HC Deb 01 March 1946 vol 419 cc2337-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." [Mr. Mathers.]

3.23 p.m.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture has not seen fit to remain behind for this Debate on the fishing industry, although I am sure that his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will do his best to answer the questions which I shall put to him. I was disappointed that so little was said about the fishing industry during the recent food Debate. I tried myself to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, but without success. In view of the grave food shortage in the country I should have thought that the Government would have immediately turned their eyes to a supply of food which is on our doorsteps, around our shores, and which is there for the want of catching. Not all is well with the fishing industry, and the Government should now do what they can to help the industry in the crisis that has arisen over the shortage of food. The Cinderella "of all industries is the fishing industry. After six years of reduced fishing, there is a great quantity of fish in the seas around this island. I would like, how ever, to offer a word of warning, that because of the under fishing during the war there should be some control now in the fishing areas to prevent over fishing.

At the moment, we see trawler skippers, engineers and mates walking the fish markets, unemployed. They are men who fought in this war as commanders of minesweepers and other naval craft. The same does not apply to deck hands and others, but it does seem to be wrong that the men I have mentioned should be now out of a job.

I blame this Government, and past Governments, for the lack of interest that has been taken in the fishing industry. It has always had a raw deal. It was referred to in the Gracious Speech, but nothing has since been said or done about the industry as a whole, except inshore fishing. Vessels are getting very old indeed. I am told that the average age of steam trawlers and herring drifters from this country is over 30 years, and vessels have been maintained under great difficulty. There are now building in this country 50 large steam trawlers, of which 38 are for export. It may be a good thing for the President of the Board of Trade to export, but I suggest that for the first few months or years after this war we should feed our people to the best of our ability, and then export. I am sure that in the long run they will work better if they have more to eat.

Vessels were released last August, both trawlers and steam drifters. They are still not reconditioned. They have taken as long now to be reconditioned as the time in which a new vessel could be built before the war. Why should this be so? I suggest it is lack of co-ordination between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Admiralty. I know I shall be told that the Admiralty have given assistance in this matter. I suggest they should give more assistance, down tools with naval vessels for the moment, and get these fishing vessels serviceable and to sea.

I am very concerned about the future of this industry—the long-term policy. We shall not get the supplies we want un less we build new vessels in sufficient numbers. It costs today something like£25,000 to build a steam herring drifter and about£50,000 to build a 135 ft. North Sea trawler. Before the war the owners of these vessels, particularly of the herring drifters, usually made a loss. If they made ends meet, they were very fortunate. Consequently they were unable to put away any money in reserve against depreciation, or for a rainy day, and small owners have not the money to build new vessels. It may be argued that during the war years those fortunate enough to have vessels fishing made big profits. They have made big profits, but they were without a prewar standard, and when a profit of£3,000 was cut, by tax of 10s in the£ to£1,500 there was little left to put aside in order to build new vessels.

I am afraid that when the food situation, I hope sooner than we think, has been solved, and there is plenty of food in Europe, the fishing industry will again slide back to where it was between the two wars unless something is done. I suggest it is just as costly in proportion to build a steam fishing vessel as it is to build a house, and the Government should give real support by giving financial aid to these steam fishing owners. The herring industry is a very important one. I should like to see the Ministry of Food popularise the herring and encourage people to eat them. I am told that one herring is worth five eggs, not dried egg, but the real thing. That is a food that we can land by hundreds of tons. If the Government will see to the question of refrigerated space and distribution, we can improve our diet enormously throughout the country, and, in turn, even help the distressed people of Europe with a food they like and en joy—salted herring.

Herring nets are very short. The President of the Board of Trade has given a small extra allocation for inshore fishing, but nothing has been done to enable net manufacturers to get busy making nets for herring drifters. He should do this right away, because there are vessels waiting to go to sea but which have not got the nets. I know of one ex-skipper of the R.N.R. who bought a 35-year-old vessel two months ago for£3,000, and who is unable to take it to sea because he can not buy any nets. If we have to wait until July before the cotton is allocated, then the nets have to be made, they have to be tanned and processed, and they will only just be in time for the autumn fishing. I beg the Government to get busy on this point right away. It again points to lack of co-ordination.. There is the Minister of Food, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. These three should work together as a team, and not allow these points to come up months afterwards, when it is too late, and we have missed our chance to get all the fish available.

Likewise I should like to see transport facilities improved to get the fish away from the docks quickly, and brought to the people while it is fresh. Quite recently at Grimsby 14 vessels were delayed for 24 hours in landing their supplies because the fish dock lumpers, the men who help to get the fish out of the boats, were not available. One day's fishing of 14 vessels represents approximately 50 tons of food, which is what the Minister of Food is expecting to import from Holland weekly. We ought not to lose valuable time in this way. The Government should get busy to see that labour is available at the place where it is required.

I would like to see more licences given by the Ministry of Food for opening wet fish shops, particularly to help ex-Servicemen. I am told that a licence is never refused, but I know of a case where one was refused. I should also like to see mobile fish shops, made by the conversion of some of these hundreds of lorries which we are told are parked in the Midlands, so as to get fish into the rural areas, where people are unable to buy it. In Congleton, a town in my Division, women have to walk 2½ miles to buy fish, and are lucky if they get it when they get there. They queue and they catch colds or the 'flu and there is more trouble in the family. I should like to see marketing improved throughout the whole country.

I ask the Government to treat this matter of the fishing industry—and if they do they will be the first Government that have done so—in a really businesslike way. There is a great opportunity here for them to show what they can do. A long term policy is needed. It is no use looking six months ahead. Give the fishing industry a policy covering 10 years ahead at least, and then these fishermen will play their part. Fishermen have done a tremendous job during the war, as they did in the last war. They have never grumbled; we never hear of fisher men striking. They work hard; their life is a pretty rotten one. We are often told about the lot of the miner, and I do not disagree, but the North Sea fisherman has eight or nine days at sea and is in port for a night. Most of the time he is at sea his clothes are wet, and he gets very little comfort. We should give him the encouragement which he and the small owner deserve and they will not let us down.

3.35 p.m.

Major Younger (Grimsby)

I am very glad to be able to say a few words about the fishing industry today and in particular to associate myself with many of the things that have just been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey). At the same time I hope that the Government will not consider that this necessarily short Debate, late on a Friday afternoon, is an adequate allowance for the questions arising in the fishing industry at this time, when there are both urgent immediate problems and long-term problems which require full discussion.

I agree with most of what the hon. and gallant Member said. I agree with him that to a very great extent the fishing industry has in the past been a "Cinderella "—I think that was a phrase used in a Debate some time ago by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), whom I am glad to see present now. At the same time, there is an aspect of Government interest in the fishing industry to which I would call attention. It is that the industry does not always welcome Government interest. I would remind the House of a remark made by the Commissioners who reported on the herring industry in 1936. They said: The industry do not desire regulation, re-organisation, or planning of business upon an economic basis. What they desire, and have repeatedly asked for, is that they should be enabled to continue on their old uneconomic lines and that the losses consequent upon their so doing should be met by Treasury grants and subsidies which ultimately fall upon the general taxpayer. I have no doubt that that spirit to a large extent has departed. The war has made a difference to the outlook of many people. At the same time, it is within my own short experience of the fishing industry that that outlook is not yet entirely dead. I am not sure that it is recognised in the fishing industry that assistance from the Government also implies on their part the readiness to accept some degree of control and reorganisation. Moreover, quite apart from the question of what might be called Government interference, the industry itself has been extraordinarily slow to agree within its different branches on the necessary measures for reorganising and rationalising their operations. There fore, I would like to make one first plea to the Government that they should appreciate that, in the matter of putting the fishing industry on a sound basis, the initiative must lie with them. They will have to supply the drive because there will be many people still in the industry who will simply cry "Hands off" in any matter except in so far as the Government seems prepared to give them some financial protection against competition from the foreigner.

My second plea is that the Government should regard the industry as a whole. Right from the fishing grounds to the breakfast table it is one industry, and I think that is probably what the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield had in mind when he spoke of the necessity for coordination between the various Minis tries. As I understand it, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is, if one may use generalities that are roughly accurate, responsible for the production side, where as on the distribution and marketing side it is more the Ministry of Food which is concerned. It must be appreciated that, in order to provide the right incentive and conditions for the production side of the industry, it may well be that the Ministry of Food can take more effective measures than can the Ministry of Agriculture. I do hope that the Government will take some steps, and, if necessary, set up fresh machinery, which will enable them to treat the fishing industry, as one singe operation from the catching of the fish to the eating of it.

There are two aims which Government policy must have. The first is to provide a steady reward and decent conditions for the men who actually catch the fish, and the second is that they must supply a good quality of fish at a cheap price to the housewife. Between these two, the fisherman and the housewife, there are, of course, a great many interests. Some are the legitimate interests of persons having to make their living, but I would ask the Government to regard them as secondary to those of the producer, on the one hand, and the consumer, on the other. I am not at all satisfied that all the many hands through which the fish passes are necessarily useful hands. There is a good deal of rationalisation that might usefully be done.

In the days before the war the fisher man could not count upon a regular reward for his services, nor could he count upon a regular job. He was unorganised and unprotected. Many a skipper found when he came in from a voyage that he had been fishing for nothing—through no fault of his own, but through the ill luck that heavy catches had come in just before and that the bottom had dropped out of the market. Moreover, he was unprotected at that time by any form of organisation, and if he made a complaint he might have found himself kicking his heels ashore for six months. These conditions really only changed when the scarcity of men arose during the war and when the trawler-men's pool—not a very popular institution—began to take an interest in the conditions of employment, and indeed of un employment, among trawlermen. I have no doubt that the time has come when we may legitimately consider whether the purposes for which the pool was instituted no longer exist, but I would ask the-Government, before the pool system is abandoned, to ensure that its more helpful aspects—those aspects which gave some stability and security to the fisher men—are replaced by another satisfactory arrangement and that they will not allow their controls to go until something else has been put in their place.

Fortunately there is one new element since the war, which, I think, will be found to make a difference in atmosphere. It is the increase in trade union organisation. I regard it as one of the most hopeful signs that for the first time the fishermen and dockside labourers— "lumpers" as they are called in Grimsby—are fully organised. They have some force at their back and someone to protect them. I do not wish to throw stones unnecessarily, but I do not doubt that they need protection. There are many owners, of course, who are very interested in improving conditions, and, as new ships come into use and others are released from naval service, they are doing their very utmost to improve the conditions of the men. Nevertheless, I do not think that the conditions of fisher men are as yet keeping pace with the improvements of working conditions in other branches of industry. When I was in the United States recently and was able to make some inquiries about conditions in New England, I was satisfied that there were some aspects in which the Americans are well ahead of us. I will mention just one which is not generally accepted in this country, even among progressive owners. In the United States the crews of trawlers are sufficiently large to permit the fishermen to work In shifts. In this country, from the moment when fishing starts to the moment when it finishes, the process is continuous The haul takes place every two, three or four hours, according to conditions, and certainly in most trawlers the crew is not adequate to allow the men to have a break. They may have to be on deck almost continuously for as many as 12 hours. Some times they snatch an hour's sleep when and where they can. When I told that to the trawler owners in Boston they were astonished and said that such conditions did not exist in America and that certainly their trade unions would not stand for it.

Air-Commodore Harvey

I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member has ever been out in a steam trawler. I have myself and I would like to refute the re mark he makes that the men do not get time to sleep. In my experience they get three or four hours in their bunk in the back of the vessel and always have.

Major Younger

That may be true of certain trawlers, but in the one in which I went out it was not so. All available hands were required on every haul and, although on one or two occasions when a man was especially tired he was allowed a haul off, there was no system to allow them to have time off. All the fishermen, including very many experienced skippers, tell me that it is the practice that there should be no regular system for shift work. I feel sure that if the Americans can do it we can, because I am bound to say that from what I saw in America it seems to me that our industry has nothing to be ashamed of. I do think that that type of improvement is one that we shall have to make before long.

There is no time to go in detail into the other factors which made the fisher men's life so insecure before the war. One point was the fluctuation in prices which left him at the mercy of gluts of fish, and that I think is the thing that has aggravated fishermen most. The bottom drops out of the market and the price slumps for a day, two or three days, or a week. He suffers, and has to bear almost the whole of the brunt, while the housewife receives no corresponding benefit at the consumption end.

One of the first things that happened to me after being elected to this House was that I went down to Grimsby, where a brief strike was in progress. It had been caused by a slump in prices over August Bank Holiday. I found that the rewards for the fishermen for a day or two had dropped heavily, by more than 50 per cent., but the prices of fish in the shops had not dropped by a penny. I made inquiries and I found that the merchants had bought fish on the quayside, at knock-down price, had kept the fish until the price position was restored and then had sold it at the price based upon maximum quayside prices. We cannot expect fishermen to understand or accept that kind of practice as even an approximation of justice. If that sort of thing is to be remedied it must be by action on the part of the Minister of Food, although I have no doubt that the Minister of Agriculture can exercise a good deal of influence in seeing that such a state of affairs is put right.

I hope that, in accordance with what has always been the declared policy of the Labour Party with regard to the fishing industry, the Minister will encourage the setting up of refrigeration plants under public control so that fish will be there and can be released in order to pro vide stability and prevent any rigging of the market or the making of profit for particular people. I should like to associate myself with the request for the speedy return of trawlers from the Admiralty, the speeding up of reconversion, and if possible some additional allotment of the 50 new trawlers of which mention has already been made. It is certainly true in my constituency that skippers and mates who have done good work during the war are unemployed. Whether we shall be able to find employment for them all I cannot say, but certain it is that we can find employment for some of them if we can get the ships. There is plenty of fish to be caught, and the fish is badly needed.

Finally, I feel certain that there is plenty of good will and talent in all branches of the industry. I do not want to give the impression that the Government will find ill will but I am convinced that those who are progressive and looking ahead will need assistance from the Government. There are still prejudices and old inertias to be broken down before the industry is put in order. I am also sure that it is the Government who must provide the drive. If they will do so, this industry will provide a first rate living for the fishermen and first rate food for the people.

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Beechman (St. Ives)

I was very sorry to see the Minister of Agriculture drifting away when the subject of fisher men came up. I was very glad to see him here when we were discussing agriculture, for 1 always regard him as a conscientious Minister. I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scot land is with us, but he has no responsibility in regard to England, and still less in regard to Cornwall. The more I learn of the fishing problems of Cornwall, the more I feel I would like us to have an Under-Secretary of State for Cornwall, or even a Secretary of State.

I intend to speak of a matter of great urgency. The position is very serious indeed and threatens the livelihood, and even the existence, of our fishermen. I refer, of course, to inshore fishermen and not to those who work on the large trawlers, and whose case has been well represented by the speeches which we have already heard. I would remind the House once again that the inshore fisher men are the people who own their own little boats and who go out for 40, 50 and even 100 miles in this vocation, which is full of hazards. They are the men who manned our minesweepers and our patrol boats and did work which was of the greatest value to the security of our country.

I understand that prices are now being fixed for fish. Usually it is the fisher man who gets the minimum price, and the woman queueing up in London at the fish shop who has to pay the maximum price. The prices which inshore fisher men themselves have to pay have been going up for such things as oil, nets. The increase has been in some cases 100 per cent. We had an admirable Inshore Fishing Bill, but it must be re-emphasised that the cost of building boats such as I have in mind has gone up from about£3,000 to£7,000. In other industries, although prices have been rising, remuneration has been rising also to keep pace with rising costs. In the inshore fishing industry that has not been so.

That makes me all the more sorry at what is now proposed by the Government. Let me examine some of the prices that are put forward. First of all take mackerel. Before the war, the inshore fishermen received 3s. ' a stone for mackerel. I note that the very same price of 3s. a stone is proposed. In view of the rising costs, that price evidently will not do. The matter has been discussed by the fishermen, and I am sure that the men are right in saying that the price should be at least 4s. 6d. or 5s. a stone.

Then there is the question of ray and skate. Unhappily when prices are fixed for those fish the matter is considered only from the point of view of the large trawlers to whom ray and skate do not matter very much. Those fish matter very much in the total intake of the in shore fishermen. What is now proposed, 4s. 5d a stone is lower than the price to the inshore fishermen before the war. It is a very modest request that the price should be at least 5s. 6d. a stone. The men are dissatisfied at the suggested tanking price, for pilchards, of 2s. a stone, and say that 2s. 6d. a stone is the very least that should be suggested.

It is often stated that the inshore type of fishing is dying out. That is quite untrue. The fisherman himself wants to fish. Young men want to come into the industry, but they will not come in at prices such those now proposed be cause they will know that there is no future for them in the industry. We as a nation will lose the services of men who have kept us safe and who can bring us much-needed good food.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)

In consideration of the number of other hon. Members who desire to speak in this Debate, I propose to be brief and to deal with only one aspect of this very complex question of the fishing industry. I do not think there is very much wrong on the production side except temporary evils which in time, and I hope very shortly, will be removed, such as the provision of boats and adequate gear at a lower cost than the present very high cost of both those essential elements.

I shall confine my remarks to the question of distribution, because I think that is the deadweight on the fishing industry today. There is far too great a gap between what the fisherman receives for his hard work in producing the fish com pared with what the housewife has to pay for it, and if there is one thing I would like to direct to the attention of the Government it is that they should try to narrow this gap between the price received by the fisherman and the cost to the consumer. If the Government can do that, and I think it is possible, then we shall bring a measure of security and encouragement to the industry which hitherto has been completely lacking.

I would like to deal with the inshore fishing industry in my few remarks. It is a known fact that the fish caught by the boats which return to harbour every morning or every afternoon is prime fish. It is a far better and higher quality food than the fish which may lie in the trawler's holds for anything from 10 to 14 days. I charge those who run the deep-sea industry with destroying the demand of the British people for good fish because of the long periods in which trawlers are kept at sea without landing their catches. In contradistinction to the trawlers in the deep sea fishing industry the inshore fishing industry lands its fish within a few hours of the time it is caught, but there are a number of people who become very interested in the fish when it is landed, apart from the consumer. There are, I think, three or four, sometimes even five stages of distribution, and that is a dead weight on the industry.

I represent one of the Scottish constituencies where we have had a very flourishing inshore fishing industry in the days before the great war, and up and down the coast of Scotland one can see derelict fishing villages which once were inhabited by enterprising, thriving communities of people. I hope that this Government, by the action they take, will develop the inshore fishing side of the industry. I am sure they will take that action because, as an earnest of their intentions, they have for the first time given some assistance to the inshore fishermen through the Inshore Fishing Industry Bill. I see no reason why at least 40 per cent. of our catches should not be inshore fishing. It will be necessary for us to go further a field in this matter and see that the waters of the inshore fishing fleets are protected to a much greater ex tent than they are now.

I now come back to my first point, that unless we can narrow this gap between the producer and the consumer, any form of subsidies, any form of Government financial assistance, will not bring any lasting prosperity to the industry unless we are able, and I think we shall be able, to tackle this vital problem of bridging that gap between the purchaser and consumer.

3.59 p.m.

Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)

We are all grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) for having chosen this subject. It must be quite obvious from the course of this Debate that the sooner we have a whole day to discuss the fishing industry, the better. My hon. and gallant Friend drew attention to the long term and the short term aspects of the fishing industry.

It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Simmons.]

Sir B. Neven-Spence

I do not intend to refer to the replacement of the trawler fleet, though the need for this came very vividly before me when I was the chair man of a committee investigating the fishing industry in Scotland. At least two hon. Members have referred to the question of the price of fish. I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick and Hadding-ton (Mr. J. J. Robertson) about narrowing the gap between the producer and the consumer, as far as that can be done, though I think the Government have had enough experience during the war to know what is possible in that direction. What really does matter is the price which the producer receives. I am rather alarmed at rumours that the Government propose to make a pretty severe cut in the price of fish in the course of the next week or two. This happened last year. That cut cost the inshore fishing industry in Scotland alone£97,000. If the rumours I have heard are correct, the proposed cut will cost them about£175,000. The industry is not in a position to stand a decrease of that order. I am alarmed and suspicious about the Government's intentions towards the primary producer. One has seen what is going on in Malaya, and now there is this proposal to cut down the price paid to fishermen here Surely, if we have> learned anything between the two wars, we should have learned the lesson that this country, with its dependence on manufacturing, can never prosper unless the primary producers are given an adequate return for their fundamental work.

The only other point with which I in tend to deal concerns the inshore fishing industry. It is a grievance which a large number of us have been trying to get put right for a long time. It has been well ventilated by questions in the House, but we have still got no further ahead with it. It is the case of men who have had their boats requisitioned, and have had them lost while in service, or whose boats have been requisitioned, taken abroad and acquired from the men instead of being sent home again. I want to bring this clearly before the House: I am sorry that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has gone, as he might have kept my arithmetic right. Let me take the case of two fishermen, each owning a boat worth£1,500 when the war broke out, whose boats were requisitioned, and who were paid at the usual rate of£22 a month, or, say,£250 a year, for the hire of the-boat. The first man has his boat hired for four years at£250 so he receives£1,000. He gets a payment for reconditioning which may vary from£1,500 to£2,500, say£2,000 on the average. He then has a boat which he can sell immediately for£3,500 Take the case of a second man with an exactly similar boat. He loses his boat after one year's hire, for which he has received£250. The maximum compensation he can get, and the compensation is tied down to this figure by the Compensation (Defence) Act, is£1,500. He is left with£1,750 with which to equip himself with a new boat, and it will cost him at least£3,500 to get that boat. There are many other glaring anomalies. I have checked up on this and all the sums work out in just about the same way, whether it is a large or a small boat which is concerned. It may be said that these men can get restitution under the two Acts, the Herring Fishery Industry Act and the In shore Fishing Act. These men do not want to acquire debts. There is nothing a fisherman dislikes more than being in debt for his boat. He will do his best to keep out of it. I do not think it is fair to throw those men back on to the Acts, useful as they are. I hope that very wide use will be made of them. This is a particularly hard case, and it is not a particularly large number of men who are affected. I am trying to get hold of the total number of boats that have been lost.

I would suggest a practical way out of this difficulty, a method which I hope the Government will adopt. It may not be absolutely ideal from the fishermen's point of view, but the thing to do with these men is to give them first priority for the motor fishing vessels which have been built by the Admiralty, to give them these vessels in return for the sum they have been paid for hire and the amount of compensation offered, which is the value of the boat at the time of requisition. That should be the sum they have to pay. The men then have a boat with which they can start to fish right away. I want to reinforce the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield and support his plea that the Government should be seized with a sense of urgency about this matter and should prepare in time.

I am not satisfied in my own mind that we did all we could about getting herrings over to the Continent of Europe last summer. I raised the question at the time and I was told that shipping was not available. That may or may not have been true, I do not know. There should be no mistake about it this time. I asked a question the other day of the Minister of Food as to whether herrings were to be exported to the Continent and he replied, "Yes, provided the herrings are there." The herrings are there. They have always been there. We have never been able to take all the herrings out of the North Sea, and we never will be able to do that. The whole trouble is we have not got the catching capacity. That is why we have been putting down questions on this subject about nets and urging the President of the Board of Trade to make a practical approach to this problem, and to see that our men who are waiting there to fish are provided with the gear which they must have if they are going to do the job.

If they get the nets, they can catch the herrings and we shall have all the herrings we want in this country. I expect we want a lot of them. I am very glad to know that the Herring Board are going ahead, especially in my constituency, putting up quick-freezing plant. There is a possibility of herrings being brought straight to London by sea this summer. I think people will find then that they are getting a class of herring they have never known before. In conclusion, I would say that I hope the Government are made to appreciate that this is a big subject for which the House needs a whole day.

4.9 p.m.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

In the space of one or two minutes I want to support the plea that has been made for the inshore fishing industry. In addition to the nets which are in short supply, there is also the question of protective clothing, oil skins and rubber boots, which are difficult to obtain. I hope the Minister will impress upon the President of the Board of Trade that however important the export trade might be—and it is important—it is equally important that these people should have protective clothing. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to convey to the Minister the point that when he is looking at the fishing industry he should not think only in terms of the big ports. There are small, well outfitted and capable ports. I have the honour to represent one of those in this House. They are capable of making a substantial contribution to this industry and of helping to relieve the present shortage of food. I would suggest to him that, in consultation with the Minister of Transport, he should look at the problem of conveying the fish by the quickest possible method to the big centres of population. Before I came into this House I was employed in the railway industry. I know that there are difficulties and that the fish is not always in its best condition when it reaches large centres of population, because the best transport facilities have not been available.

I wish to raise two small points, and I am sorry I have not been able to give the Minister notice of them. There has been standing in Hartlepool Dock for four or five months a Danish vessel which, with some small conversion, could be used. The local authority have been in consultation with the Admiralty who referred the matter to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Five months have elapsed, and no reply has been received to the representations. I want the Minister to look at another problem. On 19th January last year two up-to-date motor fishing vessels were sunk in Hartle- pool Dock by the breaking loose of a cargo steamer. I and others have tried to get this matter settled. These fishermen are now employed as auxiliary porters on the quayside. Their gear is standing there rotting because they have no boats, and the question of compensation has not been settled. They are anxious to go to sea again. I hope the Minister will look into these points. I believe the industry can make a substantial contribution to the problem of food during the present shortage.

4.12 p.m.

Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)

There are many points I would like to touch upon, but I will confine myself to two, and hope the Minister can deal with them in due course. I wish to reinforce the arguments about stabilisation of prices. I am convinced that for the inshore fishermen, for whom I speak, stabilisation of prices is the only method of saving the industry. There is no doubt that the industry is going down in spite of what the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) said, because of the question of prices.

In nearly all other industries there have been rises in wages but in the fishing industry there have been none and the men have to depend on their own efforts. If their catch is small, they get low wages, whereas in other industries there are continual improvements. The inshore fisherman has no trade union to help him, and no organisation. I urge the Minister to consider the stabilisation of prices and I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food that I put a question to the Minister on this subject six months ago. The Minister replied that he was conferring with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and carefully examining the question. But that was six months ago. It is no good having maximum prices, if we do not have a minimum price. I would suggest that not only should there be provision for freezing fish but for canning fish. If the Minister of Food will link canning of fish with canning of vegetables and fruit in the country we will have an industry which will benefit both fishermen and agriculture as well.


Mr. Booth by (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

I only want to ask two questions of the Minister before he replies. I am not going to mention prices in connection with the inshore white fish industry because the Minister of Food has kindly promised to receive a deputation on that matter. In a recent reference to long-term policy, the Minister said that the Government were going to hold an international conference. I believe this is by far the greatest hope for the long-term future of the white fish industry. I want to ask when this Conference is going to be held; and whether the Minister will press most strongly for the protection of the fishing grounds, and, particularly, for the closing of the Moray Firth and the Firth of Clyde to all trawlers, because these are great spawning grounds My second point is with regard to herring fishing. We have made some progress of late in getting nets, boots, oilskins and craft, after most strenuous efforts; but we still have to make a great effort over markets. In this connection I believe it will be necessary for the Herring Industry Board to have more powers, in the long run, than they now seem to possess—powers to purchase and negotiate the sale of herrings. If it should prove to be necessary, in order to give the Herring Board more powers, for the Government to bring in a one-Clause Bill, I am sure I can say on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House that we will do everything to facilitate its speedy passage.


The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. Collick)

I am sure the House is indebted to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) for introducing this subject on the Adjournment today. I share the view which he and other. speakers have expressed, that it is unfortunate we have not more time to discuss the tremendous implications of the questions that have arisen in the Debate and which certainly do arise to anybody who has actively in mind the problems which face this industry, particularly because of the tremendously important part which it plays, and, I hope, will increasingly play in the future, in regard to the whole food production of this country.

Because of the little time available, 1 want to jump very quickly to the number of points raised in the Debate. First, may I say a word or two about the matter of the trawling side of the fishing industry. Before the war there were in this country about 1,472 trawlers, either fishing or available for fishing. During the war, we lost no fewer than 383 of those trawlers with, of course, casualties to the crews and skippers who manned those boats. That would leave us, prospectively, about 1,089 of the prewar vessels which remain available for the trawling side of the industry.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Many are redundant.

Mr. Collick

That, of course, is leaving out of account altogether the amount of new building going on. Out of that number, there are about 300 boats which are still either in the process of conversion or on Admiralty service. At this moment we are aiming to keep on the stocks undergoing conversion roughly about 200 a month. We are also trying to get as many as 30 a month coming off the slip-ways. At the moment the number of trawlers operating is, approximately, half the prewar number. That is the position on the trawling side.

Quite obviously, the one thing to be done immediately after the war was to try to deal with the productive side of the industry—in other words, to get boats back and to do everything possible to increase the volume of production. We have not been altogether unsuccessful in this matter. We must keep in mind the fact that the volume of fish production during the war went down on the average to less than 20 per cent. At the moment we have got it up to well over 50 per cent. I am talking now about fish caught by our own British fishing fleet. The last figures available, those for the week ending 23rd February, show that British landings alone amounted to 61 per cent. of the prewar figures. If we also take into consideration the foreign landings, we are now up to 74 per cent. of our prewar figures.

May I now deal briefly with the points which have been raised specifically by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield? With reference to the herring side of the industry, I have not the time this afternoon to explain the developments which are going on. Everybody who is familiar with this problem knows that one of the difficulties has been the refrigerating of the fresh herring, so that when we have gluts the herring can be kept in good condition and, of course, in turn distributed when the gluts are no longer there. That, as everybody knows, has been a fairly big problem which the industry has had to face. Experiments have been going on at the experimental stations to try to perfect the method of refrigerating fresh herrings, so that they can be kept in good condition and so that the country can be supplied with what is accepted by everybody as being a particularly good food. We obviously want to get the maximum distribution possible of such good food as that. There is reason to believe that on the refrigerating side, the experiments that have been conducted have become increasingly successful, and I hope ere long we shall be in a position to bring it to the stage of the utmost perfection and thus help to solve this problem of distribution.

Air-Commodore Harvey

May I put a brief question? So far as herrings are concerned, will the hon. Gentleman also see that we retrieve the markets which we had before the 1914 war—Russia and Central Europe?

Mr. Collick

I am certain, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, that the Herring Board, which was established by the previous Act, has quite a lot of power, although perhaps it has not as much power as we would like it to have. Here I would say that I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). There may be very much in it, and I assure the House that. this is under very active consideration. I hope that in the modernisation arrangements of the herring fleet we shall be able to do something to meet the point which hon. Members on both sides of the House have made, and that is to get a far better distribution offish all over the country, in the villages and elsewhere. We accept the need for that. I think it is worth noting, because here the railway transport part of it comes into question, that the zoning scheme has been operating. It was necessary under war conditions, but the need for it has now gone, and it ends tomorrow. With the zoning scheme gone, there should obviously be better facilities for dealing with the distribution side. On the question of refrigerator vans and the distribution of the fish about the country, everybody knows the problems which the railways have had to face, but I understand that the railway companies have plans for refrigerator vans and all the rest of it, so that the distributive side of the problem can be properly tackled.

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield also made a point about the opening and licensing of wet fish shops. I completely share the point which he made, and if he will draw attention to any specific case of which he knows where there has been any real difficulty, I assure him that we shall go into the matter with the utmost diligence with the one aim of trying to give satisfaction, because we accept, by and large, the case that he made. The hon. and gallant Member for Grimsby (Major Younger) made a most interesting contribution to this Debate, and I am sure the House is indebted to him. I have noted particularly many of the interesting points he made. When he spoke about making one operation of the catching of the fish and the use of it inland, I was rather reminded of the gull which catches the fish and gets rid of it at the same time—a single operation. There is much to be said for that in connection with modern marketing processes. The more the production of fish and its distribution can be co-ordinated on most modern lines, obviously, the greater the advantage to everybody.

A point was made about the places where there is difficulty with the labour supply in the fishing industry: We are conscious of that. I know that the hon. and gallant Member who raised the point appreciates there are places in many parts of the country where there is an ample number of skippers, an ample number of engineers, but where there has been a dearth of deck hands. That dearth of deck hands has been a bit of a problem. With regard to the question of nets, very much the same position arises, namely the question of production and the question of getting men. The House has heard on many occasions about the difficulty of getting labour in the cotton industry, and as the nets are made very largely from the raw material of cotton there have been certain difficulties, which I quite readily recognise. In accordance with the state- ment which I think the President of the Board of Trade made earlier in the week, that matter is being looked into in harmony with the points that have been made. We shall note particularly the points that have been made in today's Debate on that score.

The hon. Member for East Aberdeen mentioned the question of a conference. I am glad to tell him that the Government have given attention to this matter and have already called a conference, which is to be held in London on 25th March. It will of course deal with the one very important matter, the question of over-fishing, about which everybody who knows the fishing industry has knowledge. Trouble occurred after the last war when over-fishing was indulged in on all sides. We hope this conference will get down to the question of over-fishing.

Mr. Beechman

What about inshore fishing?

Mr. Collick

The question of inshore fishing has been raised on various sides of the House. The hon. Member on this side of the House who talked about getting inshore fishing up to 40 per cent. of the total was a wee bit optimistic. I appreciate there is very much to be said for that. I think it will be recognised that the Government and the House have not been altogether indifferent to inshore fishing. After all is said and done, the provisions of the Inshore Fishing Act, as all Members from the ports know, have been and will be of increasing assistance to the inshore fishermen; if anything practical can be done with regard to the point raised it will be done.

Colonel Wheatley

What about prices?

Mr. Collick

I know the difficulty of the prices. I am sure the difficulties are well understood by the Members who raised this point. There is much to be said for some of the points that have been made. I am quite appreciative of those points and the House can rest assured that we will give that matter the utmost attention to see if there is any practical way of meeting the difficulty to which they have referred. We want to be as helpful to the inshore fishermen as we want to be to the trawlermen, to the mid-trawler men, and to the whole fishing industry. The one thing we want to do is to bring the output of fish in this country to a far higher figure than hitherto, and to arrange a far better distribution of fish than we have ever known. I share the view that there may be very much to be done on the marketing side. I assure the House we shall give the most earnest consideration to the points which have been made in today's Debate. If there is any point I have not had time to deal with in these few minutes I will see that the hon. Member gets a precise reply to the point he has raised.

Sir B. Neven-Spence

There has not been a precise reply to one point. Will the Minister undertake to deal with the question of compensation, which has been a running sore for four years now? It has caused the greatest possible discon tent not only to the men who suffer from these losses but to everybody else.

Mr. Collick

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that it is almost impossible here at this time to deal with a complicated question of that kind, but I will certainly deal with it if he will be good enough to let me have precisely the whole problem that he has in mind, because obviously it may have to be referred to the Scottish Office. I can tell him that, whether it comes within my Department or the Scottish Office, the matter will be dealt with.

It being Half-past Four o'Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned theHouse without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.