid, but seamen do not and they would also be without benefit by this Clause, while our Amendment would put them on an equality with men in other trades. Then there is the risk of a reduction or suspension of benefit if this Clause stands as it is. As it stands, a man undergoing this peculiar form 1978 of unemployment and not drawing any wages will undoubtedly fall in arrears and run a risk of suspension or reduction of his benefit. His widow or orphans, if he dies, will find that, because he has fallen out of benefit and has fallen into arrears during those weeks, they are not qualified for the pension which it is the desire of the Minister—
The hon. and gallant Member must be aware that, under the first Clause, a man has a very long period in which to pay his contributions. Therefore, he is not under any risk, and the point the hon. Member is raising does not really arise.
It has nothing to do with that. If the hon. and gallant Member looks at Clause 1, he will see that an insured person who ceases to pay contributions will after that have a free period of insurance which will carry him on very much longer than any period in which ex hypothesi he will be out of work.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Then it does not apply to his pension, but it does to his reduction of benefit. I will confine myself to that. It is a risk to which men in other trades are not exposed. Therefore, it is justifiable that we should ask for a special provision for men exposed to these special risks. I have heard it suggested that we are putitng these fishermen in a special privileged position. That is not the case. The conditions of their employment put them in a specially unfortunate position, and, if we are to put them on an equality with men in other trades, we have to make some special provision such as is suggested in this Amendment. There is a second point. If this first Amendment is accepted by the Minister, the effect, of course, will be that the societies will have to carry the financial consequences of these men falling into arrears. I believe one or two societies have expressed some apprehensions on that score. But, if this Amendment is accepted, I am sure the Minister will accept the second Amendment, under which it is made clear that the societies will be able to reimburse themselves by drawing from the large funds available 1979 in what is known technically as the sea-men's special fund.
What else does the Minister propose? I gathered, from his speech in Committee, that the solution he favoured was that suggested by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley). That hon. Member's argument was that these men, having been earning money during the fishing season, after the fishing season is over, ought to pay their contributions out of the net earnings of the past season. That, I understand, was the argument to which the Minister gave his assent. The conditions, however, make it really impossible for them to do that. Consider the conditions of their industry. In their industry they do not get any regular wages during the time they are employed. They are very often working for long periods without wages or profits at all. Let me give some official figures on that point. I will quote from the Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland for 1926, which is the latest Report available:The result of the last year's fishing was that, although there were the usual variations of fortune as between individual vessels, the earnings of the fleet were wholly absorbed by working expenses and the majority of the vessels returned to Scotland more or less deeply in debt. The net result of the year's operations was to throw the herring fishing communities hack to the conditions in which they had been in 1923.It is hopeless to suppose that these men will have the funds accumulated during the fishing season out of which they will be able to maintain their contributions. The Report of the Chief Inspector of Sea Fisheries for Scotland says that a number of these fishermenhave, during the past few years, incurred liabilities which only a succession of profitable seasons will enable them to liquidate.Again, the Fishery Board's Report for 1926 says:The fishermen most severely hit were the men serving on steam drifters"—the very men we are concerned with this afternoon—who have gone in most whole-heatedly for herring fishery, and given their energy and capital most freely to its development.Let me press that point by giving the official calculations of the Fishery Board for Scotland as to the actual earnings of the men in 1926. Let me explain first how this sharing is done. All the ex- 1980 penses of the boat are discharged out of the crew's earnings. The cook and the man who works the engine are paid out of the gross earnings, and the net earnings are divided in three shares—the labour share, the net share and the boat share. Unfortunately, owing to a succession of very bad years, a diminishing number are able to take shares in the nets and in the boat; an increasing number are dependent solely on the labour share. A man, who had a labour share, earned for eight weeks of the winter fishing in 1926—these are the official figures of the Fishery Board for Scotland—only £5 10s. on the average for the whole of that season, or 14s. a week. At the summer fishing the average earnings were £25, or less than £2 a week. The autumn fishing was only £2 for the whole season, or less than 5s. a week. The total average earnings of a man with a labour share—and such men comprise the vast majority of the fishermen we are trying to benefit—were £32 or £33 for 28 weeks' work. There may be some additional earnings at the white fishing or seine net fishing. If you add £15 or £20 for that, which is a generous allowance, you get for the 52 weeks of the year something less than £1 a week. It is hopeless to suppose that these men would be able to keep up their contributions during the off-season when they are painting and repairing their boats out of these very low wages or profits, when in the winter season of that year the total earnings of the average man was only £5 10s. and in the summer season only £25. Therefore, I do appeal to the Minister very seriously to consider this proposal which we put forward. The effect of the first Amendment which we are proposing is to relieve the fisherman from the burden of the arrears. The effect of the second Amendment is to relieve the society from the financial burden by drawing from this large and accumulated seamen's special fund.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Anybody who represents a fishing constituency cannot approach this question without a good deal of anxiety, and I would like, at the beginning of the few remarks I have to offer, to say how deeply we all, no matter to what party we belong, appreciate the persistent efforts of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) on behalf of and in the interests of the fish- 1981 ing community of Scotland. Whenever a fishing question arises, his power of advocacy is always to be found on our side. I must say on this occasion that I do not think the hon. Member has succeeded in devising a solution which will be of any substantial benefit to the fishing community, and I am not sure that his Amendment is in any way practicable. The whole question of getting share fishermen into this scheme has presented almost insuperable difficulties. We must first get down to the fundamental position, which is that fishermen have to be put into the scheme, and as a result they must have benefits in some way or other. That is the clear intention of the House. We are trying to do these men a good turn, and get them into the scheme, and, in order to do that, the Minister is ready to consider any form of words which will give effect to that declared intention. This question bristles with difficulties, and, whatever form of words we decide upon when they are put into the Clauses of the Bill, I believe that they will have to be administered in a very wide and broad spirit; otherwise, I doubt whether they will be operative.
The Amendment of the hon. Member for Dundee seems to be even more unintelligible than usual for an Amendment of this kind. I have read it through very carefully, and I am not sure that I quite understand its meaning. I certainly do not understand the words of the Amendment which say:In the case of an insured person employed in the sea service.It seems to me that a man employed as a motorman on a pleasure boat would not be really employed in the sea service. I do not see how you can include all classes of men employed on the sea. We have been told that the phrase "sea service" is defined in an Act of Parliament, but I do not think it applies to fishermen. This Clause, as drafted, is far too wide in its application. As far as I can make out, the intention of the Amendment is that any person so employed must have 26 weeks in every year, for an indefinite period, in which he is entitled to call himself unemployed under the scheme. If that provision is to be carried out, and all share fishermen are to be put into that position for 26 weeks in any contribution year, obviously the scheme will be bankrupt in a very short time.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I do not think the hon. Baronet can ride off in that way. The effect of this Amendment would be as I have described it. The mover of the Amendment evidently contemplates something of the kind, and certainly the arrears that would be piled up would be tremendous. It has been suggested that the fishermen should be compensated for their losses out of the "Lascar" fund, but this fund does not specially apply to the fishermen of Scotland, and I do not think that was the intention. As a matter of fact, I would like to plunder any fund for the sole purpose of helping the fishermen in Scotland if I could do it, although I know a proposal of that kind would meet with opposition in some quarters of the House. For these reasons, I do not think the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Dundee is practicable. But there is something about which we are all very anxious, and that is the question of the period of employment. I do not mean the period during which these fishermen are to be considered unemployed, but the period during which they are to be considered employed under the Act.
The hon. Member for Dundee, arid the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) have pointed out that the work put in by the share fishermen before the voyage in preparing the drifter for sea and mending the nets, and the work put in mending the nets and other work done after the voyage while the ship is in harbour, is just as important as any of the work which is done at sea. I think it is important that the whole period from the first moment that a share fisherman approaches a drifter till he leaves it after the voyage is over, should be counted as full employment, during which contributions should be made. I would like to ask the Minister of Health to make a statement upon that particular matter. If the only period during which the share fishermen are allowed to pay contributions is the time they are at sea, I do not see how they can possibly qualify for benefits at all, and, if that be the scheme, I would rather see them outside it altogether.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I quite appreciate that point, but what is going to happen to the widows and orphans?
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The Widows and Orphans Pensions Act is not such a very old affair after all, and I have no doubt they would manage to exist. We do want to bring them within the scheme. But it is no use, under the guise of giving them benefit, making them pay more than any benefits which they can possibly receive. It would be better to keep them out without benefits than penalise them unfairly in this way. If this Measure could be operated in such a way as to count the whole time the share fishermen are engaged in employment, that difficulty would be swept away. I ask the Minister of Health whether it would not be possible under this Bill, as it is now drafted, that some arrangement' might be made between the share fishermen themselves whereby for the purposes of the particular fishing in which they were engaged they could be considered employed, and could be recognised as working in full insurable employment from the first moment they prepare their boat for sea to the end of the voyage. If that could be done and applied to the seasons which have been explained to the House by the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness, an arrangement might be made for the fishermen to contribute their 39 contributions in the year.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That was not what I suggested. These men are not in a position to contribute during the whole time they are on the boat and preparing their boat for the voyage. My argument was that they cannot afford to do this out of the wages which they are receiving.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
If the men do what I have suggested they would qualify for the benefit. Now I come to the point raised as to whether the men earn enough wages to do what I have suggested. I do not think the fishermen themselves would wish anybody to come to this House, and plead that some special grant should be made in order to enable them to come under the scheme. Sonic hon. Members have been down to their constituencies explaining the whole position to the fishermen. I went down to my own constituency and explained the contributions which the men would have to make, and I asked them whether under the circumstances they wished to come under the scheme. At every single meeting of fishermen in my constituency, they 1984 were unanimous about desiring to pay the contributions, and they wanted to come in and enjoy the full benefit.
I do not think the fishermen are quite so badly off as some hon. Members have described. I know these men have suffered desperately for four or five years, but I think things are now getting a little better, and they do not wish hon. Members to come to this House asking for subsidies. I feel certain that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dundee will not meet the case and for these reasons I think it should be rejected. If we make such Amendments in the Bill as that which we are now considering, I am afraid we shall find that we shall not be able to administer it at all. Everybody knows that friendly societies are not so very careful to find out who is responsible for arrears, and, with a sympathetic policy on the part of the Ministry of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, we can make this scheme work, and I think it will operate to the benefit of the fishermen. If we find that it does not achieve that object, then we shall have to bring in some form of amending legislation, but at any rate let us give this scheme a chance and do not let us tie everybody's hands so much as is proposed. Let us keep this Measure as benign and sympathetic as possible, and if it does not succeed, then I shall be ready to join with hon. Members opposite in drafting a new Bill in the next Parliament which will satisfy the just and legitimate demands of a very deserving class of people.
§ Commander COCHRANE
In the speech made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) there was an allusion to the average wages earned by fishermen. I would suggest that there is no other industry in which the term "average wage" is more misleading. I know certain fishermen have done very badly but to quote the average wage of fishermen misrepresents the conditions in the case of the boats which have done very well.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Will the hon. and gallant Member explain why the term "average wage" is misleading?
§ Commander COCHRANE
I will explain what I mean. In the drift net fishing, you may have 100 boats shooting their nets in a given area; some of them 1985 may have an excellent catch while others may experience a complete failure. That is why the average wage is misleading.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That does not affect the average earnings of the men at the end of the season. Assuming that there are 26,000 men employed in the industry, if you divide the total earnings for the season by that number, you get the average net earnings, which is the figure I have mentioned.
§ Commander COCHRANE
Surely, the hon. Baronet will agree that the earnings of the men are directly dependent on the result of the fishing, and the result of the fishing varies to such an extraordinary extent, as between boat and boat, that the average is quite meaningless. That is the point that I want to make. I would respectfully suggest to the hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Amendment that they have done so under a misconception as to the conditions which occur at sea, because they have taken it for granted that the time which a fisherman spends on shore preparing his nets and so on, before he actually goes to sea, and the time which he spends when he returns to harbour after the sea voyage, are periods which are not part of the voyage, but are periods which require some special treatment, I suggest that that is not so.
No fisherman, and, indeed, no man connected with the sea, would for a moment agree that a voyage starts when you leave harbour and terminates when you return to harbour again. The voyage starts when the preparation begins. These small fishing boats are not like a motor car. You cannot bring them into harbour and go away and leave them, as you can with a motor car in a garage. In the case of our Scottish harbours, particularly, there are very few where a fishing boat does not have to be attended to at least twice in the 24 hours; there are very few where a fishing boat can be left for any long period of time, and, as I have already said, there can be no doubt that the voyage does start when the preparation for the voyage begins. To take the case, which has already been referred to, of the share fishermen in the Yarmouth fishing undertaking, supposing that the season at Yarmouth begins on, say, the 15th October, for the men concerned the voyage may begin on 1986 the 15th September. It may not begin on the same date for every man employed in the venture. Some may be employed in getting the boat ready, painting, cleaning out the holds, preparing the sails, and so on, whole others may be merely engaged in repairing their own nets. If that be so, surely it is quite possible for the people concerned in the venture to come to an agreement as to the date on which the voyage starts. If hon. Members persist in the view that a voyage starts on the day when the boat leaves harbour, I agree that there is considerable difficulty, but I think that that is an entire misconception of the circumstances. The voyage actually starts, for any individual man, on the day on which he begins his preparations.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
May I say that there is no misconception on our part? That is the provision of the Bill, namely, that the voyage will start when the boat starts, and will finish when the boat comes back. Our Amendment would make it possible for the Minister to make regulations which would amount to regarding the voyage as beginning when the men begin work and ending when they leave off work.
§ Commander COCHRANE
The hon. Baronet will forgive me, but I must disagree with him when he says that the Bill states that the voyage starts when the boat leaves harbour, because Clause 19 definitely says, in reference to these fishermen:employment as master or a member of the crew of any fishing vessel,and so on. After all, however, an Act of Parliament, if I may say so with all respect to this House, cannot alter facts, and the fact is that a voyage starts when the work of preparation begins; the ship cannot go to sea without this preparation. The common venture of these share fishermen starts when they begin their preparations, whether these consist of getting the boat ready or preparing the nets, and I submit that it is, as I have said, an entire misconception to suppose that a voyage starts on the day when the boat actually goes to sea. In conclusion I would express the hope, which has already been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), that the Minister will clear up this point which 1987 is in dispute, because we all wish to have a workable scheme, and we all realise that. in this question of share fishermen there are difficulties which have to be overcome. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will be able to clear up the point of doubt which has arisen.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I am sure that the House, or, at any rate, those Members who are not particularly interested in fishing constituencies, and who, therefore, probably do not know much about the many difficulties which fishermen have to face, will sympathise very much with the Minister over this matter. When my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Templeton) and I approached him some years ago, we were met, in answer to our request that the share fishermen should be included under the insurance scheme, with the reply that there were so many difficulties in connection with applying insurance to this class of workmen that it would not be possible to get it through Parliament at all. We had to try our best, on behalf of the men whom we represented, to devise some proper method of dealing with the matter, and I am here to say to the Minister and the Government that we, who represent the fishermen, thank them very much indeed for including share fishermen within the ambit of this Bill; and I hope that those who represent fishing constituencies will not try to make it too difficult to carry the matter through and give these men the opportunity of sharing in this scheme of insurance.
Let us consider for a moment what the position would be if this Amendment were accepted. Would it not be open to every insured workman engaged in a casual or seasonal occupation to say, "If you are going to do this for the share fishermen, why cannot you do it for us?" I represent a large number of workers who have to follow the fisheries round the coast, and who work in the fisheries in my own port all the year round. Their occupation may be said to be a seasonal occupation, and certainly it is a casual occupation, and they would have an equal right to come to this House and say, "If you are going to allow the share fisherman 26 weeks in the year during which he can pay no contribution 1988 and still not lose benefit, why should not the casual labourer or seasonal shore worker have the same privileges? "That is a matter that we must take into consideration in dealing with this question.
I see that a further Amendment, which has been mentioned as joining up with the one that we are now discussing, proposes that the money shall come from what is known as the old Lascar Fund, which is now the Seamen's Special Fund. There is, however, a great difficulty there, because that fund has been created by contributions paid on behalf of seamen, and very few fishermen indeed have contributed to it, because we have very few foreigners in our fishing boats. At the present time, when an application is made, on behalf of share fishermen, to those who are responsible for administering that fund, we are told that pensions can only be granted to a certain percentage of fishermen in any particular year, because the bulk of that money has been contributed by seamen and those who were sailing in deep-sea vessels; and I believe that those who administer the fund have laid it down that only a certain percentage shall go to fishermen. Are we to go to them and ask them to find the whole of the money to pay up the arrears of the fishermen, when practically the whole of that money has been provided by people who would not benefit under this Amendment? Although the expression "sea service" is used in the Amendment, I am very doubtful whether it would be possible to bring in those who follow the ordinary occupation of a seaman, because they are not engaged in any particular seasonal trade. That, therefore, is a difficulty.
Then again, I want the House to realise that, although we have heard from the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) the facts as to the position of the herring fisheries of Scotland during the past season, we must not take it for granted that every season is going to be so bad. If it is, there will be no fishermen at all, because they cannot continue to follow the occupation if it is only going to bring in such small remuneration. We must look at the matter more broadly than by merely dealing with one season. It has happened, and I hope it will again before 1989 very long, that the men do earn sufficient from their season's fishing to keep them going for the rest of the year.
With regard to the position of the men engaged in scraping, painting and preparing the ships, it is a fact that, when times are prosperous, many of them employ others, whose regular occupation it is, to do the chipping, scraping and so on for them, but, when times are not so prosperous, the men, and all credit to them for it, say that they will do that work themselves and save the money. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Fife (Commander Cochrane) has said that that work is regarded by the fishermen as part and parcel of their voyage, that it is their occupation during the period when they are preparing for the voyage. Moreover, as has been already stated, many of these fishermen are engaged in the white fishing when they are not engaged in the herring fishing, and, if we could have a bigger development of that branch of the industry, it would be better for the herring fishermen themselves, because it would provide an alternative means of earning money when the herrings are not there to be caught.
Then you have another class of men who certainly would want to know what is going to happen to them if this Amendment were passed. Those are the men who go to sea in our trawlers, because, although we cannot describe theirs as quite so seasonal an occupation as that of the herring fishermen, still there are certain seasons for that type of fishing. There are certain seasons of the year when you can go to the White Sea and get profitable voyages. There are other seasons when you would not dream of going there, because you would not get profitable voyages, and then, probably, you go to the Faroes or to Iceland. There are times when even our trawler-men have to spend a week or two on shore out of work, and, if this privilege is going to be given to one class of men, you will be bound to give it to the others. Bearing in mind the difficulties with which the Minister is faced, and also the fact that we who represent the fishermen do not want to see this proposal to include them in the Bill jeopardised, I think it will be just as well if we leave the matter as it now is, and do not pass this Amendment. Let us see how it works in practice, and then, if an amend- 1990 ing Measure should be put forward, it may be possible, in the light of the experience that will have been gained, to put the matter absolutely right to the satisfaction of all concerned.
This is a rather technical matter, and I have, therefore, thought it desirable that some hon. Members who are familiar from personal knowledge with the various aspects of the case should put their views before the House, in order that the House may be fully in possession of the difficulties which this Amendment seeks to meet. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) has truly said that, when we were discussing this matter in Committee, my attitude was sympathetic towards the object which he had in mind. I told him then that I did not myself see any way of overcoming all possibility of the share fishermen being penalised for arrears if they fell into arrears, but that, if he was not satisfied with such assurances as I had been able to give him in Committee, I would suggest to him—and he acknowledged that he himself had found great difficulty in discovering a suitable form of words—that he should have another try, and I said that I would with an open mind consider what could be done. I suppose that the result of that invitation is the Amendment which is now before us.
I must say at once that I could not possibly accept this Amendment, for two substantial reasons. I take it that the Amendment is tied) up with the later one to Clause 13, and we might, perhaps, consider the two together. In the first place, I cannot accept it because it lays down that one particular section of insured persons should have the special privilege of being allowed a free half-year during which they could pay no contributions and yet would not lose benefit because they had not paid contributions. In other words, it would be possible for a share fisherman, or anyone else employed in the sea service, for six months of the year to abstain from work, and not make any attempt to obtain employment, but to be kept in insurance, paying no contributions, and being relieved of any possible penalty in respect of that. That, as I have said, would be putting these people in a privileged position which is enjoyed by no other section of the insured community, and, as my hon. 1991 Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) has said, that would at once give rise to claims on the part of others that they should be treated in a like manner. That seems to me to be a fatal objection on the face of it.
In addition to that, there is the difficulty that unless you provide some financial backing for the approved society the loss to the society would be more than it could meet. The hon. Member has attempted to meet that difficulty by a later Amendment to Clause 13. The hon. Member for Grimsby has pointed out that the source upon which the hon. Member seeks to draw for this purpose is not one that is contributed to by share fishermen. It is a fund which contains money contributed in respect of Lascars, who are not really concerned in the matter at all, and in particular, under Clause 13, after providing for the various purposes specified on page 15 of the Bill, under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), the residue goes to the seamen's special fund, out of which pensions are provided for seamen of all kinds; and the effect of putting a new burden upon the fund before this residue is taken into the special fund which is used for pensions might mean that there would be insufficient left for the pensions, and the pensions of seamen at large would suffer materially.
For these reasons, I could not accept the Amendment, but I have been giving my sympathetic attention to the question, and I hope I shall be able to satisfy hon. Members who are interested in it that really there is no serious cause for apprehension. I think we have got it down now to a fairly narrow point. It is understood that there is no question here of losing the title, to the benefits of the Pensions Act. All that is in question is a possible reduction of benefits in consequence of arrears of contribution. One period in respect of which these arrears might be incurred was the period either of preparation for the voyage or clearing up after the voyage. The whole point we have to consider is whether or not the men who are employed in repairing their nets and boats and equipment generally, or who are engaged in preparing for the voyage, are employed within the meaning of the Clause. May I call attention to an Amendment to Clause 19 in my own name? It deals 1992 with the Special Order that is to be made, and its purpose is to give the Minister the power of modifying the conditions, and he will so draft the Special Order as to make it quite clear that it is possible for the share fishermen, if they so desire, to make this preliminary work, or clearing up, a part of their employment. There is no doubt that under the Amendment the time can be counted as part of the voyage.
The only other point that arises is that raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who represented that it really was no good to the fishermen, because they made a loss and not a profit on their voyage. In so far as that may be the case, it applies to the voyage itself just as much as to the time on shore. You cannot separate the two. Once you have made the employment on shore part of the voyage, the question whether the man can afford to pay contributions applies to the whole thing, and therefore it is not really relevant to the point with which we are dealing. I think I have dealt with the difficulty which has been in the minds of hon. Members and have shown that it will be possible under the Amendment to Clause 19 to make this period about which they found so much difficulty part of the voyage, and therefore to avoid the difficulty of share fishermen getting into arrears during the period and, consequently, suffering a reduction of benefit. In those circumstances, I hope the hon. Member will not think it necessary to press the Amendment.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I think the Minister has met all the points except one. It is true that the total earnings will cover the whole period before and after and including the voyage, but the number of contributions will be more, and that, of course, is the real reason why, when the original Bill was brought in, the share fishermen preferred to remain outside. We do not want to make any difficulty about it. It is not a party question. The whole House is interested in those who go down to the sea in ships. It is only that the peculiarities of their occupation do not fit into the structure of the general Act. I hope this will be borne in mind, so that, if the Order does not meet the case, at some future time we shall be able to move Amendments to meet the difficulty we foresee.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am satisfied that what the hon. Member said is correct, and, while the Minister has given us something, he has not, I am certain, met the full difficulties under which these fishermen labour. But we do not feel ourselves in a position to go to a Division, and therefore I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.