§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I beg to move, in page 62, line 21, to leave out from "provide," to "for," in line 22.
This is consequential on a Government Amendment to Clause 12, page 14, line 33.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 64, line 34, leave out "are," and insert "is."—[Mr. W. S. Morrison.]
§ 9.40 p.m.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
659 I think that every substantial point in this Bill has been exhaustively discussed, and that the House will now wish me to confine myself to a very short recapitulation of its contents. The first Part of the Bill is concerned with the organisation of the catching and marketing of white fish. Its objects are, firstly, to eliminate waste and to secure a better return for the fisherman, and, secondly, to supply the public with a better article of food at a reasonable price level, which we believe to be the best means of increasing the demand for fish. The principal means of achieving the first objective is the regulation of catching under a producers' marketing scheme. It is hoped that this will check excessive landings from distant waters, and secure landing of the reduced quantity of fish in better condition. The improvement in the quality of fish offered to the public will start on board ship, where the limitation imposed on the quantity of fish to be caught by each vessel on any one trip will enable the catch to be handled more efficiently and to be brought back in better condition. I think this expectation seems to be justified by the short experience which we have had of the working of the voluntary scheme which was introduced in anticipation of this Bill passing into law. The improvement will be maintained until the fish is in the hands of the consumers, by means of powers vested in the Commission and in the marketing boards.
The distributive section of the industry is also dealt with, but it has been pressed on the Government more than once that the part of the Bill dealing with organisation and distribution do not go far enough and that it might he necessary to reduce the number of traders in certain sections. The Government do not feel justified in introducing distributive licensing at this stage, but, of course, as the House is aware, the Commission has the widest possible powers to review and investigate any matter connected with the fishing industry, and it may recommend additional legislation in the light of the experience it acquires.
The inshore fishermen, whose circumstances and needs are different from those of the deep-sea section of the industry, will be assisted by being given the opportunity of 660 developing, with the assistance of loans from the Exchequer, co-operative marketing organisations of a character suitable to their special needs.
The next Part of the Bill contains long-range measures for dealing with one of the main underlying causes of the industry's difficulties, namely, the depletion of stocks of fish in near waters. It increases the measures of protection which are afforded by the Act of 1933 in accordance with an international Convention signed by the chief countries which fish in the same waters as ourselves, and it also touches on the question of foreign imports. That is another matter on which constant anxieties have been expressed by some of my hon. Friends. Our view is that regulation of British distant-water landings and improvement of the quality of the fish offered for sale are necessarily the first steps to be taken to restore prosperity to the industry, but we will not allow the industry's attempt to rehabilitate itself to be thwarted by foreign imports. Assurances have already been given—and they will be implemented—that full powers already exist to prevent excessive imports of foreign fish, and these powers will, if necessary, be used without hesitation. The third Part of the Bill does for the whaling industry what Part II does for white fish.
The fourth Part will be particularly welcomed by all sections of the House, because it is designed to ensure that the payment of crews of trawlers is fairly effected, and that the actual catchers of the fish receive their proper share of the profits of the restored industry.
The fifth Part contains measures for increasing the powers and efficiency of the local sea fisheries committees which do important work in protecting inshore fisheries. This Part increase the penalties which may be imposed on both British and foreign trawlers for illegal fishing within our exclusive fishery limits. The sixth Part deals with various definitions.
I would like to remind the House that all Parts of the Bill, whether it be the Parts dealing with wages or the Parts dealing with prices, are fundamentally designed for the benefit of the fishermen. The object is to create a higher and more secure standard of life for that class of man whose occupation and character are of such importance to this country. I would like to repeat the assurance, which 661 has already been given in Committee, that, while for the reasons which were then explained, we cannot include in Clause 1 any specification in regard to the many matters which the Commission must keep under review, the interests and the welfare of the fishermen will be unquestionably the primary and most important matter which it will be the duty of the Commission to consider.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Adamson
We have now reached the last stage of this Bill, which has been many weeks going through its various stages, and it will, I presume, be on the Statute Book within the next few weeks. We on this side of the House welcome the Measure, particularly those of us who have been engaged in the many deliberations that preceded its introduction. The Bill is, in the main, the result of investigations in the sea-fish industry among the interested parties engaged in this essential industry. It is to the credit of the Commission that they not only tried to visualise what would be the effect of the recommendations, but went to considerable trouble to give every opportunity for views to be expressed from all quarters. It is to the credit, too, of the Ministry that they have accepted in the main the recommendations of the Commission. The two principal bodies that will come under this Bill have been given considerable powers, which we hope will be used to the fullest advantage, not merely of those engaged in deep sea fishing, or those engaged in the processes of buying and distribution, but ultimately of the consumer as well. All these sections will have consideration from the Commission that will be set up.
There has been considerable ground of complaint with regard to the difference between the first price at the ports and the ultimate price to the consumer. If this Measure accomplishes what it sets out to achieve in presenting to the consumers fish in a more acceptable manner by the methods of dealing with it after it is caught, such as its preservation, curing and salting, it will be so much the better, not merely for the original producers, but for the distributive agencies and ultimately for the consumer. We welcome the establishment of the white fish industry joint council which the Under-Secretary of State indicated as part of the machinery for administering this Measure. We were gratified that the right hon. Gentleman 662 accepted the representation of those engaged in the fishing industry, not merely for the purpose of giving advice but for the purpose of being consulted on what is in the best interest of the industry as a whole. It means that the workers' side of the industry will share a responsibility for the development of the industry and for securing its interests.
We joined issue to some extent on the provisions for the registration of the producers engaged in the sea fish industry. Provisions are laid down for compensation to owners of vessels where licences are either taken away or suspended. We believe that from the human point of view it is just as essential that the workers engaged in the industry should be entitled to compensation, and a special plea was made on behalf of those who are dependent upon a share of the proceeds. It is not generally understood that there are those in the industry who have not a weekly wage and who, because they are not included in any insurance scheme, have nothing to depend upon if they lose their livelihood. I refer particularly to the officers—the skipper, the mate and in some cases, particularly in Scotland, the third man, who is entirely dependent upon the proceeds of the sale from the catch before he can have one penny of remuneration. It may be that under the registration and licensing processes he may lose his livelihood without the opportunity, under the rationalisation that is bound to take place in the industry, of being able to get another ship. It is undoubtedly a hardship that is bound to be felt unless the rate of development of the industry be such as will absorb those who are now engaged in the industry but who are likely to lose their occupation.
The marketing arrangements for the industry are purely optional upon the industry, and in this degree they follow the usual marketing arrangements that have been incorporated in schemes for other industries which, as we have been so frequently reminded, are based upon the original Marketing Act of 1931. It will go down to history that the Socialist Government established the first marketing proposals for any industry. It is significant that all our basic industries so far as they are concerned with the actual production of things essential for the maintenance of the food supplies of this 663 country have had to be provided with marketing schemes of a similar kind.
There have been criticisms of some of the provisions of the marketing scheme which was initiated in 1931. We fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those provisions in certain respects need revision and that they may act partially against certain interests or sections that are affected by them. In the main, we accept the inevitability of marketing arrangements, particularly in the occupation of sea fishing, because so much depends upon the sale of the fish as to what will be the remuneration of the fishing crews. I will deal later with Part IV of the Bill, which brings about the connection between the price that can be gained from the marketing proposals and its effect upon the fishermen. I need make only brief reference to the Clauses for the preservation of fish and the size of the mesh, and the whaling provisions.
With regard to Part IV, it is an extension to some extent of that part of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 and does not really come within the jurisdiction of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. Credit is due to the Mercantile Department of the Board of Trade for their part in the long negotiations that took place before arriving at a final conclusion and the incorporating of the clarifying provisions that are to be inserted in the Merchant Shipping Act. If the provisions are carried out in the spirit and intention which were shown in the discussions that brought about the final settlement, for the first time the fishermen will have their legitimate rights in the settlement of wages or the amount that they will receive under the Bill.
For the first time the accounts that are to be rendered will be certified for approval. Not only will the skipper be supplied with the statement, but the members of the crew will be entitled to the settling, as far as it concerns their individual shares in the catch. There is the additional safeguard that the superintendent at the port will have the right to investigate if there is any complaint made about the settlement. We were given an assurance in the Committee that if a member of the crew has a grievance he will be not only entitled, as under the original Act, to see how the settlement was arrived at, and be able to go through the 664 accounts and see the books, but that some one acting on his behalf will be able to act as his representative. From that point of view it is advisable that we shall recognise fully the conditions under which, in the main, fishermen are employed. The greater part of their time, except for the very short periods between their trips, is spent on the high seas, and they have little opportunity of investigating the settlements that are carried through. Therefore, their representative, whoever he may be, who is selected by them, will have an opportunity of acting on their behalf.
In conclusion I would say that while we on this side of the House look upon this Measure as the beginning of a new development in the fishing industry, we should have preferred a greater amount of control by the State over this essential occupation. We should have preferred that it included provisions which safeguarded better the interests of those engaged in this very arduous occupation, the men who run risks not only to limb but very often to life in going to the deep in search of this essential food for the people of this country. We desire also a development of the processes which make the fish more acceptable to those who consume it. In the main the Bill will secure a more satisfactory position to those engaged in the industry, not only the fishermen themselves but those who are trawler owners or are engaged in the marketing and distribution of fish. They are entitled at least to adequate remuneration, not merely as a reward for their enterprise but because they are providing an essential food for the community. We trust that the development of the industry will bring satisfaction to those engaged in it and will equally be of benefit to the nation as a whole.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
The hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Adamson) made one or two references to the rather hard lot of those whose remuneration depends either wholly or largely on the results of fishing voyages, and as far as I could gather from his speech he was ready to admit, that although this Bill does not do all that he would wish it to do, it does definitely place the share fisherman in an appreciably better position than he has ever occupied in the whole history of the fishing industry. For the first time he is entitled to have the accounts of a voyage 665 subjected to the most careful scrutiny and the most careful accountancy. The accounts, at any rate as far as his share of the proceeds of the voyage are concerned, will have to be certified and to be open to inspection. That is an improvement which everybody, I think, who has been in any way connected with our great fishing ports welcomes most heartily. It will be within the recollection of the House that although on Second Reading the Measure was welcomed from all sides, it was universally admitted that its drastic amendment would be necessary. As a result of something like 16 days' work in Committee that amendment has been thoroughly carried out, and I think we are all agreed that the Bill has emerged from the Committee a very much better and sounder Measure than it was before.
After the Bill has become law will arise what is, perhaps, the most difficult part of the task allotted to the Ministers, and that will be to secure the administration of the Bill on lines which will bring, as we hope, prosperity to an industry which has not done too well during the past two or three years. I do not minimise the difficulties with which the Ministers will be confronted in nominating the members of the White Fish Commission and the White Fish Joint Council. It is on the appointment of suitable and impartial persons to those bodies to secure just and impartial administration that the success of the whole Measure depends. It is no good disguising the fact that a large amount of jealousy exists between the great fishing ports. The people in Aberdeen and ether ports say that the large trawlers from Hull bring home such quantities of indifferent fish that they ruin the market. In Hull they say that if the fishermen and trawler owners of Lowestoft and Aberdeen had displayed one-tenth of the enterprise and energy which Hull has displayed the conditions in Aberdeen and Lowestoft would be ten times better than they are. The Ministers, in making appointments to the Commission and the Joint Council, will have to contend with all that feeling; but perhaps the position may not be so difficult as we anticipate, because there is really no need for this inter-port competition and jealousy. Everybody knows that the fish from Aberdeen and Lowestoft taps an entirely different market from the fish which is 666 landed at Hull. The fish from Aberdeen and Lowestoft comes, very largely, to London, where it commands a good price; the fish landed in Hull, which is mostly of the coarser type, from the northern fishing grounds, taps the markets of the West Riding and is to a very large extent sold to fish-friers and forms a reasonably cheap and very good article of food for the poorer members of the community.
Let there be no mistake about it, the success of this scheme does not depend upon raising prices to consumers. If anything on those lines is attempted, it will be a case once again of killing the goose which lays the golden eggs. The people of this country, particularly those in the West Riding, cannot possibly afford to pay more for their fish than they pay at present. A short time ago, when there was some scarcity of fish for frying, caused by the closing of the northern waters during the summer months, a great strain was thrown upon the finances of the fish friers. In many cases they were threatening that they would have to close down altogether, because they depend absolutely upon large supplies of fish at reasonable prices. It is by other means than by raising prices that we shall improve the condition of this industry. It may be done by eliminating waste and by sending as little fish as possible to the fish-meal manufacturers—I mean fish which ought to be used for human consumption. The position can be improved by eliminating wasteful competition, by securing more economical distribution and, perhaps more than in any other direction, by endeavouring to popularise fish as an article of human consumption.
That can probably best be done in three ways. The first is by endeavouring to ensure that fish arrives at the table, or at any rate in the fishmongers' shops, in the very best possible condition. This result can, no doubt, be largely achieved by research and by discovering the best means by which fish can be brought from the more distant waters to the table of the consumer. Too much is done to-day in the way of misrepresenting the fish and selling it under a false name. For example, there is the well-known trick of selling filleted catfish, no doubt quite good food, under the name of rock salmon. The fish itself is so hideous in appearance that it would not be bought 667 by anybody unless it were filleted. We also hear only too frequently of lemon sole, an indifferent fish, being sold as Dover sole, which is a very superior article. Those practices do not encourage the consumption of fish. Another means of popularising fish is by advertisement. We all know what effect advertisement has upon the public mind in such cases as "Eat more fruit" and "Guinness is good for you." I am sure that booming fish as an article of diet would do a good deal to popularise it.
I return to Clause 24, which has given me a great deal of satisfaction. It deals with research, and provides for a contribution to be made for research in connection with fish. If I might criticise that Clause for a moment, I would say that it is rather a mistake not to make it compulsory. So much can be learned, and we have still so much to learn, about the habits of fish and the best way of bringing fish to the market. The present method of bringing fish from the fishing grounds to the ports by packing in ice is oldfashioned, and it should be possible by experiment to find a better way. Think of the splendid condition in which fresh fruit is brought from Tasmania and South Africa, and of the magnificent condition of New Zealand lamb as served on the tables in this country, absolutely as good as it would be in New Zealand. It seems tragic that fish which has been caught for perhaps a fortnight or three weeks should arrive in this country in a condition which can only be described as—[An HON. MEMBER: "Rotten."]—well, stale and tasteless.
We want to know more about the habits of fish. We want to know whether we are seriously in danger of trawling out the resources of the North Sea. We do not know whether table fish like the sole and the turbot breed only in the North Sea or the shallow waters, or whether there is a reserve of this fish always to be found in deep water out of reach of the trawler. If it is the case that they are spawning only in shallow water, the sooner we take steps to see that they are not exterminated in the North Sea or in the shallow water off the coast of Portugal, the better. If once these fish are exterminated, or approach extermination, it will mean a very serious loss to the variety of our food.
668 During the Committee stage of the Bill I referred on one or two occasions to Clause 39, which deals with international agreements on the size of mesh and the question of immature fish. I cannot help feeling that, although international agreements are good, we want something more definite in the way of an international inspectorate to see that those agreements are observed. In this country we find a definite suspicion that the international agreements which are enforced here are not being enforced with anything like the same rigidity abroad, and when we go abroad we find the same suspicion existing there. Surely, all these unworthy suspicions would be got rid of if some form of international inspectorate could be devised. People in this country would be perfectly willing to have their nets inspected by a French or Dutch inspector, and I am sure that no great difficulty would be raised if an English inspector occasionally visited the fishing ports on the continental coasts.
The fact remains that, when one walks round the quays of fishing towns like Ostend or Blankenberghe in Belgium, or Scheveningen in Holland, one does see too many small fish, either offered for sale or lying about, and that makes one think that, although an agreement may have been arrived at and laws may have been passed to bring that agreement into force, the laws are not being supervised or enforced in the way that they should be. Of course the people there, if you speak to them about it, tell you that these fish were caught in territorial waters, where the regulations with regard to size of mesh do not apply, and there is not the least doubt that the harm done to immature fish life by the large-scale shrimping is very great indeed. There is no reason why the fish that are necessarily caught in the small meshes of these nets should not be thrown overboard again while they are still alive, or, at any rate, while they are still in a condition to recover. The hour is somewhat late, and I will not detain the House any longer, but I should like to say that we who represent the fishing industry and fishing ports welcome this Bill, because we think that it is a step in the right direction, and that, if properly administered, as I believe it will be, it ought, at any rate as regards the city which I represent, to place the fishing trade on a sounder basis.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I am glad that the House has not attempted to despatch this Bill through its Third Reading with unseemly haste. I must say that I, for one, listened with intense interest to the remarks which have just been made by the hon. and gallant Member for North West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward). After all, we are dealing with an industry which is of extreme importance to those who are engaged in it, and this House has always been ready to give equal attention to all legislation, whether it affects large interests or small. That is not to say that the legislation is on correct lines. In this case the Bill came to us in a very ductible form. We have attempted to guide it along certain channels, but have often found that the channels have been clearly delimited by those who introduced the Bill. Therefore, we do not look upon the Third Reading of this Bill in any spirit of political exaltation.
We think that the Bill is a second best to that which we should have desired. In at least two important respects it does not inspire very high expectations for the future. The first is in regard to the price structure. The Bill gives every kind of power to check minor abuses in the industry, but the major cause of the trouble in the industry, namely, the discrepancy between the price the producer receives and that which the consumer pays, has not been tackled. The fish which was brought into the port of Hull was sold there for an average price, taking all fish into account, during 1937 of 1d. a lb. The fish brought into Aberdeen during 1937 was sold there for an average of 2d. a lb., taking into account every class of fish. Hon Members who do a little shopping know what they have to pay for that fish on the fishmonger's slab. There is a large discrepancy between 1d. a lb. and 10d. a lb.—900 per cent. No one is suggesting that that is all accounted for by profits in the stages through which the fish has to pass. There are costs such as waste and freight; but many of these are much lower than repute would have it. It costs only a fraction of a penny a lb. to send fish from Aberdeen to London. Therefore, there remains an enormous sum still unaccounted for. The Minister has attempted to deal with that by prescribing a limit to the commission which a wholesaler may charge for such fish as 670 he sells on commission. But whereas only about 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. of the fish is sold truly on commission, there are various devices by which the fish is resold. These matters must be faced if the industry is to be set on a proper footing.
The Bill has undoubtedly brought the industry before the eye of Parliament as it has never been before. The fishing industry, from the earliest history of our legislation, has engaged the attention of Parliament, but never has it received such intense and careful attention as during the last six weeks. Nevertheless, unless the Commission which has been entrusted with these enormous powers carries them out with extreme diligence and courage, the Bill will not take us far, and those steps which the industry is empowered to take voluntarily it may refuse to take under this Bill. In the refusal of the Minister to accept a proposal which we brought forward, to impose a limit on the percentage which might be added to the intermediary prices, there lies the greatest weakness in the structure of the Bill. Secondly, the Bill is to some extent unbalanced as to its attitude to the importance of the men engaged in the industry. The theory is that if the industry meets with some measure of prosperity, the benefits will percolate down to the skippers and the men. We who have studied these matters with an impartial mind may be forgiven if we doubt the effectiveness of that process.
We would have preferred the Commission to be charged with powers as to the manning and hours in the industry. There is no other industry in which the conditions are so arduous and the rewards so small. I have said before, and I say again, that it is a common thing for fishermen on a trawler to have to work 15, 20 and 30 hours at a stretch, and to be at sea for a week, and not have more than an average of two hours sleep per night. There is no provision for the adequate manning of the ship in accordance with Board of Trade regulations for safety. It is true that the general principle is that a steam trawler must not go to sea without a sufficient crew to navigate the ship in safety. Every trawler has to take such a large crew in order to carry out the operation of fishing, gutting, mending nets, and so on, that there are always sufficient men, when the ship leaves port, to carry out every duty of navigation. But when these men 671 after 10 or 15 days without sleep, and often without time even for food, are returning to port exhausted, and, at times, almost ill with fatigue, one need not wonder at some of the collisions and accidents which take place, and the amount of suffering that these men have undergone.
I want to say a few words concerning a certain Amendment with regard to which the Minister gave us a pledge, but before lodging a complaint, I would pay a tribute to the Minister in charge of the Bill, and also to hon. Members who served with us on the Standing Committee for accepting, within the limits of the predestined principle under which a Conservative Bill was introduced, certain proposals. Other Amendments were moved in the Standing Committee and attracted a volume of support from every side of the Committee, so much so, that in some cases the Minister was constrained, perhaps against his will, to accept them. In one Amendment in particular—I am bound to make the point, because I must ask the Minister to implement his pledge—we raised the question of the registration of persons engaged in designated businesses. We established to the satisfaction of the Standing Committee, at any rate, that that provision would be of little service if those engaged in the industry were to be allowed to register their nominees. The object of registration, as I explained, was to enable the Commission to have information about the industry and to assist the different sides of the business, and to see who, in truth, was carrying out his responsibility towards his own section of the industry or other sections. After a prolonged debate we reached a stage when the Minister said:I therefore propose to draft before the Report stage an Amendment which will meet the views of the Committee by ensuring that, in every case in which a business is owned by a nominee or by any person who is not a beneficial owner, that fact shall be disclosed to the Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee C), 14th December, 1937, col. 158.]We, therefore, withdrew our pressure upon him, and we were then in a situation, according to every speech made from every side of the Committee, to enforce the Amendment upon the Government, but we withdrew it upon that explicit assurance twice repeated in the 672 speech of the Minister. We have had no word of explanation, nor do we know whether anything is to be done.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
If a proposal is made in Committee stage which attracts the support of the whole Committee and is accepted by the Minister, but withdrawn on a promise by the Minister, what remedy has an hon. Member who has accepted the promise of the Minister so to amend the Bill?
§ Mr. Speaker
I can only tell the hon. Member that the matter cannot be raised on the Third Reading because it is not in the Bill. Only matters which are in the Bill can be raised on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I will content myself with reminding the Minister of his promise and ask him to implement it in another place. There is one point, affecting particularly my own constituency, which I want to raise. Power is given in the Bill to the Minister to apply the signing off and on requirement before a superintendent of the Board of Trade. That provision already exists in Aberdeen on a voluntary basis. The Bill gives the Minister and the President of the Board of Trade power to make it compulsory. I want to ask that the Minister in the exercise of this power will see that it is made compulsory in all other fishing ports. There is a fee of is. for signing on and 6d. for signing off, which the Board of Trade imposes, and if it is made compulsory the result will be that the levelling up, if I may use an Irishism, will be a levelling down to complete extinction of the signing off and on fees as at present imposed. At present a sum of £1,100 a year is collected from the fishermen in Aberdeen. No other fishing port charges these fees. Surely if it is a desirable protection for the men in Aberdeen it is an equally desirable protection for men in all other fishing ports, but if other fishing ports can dispense with the necessity of signing on and off, and thus dispense with a payment of these fees, then Aberdeen should be given similar relief.
673 I want to make a plea for the abolition of these signing on and off fees in Aberdeen. The men are sometimes called upon to pay these fees five times in a month, while they know that their brothers in Hull, Lowestoft and Grimsby do not have to pay them. The men in Aberdeen feel that this is a very unnecessary exaction to be laid upon the crews. Despite the fact that I have frequently challenged it the Board of Trade say that this has been done as the result of a voluntary agreement between the men and owners. Unfortunately only a very small proportion of the men in the fishing industry in Aberdeen are organised. Many of those who are in the union have not been consulted on that point, but, whether they have been consulted or not, I can assure the Minister that there is widespread dissatisfaction and irritation, out of all proportion to the amounts involved, caused by this system of signing-on and signing-off fees. They are charged more than a Mercantile Marine sailor is charged. Despite the fact that the voyages of Mercantile Marine sailors are long and signing-on infrequent, they are charged less than is charged to fishermen who sign on frequently and whose voyages are short. There is a small but serious injustice in this matter, and I hope the Minster will give it his attention. Finally, I would say that unless the Commission are prepared to tackle the question of the price. structure from the port to the consumer, this Bill will be abortive; but if the Commission do that with courage and persistence, I am convinced that the Bill will be a valuable contribution to the progress of the fishing industry.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
The reception which this Bill has received is a matter for congratulation both of the Minister and the Government. I am sure that, from the administrative point of view, the Government are glad that this Bill is soon to be passed. I should like to make one or two observations on behalf of my constituents at the port of Grimsby. One of the reasons why this Bill was introduced was the number of trawlers which are laid up. There are, at the present time, 136 trawlers laid up, which is not only a very serious thing for the men concerned, but also a comparatively serious matter for the coal industry, when it is remembered that on every voyage to the 674 Arctic a trawler takes about 250 tons of coal. The number of trawlers in this country is 1,364, so that roughly 10 per cent. of the trawlers are laid up. If the Bill does anything to reduce the number of trawlers which are laid up, it will have had a good effect.
There has been a certain amount of criticism of the Bill by hon. Members who have said that the Bill is too much like State control. On the matter of State control, where hon. Members on this side differ from hon. Members opposite is that they believe that when an industry becomes either top-heavy or disorganised, so that the workers in it are suffering, it is time for the State to step in, but that the less State control there is in an industry the better it is for that industry. Hon. Members opposite, however, think that the State should control practically every industry, including the fishing industry. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), for instance, said that this was not the sort of Bill that hon. Members opposite would have introduced, and from that I gather that they want more State control. I think it has been found from experience in this country and in other countries that the less State control there is, the better. We say, I think quite rightly, that if there is too much State control it leads to the position which exists in totalitarian States, of which both they and hon. Members on this side have an intense dislike.
How far will this Bill lead to State control? It leads to it only to the extent that it encourages marketing schemes in the sale of white fish and various other kinds of fish mentioned in the Schedule. It does not lead to State control as such. It leads to the setting up of boards on more or less independent lines. It is a different system from that represented by public utility companies and bodies such as the Port of London Authority and catchment boards and other authorities of that kind. We find it to a certain extent worked in the case of the marketing boards. It has certain disadvantages. It has the disadvantage of being a new system which has not been properly tried out. I hope the Minister and those working with him will pay attention to this fact, and that every effort will be made to bring these boards into close touch with working conditions in the industry. In 675 the case of agriculture the marketing boards have failed in one or two cases because they have been too arbitrary. The Minister and the Department will, I hope, take advantage of previous experience and see that these boards carry out their duties in a proper manner and in a manner suited to the industry.
The last speaker referred to the case of the men in the industry. The system which is almost universally followed in the trawling industry is that the skipper and the mate are paid according to the profits of the voyage. The members of the crew receive a wage, but they, too, benefit to a certain extent from a successful voyage. That system has been followed for many generations with advantage, but I think it requires watching. The more mechanised the industry becomes, the more liable it is to change, and I hope that if it is found that the system is not working well, changes will be introduced. This is not the time to go into particulars of the form which those changes should take, but there are people who think that the skipper and the mate should receive a standard wage while at the same time participating in the profits of the voyage, and that the members of the crew should, in all cases, receive a bonus on a successful voyage in addition to their wages.
I believe that the Bill will stand or fall according to the way in which the Government deal with the question of importations of foreign fish. It would be out of order to go into particulars on that question, but whatever we do, and however we try to organise the production of fish by our own fishing industry, if the sale of British-caught fish in this country is swamped by imported foreign fish, the whole scheme will fail and, what is more, the whole system of organisation will become extremely unpopular among those engaged in the industry. We have all received representations asking us to support this Bill, but those representations have had annexed to them the proviso that unless imported fish is dealt with, by treaty, or by quota, or by some kind of regulation, the success of the Bill cannot be guaranteed. I think Members of all parties will agree with that, and I hope very much that the Government will deal with the question of imported fish, which is one of the most important things to be dealt with. We 676 feel it very greatly at Grimsby, where foreign fish comes in daily. If it is allowed to come in without regulation, possibly in increasing quantities, there will undoubtedly be tremendous feeling against the system of restricting production that is being set up. I very much hope that we shall have a statement about it.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Windsor
As one of the representatives of Hull I think it is as well, inasmuch as much has been said about crews and captains and others associated with the fishing industry, that a word should be said about those working on the dock side, who will inevitably be thrown out of employment as a consequence of this Bill. I have received instructions, as it were, to oppose the Bill, but I think even my colleagues who are associated with the industry are a little beside the mark when they want to oppose a venture which is likely to do something to improve the general status of the industry as such. My own view is that this is an experimental Measure, and, in so far as it is an experimental Measure, I would wish it every possible success. There are two fundamental factors associated with it. First, it must mean a reduction of the number of those who are going to be employed in the industry, and, secondly, unless great care is taken, it will mean an increase in the price of fish. I would add my word of congratulation to the Minister in giving way in many instances on some of the things that some of us ardently desired on behalf of the men. I hope and trust that, in conjunction with the Board of Trade, he will take into account the matters that we raised in Committee and not only carefully observe the conditions under which the seamen are gathering the fish, but also take into account the anxiety of the people employed in the fish trade.
§ 10.54 P.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
I should not like the Third Reading to pass without expressing my very deep sense of obligation to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for reiterating his every clear and definite assurances about the regulation of the import of foreign fish. I think it necessary to say that especially in view of some of the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage). The hon. Member for 677 North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) said that this Bill was the second best. I suggest that in this Bill we have the second best, but that it may prove of great benefit to all the people in the industry. It is an enabling Bill, to enable the industry to organise itself, and in addition it enables the Minister to regulate, through the marketing schemes, the imports of foreign fish. I would have liked to have seen certain things in the Bill altered. I would have liked better provision for long-shore fishermen, but I accept the Bill as it is as I believe that it will do a great deal of good. The test of the Bill when it becomes an Act will be whether it raises the wages and the standard of living of the fishermen, the men who do the actual fishing. That is, of course, the test that we shall find in the actual working of the Measure. If it does, it will be a success.
In structure it is very like many of the other marketing schemes which we have passed for agriculture, and it is introduced with the same object. It is an extraordinary thing that fishermen and agriculturists in our own country and in all the countries in the world are really the victims of the city dwellers and have a lower standard of living. This Bill will, I hope, raise the standard of life of the fishermen and will prevent the decrease in the number of all kinds of fishermen. It is essential that we should keep fishermen of all types in their present and, if possible, in increased numbers, because they are a Naval reserve which may be very necessary indeed in the years that may be near us.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Adamson) for his very thoughtful speech on this subject, and particularly, if I may say so, did I appreciate his reference to the Duncan Commission, a body before whom he himself gave most valuable and useful evidence. The efforts that they made have played a great part in the framing of this Bill and its subsequent Amendments. The hon. Member for Cannock, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward), and others have referred to a certain very important feature of the fishing industry, and that is the effect which this Bill will have upon the consumer. I regard it as 678 abundantly clear that if the sea fish industry of this country is to prosper, it can only to do so by providing a constant supply of cheap fish of good quality to the public. What has to be remembered about fish is that, although it is a very valuable food, it is not an essential food, and everyone knows that, if there is any rise in price of a sensational or drastic character, it will instantly find itself replaced by other viands upon our tables. There is no hope for any real commercial improvement of the industry along the lines of either bad fish or dear fish.
I feel that the main provisions of this Bill make for a steady supply of fish of a much better quality than we have had in the past, and I hope that that will effect a great increase in the consumption of fish in this country and thus provide a real economic basis for an industry whose welfare we all have at heart. The hon. Member for Cannock also referred to the workers. It is true that we were not able to meet hon. Members opposite on one or two points, but we have always regarded the workers' interest and the interests of the industry as identical, and believed that by increasing the prosperity of the industry we shall provide a firmer basis for the wages of the workers than has existed in the past.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull referred to Clause 24. I agree that there is much that can be done by research in order to improve the condition of the fish when it reaches the consumer, and thus to improve the prosperity of the industry as a whole. I cannot, however, agree with him that we would have been wise to make contributions to research compulsory. It is far better in these matters, especially when we are still in an experimental stage, to proceed by way of good will and voluntary effort on the part of the industry, and I am certain that what is voluntarily given for a purpose like this is much more fruitful in its result than if it were exacted by compulsion. With regard to Part II of the Bill, I listened to what my hon. and gallant Friend said about international inspectors. The convention is embodied in this part of the Bill, and I find a genuine anxiety among representatives of all the nations to enforce it and a genuine recognition of the importance of securing to the Euro- 679 pean community the riches in the oceans that wash their shores.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) put certain points to me. In particular, his criticism was that the Bill gives inadequate power to the Commission or the Minister to examine into the price structure of fish, that is to say, into the various additions which are made in the original price before the article reaches the table. I would point out to him that under Clause 30 machinery is provided by which the Commission can conduct a searching inquiry into this matter if it so desires, and can apply the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Act and really find out what is the position. If the position thus made clear is one which demands further action, I am certain that we shall be on surer ground with that knowledge behind us than we would be by plunging ahead in its absence.
The other point which the hon. Member made was that as to the condition of the men. From the point of view of the Government, I think I can say that we measure the prosperity of the fishing industry not by any cold total of figures of tons of fish or of sums of money earned or disbursed. The real prosperity of a great industry like this, which is not only a way of earning a livelihood, but a way of life in itself distinct and separate from the landsman's existence, can only be measured by the prosperity and well being of the men engaged in it. That has been in the forefront of our minds in framing this Bill and in the deliberations upon it. The hon. Member referred to some promise that we would bring forward an Amendment at this stage. I hope he will be good enough to indicate to me where that occurs, and I will certainly look into it. We had 15 days in Committee, and I was under the impression that every matter of that sort had been dealt with.
The hon. Member also raised a point with regard to the position of Aberdeen where fishermen sign on before an inspector of the Board of Trade. He raised the question of the fees and seemed to imagine that Aberdeen was in a penalised position because these fees were not charged at other ports. I am told that Aberdeen is the only port where fishermen do, in fact, sign on before a super- 680 intendent of the Board of Trade. Therefore, it is the only port in which these fees are chargeable, because they are chargeable for services which the Board of Trade render in those cases. I do not profess to be an expert but I will look into the matter and see if there is anything that I can do to help. With regard to the other matters mentioned, I think they have been covered very often in the course of our discussions.
I do not think the House will think me discourteous if I conclude my observations by merely expressing my thanks to hon. Members in all parts of the House for the great assistance they have given to me during our long deliberations on the Bill. It has been a long task, but I hope we shall find that the value of the Bill to the fishermen will more than repay all the toil we have lavished upon it.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.