HC Deb 02 June 1938 vol 336 cc2364-71

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Adamson

I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, after "functions," to insert: and of making such recommendations as may be deemed practicable for the improvement of the conditions of persons employed in the industry. I have no desire to determine all the functions of the Advisory Council, having regard to the many statutory provisions which apply to the herring fleet—for example, the Merchant Shipping Act— but at the same time there must rest upon them certain obligations which at present are not defined in any way. I will indicate one or two points which we think it desirable to have set out more clearly. In certain herring ports weekly allotments are paid to the dependants of the fishermen when they are away on voyages. In the main it is their wives or mothers who receive these allotments. At the moment there are differences between the customs in different ports, and we think the Advisory Council might undertake to harmonise the arrangements. There is also the question of the rest periods for the fishermen when they get into port. Those are largely determined by the tides, the times of sailing and other considerations. We think it would be possible for the Advisory Council to go into these matters and bring about a greater degree of uniformity.

It is with this object in view that this Amendment is being moved. I would emphasise the desirability of this council possessing such powers in order to have better opportunities for safeguarding the interests of the men engaged in the industry. As the Minister is aware these fishermen are entirely dependent for their livelihood upon a share in the catch. Their earnings are dependent upon the results of the voyage—upon what is made by the sale of the fish. What they get depends upon the bidding for the fish on the dockside when the catch is landed. Because of those factors we believe it is desirable that these words should be inserted to safeguard the position of the fishermen and others engaged in the industry. It should have the effect of affording them some better security.

9.16 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)

This Amendment brings back to my mind an Amendment of similar intention which the hon. Member moved during the Committee stage of the Sea Fish Industry Bill, and which I had the most unpleasant duty of resisting. He will remember, no doubt, that my reason for so doing was that the Sea Fish Commission had the duty of considering matters connected with the white fish industry and that if one particular duty were specified all other duties should be similarly specified. The functions of the Herring Industry Board, however, are not similar to those of the Sea Fish Commission. Under the Act of 1935, their duty is to confirm schemes for the "reorganisation, development and regulation of the industry," and it is possible that some doubt may arise whether those words would include conditions of employment, and whether the Advisory Council was intended to give advice to the board on that point.

We are, therefore, agreeable to meeting the hon. Gentleman on this Amendment and we are prepared to accept it, at least in principle. It might be better if there were some slight redrafting of the wording. In the first place, I am not sure about the word "recommendation." I think "advice" might be better, for the reason that the Advisory Council are not intended to be a body on which the representation of different interests is mathematically planned. We do not contemplate, as in the case of other advisory committees, that it will make recommendations by majority vote, after a dispute. Its function is rather to report to the board a clear and balanced account of the different sections of the industry, drawn from people who are themselves engaged in the industry. In the second place, the hon. Gentleman's speech has suggested to me that it might be better to enlarge his words a little and to say: "improvement of the industry and conditions of employment." My right hon. Friend would like a little more time to consider the matter, and he will undertake to insert on the Report stage an Amendment that will give effect to the hon. Member's intention.

Mr. Boothby

I had intended to make a powerful speech in favour of the principle of this Amendment, but I would now like to thank my right hon. Friend very much for having accepted it.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Alexander

I am very much obliged for the manner in which this Amendment has been accepted by the right hon. Gentleman. From my experience of the operation of various Acts, including the Marketing Acts, I think his remark is right about the word "recommendation." If we are to bring about closer relations between the Herring Board and the Advisory Council, I think we shall be satisfied if the Amendment is drafted in that sense, and that we shall have no objection.

Mr. Adamson

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.21 p.m.

Mr. Colville

I beg to move, in page 2, line 12, to leave out from "chairman" to "and," in line 13, and to insert: who shall be such member of the board as may from time to time be appointed by the board. The three Amendments on the Paper in the names of my hon. Friends have broadly the same intention, that the advisory council should be brought closely in contact with the board, and that the chairman or a member of the board should act as chairman of the advisory council. We have given consideration to the matter and we think the proposal is a good one. It will obviously be advantageous to have the council and the board drawn as closely together as possible and the presence in the chair of a member of the board will certainly help to secure that object. I thought that the best method of doing it was the form in which I am proposing it, namely, that the chairman of the advisory council should be a member but not necessarily the chairman of the board. That will be better from the machinery point of view and will be more easily worked. It would enable the duty to go round—a member might, for example, be unable for some reason to attend—and from this point of view would therefore be helpful. If the appointment is made by the board itself and not by the Minister it would bring the board closely in contact with the work of the advisory council. I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment, which should be a great improvement on the Bill.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Boothby

All of us who have Amendments on the Paper in this sense will gratefully accept the Amendment that has been proposed by my right hon. Friend. It is a real improvement on some of the other Amendments. I can see that it is desirable to be able to move members of the board round, because any particular member of the board might not always be available to take the chair at the advisory council. What we did see was a possibility of setting up what I might almost call two potentates of almost equal importance, the chairman of the Herring Industry Board and the chairman of this advisory council. They would have important functions, and might disagree on many matters of policy. That arrangement would not work, but the difficulties have been completely avoided by the Amendment which has just been moved by my right hon. Friend. Speaking for myself and most of my hon. Friends we are satisfied with it.

9.24 p.m.

Mr. Loftus

Immediately after the Second Reading of the Bill I put my Amendment on the Paper at the request of the English Herring Captains' Association. I now wish to express our thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for accepting the Amendment. I believe it will result in much more efficient work than otherwise would have been the case.

Amendment agreed to.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Boothby

I beg to move, in page 2, line 21, to leave out "consult," and to insert "obtain the approval of."

I move this Amendment formally, not because I think it will be accepted—I do not know whether it will be or not—but because I would like my right hon. Friend to enlighten the Committee exactly as to what he means by the word "consult." We should be rather grateful if he would reply to my question. It would be satisfactory to the Committee to know what Ministers have in their minds with regard to that word and what kind of consultation would be initiated. I imagine that if there was a very strong feeling in the industry against a particular appointment or a particular course of action they would yield to it, but we should like a little further definition as to what Ministers themselves have in mind.

9.26 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

On this occasion I regret that I cannot agree at all with the hon. Member. If the Amendment means anything, it means that the persons who would be appointed to the Advisory Council would be in feet the equivalent of nominees of the Herring Producers' Association and the Curers' Association and all the rest of it. I remember very well in my youth and innocence and ignorance proposing a similar Amendment to the Livestock Industry Bill, and my hon. Friend with his long experience showed me the wisdom or otherwise of my suggestion. He showed me that it was not a wise one at all. He said it would be the worst possible thing to have persons on the Advisory Council who would be the nominees, the paid spokesmen as it were, of one organisation. It would turn it into a hopeless organisation. In this case it would be still more hopeless, because one has found from experience that, when delegates are sent from the various organisations of the herring trade, they have no freedom whatever to express their minds. They go there as delegates tied to a brief. Many of these men have told me afterwards that they have been prevented on many an important issue from expressing their own minds by the instructions that they had from their organisation. I hope the Minister will not abrogate the complete freedom that he has, in the Bill as it stands, to choose himself the persons who are to become members of the Advisory Council.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I put down an Amendment, which has not been called, providing for the interests themselves deciding who are to be their representatives, and on the Second Reading I spoke somewhat strongly on this very question. In the setting up of such a council the utmost consideration should be shown to the fishermen and to the interests concerned in the fishing industry. As we cannot get my Amendment discussed, this is the next best thing. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), like many of those associated with him, makes only very halting steps at a time towards any particular goal, and this Amendment is indicative of it. The interests in the industry have a right to elect their members to the council. I know they can make very bad mistakes in the process of election, as is evident from the fact that we have the hon. Member for East Aberdeen and the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) here, but we can allow for that and realise that with experience they will reach a better understanding of their responsibilities, and with better understanding will come better representatives. We should encourage democracy and not falter at it as the Amendment does. In view of the fact that the Rules have made it impossible to get a full measure of democracy, we will support the faltering footsteps of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen.

The hon. Member for East Fife has taken up a rather peculiar attitude. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen is a shellback Conservative, but the hon. Member for East Fife is, or was, a Liberal. Now, when it comes to a question of democracy in the fishing industry, in order to support an attitude of opposing democracy he goes for authority to the hon. Member for East Aberdeen. That shows what evil associations have done for him. I hope the fishermen will take notice of that and will do a bit of curing. In the meantime I appeal to the Minister to accept the Amendment. It will be appreciated by the herring industry and I am certain that, despite any weaknesses that may have been shown in past elections, weaknesses which are shown in every organisation and are shown in this House, it will encourage the industry very much if those who are chosen for the council are chosen after the endorsement of the interests in the industry.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Alexander

I am sorry that I cannot support the Amendment, not because I am opposed to the democratic principle but because of the manner in which it is always necessary to work these advisory committees. Instead of improving the constitution of a committee of this kind it would make it much more difficult to obtain a working body. To put it in the Bill that you must obtain the approval in every case of a particular interest is dangerous. The general practice has been to get the principle established first and have an effective advisory council, and then lay it down that the Minister shall consult the interests concerned before the council is finally appointed. It is certain that in the case of the Livestock Advisory Council consultation has meant that the interests in the trade are now represented. I have no doubt that, if the sub-section remains as it is, the various sides of the industry will be properly represented.

9.34 p.m.

Mr. Wedderburn

I hardly suppose my hon. Friend anticipated that we should accept his Amendment after his observation on the last Amendment to the effect that even on such a body as the Advisory Council the strongest differences of opinion might exist. The same observation might apply even to such a body as the British Herring Trade Association. If he were to have all the representatives of that body elected, it might mean that very important minority points of view, which it would be to the general advantage to have expressed, would inevitably be silenced.

As to the fishermen, even if they were fully organised, I do not know whether they would have the folly to elect my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), or whether they would be inspired by such superior wisdom as would enable them to choose the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher); but the fact is that the fishermen are not fully organised, either on the side of the employers or of the em- ployed, and they very often merge into one another owing to the system of sharing gear. It would be very difficult, therefore, to find any body which would really be able to give a representative vote on behalf of the fishing employers or of the fishermen themselves. My hon. Friend wants to know what the procedure would be. The Ministers are required to consult such bodies, if any, as appear to be representative of the interests concerned, and the procedure will probably be that the Ministers will invite representative associations to submit a panel from which one or more representatives can be selected; but the Ministers must preserve their right to select from among the members of the panel, and they must also retain freedom to go outside the panel.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.