HC Deb 06 March 1939 vol 344 cc1818-23

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,130, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, and a grant in aid of piers or quays.

6.55 p.m.

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

Last year a sum of money was voted for the construction of a new fishery patrol vessel which will very soon come into commission. The estimated cost of the new vessel at that time was £45,000. Since that estimate was made there has been some increase in the shipbuilding costs and the lowest tender which we got for this new vessel was£48,800, that is, £3,800 more than the original Estimate. Of that sum seven-eighths falls to be paid during the course of the present financial year, and the extra sum of seven-eighths of £3,800 is reduced by various minor savings under one or two other heads to the figure of £2,130 which is now asked for.

6.56 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

This Vote concerns the completion of a vessel which is to undertake patrol duties off the coast of Scotland, and I wish to ask my hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that the patrol service rendered by such vessels as this in the Firth of Forth at present, is effective. It happens that in those waters there is taking place now the principal winter fishing in the whole of the British Isles, and, as my hon. Friend knows, a week or two ago there occurred some serious incidents causing damage to a good many fishermen. Apparently the fishery patrol vessel was not there at the time and I would be glad of an assurance that, in this most important fishing ground, the patrol services of the Fishery Board are in active operation.

6.57 p.m.

Mr. Wedderburn

As a matter of fact, the new vessel in respect of which this sum is being asked will operate only on the West Coast of Scotland, and I am afraid that its activities will not extend to the Firth of Forth, but, if I am allowed to do so, I shall gladly do my best to answer my hon. Friend's question. As he knows, patrol vessels on the East Coast have been instructed to pay particular attention to preventing friction between ring net and drift net fishermen. The complaints to which he has referred were received only the other day and were the first complaints of this kind of damage which have been received for some time. We are still making inquiries into the cause of those complaints, and I am not able to say that I have any definite evidence: to show that this damage was done by ring nets, although I am afraid there is a great deal of feeling to that effect.

Mr. Stewart

What do the drift net fishermen say?

Mr. Wedderburn

They are the other parties to the dispute. I can assure my hon. Friend that the efforts of the patrol vessels will continue to be directed to the prevention of damage and that, in this connection, what he has said will receive the most careful attention.

6.59 p.m.

Mr. Neil Maclean

I take it that this new vessel is the third of the vessels which were promised by the late Secretary of State for Scotland, Sir Godfrey Collins, in replacement of other vessels which had become out of date, and that it marks the completion of a programme, part of which was held up owing to certain economies. I wish to raise a question regarding this new cruiser and the duties which it is to perform. The particular vessel which it is supposed to replace is one which, among others, has been the subject of a good deal of criticism during previous Debates on this Vote. I should like to ask whether the Under-Secretary is satisfied that the functions that these fishery cruisers are supposed to perform are being properly carried out. I have had quite a number of complaints about the number of times that these fishery cruisers are being brought from the Moray Firth and from further north—from the Orkneys and Shetlands—right down to the port of Leith to be coaled. No other vessel is sent to take their place during the time they are absent from those fishing grounds. I have also seen with my own eyes three fishery vessels, one of them the research vessel, lying in Leith Harbour at the same time. I should like to know what is being done to make much more effective the attack upon illegal trawling which these vessels are supposed to be making.

Another point is this. 1 notice that the report of the Fishery Board for Scotland gives, on page 42, the number of days that each of these fishery cruisers is supposed to spend at sea. Are those the days when those vessels are absent from the harbour? Suppose, for example, the "Norna" the first on the list, sails out from harbour but anchors in one of the many lochs on the west or north coast of Scotland for a day or a night, or a couple of days or nights—are those included in "days at sea "? Will the particulars not convey a great deal more information if the number of miles steamed is stated rather than the number of days at sea? In all probability those days are spent in the lochs. That is a point which has never yet been cleared up to the satisfaction of many people in Scotland who are interested in this subject, and they are greatly concerned at the manner in which the control of these vessels is exercised, either by the Fishery Board for Scotland or by the supervising authority, the Scottish Office itself.

I mentioned the case of several of the fishery cruisers being in Leith Harbour at the same time. It is also the case, or was the case, that the vessels that patrol the west coast of Scotland come down to Greenock to be coaled instead of coaling at Oban or some place further north, and the fishing ground on the west coast is left unprotected in the meantime against illegal trawling within the three-mile limit. The report gives the number of captures by these fishery cruisers for illegal trawling—four captures by the "Norna," 22 by the "Freya," four by the "Minna" which, I take it, is now scrapped, seven by the "Brenda," 10 by the "Vigilant" and none at all by either the "Vaila" or the "Fidra." That, to my mind, shows rather a small proportion of captures for illegal trawling.

The number of complaints made of vessels seen within the limit engaged in illegal trawling is considerably greater than the number of captures made, and I would like to know what the speed of this new vessel is likely to be, because some of these trawlers which are regularly engaged in illegal trawling are vessels that are fairly well equipped with engines which can drive them at a much higher speed than that of the fishery cruisers. Will this new fishery cruiser be sufficiently well engined to be able to overtake the trawlers engaged in illegal trawling? If it can, that is an indication that what we have been demanding for many years can be done, and there will be a further demand to the Scottish Office that the fleet of fishery cruisers in Scotland should be overhauled and re-engined in order to bring the vessels up to a much more efficient standard.

It has been a scandal that Scotland has been treated in the manner it has. It was only a year or two ago that we got rid of the old "Vigilant," which had been sailing for close on 80 years. The Fishery Department expected a vessel of that age to be able to cope with some of the modern trawlers that come fishing in Scottish waters. I hope that this is only the beginning of a much more effective patrolling of these waters. If the hon. Gentleman opposite can give me a satisfactory answer to some of the points that I have raised he will provide some much desired information for those who are interested in the fisheries of Scotland.

7.11 p.m.

Mr. Wedderburn

In reply to the hon. Gentleman I ought, of course, to remind the Committee that we are only discussing the reasons for the increase of last year's Estimate, which has already been voted, but I will do my best on the spur of the moment to deal with the questions which the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) has put to me. In general, I think there has been within the last few years a very substantial improvement in the state of affairs in regard to illegal trawling, and the number of complaints which we are receiving of illegal trawling is very much less than it used to be. Of course, it does not necessarily follow that because there is a small number of captures there is, therefore, a greater amount of illegal trawling. I have taken careful note of the point which the hon. Gentleman made with regard to the places where these vessels coal. I understand he suggested that more time would be left for them to perform their patrol duties if they coaled at places more conveniently situated, in the proximity of the waters which they are intended to patrol. I will certainly look into that point.

Mr. Maclean

Is it not the fact that the fishery vessels can coal at Lerwick? Why should a vessel patrolling in the north of Scotland be brought down to Leith to coal when she can coal at Lerwick?

Mr. Wedderburn

I will certainly look into that point. I will also consider whether it would be useful to have the number of miles steamed by patrol vessels inserted in the table in the report. With regard to the way in which the particulars in that table are made up, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman very full information at this moment. The time spent in going backwards and forwards to the coaling station is counted, as far as I know, but I do not think that the time spent lying up in a loch would be so counted. The hon. Gentleman referred to the new patrol vessel as the third of the new cruisers. Actually it is the fourth — the "Vigilant," the "Fidra," and the "Rona" were the first three, and now this new one replaces the old boat, the "Minna," which is now 39 years old and is being scrapped. The new vessel will be ready in a few weeks' time. With regard to its speed, I could tell the hon. Gentleman the speed, but I am not sure that it would be in the public interest to reveal the speed at which it is able to overtake those it detects in the act of breaking the law. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that the minimum speed of this new boat is substantially greater than the speed of that which it will replace, and I think it will be able to overtake the trawlers which are found breaking the law.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,130, be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, and a grant in aid of piers or quays.

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