§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
During the war, it was obviously impossible, for security reasons, to discuss the fishing industry, or to give any account of the magnificent contribution to the food supplies of this country in those critical days that was made by the men of the fishing fleet. Some account has now been given, and I think the country realises the debt it owes to these men. It will suffice, today, as a prelude to what I am going to say, to remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that the fishing industry, just before the war, had been going through a very lean time; that some of its best ships, which had been bought a year or so before the war, were taken over by the Admiralty; that, immediately war broke out, the bulk of the remaining good ships were requisitioned, and that a very large proportion of the fishermen themselves were either called up, or volunteered.
Those who remained to fish were not merely subjected to the ordinary hazards of war, not merely subjected to attacks by enemy surface craft, submarines and aeroplanes. They suffered grievous casualties. Be it noted, in passing, that, at a certain period, the total casualties suffered by the fishing fleet were actually greater, in proportion, than those suffered at the time by the Royal Navy, which gives some indication of what they had to put up with. In addition to that, they had to take to sea boats which, in ordinary circumstances, would never have left port. A great proportion of the fishing fleet in the war years was well over 30 years old; some of them were even older than that, and the remarkable thing, in my view, is not that so little fish was, in fact, landed, but that so much fish was landed, in view of the difficulties which the men and the skippers had to meet.
Clearly, since the war with Germany was over, the obvious thing to do was to 2047 try to take advantage, in the feeding of the people of this country, of supplies of food which did not need any dollars, which did not need large merchant ships, covering long distances to bring the food to these shores, and which was, in addition, food of a very high nutritional value. Therefore, our first efforts were directed to trying to get the fishing industry again on its feet as quickly as might be. Naturally, that was not an easy task. The Admiralty, in particular, and not unnaturally, were very reluctant indeed to see any of the good trawlers, which they had requisitioned and fitted out for their purposes, diverted from what they rightly regarded as the urgent job of clearing all the mines around the coasts of this country. But it was very important in deed to try to get as large a proportion of the big trawlers, as compared with the smaller trawlers, back again, because each one of these large trawlers was able, in a single voyage, to obtain a very much greater return, per unit of man-endeavour, in the shape of catches of fish than were the smaller. Therefore, it was arranged, after considerable difficulty and inter-Departmental quarrels, that the Admiralty should surrender some of these big vessels, and, furthermore, should undertake the reconditioning of the remainder of the vessels and their return to the fishing fleets at a very considerable rate. Indeed, it was decided, and the Admiralty were told, that the return of the fishing vessels and their reconditioning was to be priority No. 1. We laid down a programme which would, by now, have produced very substantial results.
The first question I put to the right hon. Gentleman is this: What progress has been made on that programme, and, in particular, is the repair and return of fishing vessels still a first-class priority? The figures that have been given to me are certainly very disturbing. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say that they are not, in fact, as bad as they appear. Anyway, the figures I have got show that there are only 252 vessels fishing today, and that there are over 300 either still requisitioned and being used by the Admiralty, or in process of re conversion, but not yet handed back. If these figures are anything like accurate, all I can say is that the original programme which we laid down when we were in office has not been carried out.
2048 In particular, I understand that the previous owners are very anxious to get back 45 good modern trawlers that were purchased, not only requisitioned, by the Admiralty during the war. It is a considerable hardship on the owners not to have these boats back, because many of these vessels were owned singly by individual owners, and, clearly, these men are not able to resume their peace-time pursuits without their ships. Of the vessels converted, I understand that many have been substantially altered by the Admiralty and we think they ought to have put them back or replaced them by others.
The next question to which we want an answer is: What is happening about new building? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that we secured berths for the building of 12 new trawlers last year. We would like to know whether they have been built and what is going to happen about new building. Considerable apprehension was expressed, I remember, a year ago, on the probable cost of these 12 trawlers. I do not know what the cost has turned out to be, or whether it is still so high as to frighten people off, but, if it is still high, we should like to know what steps the Government have in mind to remedy this state of affairs
The second step which is required in order to establish the fishing fleet is the adequate provision of supplies— net, gear and so forth. As far as nets are concerned, the situation is, I understand, very difficult. The President of the Board of Trade said there would be no distribution of seine nets till July, except for a very small allocation. It is 12 months since the end of the war, and we should like to know why greater supplies of seine nets are not available. We quite under stand that it is necessary to export an appreciable proportion of our output, but, surely, the proper thing to do is to in crease the output. I have been told— I hope it is not true, but I should be glad to be reassured— that some firms have been, for the last 12 months, prepared to go into the business of net making to try to increase the total export trade of this country. They have the men and the finances, and the machinery is available. But, in spite of nine months' effort to persuade the Board of Trade to help them to get the raw materials, they have still been frustrated. I am afraid that as I go on, HON. MEMBERS will realise that once 2049 again we shall have to commiserate with my right hon. Friend the present Minister on the lack of coordination and cooperation shown by his colleagues.
Then there is the question of timber for boxes. Timber, I understand, is coming forward very well, but boxes cannot be made without iron for the hoops and wire for the nails. The Minister of Supply does not seem to be anxious to provide either the iron or the wire. Therefore, boxes are short. Then we come to the important question of manpower. Man power is a bottleneck, and I understand that the number of releases under Class C, for example, has been very disappointing. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give us the actual figures. Apparently, there are plenty of skippers and mates, but the number of deck hands is short, especially in one or two ports which I have no doubt will be mentioned by hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House who represent those areas. There is also the question of the training of men for the industry. A very valuable scheme was worked out for the postwar recruitment and technical training of men. It was worked out by a working committee representing all sections of the industry and the various Government Departments. But I am told that it is not going very well and, in particular, that it is not getting the help from the Admiralty, in certain areas, that we might be entitled to expect. I confess I do not understand the attitude of the Admiralty towards the fishing industry. After all, they tell us that, in time of war, they must have people from the fishing industry and that it is the most valuable recruiting ground — shall have a little more to say about that later— and yet when it comes to practical steps, they do not go out of their way to help. In fact, they do the very opposite.
I do not know whether the Financial Secretary has heard about what happened at Milford Haven. The local committee at Milford Haven, responsible for this training scheme, asked the Admiralty for quarters for teaching boys. I am told that a Nissen hut was available in the docks which was exactly appropriate for the purpose. It was not wanted by the Admiralty, and the local committee applied for a permit to buy it. The Admiralty, said they could have it for £ 1,230. It would be very interesting to know the price for which similar Nissen 2050 huts were sold to the Great Western Rail way. Here was a definite opportunity for the Admiralty to give immediate assistance to the future fishing industry. Instead, they charged £1,230.
I turn to some broader questions. The fishing industry of this country can, roughly, be divided into three groups— the inshore fishermen, the short distance fishermen and the long distance fisher men. The inshore fishermen are a small but very vital part of our industry. They suffered disproportionately during the war because, for obvious reasons, they were not able to fish. Only the other day, we passed— with the general consent of all parts of the House— a Bill specifically designed to help the inshore fishermen and to put them. on their feet again. We should like to know what advantage has been taken of that Measure, what grants have been given and what steps have been taken to provide these men with new vessels to replace those lost or worn out? But it is no good getting new vessels and gear, unless the fishermen are assured of a market, and a reasonable price for the fish they catch. The essential difference between fish caught by the inshore fishermen, and that landed by short and long distance trawlers, is that the inshore fish is, on the whole, of better quality and fresher and, therefore, justifies a differential price. I do not disguise from the House for one moment the difficulties of arranging for a differential price, but, fortunately, I do not have to pro vide the answer. I am in a position to ask the right hon. Gentleman who, after all, is a Member of the Government, how the Government propose to solve this difficulty.
As to the short distance fishermen, they are mostly people who fish the North Sea. Frankly, we and the Government are faced with a dilemma. During the last war, the stocks of fish in the North Sea rose very considerably, owing to the fact that there was no fishing. When fishing started again immediately after the last war, the catches for the first few years were very great, but it soon became clear that the North Sea was being over-fished, and the story of the intervening years was one of a steady decline in catches. The same thing has happened this time. During this war the stocks of fish in the North Sea have enormously increased again, and it is clear that what 2051 we ought to do is to devise some method of adjusting fishing in the North Sea, so as to maintain the optimum stocks. For the moment, that is difficult because of the great need for increased supplies of food and, therefore, it will require very careful balancing. On the one hand, there will be the desire to get the maximum amount of food during the next critical 12 months, and, on the other, the necessity for thinking several years ahead.
I understand that an international Conference to discuss this matter is, in fact, meeting here on 25th March and I am sure we all wish it well. It would be very interesting if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us today whether or not it is a fact that signs of overfishing are already obvious. I am told that, even in the short period since the war, there are already signs that we have started to overfish the North Sea. Any how, we should like to hear whether or not that is so. If there is to be some international system, and also some domestic system for controlling the amount of fish to be caught in the North Sea, clearly that will have an effect on the total number of fishermen and trawlers fishing in that area. Here again we come up against the Admiralty. The Admiralty say, or they said in my time, that what they wanted was the maximum possible number of fishermen to act as a reserve for the Navy, and so long as they got them they did not very much mind whether, in fact, those fishermen were employed during the whole of the year or not. The view of myself and of most HON. MEMBERS on this side of the House, is that we do not want to see a recurrence of what happened in the years between the wars. We do not want to see a hopelessly over expanded North Sea fishing fleet in term? of men. There fore, if the Admiralty want, as I realise they do, a large reserve of fishermen for purposes of the Navy in the event of war, they ought to get those men and pay for them as a naval obligation, and they ought not to try to get that reserve at the cost of the men themselves or of the industry. That, again, is a question on which we shall be glad to have a reply from the Minister
I come to the long distance fleet a fleet— of big trawlers which fish in the waters around Iceland and Bear Island, where the problem of overfishing is not 2052 so great. The drawback is that the fish they land is of a lower quality because of the longer distance it has to travel between the time when it is caught, and the time when it reaches the housewife. That, in its turn, causes great problems, because we may well get a state of affairs, as we often did before the war, in which one or two ships turn up at a time, dump these enormous masses of fish on the market and knock the bottom out of the market. To that extent, the interests of the long distance fleet are not the same as those of the middle distance and short distance fleets. I see no alternative and no remedy except by a revival of the experiment which was just starting before the war— the White Fish Commission. During the war, as the House probably knows, the White Fish Commission was absorbed by the Ministry of Food. I think the time has come when it ought to be reconstituted with a strong personnel, and it should be given the definite task of working out some practical proposals for meeting the problem of the long distance and short distance fleets.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
May I interrupt, because this is an important point? Has my right hon. Friend in mind the suggestion that the White Fish Commission would exercise the same kind of control over the trawling industry, as the Herring Indus try Board will exercise over the herring industry?
§ Mr. Hudson
It is a little difficult to enter into that question in any detail, because I believe I am correct in saying that in a Consolidated Fund Bill Debate we ought not to go into matters which require legislation. I am not at all sure from the preliminary examination that I was able to give it at the end of my period of office, whether the existing legislation under which the White Fish Commission could be revived is really adequate to cover the problems that will arise. If it is not adequate, clearly, an examination ought to be made as soon as possible, and this House ought to be told, within a reasonable time, of the legislation which will be required in order to bring it up to date. I think it may need legislation, but, in any case, an examination ought to be made and we ought to be informed as quickly as possible. I do not see why the White Fish Commission should not be set up with a strong personnel so that they 2053 can say to the Minister, "We have looked at the problem; this is what we require to be done and these are the powers we must have." I do not believe any Members in any part of the House, whatever their party, would refuse the Commission the powers which are required if they produce a report to that effect.
I wish to say a word about distribution. I understand the catches that are being landed today are very nearly as big as they were before the war. But the ordinary housewife in many parts of the country, especially in rural areas, would not think that was the case, judging by the difficulty she has at present in get ting supplies of fish The trouble, in fact, is distribution. I understand the trouble in distribution is the bottleneck of labour at the ports for landing the fish In several areas— I have no doubt HON. MEMBERS who follow me will give details— and at several ports, there is not sufficient labour to land the fish and certainly in the distributing areas there is often insufficient labour to deal with the fish between the wholesale markets and the actual shops. Furthermore, I am told that a great deal of the fault lies with the railways for the very slow timing of fish trains today compared with what used to be the case before the war, and particularly with the absence of refrigerator vans. I am told the Swiss have offered to send their own trains and refrigerator vans to ports in the North Sea, if our industry will provide them with the fish, and they will take the fish from North Sea ports back to Switzer land. If, under present conditions, the Swiss can send trains right across Ger many to take fish back into Switzerland in decent condition, it is a little difficult to understand why the London and North Eastern Railway cannot do the same between Grimsby and London. I hope the Minister of War Transport will look into this and see whether matters cannot be improved.
My final point concerns the question of quick freezing— the installation of freezing and cold storage plants at the ports. A great deal of very valuable work has been done in Scotland at the research station. We shall be glad if we can have some in formation about that, and about how far the Government propose to take advantage of what has been learned, and about the erection of similar stations in England.
2054 We would like to know, whether, if it is not possible to erect them at the ports, it would be practicable to erect them at same of these centres of distribution and consumption, so that the fish can be stored, when there are ample supplies, and released at the time when supplies are short. Those are some of the questions' with which we would like the right hon. Gentleman to deal in his reply. I hope 1 have shown that this is not a problem which affects merely my former Department. It involves the assistance of the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, the Minis try of Food and the Ministry of War Transport, and it gives a unique opportunity for showing whether or not the remarks we have heard about excellent co-ordination between the Departments are well founded.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. Thomas Williams)
In view of the importance of the fishing industry to this country, we must all welcome a Debate of this kind. I hope that no hon. Member will ever forget that, in prewar days, our fish landings were equivalent in weight to all the meat produced in this country, except bacon. Something like 1,000,000 tons of fish were landed annually. When the question of fisheries was raised on the Adjournment Motion the other day, the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) asked when the international Conference on overfishing would open. He said he regarded that as offering by far the greatest hope for the long term future of the white fish industry. That Conference, as the right hon. Gentleman has just indicated, commences on 25th March. Needless to state, my Department is heavily engaged in making the preparations for it. Probably it might have been advantageous to the House if, for instance, this Debate had been deferred until we knew the results, and until they had been published in a White Paper in the usual manner. Nevertheless, I welcome every opportunity of informing the House of such progress as we have made towards the complete rehabilitation of our fishing fleet. I take this opportunity of testifying once again to the great debt of gratitude we owe to the fishermen of this country. I refer both to those who man the deep-sea trawlers, and to those who man the little ships, who will be associated for ever in our minds with Dunkirk
2055 Before the Debate the right hon. Gentle man was kind enough to intimate some of the questions he intended to raise today. I propose to deal with the various points raised, or most of them, though probably not in the order in which they have been presented. The first thing I should like to say to the right hon. Gentle man is this There never was such cooperation between a body of colleagues as there happens to be at present in the Government in regard to fishing. The Admiralty, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Food have all done their level best, as I shall try to show, to restore this industry to a high state of usefulness. Perhaps I ought to deal with the question of the White Fish Com mission first. For some time the Government have been considering the position of that Commission. As HON. MEMBERS know, it was set up in 1938 on the recommendation of the Duncan Commission. They spent the first 12 to 15 months in surveying the industry and in acquainting themselves with the various problems. They did present a report just prior to the war, but, owing to paper economy, it was never published. As it happens to contain no serious recommendation but is merely historical, indicating their reactions after the survey, it does not seem to me there would be any purpose in publishing that report. Although the Commission had only been in the saddle some 12 to 15 months, it had already become apparent to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Scottish Department that the Commission was never likely to achieve the results expected of it, mainly because of lack of powers and perhaps especially because it had no initiative in the matter of en forcing marketing schemes.
On the outbreak of war, as the right hon. Gentleman truly said, the Ministry of Food, in the nature of things, had to exercise much more drastic control than the White Fish Commission was empowered to do. Therefore the White Fish Commission was suspended. Once that suspension order is removed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will be charged with the duty of reconstituting the commission. Therefore, active consideration is being given to the powers necessary, some of which lapsed with the passing of time, since they were operative only for a period 2056 of five years. It is true to say that if the right powers are to be given, legislation will be necessary once the commission is reconstituted. All I can say at the moment is that the matter is under active consideration, and the Government hope to make an announcement in the very near future. I, personally, fully realise that a strong White Fish Commission could go a long way towards resolving many problems affecting the distant, middle-water and inshore fishing.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the building and repairing of fishing vessels. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that when he was in office every effort was made then by the Admiralty, after consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, to release the maximum number of vessels and trawlers from naval service for immediate conversion. Of course, there were many difficulties It is true the oceans were strewn with mines. It is also true there were difficulties in the shipyards; the Admiralty had to use for reconversion yards where the workmen were wholly unaccustomed to that kind of work. Therefore, it took much longer to reconvert than would otherwise have been the case. Nevertheless, I think, in the light of the circumstances we now know, there is little cause for complaint. What is the true position? Before the war the trawling fleet, in use or available for use, was 1,474. During the war, no less than 383 were lost, either on Admiralty service or on fishing operations. A small number have been scrapped as being quite beyond doing any more work. When all the vessels are returned, the result would be that we should have a trawler fleet of something like 1,100. The position on 15th March —I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman got his figures from, but they seem to me to be all wrong— is as follows: The number of trawlers actually returned on fishing, 300; in hand for off-survey or reconditioning, 244; waiting off-survey or reconditioning, 31; actually still in Government service, only four. There fore, with the exception of four trawlers all the others are either reconditioned, waiting for reconditioning, or are being surveyed in readiness for reconditioning.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Considering that 1 have not the advantage which the right hon. Gentleman enjoys of having the Civil Service behind me, I think my 2057 figures were very near the mark. I said 250 had been returned; he said the figure was 300. I said 300 were still waiting; his figure came to 270. Therefore, they were not far out. I still think the figures of the right hon. Gentleman were very disappointing.
§ Mr. Williams
The right hon. Gentle man's first figure was not a bad guess, but when he said 300 trawlers were still on Government service that was not very—
§ Mr. Williams
Those are the facts, and I think HON. MEMBERS will see that, so far as the Admiralty are concerned, they have been cooperating all along the line. There have been 300 returned; 275 are being reconditioned, or waiting for it; only four remain in their service. The figures for drifters are: 226, 220 and five; for motor fishing vessels, 225, 75 and five. Therefore, of either trawlers, drifters or motor fishing vessels only 14 are still on Government service. At this point I ought to say that 25 trawlers are being returned for active fishing service every month. In view of the fact that there has been no serious complaint from any part of the country, that seems to indicate the trawler industry are still securing the return of as many trawlers as they can hope to man and prepare for sea.
HON. MEMBERS will be interested to learn what are the actual landings of fish, with this limited number of trawlers. There are 756 trawlers now fishing, and the quantity of fish landed during the past few weeks is remarkable. During the war, our total British catch went down to 20 per cent, of the 1938 level, and without foreign landings I am afraid we would have been in a very serious position. Soon after the war, however, the Admiralty having cleared certain areas, our landings rose to 50 per cent. For the four weeks ending 26th January landings varied between 32 per cent, and 66 per cent, of prewar catches. For the four weeks ended 2nd March the average was 72 per cent, of prewar catches, and of that proportion no less than 60 per cent, was British. For the week ended 9th March British landings alone, with little more than half the prewar number of trawlers, were 97 per cent, of the prewar total, and, with the addition of foreign 2058 landings, the combined total reached the amazing figure of 132 per cent, compared with 1938. Last week, ended 16th March, total landings were 103 per cent, of 1938 landings, British landings representing no less than 76 per cent.
It is clear that there are no signs at the moment of over-fishing. There appears to be a plentiful supply of fish just now, but the disposal of that fish while in a fresh condition definitely raises very grave labour problems. I should have thought that these landings, at all events, indicated that there had been genuine co-operation between the Admiralty, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Food, in that they have been able to distribute such large quantities with the known shortage of labour in all Departments.
My right hon. Friend referred to building costs, and mentioned the fact that before he left office, the Admiralty provided facilities for the building of 12 trawlers for the fishing industry. The official view of the trawler owners' associations — those of Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen — was that building costs were too high, and had actually doubled. They have, therefore, continued to press for the derequisitioning and conversion of all their older vessels. Some individuals took advantage of the facilities afforded to them, and several new trawlers have been launched recently. At the moment, trawler owners have taken advantage of the facilities and are building 23 new trawlers, but in view of the landings just referred to, it would be difficult for me to press on the industry — against what they regard as their better judgment — to go in for new building, although I think we all recognise the absolute necessity of maintaining an efficient fishing fleet.
At this point, I would like to say a word about minesweeping. I am sure every hon. Member will appreciate that the problem is very different from what it was after the 1914-18 war. The areas mined, and the numbers of mines sown, were far greater than during 1914-18; in deed it was a much bigger job altogether. We ought to pay a great tribute to the Navy for what they have done in the months succeeding the war, in making such a large area of sea available for fishing. The Admiralty lost no time in undertaking this very dangerous job, and 2059 because of their activities, their selfless ness and devotion, large areas of the North Sea are open, and the work has gone on steadily ever since. HON. MEMBERS will recall that on. 1st October last, the great East Anglian herring season was revived for the first time since the first year of the war, and I understand that two more areas are either ready for opening, or will be very shortly. We ought all to say both to the Admiralty and to the crews of the minesweepers how much we appreciate the efforts they are making to open the sea for our ships.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the question of manpower, and there is little doubt that manpower is at the root of many of our present day fishing problems, from the men who man the trawlers and handle the fish right to the fishmonger's slab. Various steps have been taken to provide manpower. Early in 1945, even before my right hon. Friend left office, arrangements were made for a block release of no less than 1,000 trawler hands to man the new trawlers released for fishing, and since fishermen were called up for service almost in the first week or two of the war, "A "releases have been coming out in sizeable numbers to cope with the additional trawlers being made available. But even the block "B" releases and the "A" releases have been hopelessly in sufficient, so far, to satisfy all needs. Another block release scheme has been arranged, but I doubt very much whether there are sufficient ex-trawlermen with the Admiralty to provide for all the needs of the various trawlers. We must never forget that, unfortunately, 383 trawlers went down, I fear with great loss of life among those who were manning them either as minesweepers or as fishing vessels. At present there is still great anxiety in Grimsby, but I understand that the owners are doing everything they can to encourage new entrants and to provide themselves with recruits.
The question of suspending the operation of the call-up of young men at 18 has been considered, but, unfortunately, it was found inadvisable to prevent the call-up altogether. However, in individual cases deferment can be obtained, and I gather that very sympathetic consideration is given to any application, particularly where any boat may be held up by the calling up of one boy of 18. One 2060 of the biggest problems, of course, is the maintenance of an adequate staff at the ports —sufficient workers, usually called lumpers, to deal with heavy and light landings intermittently. It can be seen at once, from a glance at the figures I have given, that it is no easy task. If we were to keep a sufficient labour force available for the largest landings, without wasting any fish at all, a large number of men would obviously be standing idle on days when the landings were light. I am assured, however, that every effort is being made to meet that situation, and, so far, it has been reasonably successful. The removal of the fish from the ports to the fishmonger's slab is bound up very naturally with railway transport labour. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, who is responsible for distribution, has certainly improved distribution, or he could not have coped with the heavy landings of the last two weeks, which were almost a record for many years.
I would like to say a word or two about the Inshore Fishing Act. Hon. and right HON. MEMBERS will recall that that Act provides for loans or grants to be made to buy or build boats and acquire nets and gear. The arrangements made under Section 1, with the approval of the Treasury, have been printed and very widely circulated by fishery officers of the Scottish Home Department and the Ministry of Agriculture. Applications are now being received and investigated. I think my right hon. Friend asked me what was happening in this direction. Taking England and Scotland jointly, the number of applications so far received is 163. Seventeen grants and loans have been approved, five are likely to be approved within a day or two, 13 have been rejected for reasons which I could explain if the need arose, and 120 are still under consideration. It seems, therefore, that inshore fishermen are likely to take full advantage of the facilities afforded under that Bill.
§ Mr. Beechman (St. Ives)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many grants have been made in England?
§ Mr. Williams
Yes. I said that 17 grants and loans had been approved, of which 10 were for England and Wales and seven were for Scotland.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the numbers are for grants and loans, respectively?
§ Mr. Williams
I could not give that figure without notice. I can only give the total applications for grants and loans. Certain vessels surplus to Admiralty requirements will be available shortly and these will be handed over to the fishing industry, 1 hope, at reasonable prices. I am assured from the preliminary negotiations with the Admiralty that they will not be unreasonable, and that in the fixing of the prices consideration will be given to the prospects of fishermen being able to carry on even though fish prices may fall below their present level. Full particulars of types and prices, as they become ready for sale, will be provided for fishermen at all the various ports.
With regard to transport, my right hon. Friend made some reference to Switzerland. I think the present Minister of War Transport has done a really grand job of work in helping the fishing industry to help itself during his period of office. For a successful fishing industry it is necessary to have quick, effective transport. Under war conditions, however, as every hon. Member will know, it was absolutely necessary to conserve transport, and because of that, the zoning scheme for the distribution of fish came into operation. Fortunately, the zoning scheme .has now gone. The agricultural areas of the country ought to be able to get, from now on, as much fish as they did in prewar days. Unfortunately, rail way rolling stock is still suffering to some extent from the ravages of war.
Nevertheless, a great improvement has been made, and a large number of additional wagons have been made available for fish traffic. I need only tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport informs me that the number of fish trucks owned by the railway companies, and available in March, 1946, was 5,646, compared with 3,768 in March, 1945; so that there has been an addition of no less than 2,000 trucks re converted from their wartime job for the purposes of the fishing industry. Further plans are being made in case of emergency, and, but for the fact that railway transport must have been exceedingly good, it would have been impossible two weeks back to cope with the heavy landings of that week. Conditions are not ideal. I would not dare to make any such suggestion, but I think it would be a very meticulous hon. Member who would not agree that we are making progress in that direction.
2062 My right hon. Friend made some reference to training. As he knows, education and training for the fishing industry in prewar days was a very hap hazard system. In 1943, a technical education committee for the fishing industry was constituted. It was essentially a committee of the industry itself, representative of owners and men and all interested Government Departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The object of that committee was to consider what methods might be recommended for training and apprentice ship, and also how the required educational training should be brought into the new arrangements under the new Education Act. The report was only recently published. The report is here. If any hon. Member would like this copy he can have it. I think it contains some very interesting, and very useful recommendations. It is now a matter for the industry itself, with the education authorities who will be responsible for providing the training, to make up their minds as to how much, if any, of the report or whether the whole of it is to be adopted. Should it be adopted I make bold to say this: we shall get a better class of trained men who would be able to hold their own with the best fishermen in any part of Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman made reference to certain forms of equipment. I do not think he specifically referred to rubber boots, but they are an essential part of a fisherman's equipment and during the war we found how important they were when all requirements could not be met. All I need say is this. During the war the fishermen's supplies of rubber boots were of very inferior quality. It was only towards the end of 1944 that limited supplies of better quality, stronger boots were made available. These were allocated to the deep sea fishermen at the principal ports. With the rapid expansion of the fishing fleet, it became necessary to provide for some expansion in the manufacture of rubber boots. Arrangements have been made for a greatly augmented programme of production from now onwards, Things are not made easier by the shortage of skilled workmen and the dispersal of manufacturers. Nevertheless, for the current quarter, 6,000 pairs of the stronger and better rubber boots will have been available, and the supplies will continue to increase.
2063 No review of the fishing industry would be complete without a reference to the question of research. I should like, on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, to express our indebtedness to the Development Commissioners for setting up an advisory committee on research, whose duty during the concluding years of the war was to advise upon a postwar programme of fishery research. I understand that the committee have almost completed their labours and, in certain directions, have actually submitted a report to the Development Commissioners. As far as the Department can anticipate the possible conclusions of the advisory commit tee, we are making the necessary preparations for research vessels to deal with the unusual number of problems which have been thrown up by the war. Our intentions are definitely that the British fishing industry shall not be behind its rivals so far as research vessels and properly equipped laboratories are concerned. A good deal of scientific research is going on in diverse subjects, but particularly so with regard to herrings and the process of quick freezing. Finally, I have tried to cover—
§ Major Lloyd George (Pembroke)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the need, in training, for the industry to help itself and to the cooperation of the Admiralty. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson) referred to the question of the purchase for the Admiralty of a Nissen hut for training purposes at Milford Haven. Is the Minister satisfied that the Admiralty were cooperative in this case? I do not think the Admiralty have been very cooperative in this particular instance in a matter which would be 'helpful in getting the right type of man in the fishing fleet. Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence with the Admiralty, so that they may be more cooperative in this instance?
§ Mr. Williams
I do not accept the general charge that the Admiralty are un cooperative. On the contrary, I have found them extremely cooperative on any proposition I have made to them in the 2064 few months I have held office. However, I will look into this particular case and see what the details are. It is the first time I have heard about it. I do not know anything at all about it. I freely and frankly admit that. However, I shall endeavour to see whether there is any substance in the case or not. All I can say is that the report has been produced. It is for the industry and the education authorities combined to see what use can be made of the report. I was not aware until the right hon. Gentle man mentioned it, that any section of the industry or of the education authorities, had adopted the scheme and were trying to put it into operation. I will make inquiries.
I think I have covered most of the points raised by my right hon. Friend, and given what information I can on the steps taken to rehabilitate this very important industry. I have refrained from dealing with matters which, no doubt, will be of particular interest to Scottish Members. The herring industry is quite separate from the white fish industry— no doubt, some time in the future, we shall be able to bring about a wedding between trawlers and drifters. My Department speaks only for England and Wales, and, as we catch only half the herrings, we rarely talk about them— those who catch the other half do enough talking for as both. My hon. Friend the Joint Under secretary of State for Scotland will reply to any questions which may be raised on the general issue, and especially on matters affecting the Herring Fishing Board. I hope that the facts and figures which I have given will reassure the House that the Government are doing everything they possibly can to rehabilitate the British fishing industry, and are trying to place it on the high level it deserves.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
Before the Minister concludes, will he say a word about nets? I understand there is a serious bottle neck between his Department and the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Williams
I said I would leave any points which may be raised to be dealt with by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and no doubt he will deal with that matter. This is one of the most sticky points arising, and I think it is right that Scotland should have its fair share of the sticky points.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
I wish to deal with three small but not unimportant points. The first concerns the wrecks which are lying on inshore fishing grounds. This is a very serious problem in Sussex. It does not affect big vessels so much as small craft. At the moment, we have wrecks of all kinds, remnants of aircraft and V. 1s, on the fishing ground, and the small inshore fishermen are losing their nets, which is a very serious matter to them. I give one example. In 1940, a fishing smack was sunk off Whitstable. It was sunk on the best fishing channel, and the mast was left sticking out above the water. Nothing was done about the wreck, and in due course the mast was blown away, with the result that no one knows where the wreck now lies. Trinity House are taking up the matter, but this kind of thing is happening time and again. I should like to know whether the Minister has a policy to deal with wrecks on inshore fishing ground.
My second point concerns the provision of refrigeration plant at smaller ports. During the war we have learned a lot about producing small and cheap refrigerating units, and I should like to know whether that experience is to be used in providing plant at the smaller ports. The Minister has referred to re search. Perhaps he will tell us what efforts are being made to provide suitable engines for inshore fishing craft. I would point out that the Danes are getting far ahead of us in this respect. Finally, I urge the Minister to consider the smaller fishing ports in the general picture of the future of the industry. Whitstable, which is in my constituency, was a fishing port in the days of the Romans, and it is not unknown today for its oysters. There was a time when more than 100 ships fished from Whitstable, but today there are only 10. These people consider that some consideration should be shown to them, and that at present they are being left on their own. Not only do places like Brightlingsea, Rye and Aldeburgh produce quantities of fish for the rural areas; they also provide a useful reserve in times of emergency for the Merchant Service and the Royal Navy. I can think of one family in Whitstable with five sons, all of whom entered the Navy during the war. I hope these small ports will not be forgotten, in the future scheme of things.
§ Miss Colman (Tynemouth)
In addressing the House for the first time, it is customary to ask for indulgence. I think I must be almost the last Member left who has not made a maiden speech. I am anxious to speak in this Debate, because the constituency which I have the honour to represent is a fishing port. It is not one of the largest ports, but fishing is our oldest industry, and is of great importance to the prosperity of the town. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-port (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has said a good deal about ships, prices and other matters of very great importance, but very little, if anything, about men, and the interests of the men who work in the fishing industry. We know that this is one of the hardest and most hazardous of occupations, but the right hon. Gentle man, while recognising that there is a shortage of manpower, did not deal with the problems to be faced if a sufficient number of men are to be attracted to the industry. He asked the Government a number of questions, which appeared to me to suggest that the Government are responsible for all the troubles in the industry. I suggest that many of the problems go back long before the war, and that if we wish to put this industry on its feet, we must deal not only with the problems which have arisen since the war, but with those of long standing.
Prewar days were not halycon days for the fishing industry. The numbers of men and ships were declining, and unemployment was high. I have been looking up some of the figures in the official records, and, taking the three years before the war, I find that, in 1935, the percentage of insured persons who were unemployed varied from 18 to 28 per cent., in 1936 to 1937, from 17 to 29 per cent., and, in 1938, from 22 to 32 per cent. When one looks at the number of men and ships, the profits and the rate of the unemployment, it must be acknowledged that the industry was not doing well in the days before the war. No one will deny that it is necessary that the demand for fish should be increased but I am not going to deal with the question of prices. I am not speaking only of the present time when food is in such short supply, but am also taking the long view, in saying that we should increase our consumption of fish, than which there is no more valuable food. If an expanding demand is to be 2067 met, the industry must expand. If the industry is to expand, more men must be attracted into it. To do that, conditions-must be improved. In that matter, 1 suggest that the owners have a great responsibility. There are two or three things which I think are of great importance if men are to be attracted into the industry. One is the question of security. I, and other HON. MEMBERS, have been told that the Essential Work Order is unpopular with both the owners and the men. I have no doubt that it is un-popular with the owners, but my information is not to the effect that it is unpopular with the men. The men quite possibly dislike being directed to particular ships, but, on the other hand, so long as the Essential Work Order remains, the men have a guaranteed wage when ashore of IOS. a day, which is something worth having. I believe that wage is higher than the wage that the men got when at sea in the days before the war. The Essential Work Order does give that security which is so necessary to the industry if men are to be attracted into it.
The second thing is wages. The public are inclined to believe that fishermen are earning wages of an astronomical amount, but the average wage of the fishermen— I am speaking of the deck hands and men in the engine room— taking into account the very long hours of work, sometimes 22 out of the 24, and the conditions under which they live, is not high enough. I understand that discussions are taking place with a view to the possibility of setting up national negotiating machinery for the industry. I hope that it will be set up and that as a result wages will be improved.
As to living conditions, I have been on a number of trawlers and I have been appalled at the conditions in some of them. The men require much better accommodation. In particular, they are asking that accommodation should be aft, with separate cabins for eating and sleeping, and proper facilities for washing— not merely a bucket in the engineroom— proper facilities for storing food and clothes, and other amenities. I believe that it is not possible to make consider able improvements in that direction in the old trawlers, but they could be made in the new trawlers. I understand that some of the new trawlers have better living conditions, but that others have not, 2068 and I am not certain whether the improvements that have been made are adequate.
I ask the Government to consider whether the licensing system could be used for imposing a standard of living conditions in the new trawlers as they are built. They have to be licensed by the Board of Trade only at present in respect of sea worthiness. Would it not be possible to set up a standard of living conditions and enforce that standard through the licensing system? These are the three things which I believe are of the very greatest importance in the industry, security, pay, and living conditions, if we are to attract a sufficient number of men into this vital industry and so enable it to expand. The fishermen have served the community well— no one has served it better in peace or war. It is up to us now to carry out the very great obligations which the whole community have towards these men.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Streatham)
It is most fitting that an hon. Member re presenting the port of Tynemouth should be heard in this Debate. It was at that port that the first steam trawling in the history of the industry was carried out. Old Clyde paddle steamers from the City of Glasgow were taken round and put into operation there. From that time on, the El Dorado of the North Sea fishing and more distant fishing began, and subsequently declined through overfishing. I congratulate the hon. Member on her speech, and I regret that she has not favoured us with earlier contributions, but I am sure that we shall look forward to hearing further speeches from her.
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries suggested, in his comprehensive survey, that this Debate might have been postponed until the International Conference had taken place in order to see what they felt about preservation. I am sure that many HON. MEMBERS feel that we do not get enough time to discuss the affairs of this second oldest industry in the world, and one of the greatest industries in Great Britain— and, as the Minister said, one of the greatest food producers because— the fish landed is equal to all the meat produced and imported. I feel that if we do not have a day like this occasionally, the Minister may well forget that he is Minister of Fisheries as well as Minister of Agriculture. Mr. Lehmann, the retiring chief of U.N.R.R.A., speaking 2069 in New York two days ago, called for all-out food production by all nations and the intensification of food conservation. No one would disagree with these two essentials, and it is fitting that we should at once realise that we are dealing with two policies, one an immediate short-term policy in regard to the maxi mum production of fish food, and the other a long-term policy to ensure that Parliament does the very little which is necessary to give the fishing industry the protection which it requires.
We have every right to be proud of our food production in this country during the war. What we did in agriculture was little short of amazing. Unhappily, we could not do much in fishing, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S Hudson) said, nearly all the vessels were commandeered for the more important service of the Royal Navy; but I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend, and the Minister and the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth, pay a tribute to the men who went fishing during the war. They were mainly old men, and they went mainly in old boats. After 25 years in the industry, I can say that their achievements were among the most amazing in the history of our country. They faced the hazards of the sea during war, hazards which were much heavier because of the old craft they were using, many of the trawlers brought into use having been tied up for years before the war. They were rickety, rusty old tubs. I am sure the whole House gives credit to those men.
Although, on the whole, the Admiralty have done very well in releasing trawlers and drifters, we have run into serious difficulties in getting boats reconverted from miniature warships into fishing vessels. The yards round the coast are cluttered up with vessels waiting to be repaired. As the Minister said, priority was given, and then withdrawn; but it must be restored immediately. It will not do for the Minister to take satisfaction in saying that over a few recent days we have landed as much fish as, or even a little more than, in prewar years. The demand is four times as great as it was before the war. The people, short of other essential food, look to fish to make up the deficiency in meat. The pathetic queues in my constituency, and in other parts of the country, will not be got rid of by producing the same quantity of fish 2070 as we did before the war. With abundant supplies available, I urge the Minister to get these trawlers repaired and re-equipped and put to sea again. That is the only way in which we can make that contribution to the world food situation which it is our duty to make and which we must make if we are to get rid of queues and give the people the nourishment that they require.
The Minister said that he enjoyed the greatest co-operation from his colleagues in the Government. In the few weeks that I have been back in the House, that has not been apparent to me at Question time. I have heard my hon. Friends question the Minister about whether the boats that are available are being offered to fishermen who lost their boats during the war, and he did not seem to know. He seemed to think that that was some thing with which the Admiralty had to deal. I say emphatically that final responsibility for the production of food rests fair and square on the broad shoulders of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and if he cannot get co operation from his colleagues at the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Food, the Board of Trade, and so on, he must go to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and get the powers which are necessary to the exercise of his overriding responsibility. There is no greater responsibility today than the feeding of the people of this country, and in the fulfilment of that responsibility, fish can play a tremendous part. I am sure that it must have been staggering to many HON. MEMBERS to be told that the fish produced by our own trawlers and drifters is equal to all the meat we produce at home and import from abroad. At this time, when people have only is. 2d. worth of meat, the least we can do is to give them more fish. We shall never do that by talking complacently about the catches over a few days equalling the prewar figures.
The Minister paid a tribute to the Ministry of Food for the excellent work they had done in getting additional labour in the industry to deal with the vast quantities of fish that suddenly came on to the market. I am sorry to strike a discordant note, and still more sorry that the charming Lady who so brilliantly answers for the Ministry of Food is not here now. The Ministry of Food is the most impotent Department in getting 2071 labour for the fishing industry on the distributive side. I speak from experience when I say that great credit is due to the trade, to the wholesalers in Billingsgate and throughout the country, and to the retailers, who have had to put up with famine supplies for years. They were confronted with this seasonal fishing; for it is only seasonal fishing. It has happened from time immemorial that Easter is the fish harvest. It comes round as surely as the sun rises and sets. It has happened this year, and the trade has done wonders. The overworked porters at Billingsgate, Grimsby end throughout the country, the fishmongers and their wives and families, have done remarkably well. Do not let any hon. Member feel that the Ministry of Food have done anything to help in getting this vast quantity of fish distributed. At Question time yester day, an hon. Member wanted to know about the quantities that had been condemned. I have been to Billingsgate market to find out about that. and I found, as I had suspected, that a minute fraction of the huge quantities had been condemned. They were only little immature gurnets, dogfish and ling, which the public really do not want. The fish mongers would gladly take them to their shops if they could sell them. All the good, wholesome, saleable fish was distributed, and great credit is due to the trade, and not to a Government Department.
This good work of getting trawlers and drifters back and repaired must go on. I have said nothing about herring. No doubt my Scottish friends will say a great deal on the subject, and they will have my support and sympathy. The herring industry is a great industry. I am glad to know that it is fifty-fifty with England and Scotland. There is not a better or cheaper food than herring. It is the finest food for the people. It galls me to hear Ministers speak of the difficulties of buying lesser foods which need precious dollars and shipping; there would be no need for such purchases if the herring trade is expanded. I think that the catch, prior to the war, by all nations fishing for herring in the Atlantic and North Sea was about 200 million tons a year. We have had a very small share of that catch, and we ought to enjoy a very much bigger share. I hope that the Government will encourage the building of these little drifters, trawlers and motor 2072 boats that can be built with such speed. I am sure the men will jump at the chance of getting them built, if they are available. There is plenty of money and enterprise in the industry. When I heard the hon. Member for Tynemouth say that she felt the men wanted the Essential Work Order because it gave them 10s. a day when they were ashore, I felt that she had not met the real Tynemouth men. The merchant adventurers and fishermen who went out from Tynemouth were not the sort of fellows to be attracted by the safety and security of 10s. a day ashore. They were young chaps who took all the hazards of the sea, and helped to build up this great industry. I would like to have an opportunity to make a visit to Tynemouth and talk to the men about that subject, on which there are two very different opinions.
There is one point before I leave this question of food production. During the war, Iceland gave us the finest quality of frozen food brought to this country. I regret to have to say it, but it was better than Canadian and Newfoundland produce. Today, the 40 freezing plants in Iceland are standing idle. They certainly asked us to pay too high a price during the war. The Icelandic fishermen stung us well. Neverthless, surely we cannot afford to have these plants standing idle. They should be working for us, freezing the inshore fish. There is plenty of labour available and there are refrigerator shipping services to Aberdeen, Hull and Grimsby. The other day I put a question in regard to this matter to the Minister of Food, and the Parliamentary Secretary promised to look into the matter. We, as the leading nation of Europe, have no right to allow the plants in Iceland to re main idle. The money received by that country for the sale of the fish will be used in the purchase of goods from this country other than coal which we do not want to sell. I think, from every point of view, we really should attend to these idle plants, and I hope the Minister who is taking notes, will convey my observations to the Ministry of Food. So much for the short term policy.
I want to say a word about the forth coming Conference. I have recollections of similar conferences over a long period of years and the scientists talked a lot but always failed to get agreement. I do not blame them. Every European nation was probably responsible, and our 2073 own people were difficult enough. Steam trawling is only 55 years old. The areas that have been trawled are thousands of years old, but in a brief period of time, steam trawling not only brought quick fortunes but brought ruin just as quickly in its train. For 15 years before the war there were practically no North Sea trawlers. The only boats built were the big ships for the Bear Island grounds, which were only discovered in 1927. In spite of the rest, during the 1914–18 war the areas became fished out. If it is right to protect the salmon and the trout, surely it must be right to protect the cod which is of infinitely greater importance. I wish this Conference every success be cause if it fails— and it must not fail— it will mean a great setback to the fishing industry. As I have said, it must not fail, because we are in the driver's seat now. We should be able to say to the Germans what shall and shall not be. We should be able to say to all the nations that they must have the good sense to realise that the Canadian-American halibut agreement brought a ruined industry back to prosperity simply by conservation— agreeing to take so many tons of fish out of a given area in a given time. The halibut is the most slow growing of all fish, but it is increasing on those protected grounds and the average catch is heavier than some years ago.
In fishing, a harvest is reaped without sowing, but men cannot take out all the time. Nature has to be given time to reproduce the species. We did not give that time, and that was the cause of the dreadful conditions at Tynemouth and elsewhere. There were old, rusty, rotten boats with rat-infested accommodation. I knew them too well. The reason new trawlers could not be built was not that the owners did not want to build, but because the boats would be liabilities and not assets. That was due to out fishing on the Dogger Bank and at all other banks around the coast, including the West coast of Scotland, the West coast of Ireland and off Iceland. Trawlers showed unprofitable voyages. I was a director of two companies fishing Iceland for some years before the war, and we were fighting all the time in the face of great difficulties to make ends meet, even though we had the most modern boats and skilled crews. Let us wish this Conference every success, and if there are any obstructionists let us get 2074 rid of them, because the future of this industry depends upon wholehearted co-operation.
I want now to say a word about quick freezing about which we have heard a little today. I can claim with all modesty to be a pioneer in that field. I should like to assure the House there is a tremendous prospect for the use of freezing to deal with surpluses during times of glut, and to deal with fish caught on remote grounds. We should freeze on the fishing grounds. We have a toy plant at Yarmouth capable of freezing 20 tons in 24 hours. It must be a toy in an industry which can produce as much fish as the amount of meat consumed in this country. There are plans for similar plants at such places as Fraserburgh. If quick freezing is right, then we should not do it in this pathetic fashion, but on a proper scale. The instrument is at hand in these large landing craft built by our gallant American Allies and no longer required for their original use. They are ideal to accompany the herring vessels, which should be kept fishing; let someone else do the freezing, curing and marketing. There is nothing new in having carriers. We cannot freeze fish too quickly after it is caught and fish, frozen at the time it is caught, is as good as any fresh fish. I recommend to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, to the Ministry of Food and to others to do something about this, and not to take refuge behind the complacent thought that because the Department of Scientific Research are playing round with this problem and that we have very timorously got the length of building these toy plants, they are incapable of making any worth while contribution to this problem. We have to solve the problem. If quick freezing is necessary, then do it, but if it is not, then, for good ness sake, let us stop playing with toy plants capable of freezing 20 tons a day, which is only prolonging the agony. We have to make up for the market lost when Russia began to cure her own herring, and stopped buying ours. All the herring failures arose from that.
In conclusion, I want to say a word on the control of herring fishing, because that is concerned with the preservation of the fish. It is wrong to trawl for herring; it is right to drift for herring. Herring are best when caught on the surface. That is the traditional way of catching herring 2075 followed by the fishermen of England and Scotland. Some years ago, the Fleet-wood trawlers found where the Loch Fyne herring lay at the bottom of the sea when about to spawn. They were heavy with spawn, and of poor food value, but in productivity they were of great value. These fishermen trawled these grounds at great loss to the herring industry. The same thing happens off Buchan Ness where the Wick, Peterhead and Fraserburgh herrings spawn, while the German trawlers were also guilty of the same offence at Smiths Knoll. These are the fundamental causes of the herring decline in this country and the scarcity of herring fishermen. I do urge the Minister to face up courageously to the problem. The trawler owner will have to learn to help his brother in the herring industry, and he, too, will enjoy the advantage when the white fishing banks are protected. There must be no rivalry in these matters. There must be complete co-operation within the industry and within every branch. I am perfectly certain that this is a non-controversial matter and I appeal to HON. MEMBERS on all sides of the House, irrespective of their political labels. If we all go to it, we shall make this great and ancient industry of ours profitable and great again.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Younger (Grimsby)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) in dividing this problem into two parts— the short term and the long term. I want to say very little about the short term, on which a good deal has been said already. It is, of course, a problem of the shortage of a number of things, a shortage of labour, of ships, and of equipment. After the statement of my right hon. Friend I feel reasonably satisfied that the Government are doing all they can to remedy these shortages as quickly as they can. The only aspect to which I should like very briefly to refer is the shortage of labour. In my constituency, Grimsby, they are expecting to be short of as many as 600 deck hands by the middle of the summer, and they see no prospect of having this shortage made good. As has been said, they have fairly ambitious schemes for training and for attracting people into the industry. I would ask my right hon. Friend, who assures us that he enjoys 2076 very close co-operation on all these matters with his Ministerial colleagues, to persuade the Government to give assistance on the lines of their own vocational training schemes in order to help the industry to make a success of the job.
Turning to the long-term problem, I think we all recognise that we are at the present moment in an abnormal period. The fishing grounds are abnormally productive and the demand for fish is also abnormal because of the shortage of other foods. But I have spoken to people in all branches of the industry and I find a presentiment that unless some action is taken nothing will prevent the industry from drifting back into the doldrums in which it found itself in the years before the war. I believe there are things which can be done to prevent that, but we have so far not heard very much about them. I must confess that I was a little disappointed that my right hon. Friend could not give more of an indication of the general policy which his Ministry intends to adopt towards the long-term interests of the fishing industry. We have at the moment a period of grace— two years or perhaps a little more— before the old prewar problems are on us again, and we must not waste it.
With regard to overfishing, which is perhaps the first thing to be dealt with, I join with other HON. MEMBERS in welcoming the Conference which is about to meet. I feel, with the hon. Member for Streatham, that this must succeed. It is of particular interest to my constituency because a very large percentage of Grimsby's effort is put into the comparatively near waters of the North Sea, and I think I may say without giving offence to the most enthusiastic, that the produce of those fishing grounds can rival even the best of the fish which is brought in by inshore fishermen. While on the subject of international agreements, I should like to call the attention of the House to the fact that in the Food and Agriculture Organisation which met at Quebec last autumn, and which will shortly be co-ordinated with the general system of the United Nations, there is to be a fisheries branch. A committee sat and discussed fishing at Quebec and already plans are in hand for the co-ordination of scientific information, and for research into processing and marketing, a subject which may be of very great interest to us if 2077 we wish to revive our export trade, particularly of processed fish.
Turning from the international side, one may say that the whole problem of the fishing industry boils down to assuring the producers in the industry of some stability so that they can plan ahead. We must assure the fisherman that he will have a reward when he comes back from a trip, and we must assure the owners that if they spend money on equipment they will eventually get a reasonable return. It is too much to expect owners to spend as much as £75,000— which I am told is the cost of a distant water trawler at the present moment —when they do not know whether two or three years hence the bottom may not have dropped out of the home market and they may find that they would have been better off if they had simply messed along with the very old ships which they are anxious to replace but cannot replace on a purely commercial basis unless they have some assurance. My right hon. Friend knows better than anyone the need for stability and security in a matter of this kind because he has recently announced a policy for agriculture which, if I understand aright, was directed particularly to enabling the farmer to plan ahead and to give him some assurance of a market at a suitable price. I believe that this is the cardinal long-term problem of the fishing industry and I hope that at some stage— even perhaps today— my right hon. Friend will give the House some indication of how he proposes to give a similar assurance to the productive side of the fishing industry.
I know it is very difficult to provide stability in an industry where the product comes in irregularly and is so highly perishable, but there are a number of approaches which can be made to this problem and which I hope will all be followed simultaneously. There is, first of all, the scientific approach, of which some thing has already been said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and by other HON. MEMBERS, but not so far by any hon. Member on this side of the House. There is the question of' freezing, particularly quick freezing, of curing, and also and I think we should not ignore it of canning. These are all processes which, if properly developed, can assist in ironing out the great gluts which affected the industry before the war. Secondly, there is the question of tackling the distribution 2078 side. First, the question of foreign fish. On what terms is it to come in and in what quantities?
That is one of the problems which 1 know is worrying many people on the production side of the industry at the present time. I do not think, however, that it is enough to deal simply with the question of imported fish. I think there are undoubtedly certain reforms which are overdue in the distributive and marketing system within the industry itself. The distribution side did not get a very good mark from the Commissioners who reported on it in 1936, and although no doubt much has been done to improve it since then it should have attention.
I would point out that there is also a human side to the regulation of the distributive machinery. Even supposing that we have to accept the fact that prices will drop from time to time and I am sure they must, if only for the benefit of the housewife there is still the question of who is to bear the loss. Here we have a problem which is upon us at this very moment, for it is proposed that prices should be lowered this summer. Is that fall in price to be borne on the first sale, that is by the fishermen who are rewarded largely according to the price the fish fetches? If it is, I say most earnestly to my hon. Friend that the matter will have to be explained to the fishermen in advance, and that they will have to be made to understand why it is that, when there is a drop in the price of fish in the shops, they should be the people to suffer. There may be difficulties about cutting margins, and I am not going to suggest to the Government at the present time that any particular person is earning too big a profit and could well stand this loss. I think, however, that it is a thing that should be very carefully examined and I hope it will not be that the reward of the fishermen must be reduced. In that connection, I would like to point out that the catches are now something like twice the size they were before the war. I am sure Members realise that that means hard work, and many hours of labour at sea. If the rewards gained by the men sometimes seem to be big, there is no doubt that they are doing double their usual labour in order to earn their money.
I want to say a word or two about stability of employment, and to associate 2079 myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman). It may be true that there are two opinions among men about the Essential Work Order, and that it is not popular. I know it was not designed to meet the present situation; nevertheless, it is essential that before these safeguards are thrown away some kind of national joint negotiating machinery must be in operation, and that there must be a reasonable assurance that some security is given to the men.
I have been severely taken to task by a newspaper in my constituency for the remarks I made in the House a few weeks ago, when I said that the Government would have to take the initiative in put ting the industry on its feet, and that there were many people in the industry who would be inclined to say "Hands off," except in the matter of receiving subsidies. At the end of the newspaper article the writer, having shown so much indignation, himself said, '' Hands off the industry until it is proved that there are men outside it who know more about it than those inside it ". Fair comment no doubt, but surely not constructive. It was precisely what I said was likely to be said by certain persons in the industry.
Members who have read the 1936 . Report will know that the industry itself, both the Federation of Trawler Owners and the Association of Fish Merchants, asked the Government to supply them with some machinery which would enable them to enforce decisions which were considered desirable by the majority of the industry. They recognised that some form of Government intervention was necessary. With all the goodwill in the world, it is hard for the industry to come to a decision on a national basis, to take a long view, and get decisions enforced. There is too much rivalry between the ports, and between merchants and owners, for them to be able to take effective decisions on that scale without some assistance. I am convinced that the machinery which the Government sets up, and which may be a new form of White Fish Commission— must be capable of dealing both with the productive and distributive side of the industry at the same time. It is no use imagining that one can be regarded in isolation from the other. We have up to two years' grace in this 2080 matter. When rationing is lifted from other foods, the demand for fish is liable to drop to where it was before the war. When fishing grounds are not so productive as at present— there are already signs of overfishing in the North Sea— and when there is competition from other forms of food, the Government will not be able to refuse responsibility if the industry finds itself back in its prewar condition.
§ Sir Douglas Thomson (Aberdeen, South)
Why does the hon. Gentleman say we have two years' grace? There is overfishing now, and if it is to go on for another two years a great deal of damage will be done.
§ Mr. Younger
I said two years, because that was mentioned to me by a leading trawler owner in Grimsby. It may be optimistic; maybe we have less time. I will not stand on that figure. It may be that by the end of another year, or by the end of this summer, if catches are as heavy as they are now, the difficulties may begin. Whatever the period, plans in this complicated matter must be made now, and I hope that before the Debate is finished the Government will indicate how their minds are working and when we may hope to see them take some initial action.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton)
1 will not keep the House long, because my constituency is famous for many other things besides fishing. On the other hand, all along the South coast there are small fishing ports and fleets, and Brighton in this matter is no smaller than other small ports. Taking them altogether, they employ a considerable number of people, and feed this country with a good deal of fresh fish which is very necessary, and which will become more so in the troubled times ahead of us. I want specially to ask the Minister whether he will make more known, in the South coast areas, what the fishermen there can do, and how much they can assist in the present situation facing Europe by making their fishing more popular? During the war, in our area, we were cut off from the rest of England and had to rely on the fishermen who were left to produce practically the only fish we had. Many men are now back at work, and their great need is support from the Government.
208 I cannot believe, from what I have heard today, that the Government are about to do something big for the fishing industry. A certain amount of assistance and encouragement is to be given, but in relation to that I recall the time when I was in Japan before the war, and contrast the official outlook there towards the fishing industry with the outlook here. In Japan, all the inshore fishing was done by local fishermen. Only the big companies had fleets, which went great distances from shore. About one million people were working at inshore fishing in Northern Japan alone. The result was that a great deal of fish was eaten, and there was such a surplus that there was a big fish canning industry, which sent its produce to this country. Japan's fishing fleets stretched to the coasts of Java and Western Australia, and I would like the Minister to tell us, if he can, what is happening with regard to fishing out there now? We might be helped in our food troubles in India and, indirectly, with our troubles here, were the Japanese fishing machine roped in. What is being done with the remainder of the Japanese fishing fleet? Do Members realise how much larger the Japanese trawlers are than those in our industry? The average tonnage is about 300, and there are some of 600 tons. When I left they were talking about fishing in the North Sea area. Those vessels had amazing radio equipment, whereby they kept in touch with headquarters every three hours at a range of 5,000 miles in the daytime, and 9,000 miles at night. They told where they were and of their catch and in turn were told of other people's success and the fish prices of the day. They could remain at sea for two or three months.
Why should we not do far more than we have done up to now to make this country fish eating and fish minded? It could be done by more propaganda. I would like to see small areas, such as I represent, given more encouragement so that they might do their bit. If that was done, not only the great areas of Scotland and Grimsby, but the small areas, would help to make it possible to provide more food for our people, and for people in Europe.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for calling upon me this afternoon. This is the first time I 2082 have had the pleasure of speaking in this honourable House and I crave the indulgence of my colleagues. I represent a constituency which is unique—or which can be unique. It certainly has characteristics which have distinguished it from other constituencies ever since the time when it emerged from the bottom of the North Sea and formed itself into an island at the mouth of the river. It is Great Yarmouth, and I would call the attention of HON. MEMBERS to the "Great." It is the leading fishing port in England for herrings. We have been told that half the herring catch is made by the English. A great deal of the other half, which is caught by the Scots, is actually caught off Yarmouth. Yarmouth has been a very famous herring port for many centuries. In fact, it is the one constituency which has given its name to one special kind of fish, treated there in a way that only Yarmouth knows how. Who has not heard of the Yarmouth bloater? Its qualities have been appreciated for a very long time.
Our town had a very familiar association with King John. It was the place at which Nelson chose to land when he brought Lady Hamilton back to this country. During the war, standing so near to the enemy, Yarmouth became the most often raided town in our land. Lastly, not to be outdone by many other constituencies who have found "G.I." brides for our friends from America, Yarmouth is the only constituency in the country which has provided a "G.I." bridegroom.
I propose to make a special plea for this unique constituency. We have heard from the Minister of Agriculture that the fishing industry was very favourably placed before the war, and has good prospects in the postwar period. The trawlers and the men are coming back into it, and we have almost reached the 100 per cent, mark of the fishing industry before the war. Yarmouth was in a bad condition even before the war started. If we got back to 100 per cent of the men, 100 per cent of the industry and 100 per cent of the herring caught, we should still be in a parlous plight. As far as I can gather, the only year when Yarmouth was back to its old eminence as the premier herring port of the country was about the year, 1926 when we 2083 were fortunate enough to have an agreement with our Russian friends and Allies. The agreement lasted only one year. Yarmouth has done very badly ever since.
There is nothing to beat the herring for sustenance and nourishment. Scientists have proved in our day, just as our forefathers did in theirs, what a good thing a herring can be. The people on the Continent of Europe are aware of that fact. They have had their Yarmouth herrings for centuries. We do not seem to remember that fact in these days of austerity. We are told that people will starve on the Continent, yet the herring can be one of the foods that would save them, and save us all. The Government, which I support, should take the initiative and try to recapture some of the old markets for my constituency, such as it used to have in the old days. Let us try to bring the herring industry to the forefront in England. It is well looked after in Scotland. Let us try to restore it to its former prosperity here, because it can help us in this time of food shortage, as it can help the Continent of Europe.
Some days ago, workers in one of the factories in the town were showing me .how herrings are smoked, chiefly for our customers in the Mediterranean. I was told that one firm in Yarmouth had received an offer from its Italian clients that if we could send them smoked herrings, which is a part of their staple diet, they would be willing to send us some kind of prepared tomato which would be a welcome addition to the food supply of this country. We here could do very well with those tomatoes. They would help the Minister in his comprehensive programme of food control. I am told that there is plenty of scope for that kind of development, and I hope that the Government will think about these matters and will show initiative in building up these peaceful avenues of trade.
In the few minutes now left to me I want to refer to refrigeration. Mention has already been made of the fact that we have one of the best freezing plants, which has been working to capacity on the herring catch. That is something that we should maintain, and we hope it will spread to other ports, so that we can not only use the catch we get, but can take 2084 action to abolish that idiotic phenomenon, the glut. There should not be gluts. Food should be conserved, especially in the present situation. Freezing is one of the processes by which that can be done. The only snag, as far as I can see, is that it is rather cumbersome and takes a great deal of space, but we are using it in my constituency, when the catches come in well.
There is another aspect of the matter —canning, which ought to be given more consideration in this country now than it has received in the past. When I was a staff officer with S.H.A.E.F. I became accustomed to using a fork and eating food which always came out of tins. The food was none the worse for that. It is a practice which we should cultivate. When housewives want to economise work in their utility kitchens, and there is a dearth of domestic servants, we ought to concentrate upon tinned foods. In my opinion, the best tinned fish to eat with fresh salad is a Yarmouth herring. We can eat it in October or November and enjoy it, especially if we do a deal with those Italians, and sit down to herring and tomatoes.
My poor little town — I put it in that way because it has been badly knocked about during the war— has many gaps. The condition of our homes is deplorable, and the town has a forlorn air, standing there on the edge of the North Sea, driven by the North Sea wind. That is how I feel when I have to go out and address constituents. Nevertheless, Yarmouth stands on the edge of a rich agricultural district. We all know that Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire provide agricultural produce, and there is already a canning industry. Why cannot the Ministry of Food and other Ministries combine to see that a stable level of employment is kept up in the canning industry by ensuring that canning is done according to season, with vegetables, fruit and fish —That would help to spread out the work in that industry, which tends to be seasonal in character. I thank you again, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for calling upon me. I shall now resume my seat, in the hope that I may be fortunate in catching your eye again.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
It is my privilege to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Yarmouth 2085 (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn)on a most excellent maiden speech. He spoke with a degree of self-confidence which we all envied, and I feel that Yarmouth has found a worthy champion, both for its main industry and in regard to all the various interests to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred. If I bring the discussion back for a while to the matter of white fish rather than herrings, it is because the port of Fleetwood, which I have the honour to represent, is mostly concerned with white fish.
Before dealing with any particular aspect of the matter, I. would like to take this opportunity of saying a few words about the part that Fleetwood played during the six years of war. Inevitably, owing to its relatively sheltered position on the West coast, it fell to Fleetwood to carry out a great part of the fishing activities which it was possible to carry on in this country during those war years. Ships and men were transferred from the east coast to Fleetwood and, during those six years, an immense quantity of fish was landed at that port. The trawlers, as has already been said, manned in many cases by veterans, went out in all weathers and in all the hazards of war. Many did not return, but all sections of the industry, owners, skippers, trawler men, lumpers, and all those concerned with the distribution of fish, played a part for which I feel the thanks of the nation are due and for which Fleetwood can claim full credit.
It seems to me that nearly everything which has been said this afternoon bears out the importance of the international Conference to which the Minister of Agriculture made reference in his statement today. Any arrangements in regard to the future must be conditioned by decisions arrived at internationally. We are now embarking on a period when we have to look on this problem not only in its immediate significance but in relation to a long term programme. Trawler owners, port authorities, merchants, railway authorities, a whole host of interests are concerned in the future of this great industry, and I think we all recognise that the sooner decisions on a number of major matters can be arrived at, the sooner can we face the problems which concern this industry with some degree of assurance.
Meanwhile, and before that occurs, there are a great number of matters which are concerning HON. MEMBERS in all quarters of the House. Although the 2086 Minister was able to give brief replies to the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), there seemed to me one or two gaps which I hope may be filled in before the end of this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that the other Ministries with which he was most closely connected in regard to these problems were co-operating on all levels, but I am not sure that the facts entirely bear out that claim. I would like specifically to draw his attention to the situation which confronts Fleetwood at this moment in regard to the provision of men for their fishing fleet. There are, I am advised, no less than 12 vessels lying idle in the port at this moment, due entirely to shortage of men to man them. Although representations have been made officially" to the Ministry of Labour for a number of months, little or nothing has been forthcoming by way of relief for that situation. The weekly requirements for a number of weeks ahead amount to 75 deckhands, 25 firemen and 10 cooks, and to meet those requirements an occasional man has been forthcoming.
Now I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the effect on a port of so many vessels having to stand idle at this moment is by no means a satisfactory' one, and if added to that there is the problem which confronts Fleetwood.—and I have no doubt other ports similarly situated —of a shortage of lumpers at the same time, 1 think it can be readily shown that the position, certainly from the labour point of view, is by no means as satisfactory as has been suggested.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the matter of supplies, particularly in connection with the provision of rubber boots. I am advised that although the Board of Trade claim that the rubber boots now being supplied are of very much better quality than those with which the trade has had to put up hitherto, nevertheless, what is required is not the black rubber boots now obtainable, but what are known as the white rubber boots of very much better quality. The present rubber boots have, anyhow, given the impression of being of an ersatz quality and do not stand up to hard wear and tear.
Another matter which I believe comes-under the Ministry of Supply is the question of the provision of suitable material 2087 for making baskets. Cane baskets can stand up to a good deal of wear and tear, but the willow baskets which have been provided more recently are apt to break up very early in their life and after a week or so are found to be of very little further use. I hope that the Department can look into that particular matter.
Passing for a moment to the distributive side of the industry, I understand that with the present satisfactory supplies to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded, a problem arises both in regard to the use of this fish by fish fryers and the consumption by the householder. The amount of fats available means that the fish fryer has very frequently used up his available supplies, as has likewise the householder, and demand inevitably falls off. A way round this matter would be to withdraw the present restrictions from catering establishments. We none of us want to hear of fish rotting at Billingsgate and elsewhere, and if restrictions could be raised from catering establishments, such an eventuality would be dealt with effectively.
The Minister said, I think quite fairly, that on the whole distribution had been satisfactory. I understand that no complaint can be made of the part the railways are playing up to rail head, but the time from rail head to the markets at Billingsgate in London, or to the markets in Manchester and in other large provincial centres, is frequently unduly long. I would like the right hon. Gentle-man to look into that side of the problem and see if some improvement cannot be brought about.
The Minister mentioned the question of reconditioning vessels and the numbers which it was hoped would be available in the near future. Is he fully satisfied with the time taken by such reconversion and reconditioning, especially in Northern Ireland? I am given to understand that anything up to 12 months is required for ships which are being reconditioned in Belfast, and elsewhere, before they are returned to their fishing ports. Perhaps the Minister, or whoever is going to reply to this Debate, would confirm, or otherwise, if such a long time is being spent in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, in reconditioning.
I have raised various matters because they are exercising the minds of those 2088 concerned with this industry. It would be most helpful if we could get a reply, if not on this occasion, at any rate in the near future. I think it is a matter for congratulation that such a satisfactory amount of fish is being brought into the country. But, as the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) wisely pointed out, it is not a question of being satisfied with this amount at the moment. I think that purely from a nutritional point of view, we would be well advised to look in the future for a vastly increased use of fish, rather than to sit back feeling satisfied that we may have reached pre-war figures. We should set our plans to increase that amount at least fourfold in the course of the next few years
§ Sir D. Thomson
The hon. and gallant Member is not solemnly suggesting that we should take four times as much fish from the North Sea as we did before the war?
§ Colonel Lancaster
I am not making any such suggestion. I am suggesting that the amount of fish that might be consumed in this country should be at least four times what it is at present. I was not alluding to one part of the fishing grounds, but was referring to inshore, middle distance, and deep sea fishing in all the quarters of the fishing grounds, so that in due course —
§ Colonel Lancaster
—we can attain to a greatly increased consumption of this most important addition to our food supplies.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Smith (Hull, South-West)
I represent the City of Hull, which is the third port in the Kingdom. But, in the matter of fish, we are the first port in the world. Indeed, with my colleague, the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), we could almost say we are the fishing industry, with due apologies to those who represent the younger brethren. One does not speak like that in a proprietary sense, but as indicating the great responsibility which is on the shoulders of those who conduct the industry in these two ports, particularly to give wise direction to the whole industry.
By general consent, these are anxious and critical days for the industry, not only because of the effect of the war, but because the fishing industry is now 2089 witnessing the passing of the second generation. The first generation—I am speaking now of modern fishing —were the men who took part in the industry in their smacks. That was at the time of the introduction of the engine. They sent their smacks to sea and made many catches in the time previously taken for one catch. Men who knew the industry, knew the hazards — not in a financial sense, but in a physical sense—of fishing in all weathers. They were wise enough to train their sons who engaged in fishing, but the third generation has not that same practical and intimate experience and knowledge of the industry that their fathers and grandfathers had. We can see growing very rapidly before us the expansion of the industry and the increase of large scale fishing. In the large ports and deep sea fishing, the small man is disappearing and the business is going rapidly into the hands of a relatively few groups of interests. Because of the new conditions, there must be new methods. The old scramble must now give place to effective machinery, and machinery implies order, design and function and a means to an end. The end of the fishing industry today is not as it was long considered to be, primarily the making of private fortunes, so much as the feeding of the nation.
With all the moanings which are sometimes heard from fishing interests, the industry is very prosperous; exceedingly prosperous. What is required is that there should be wise planning, wise direction, in prosperity, to continue and extend that prosperity. We must not have in this great and vital industry what we had in coal and cotton, great prosperity and then great adversity and in the day of adversity have to turn our attention to ways and means of saving an industry vital to the nation. Its social and public responsibilities must be recognised by all in the industry. That will necessitate co-operation. From what one sometimes hears from the fishing centres, the ordinary public might be pardoned for imagining that there is little co-operation in the industry. That is far from true. Indeed those engaged in the industry are particularly prone to co-operate, and the degree of co-operation in the fishing industry is much greater than is conceived by the general public. I would like to indicate just three directions in which there is this co-operation, and how that 2090 co-operation might be extended, indeed must be extended, as a vital need in the industry. There has always been a suspicion of Governments on the part of the industry, except when they needed the help and guidance of the Government. With some knowledge of what has been done, I wish to say that the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of War Transport have been particularly helpful to the industry in the great effort to get on to its feet once more. I can speak with experience, through contacts with the Ministry of Food, of how they have stretched themselves to the utmost to make a maximum contribution to the industry, because of its vital needs at this time.
Reference has been made to the need for education and training in the industry. In that respect one is happy to say that in the City of Hull there has been most intimate co-operation between the trawler owners and the local authority. I was a member of the authority that built and equipped a first rate school for training fishermen so that they could get their tickets, grow in proficiency and become more valuable to the industry. But that must, and surely should, carry with it its rewards. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. We, as a local authority, have encouraged the fisher lads of Hull to spend some of their own time, and to stay at home from an occasional trip, in order to improve their ability and get their mate's and skipper's tickets, and very often it has meant unemployment. An industry cannot be healthy if it rewards the fine type of employee who will study and make himself more efficient, by leaving him on the scrap heap, unemployed.
Approximately one-third of the skippers and mates of the trawler offices in Hull are unemployed, because there was no direction and no check on those who encouraged them to pursue their studies. If there is no vacancy as a skipper or mate, and such a man must go as a deck hand or bos'n, he gets no reward whatever for the extra qualifications he has acquired by his studies. There is some substance in the claim put forward that with the very great prosperity obtaining in some sections of the industry, trawlers might be expected to carry a second mate. It ought not to be beyond the wit of the industry to provide that, if a youth has used his time to study and gain proficiency, and has his mate's and master's tickets, even 2091 though there is no vacancy for him as an officer and he must needs go to see as a man on deck, he should receive some recognition for his proficiency, in order fittingly to reward him and to act as an encouragement to others. I submit to the industry, with great respect and earnestness, that they should pay attention in that direction, so that in helping those who have become more efficient they are offering an inducement to others likewise to make themselves proficient. It must be a great asset to a company to have on these large and costly vessels sailing from Hull, a number of men who, in case of emergency, are competent to take charge, and in extreme circumstances can even help in saving the vessel. That is something which should have immediate attention, while the industry is so prosperous.
As I have said, the trawler owners are much more experienced in a co-operative sense than it is sometimes supposed, in that their industry is closely linked co-operatively. In my constituency individual trawler owners and the larger owners of fleets co-operatively own the ice factories, the meal factories, the repair shops, even shops for the supply of equipment to the fishermen. In the last named case some are non-profit making, but in the other directions a handsome profit is made. It has always rankled with the men that even if the owner does not make any considerable profit on an occasional bad voyage, in cases where supplies are sent, not for human consumption but to the meal factory, even then, the owner, because he has co-operative control of the meal factory, is receiving a profit from the undertaking at the time the men, officers particularly, are ending a voyage actually in debt.
That brings me to my third point, which should be one for immediate consideration. The industry is prosperous; profits are high. Not only for reasons of economics, but for reasons of food, this country needs a rapid increase of fish coming into our ports. If the landings of fish are doubled there is no economic reason why profits should also double. Wages, of course, must be expected to double, if one doubles one's numbers. Certain overheads will double, but there is no need for the doubling of profits, if profits are already satisfactory; that is, they need not increase pro rata to the in- 2092 creased turnover. There are sections of the industry which are today more prosperous than they have ever been in living memory, so that when one asks for proper conditions for the men, it must be remembered that if, by general consent, we should reduce the price of fish, it need not be and must not be at the expense of the men who man the trawlers. The precarious nature of their work and the scantiness, sometimes, of their wages must be borne in mind. They ought to be the first charge on that industry.
Owner friends have told me of the great risks they take—the risking of large sums of money—but the risk is not so much that of the trawler owner. His vessels are insured. He sleeps comfortably in his bed at night—at least, I hope he does—but those who man the trawlers in bad weather do not know what it is to get their "turn in." They go for 36 and 40 hours without a break and, when calamity comes, all goes from the home of the fisherman. I therefore, submit that, as this industry is now enjoying great prosperity, and must, of necessity, expand rapidly, care should be taken that those who are bringing these great supplies to our shores should have the very first consideration. A contented, prosperous set of men, men who are without peers among the workers in this country, will be the basis for a prosperous and successful industry.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
1 propose to deal primarily with the inshore fishing fleet. I invite HON. MEMBERS on all sides of the House to consider for a moment exactly what this fleet means to the United Kingdom. Is it fully realised that from the men handling the ships are drawn the complements to man the small ships of the Royal Navy when this country of ours is in danger? I am absolutely convinced that these men and vessels are vital to our security If HON. MEMBERS look back a very short time to the period of 1940, the name "Dunkirk" will strike a chord in the heart of every one here tonight. I think all realise that we would not be taking part in this Debate today had it not been for Dunkirk, and we have to thank these men for manning the little ships. It is very necessary that these poignant chapters of history should never be forgotten by this House of Commons.
2093 There is another point which 1 would like HON. MEMBERS to remember. The use of small ships means the maintenance of small ship construction, keeping alive the small shipyards and the skilled men attached to them. That also is absolutely necessary for our security. I would refer, for a moment, to the economics of the inshore fishing industry. 1 am confident that all HON. MEMBERS of this House want to attract new and young blood into this industry. They do not want to see it fade away and go down hill. What actually is the future that these men have to face? In order to build a new vessel today it costs anything up to 260 to 300 per cent. over the 1938–9 datum line. With regard to gear and equipment, I have an account here dated 1938. It is an account rendered to a man with a grand Cornish name, Alfred John Pengally. He owns a vessel with a grand name, "Our Daddy." That, at least, ought to appeal to this House of Commons. In 1938 he bought a net. What was the price he paid for it? It was £8 9s. 2d. He bought another net on 21st November, 1945—the same man,. the same boat, the same kind of net. What did he pay then? He paid £22, compared with £8 9s. 2d. in 1938. I have here a great number of accounts. I am not going to weary the House, but I do assure HON. MEMBERS that every single account here tells a similar tale. I have heard suggestions made that these men are making great profits. HON. MEMBERS should not run away with that idea in regard to the inshore fishing men. I can assure HON. MEMBERS that is not a fact. It is useful to recollect that no one in this House would suggest in 1939 these men were having a very gay time. I do not think anyone would suggest that.
To return to the figures I quoted, I would quote a short paragraph from a letter from a man at Rye. In this letter he says:The type of fish we catch on this part of the coast, soles and plaice, landed almost alive on the markets, fetched more before the war than they ever realised during the period of controls.HON. MEMBERS should remember that. Fresh prime fish fetched more before the war than during the period of controls. Before the war a net. cost £8 9s. 2d.; now it costs £22. Boats have risen 260 to 300 per cent. in cost, and likewise all values have risen. I think the Minister will agree it is very necessary to bear these 2094 Points constantly in mind. In my division, the land of King Arthur and Merlin, we are primarily concerned with pilchards, mackerel, and dog fish. It is rather interesting to recall that in the 16th century these particular dog fish were called "barkers." Perhaps there is some kind of analogy' between that and the present name. I sincerely trust that the Minister concerned with prices will pay particular attention to those fish which are principally caught by the inshore fishing folk.
When I, together with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) and other HON. MEMBERS, went to call upon the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food this week, I felt, speaking for myself, that she was alive to this particular problem. I wish to thank her for the consideration she showed at that meeting. The problem we were discussing was the maximum price, not a minimum. There is a very great difference. None of us know whether, in fact, this maximum price will be reached. A great number are extremely doubtful. What is necessary, I suggest, is that there should be a minimum price. Why should there not be a long-term fishing policy analogous to the long-term agricultural policy which the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries introduced into this House? In the two years following the last war we all know there was an enormous catch. The same thing is happening now. After the 1914-18 war, little was done about protecting the fishing grounds. In a speech I made in this House in October, I referred to that point and asked the Admiralty to consider seeing to it that more fishery protection vessels should go round the coast. I do sincerely trust the Admiralty will remember that. We all realise the great problem of food at the present time. But do let us see to it that we do not strip the cupboard bare.
I was very glad to hear the Minister make reference to the White Fish Commission. If I understood his remarks correctly—I shall read them in HANSARD tomorrow—I gathered that this Commission will be set up again perhaps in the near future, the not far distant future. I am absolutely convinced that no long-term fishing policy can hope to be successful unless it provides for the building up of different forms of processing. There must be provision for canning and salting, refrigeration and quick freezing. We 2095 shall have the satisfaction of knowing we are adding to our security in setting up this processing plant by having ready to hand in the hour of danger our own produced canned fish. Imagine my dismay when I first entered the House of Commons. I went and had lunch. What was the first friendly thing I thought of— pilchards? I had some pilchards, and here is the label. The colour of it may appeal to a small minority of HON. MEMBERS opposite, but I do not think the label will appeal to anybody— "Packed by the West Coast Packing Corporation, Long Beach, California." I really think that nearly all HON. MEMBERS will agree with me on that point. What a waste of dollars and of Lend-Lease when our own pilchards abound off our shores.
I would like for a moment to dwell on compensation. Many of our fishermen have been compensated by the Admiralty for the loss of their boats on the 1939 datum line. Let us think of that for a moment. It is no help to state that these men agreed to this figure. They were, in a number of cases, away fighting— fighting so that we might take part in this free Debate. They felt, at that time, that they were living for the day and that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. When one may be liquidated at any moment, and one has a wife and family at home, one does not wish to leave one's family embarrassed with numerous forms. I am particularly referring to inshore fishermen. A great number of these men never came back, but some of them have done, fortunately, and they are now wanting new boats, but all they have is their compensation on the 1939 basis. I sincerely trust that, in these latter cases, the Minister of Agriculture will without hesitation allow the full grant of the Inshore Fishing Act, for that, indeed, was the very spirit of the Act.
Let us also be not unmindful of the cases of damage to the nets of the fishermen on the South coast. There is very considerable damage there. The "doodle bugs "and planes have caused the South coast to be littered with objects which cause damage to nets. These inshore fishermen are vital to our security. They are the men who go to sea in little ships, and they are men of a prayerful mind, who are enabled by their battle with the 2096 weather. There have been occasions in my own port of Looe when every wife has been out on that quayside in rough weather, when the small ships were coming home and they have wondered whether they would get through. We should remember that particularly when thinking of anything to do with the inshore fishing industry, and I ask the Minister and all concerned to think deeply before embarking on any policy that would, at any time, do them hurt.
In conclusion, I say this. Let us not make conditions such that men will remember the words of another hon. Member for Cornwall, Mr. George Granville, who was M.P. for Cornwall in 1710:Cease, tempting syren,Cease thy flattering strain,Sweet is thy charming song,But sing in vain;When the winds blow and loud the tempest's roar,What fool would trust the wave and quit the shore?
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
Though the city which I represent in this House is not primarily concerned with fishing, there is a considerable fishing industry within it, and that industry is contained within the confines of my own constituency. Nowhere is there a finer breed of men to be found than the fishermen of Plymouth, Barbican, not even in the Royal Navy. One of our problems today is to revive the fishing industry of this country, and I rather agree with the view expressed earlier in this Debate by the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), who referred to the changes which have taken place in the industry, not only during the war while men and vessels have been on national service, but, indeed, during a period of 50 years— changes which are largely due, in the case of the industry in my own constituency, to the fact that, in earlier days, the fishing industry was comprised of men manning small vessels, mainly sailing vessels, and was a very poor industry not yielding much reward for those engaged in it. With the coming of mechanisation, and the use of steam trawlers, the industry declined, because the men who are concerned in the industry had neither the capital, nor the means made available to them, so that they might get the boats and equipment which were necessary in order to modernise the industry in which they were engaged.
2097 It seems to me, therefore, that two of the problems we should be facing in this Debate today are, first, the problem of boats for the industry, and, second, the problem of men. I am glad to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury present, as I want to put a point to the hon. Gentleman about boats. We are woefully short of fishing boats in our part of the country. There was an announcement in our local paper a few weeks ago, that the Admiralty quite recently sold trawlers, suitably equipped for trawling, to the Belgians. The fishermen of Plymouth, and, I gather, the fishermen of this country, had been given no opportunity to buy before these trawlers were sold abroad. I should be the last to say that we should not help an international neighbour, but, while boats are so urgently needed by the fishermen of this country, I think the industry here should have had a chance of purchasing these vessels before they were sent abroad, and I should be very glad if, in the reply to this Debate, we may have some more information on this point.
With regard to the recruitment of men to the industry, I want to make some specific suggestions Is it not possible to get young people coming from school to go into the industry, by encouraging them to do so through the juvenile employment exchanges? In order that they may be so encouraged, would it not be possible for the Government to consider whether there could not be training centres for the fishing industry similar to the training centres for the building industry which exist at the present time. I would like also to refer to a point raised earlier in the Debate with regard to the training of skippers. I am told in Plymouth that if a man wants to qualify as a skipper he has to journey to Cardiff, has to maintain himself while there taking the examination, and, all the while, is losing what income he would have had from his industry over this period. Cannot something be done to enable the men who have not the means to take their skipper's certificate, to do so in conditions less arduous than these? I think perhaps those three suggestions, if carried out, might, to some extent, help to solve the problem of the recruitment of men for the industry.
Now I come to a point that concerns the Ministry of Food. Again, it is something in the nature of a complaint which, 2098 quite frankly, I did not expect I would have to urge against the present Government. There is a kind of fish caught off Plymouth which, I think, is almost distinctive to Plymouth. It is known as red mullet, and, up to last November, the price of red mullet was controlled by the Ministry of Food at the very reasonable level, both to the housewife and the trawler owner, of 14s. 6d. per stone, plus the Ministry of Food levy of is. to help to meet the costs of distribution. On 24th November that control, instead of being maintained as I would have liked to see it, was taken off. The result has been that, in the intervening period, between 24th November and today, the price of red mullet has gone up from 15s. 6d. per stone, which was the price it almost always attained during the time it was controlled, to anything from 18s. 6d. to 30s. per stone. Even during the early days of this present month when, owing to the better weather, the quantity of fish caught was rather larger than it had been for some weeks, the price at 20s. per stone was 40 per cent. higher than during the time that the control was in operation.
I am informed that the bulk of the red mullet caught during this period of decontrol has not been made available to the housewives of Plymouth and of the surrounding neighbourhood, as formerly, but has been, almost entirely, bought up for sale in West End restaurants, and even for sale in the dining room of the House of Commons. During recent weeks, red mullet has been on our menu here. If provided with mushroom sauce it has been sold at the price of is. 8d. per portion, and if sold with a different kind of sauce— if my culinary diagnosis is correct I think it was tomato-flavoured sauce— at is. 6d. per portion. In West End restaurants, it fetched an even larger price than that. When fish of a local variety has mainly been sold during the period of control to housewives in the immediate vicinity, there is naturally considerable feeling that a Government which, I understood, believes in price control in the interests of the consumer, should have raised the control, and that the fish should have become a luxury item of food provided almost solely in the restaurants of the West End. I suggest that that control should not have been taken off, and I want to suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary 2099 to the Ministry- of Food that it should be reimposed. To do so would be no hard ship to those catching that kind of fish and it would be a very great asset to the housewives of the West country whose supplies of fish are largely dependent on red mullet at the present time. I would like to suggest, further, that the price control of grey mullet and salmon bass should be reimposed at the same time.
There are one or two points I would make with regard to the retail trade. Is it not possible, now that the war is over and transport is easier than it was, to get a rather quicker rail service for fish than we have had hitherto? Fish, as we all know, is a highly perishable commodity and the quicker it can be got to the point at which it is to be sold the better for everybody connected with the industry. Is it possible to consider having insulated railway trucks, in order that the fish may be better preserved when it arrives at the point of destination? Can the use of Drikold ice be introduced, in order that the fish may be better preserved?
One word about the packing of fish. I understand—;and this is probably due to the shortage of timber referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) —;that it has become the practice for six stones of fish to be packed in containers that should hold five stones. There is no need for me to point out to the House what the result of that is to so highly perishable a commodity as fish. It means that in transit the fish is flung about in the boxes and that there is a very grave danger that it will have become so knocked about that when it gets to the point of destination it will not be fit for human consumption. I should be very glad if we can have some assurance that these points will be looked into.
In conclusion, I would refer to the saving of space in boxes and also to the saving of transport. Is it not possible to consider whether the ray wing cannot be cut off at the port where it is landed, and so reduce the transport and the number of boxes needed for packing? That part of the fish is useless from the point of view of the person who is buying from the retailer, or from the point of view of the retailer himself. I suggest that it would be useful to the 2100 industry as a whole, to the transport authorities and to the retailers if this was removed before packing. That is all I want to say today on this matter, but I should be very grateful to have an answer on the points I have raised, when the reply is given later in the day.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman (St. Ives)
I begin my very few observations by remarking to the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton), that red mullet are not peculiar to Plymouth. In some ways we are not so "red" in St. Ives as they are in Plymouth, but as regards red mullet we can say that we are just the same and, in fact, that with us the fish is rather more abundant.
The Minister has spoken with sympathy, and I hope I shall not be thought to belittle either the sympathy or the zeal of the Minister, or his Parliamentary Secretary, if I say, once again, that I wish we could have a Minister of Fisheries. I have said that inside and outside this House for seven years. We have some new faces, presumably with fresh minds, and perhaps we shall now have this idea made a reality. A great international Conference is taking place within a week or so, but what is going to happen at that Conference which means so much to our fishing industry? However great the zeal and distinction of the Minister of Agriculture may be, the problems of the agricultural industry are so great, complex and pressing that there will be very little time left to deal adequately with the problems of the fishing industry.
There is one matter in respect of which his sympathy did not go far enough for me. It is the matter of the calling up of young fishermen. In my view they should not be called up at all. Quite apart from the fact that their work is necessary to the nation and that they are bringing in food, from a Service point of view they are doing far better by learning the ways of the sea than they are by being called up. Only recently I heard of cases where lads who go to the tribunal are told that, if they are called up, they will release people from the Navy who ought to be demobilised. Then they are put into the Army. I see there is a representative from the Admiralty present, and I hope he will take note of my remarks. These young men ought to be linked up, as they were 2101 before, with the Royal Naval Reserve, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will look into that problem.
I was interested to hear the figures in respect of those who had received assistance from the Inshore Fishing Act. I hope the Minister will see that such cases are dealt with more speedily. Only this morning I had a letter about a case in a little fishing village. A letter was sent three weeks ago, followed by reminders, and I am informed there has so far been no response at all. There is one matter which has worried the people of St. Ives and right along the coast, for about the last 100years. Commission after Commission recommended the provision of a breakwater at St. Ives. About 18 months ago I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. It was that we should use a Mulberry harbour for this purpose. I have written to the Ministry of Supply and I have talked to the Admiralty; in fact I have been ail round this "mulberry bush." I now hear that the Mulberry is broken up, and nobody can make head or tail of the situation. I ask the Minister to look into this problem. There is no harbour refuge against these terrible seas right along the coast from Land's End, past Newlyn until one reaches Swansea or Cardiff. I say to the Minister: Look into this matter and get me this Mulberry if you can. One final request—;if possible, we should like to have it free.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) mentioned the point about the misdirection of fishermen. I gathered from the Minister that he was conducting a very harmonious orchestra, and that everybody was working very harmoniously together. I would like to know whether the Minister of Labour is a member of that orchestra. I do not think he can be, because I have had the same kind of experience as the hon. Member for St. Ives, of young men being taken away and leaving a boat unable to go to sea because they have been sent down the mines. If they must be called up, they should be directed into the Navy. A mine is no more a suitable occupation for a seaman than a fishing boat is for a miner.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell me whether the case of the young fisherman who was 2102 sent down a mine is a recent case, or whether it occurred during the war?
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
It is a recent case. He may have been sent down the mine during the war, but he is still in the mine and the boat cannot be used.
By far the most important issue that has been raised in this Debate is that of over fishing, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). This is a fundamental problem of the industry. We have had speeches from the hon. and gallant Gentlemen the Members for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) and Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn), the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), and from HON. MEMBERS representing practically all the trawling ports, and it is right that they should have spoken because trawling is the most important section of the white fishing industry. In Scotland they land about 76 per cent, of all white fish landed. We were disturbed to find before the war that the Scottish landings had gone down ten per cent., whereas the English landings had risen by 50 per cent., at the same time. That figure was rather fallacious, because when one analyses the figures one finds that the Grimsby and Fleetwood trawlers had suffered exactly the same fate as the Scottish trawling industry, in that, like the Scottish trawlers, they were engaged in fishing in the near and middle waters, and that is where over fishing has made itself manifest.
It has been pointed out that scientists have devoted an enormous amount of time to the study of this problem, and it is now possible to say with regard to any particular fishery what should be the optimum rate of yield from that fishery. It can be stated in terms of the number of tons of fish that should be taken out in the course of a year, and, having arrived at that figure, it is not difficult to calculate what tonnage of vessels should be employed in landing that quantity of fish. Over fishing must be stopped. If it is not stopped, it will drag the industry down to ruin, just as it did after the last war. The only way in which it can be prevented is to limit the weight of fish landed and to control the tonnage of vessels engaged. This problem cannot be solved by any domestic regulation or Act of Parliament. It must be solved by international agreement, and I do not think circumstances have ever been 2103 so favourable as they are now for getting that agreement. Whoever handles this question may use a velvet glove if he likes, but he must have an iron hand inside it if this industry is to have any future.
There are some other points which have not been touched upon at all in this Debate and which have a bearing on this same problem of over fishing. One is the question of regulating the size of mesh of fishing nets. It has often been stated, quite erroneously, that trawling destroys the spawn of white fish. That has been completely disproved by scientists long ago. It should be known now that the eggs of all white fish, except the skate, float in the sea and, therefore, the passage of the trawler over the sea bed cannot destroy the spawn of white fish. It is true that herring spawn is laid on the sea bed, but mostly on the rocky parts and where it is least susceptible to damage by trawlers. No evidence has ever been produced to the effect that trawling damages the supply of herring. The greatest part of the damage is done by nature itself, and not by man with any of his devices. It is often stated that the regulation of the size of mesh is ineffective. That also is completely wrong, because I think it was in 1924 that some very carefully controlled scientific experiments were carried out. The idea at the back of people's minds was, that as the net was pulled over the sea bed the mesh came together and became, in effect, a bag. Actually, that does not happen at all. It has been conclusively proved that the net remains open and throughout the trawling the immature fish are escaping. The immature fish which are brought up are those which happen to be in the net at the moment when trawling ceases.
I do not deny that trawling and seine netting do destroy a number of immature fish, but what has been proved by these experiments is that the regulation of the size of the mesh is an effective way of reducing that destruction to the lowest possible degree. These regulations have been amply vindicated by the results. They are the result of an international agreement drawn up in 1937, which was adhered to by an international fisheries conference in 1943, at which conference there was a recommendation for which, I hope, the right hon. Gentleman will press. That was, that a permanent commission should be set up to control the size of 2104 the mesh. We ought to insist on this mesh regulation being very rigidly adhered to. I would have it made an offence for any fishing vessel to have aboard a mesh of less than the regulation size. There is one point that is sometimes raised as between two sections of the industry, namely, the inshore men and the trawling men. The inshore men complain that their mesh is too small. That complaint is not justified. It arises out of the fact that the trawl net twine is much thicker than the seine net twine, and when the two nets are wet the actual gauge of the mesh is the same in both cases. There is no substance to that complaint and it ought not to receive any attention.
Another point is with regard to the regulations governing the size of the fish landed. These were in force before the war, but they were withdrawn, and the Ministry of Food introduced less stringent regulations governing the size of fish allowed to be sold for human consumption. That was all right as a wartime measure, but I do think the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Scotland ought to resume their powers in this matter and keep a very strict eye on that point. Another matter I would like to raise is the interdependence of the different branches of the white fish industry. I referred earlier to the very great increase which had taken place in the English landings. I want to stress the point that a great deal of these very heavy catches being landed at Hull from the distant water grounds, Bear Island and the Barents Sea and so on, was landed in very inferior condition. By the ordinary methods in use in trawlers for taking care of the catch and bringing it back to port, the fish remains in a really fresh condition for only six days. If very great care is taken in the way the fish is handled and stowed on board, it will remain fresh for from 10 to 12 days. Think of the time most of these distant water trawlers take on the voyage. They come back with fish which has been anything up to 17 or even 20 days in their holds. It follows, therefore, that the whole of the earlier part of that catch is in poor condition.
That is a point of very great practical importance not only to distant water fishermen, but also to near water fishermen and inshore fishermen. The effect of these very large landings of inferior fish is to depress the price, and that goes right 2105 through the whole industry. It is worth the distant water section of the trawling industry bearing in mind—and this point has been investigated, and I personally was satisfied with the figures I saw—that a great many of these trawlers were fishing at a loss because the fish caught during the earlier part of the trip arrived back in such poor condition that it fetched a very poor price. In fact, what they largely depended upon was getting a very much better price—which they did get— for the second half of their catch. The problem here is how to ensure that the whole catch will be brought back in good condition. I think science has found the answer. The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) suggested one point, namely, the utilisation of fish carriers. Even without going as far as that, there is an answer which can be applied in the trawler itself, and that is, the quick freezing of the first half of the catch. That would raise the value of the whole catch. This is a practical problem for research and study by the owners and builders of trawlers; and I suggest it is a matter in which the Government has a primary interest. Surely, it is utterly wrong that these trawlers should be bringing back huge loads of this most perishable of all foodstuffs, and bringing half of it back in such an inferior condition that it can only just pass for human food.
Another point that has not been touched upon is one that is perhaps not before us in such an acute form at the moment, but it will come up again. That is the question of regulating the landings of foreign fish. That is governed by a Board of Trade Order passed in 1936, which was suspended during the war. Landings by foreign vessels are subject to licence. On that licence a foreign boat gets quota based on a 12-monthly period. The trouble is that it is open to foreign fishing vessels to land the whole of the 12 months' quota in a matter of weeks. That is a very disturbing thing for our markets. It means that at a certain season of the year unduly large quantities of foreign fish are landed in this country; we get a glut which depresses the price, and that goes through the whole industry. I think that this quota—and I do not know why it has not been dealt with before—ought to be on a monthly basis; there ought to be no carry over from the monthly quota. These quotas are really based on the weight of the 2106 whole fish. Foreigners have dodged this by bringing in filleted fish. I have no objection to that at all; the better the condition, the more marketable it will be in this country. However, that is what they are doing to dodge our regulations, and it should be stopped. The computation of the weight of filleted fish ought to be on the equivalent weight of the whole fish.
I now want to touch on a point which is calculated to send a cold shiver down the spine of the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture. I think it ought to be dealt with. We have been waiting for it to be dealt with for a very long time. It is the question of fishery limits. I know this is a delicate question, bound up with the very complex and difficult one of territorial jurisdiction. However, it involves the British fishing industry as a whole, and it involves conflicting interests of different sections of our industry.
The whole matter is governed by the Convention of 1882, under which the fishermen of each signatory Power to the Convention enjoyed the exclusive right of fishing within three miles of their low watermark. That three miles' limit is not universally accepted, as I think the right hon. Gentleman knows. It is not universally accepted for the exercise of territorial jurisdiction. Norway is a case in point. In fact, the Convention itself modified the conception by a special rule in regard to bays. Foreign trawlers are not allowed to fish within the three miles' limit. Under an Act of 1885 we closed the Moray Firth and Firth of Clyde, and a number of other bays more than six miles wide across the mouth. Subsequently foreign trawlers began to fish in these closed areas.
We retaliated by preventing them from landing fish in the United Kingdom. Finally, in 1906 the matter came up before a full bench of 12 judges at the Court of Session in Scotland. They held that we were entitled to close Moray Firth for trawling, and that in doing so we were not lodging any claim for the exercise of exclusive fishery rights, but were merely claiming to protect the local fishing industry and the interests of fishing as a whole. A Norwegian skipper brought the whole matter to a head; he was run in and convicted; and he appealed. The Government wobbled and the conviction 2107 was quashed, but the important thing was that, having won the case, the Norwegian Government then proceeded to direct their nationals to obey our local regulations, showing that these things are susceptible of settlement by international agreement. I urge the Government to pursue this matter, because time has proved how absolutely right we were in closing Moray Firth It was done in the interests of the local fishermen, and without the closure of the Moray Firth and other Firths we should never have seen the extraordinary development that took place in the inshore fishing industry in those areas in recent years.
New life, hope and prosperity have been brought to a number of villages which were almost derelict before the war. I have quoted the figures before and I will quote them again, because I think the matter is very important. In the Moray Firth, between the two wars, landings by the white fish industry rose from 254 tons to 5,089 tons of white fish, and the earning of the fishermen rose from £1,500 to £127,000. That could never have been achieved if the Moray Firth had remained open to trawling. We were working on sound lines in recognising the right of the inshore fishermen to earn a living, and in recognising the desirability of sustaining this branch of the fishing industry on social as well as national grounds.
I would like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to one or two recommendations in the report of the Scottish Council of the White Fish Committee, which is not yet published but will be soon. Recommendations were made with a view to redeeming the balance between the trawling and inshore fishing in certain places where it was called for just as much as it was in the Moray Firth. I do not want to particularise, but some of the places mentioned are Stornoway, Orkney, and Shetland. Those are places where it would be possible to develop along those lines. I would also like to draw attention to a subject mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman), namely, the smaller fishery harbour. This affects the inshore side of the industry in many parts around the Highlands. The day of the small sail fishing boat, which could be drawn up on the beach, is over. Modern boats with engines are far too big for that, and the trouble over a very wide area is 2108 that there are no safe harbours in which the boats can be kept. It is no use asking a man to spend from £ 4,000 to £ 6,000 on a modern motor fishing vessel if he has no safe harbour to keep it in. The consequence of having no harbour is that he is unable to insure his boat against loss. The attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland has been drawn to a case this winter where three valuable fishing boats were cast ashore and very badly damaged; one of them was lost, and the trouble there was that there was no safe harbour. The places where the fishing industry could be developed have not the financial resources for the provision of harbours, and I think development work of that nature would be a fair charge on national funds. I suggest that it is a very legitimate sphere of action for the Development Commissioners.
I know that much good work has been done by the Departments of Fisheries both in England and in Scotland in keeping the smaller harbours in repair, but the resources they have had at their disposal have not really been adequate for the purpose. It is time to review the whole position. An addition should be made to the technical staff of the Scottish Fisheries Division, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into it. There are many other points I should like to raise, but I know other HON. MEMBERS want to speak and I hope they will be touched on in due course.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I felt a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman), who hoped that we should soon see the production of a statement of a long-term policy for the fishing industry which would be complementary to the long-term agricultural policy. I hope that tonight we may hear something in that direction. The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), who is extremely well informed on this industry, has covered quite a number of points which I would have mentioned, and I endorse all that he has said about the danger of over-fishing. We are in complete agreement on many things in connection with the fishing industry, however much we differ elsewhere.
I have to ask the House to face with me this problem in my constituency, and 2109 I do not apologise for bringing it down to so narrow a locality. In the Outer Hebrides, we now have unemployed to the number of nearly 2,000 men. The Isle of Lewis alone has around 1,300 or 1,400, and taking in all the outer Islands, I think the total will not be far short of that figure of 2,000. That position has arisen fairly recently. Many of these men are young ex-Servicemen, and more will be coming along very soon to add to their number. One of the ways in which we could employ them, I hope permanently, is in the inshore fishing industry. What is stopping them from being employed there not? First, of course, there is the lack of boats, and the need for new boats, and I am honestly alarmed at the prospect that they may have to wait many months before they receive delivery of boats. These men have a legitimate claim, over almost any in this country, and I, therefore, must press as strongly as I possibly can for the speeding up of delivery of boats to men who want to enter the industry.
There is great delay in the delivery of gear, and its cost has also greatly increased. I think we shall have to exercise some control over the price of gear, or these men will be completely left out of the industry altogether. I understand that we are still permitting the export of the materials required for the making of nets. I hope it is not true, but I would like an assurance on the point. If it is intended to help the export trade, it is a rather unfortunate way of dong it; because one of the immediate results will be that we shall have the people to whom we send material for nets catching the fish and damaging the fishing industry of this country by exporting to us so that it balances rather badly against our own fishermen. I hope we shall not show too much kindness at the expense of our own fishing industry and fishermen. We must not do that, and so make it impossible for our own fishermen to make a livelihood in their industry. The important thing now is this, that we have no right to ask young men to go into the industry unless we guarantee better conditions for them than they had between the wars. We must give them the assurance of security. We must give them assured prices and assured markets for the fish they-catch. Unless we do, I do not think we have any right to ask 2110 them to go into an industry with such a history of failure, risk and debt.
In the equipment of these men for the industry it is not enough to suppose that if they go into the R.N.R. they automatically become fishermen as well as good Navy men. Fishermen should have specialised training for their specialised job. I hope, however, we shall attract as many men as possible to the R.N.R. by offering them rather better retainer fees. I repeat what I have often suggested in this House, though I hope I shall do so more briefly tonight. It is high time that the Scottish Office on the educational side turned its attention urgently to the setting up of a technical establishment in Stornoway, and the Outer Hebrides, where fishermen have been born and bred for generations, and where they can practise their vocation. We can train the sons of those fishermen today who arc anxious to go to sea for their vocation, too. There is an excellent building there, Lewis Castle. It is provided with water and electricity, and has fine grounds right beside the sea. There is no reason in the world why it should be used for any less worthy or urgent purpose.
The former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, looked at the prospect when he was at the Scottish Office. The Under-Secretary of State at that time— now the Secretary of State— should be thoroughly acquainted with it by now. I am asking him for an urgent decision on this matter. It has gone on now for years without any decision being made. I myself am most anxious about it. I do not want to see the project fall to the ground. There we could teach the boys about Diesel engine technique. We could teach them navigation and other things, including a certain amount of cookery which would be useful to them when they are at sea. Unless these young men are trained and unless we do attract young men with the prospects of good employment, with security and good prices, we shall lose those men; and without the men we shall lose the industry.
One thing the consumers of the country have to learn is that they must pay the price for the fish they eat. The same principle applies here, as applies to agricultural produce. We must make the demand that fish, which goes to the market at such cost in labour and risk, must be paid for by the people. This raises, of 2111 course, the questions of the purchasing power of the mass of the people of the country, and the wages policy of the Government. I remember before the war that one could go to Lewis or to other parts of the Outer Hebrides, and see a fisherman with a horse and cart and one or two children following after it. The cart would contain fish and the man would sell 12 haddock for is. The necessity for such a thing is completely indefensible. It was hardly worth his while going to sea, as a way of making his living. The position was completely hopeless.
The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to the condition of the industry before the war and to the areas that were derelict so long. We on this side of the House will not claim the blame for that state of affairs. We hope the Government will make a definite approach to the problems of this industry. We must have a guaranteed minimum price for these men in the white fish and herring fish industry. We want to ensure catching the best fish around our coasts and making the fish accessible to British housewives. They must have the purchasing power to buy the fish.
There is one thing particularly necessary if we are to develop our inshore fishing, and that is protection from the depredations of the trawlers. Many HON. MEMBERS will agree with me. The tendency, naturally, is for the modern trawlers to go farther and farther into distant waters. Therefore, what we suffer from in the inshore waters is the old type of trawler, the old-fashioned crock that comes poaching in the bays of the Hebrides at the expense of the small inshore fishermen. Those trawlers do a tremendous amount of damage in those areas. They have swept clean, without doubt, whole bays prolific in fish. They have swept them clean of ail fish. I think there is an indecency about this robbery by the great companies, which send their vessels into these areas against these tiny competitors. If they cannot be more generous, at least they might obey the law. I think I might have had some support from the other side, in defence of the small man, about whom the newspapers are so sentimental at times!
2112 I have advocated many times that there should be, if not a closing of the Minch, an extension of the limits of the territorial waters in that area. We know that the Scottish Office, and particularly the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who is in charge of fishing and agriculture, has made a real effort to fulfil a promise to bring the naval protection cruisers back into the Minch. We could have had more patrolling by small, fast naval vessels than we have had even during the war. I think a better system of information and signalling should be evolved, because I know trawlers get "tipped off" very nicely, as soon as there is any danger of a patrol vessel going after them. I think we might use air photography and seaplanes in the protection of our fishing. Then there is the question of punishment for those caught and found guilty. The present fines are absurd. A fine of £10 to £50 is nothing for taking fish oat of those preserves. That is making a farce of the law. I think we should detain the vessels and endorse the masters' tickets, and so cause them to run a personal risk of having their masters' tickets cancelled altogether if they persist in the offence. There is a danger there, of course, that after the first or second offence the companies might switch the master of another trawler altogether to the offending vessel.
Regarding herring, I think we now have a market such as we never had before. There used to be people in London and Glasgow who would sniff at herring. Now they will eat it before they have properly sniffed it. But we must keep the nutritional value of herring before the people. I think we ought to be in touch with Russia. I think it is time that the Russians again were persuaded to buy our herrings as they at one time did. Through U.N.R.R.A. we could popularise herring, too. It may sound a little sordid that through U.N.R.R.A. we might advertise for future sales of our herring, but at the same time it is a most nutritious diet with which to feed the starving peoples of Europe.
I hope there will be no truckling to other countries in a manner that would be against the interests of our own fishermen, and that every consideration will be given to our own men to set up again in that vocation which is natural to them. There are one or two more things I would wish to put to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I ask him to remember that 2113 a fisherman is not a man who lives his whole life at sea catching fish. He sometimes has to be an agriculturist and, perhaps, a crofter as well, and he has to do other jobs ashore in the off-seasons. Therefore, his home circumstances must be such that he is able to live his life happily and bring up his family happily All these matters ought to be considered jointly by the Ministers concerned, including the Under Secretary of State for Scotland, who knows these problems probably better than any Member on the front bench, because he has taken the trouble to come and see them for himself. There should be a policy for what is geographically and in every way a distinctive part of the British Isles. I hope that these joint discussions, which I have suggested - several times, will be undertaken and that great emphasis will be laid on the men of the fishing industry, particularly in regard to the Islands.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
The wider issues of the fishing industry have been very amply dealt with by the Minister and by HON. MEMBERS in all parts of the House. I crave the indulgence of the House to put a few local points before the Secretary of State for Scotland in connection with the fishing industry. I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport on the Front Bench. I have had on several occasions to write to him on this question of compensation for boats lost in the Navy. There is now the well known case of the "Silver Cloud ", which used to sail out of Carradale in Argyllshire, was taken over by the Navy and was lost on war service. Two young men owned this boat, and for six years they served in the Royal Navy. They find that the compensation offered for their boat is only half what it would cost to purchase a new boat, or even a secondhand boat, in view of the high prices of today. I know that the Minister has kindly received a deputation from some of us in connection with this and similar matters, and I hope that his consideration will result in better treatment for these men who have given all their time during the war to serve in the Royal Navy.
Then there is the question of the reconditioning of boats. The Minister said in his opening remarks that Departments were coordinating and doing everything possible to speed on this work. I should 2114 like to point out one or two cases where there has not been this cooperation. First, in regard to the Ministry of Supply, there is the question of engines for reconditioned boats, or boats taken over from the Navy whose engines are unsuitable. Herring fishermen on the West coast of Scotland are told that Gardner engines cannot be supplied within 15 months, because the fishermen cannot get a high enough priority. 1 plead with the Secretary of State to get in touch with his colleagues to see whether we cannot have a higher priority, because the livelihood of fishermen depends on it, and I am sure something better could be done.
Many HON. MEMBERS have spoken on the question of nets. I will give an example of what has happened during the last week or two in the Port of Campbel-town. A net manufacturer has to have a special kind of tar in which he soaks the nets. This tar has to come from Millport, and to convey it to Campbeltown from Millport, it has to be trans-shipped at Troon. The cost of freight for that double journey is very high indeed, especially when one takes returned empties into account. Twenty empty barrels were returned from Campbeltown to Millport, and at Troon they had to be offloaded and loaded into another boat. To do this work a team of 16 dockers had to be employed to work for one hour, when two men could have done the job in 10 minutes. The argument of the Ministry of Transport or railway representatives is that you cannot have less than a team of dockers. It is a farcical example of waste to have 16 men unloading 20 empty barrels and charging for an hour's work.
I have another complaint to make, and this time it is in relation to shipyards. I have been in correspondence with the Air Ministry on this particular case which I am now quoting. There is a well-known slipway in Oban called the West Highland Slipway, which has been vacated by the Royal Air Force since last June. Although it has been vacated since last June, it has not been derequisitioned, and yet there are fishing boats waiting for repair, and even ferry boats. The Air Ministry will not relinquish this slipway, and the vital work of reconditioning fishing boats cannot be undertaken. The Navy also have a slipway nearby and this too has not been derequisitioned. This slipway has been lent, however, for the sole purpose of putting 2115 two Ballachulish ferry boats into repair. It is farcical that we cannot have these slipways used to recondition the many craft which are now awaiting repairs. I suggest that the co-operation is not quite so good as the Minister suggested.
The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), and also the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), have raised the question of harbours for small ships. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who lives in Carradale, famous fishing port of old, will know of the scheme for building a harbour there. Efforts have been made in this direction for a very long time, but the local people refer to the county council, who pass the matter to the Scottish Office, and the Scottish Office pass it back to the county council, and nothing is done. It would not be an expensive scheme, but it would be too expensive to expect the inhabitants to bear the whole of the cost. Finally, I want to put in a plea again, as many HON. MEMBERS have done in the past during these fishing Debates, for the provision of canning factories. I know that marvellous work has been done in Aberdeen in this connection, and we should like to see canning factories established at such places as Oban, Campbeltown and Tarbert, where the fishing fleets discharge their catches. Such schemes would help forward the development of the fishing industry. I know that the Secretary of State, and the Under-Secretary, have this question near to their hearts, and I implore them to do what they can to press it forward.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Alex. Anderson (Motherwell)
It may seem strange that a representative of an industrial constituency should have the temerity to intervene in a fishing Debate. But at least I have some justification, in that I was born into the industry, within 40 yards of the North Sea. My people are engaged in fishing; I have taken a part in the industry, and have never forgotten the troubles and hardships and the fine qualities of those who do this work. The House today has paid generous tribute to the services rendered during the war by the older fishermen in obsolete boats to keep up the country's food supply during those dreadful years.
2116 I would like particularly to put in a plea for the actual working fisherman — the primary producer— and not for the poor trawler owner, who never goes to sea, or the hordes of parasites who prey upon the men who catch the fish and upon the consumers. I have known fish caught off the shores of my own village pass through six different hands before it reached the consumer. Those are not the interests to which we in this House should pay attention. In all industry and in all production, it is the primary producer who receives the least reward, and ultimately, the consumer who pays most for the article produced at such low cost. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) said that people in this country must pay for their fish. If the catching and distribution of fish were properly organised, the housewives of this country would not be paying more than an adequate price for the fish which they get.
I regret exceedingly the absence of any comprehensive policy for the fishing industry. It is the easiest thing in the world to catch fish if the fish are there to be caught. If one studies the development of trawls in the fishing industry, he finds that the more he improves his sea catching methods, the more fish he gets. There is, first, the temporary inflation of the catch, and then a gradually decreasing return until the industry is in the doldrums, and restriction has to be undertaken. The first thing that any wise Government will do in dealing with the fishing industry is to go into this coming Conference without velvet gloves. We have round the coast of these islands excellent breeding grounds for fish, and if we had had the sense to undertake a proper conservation policy earlier than this, we should not now need to build deep-sea trawlers to chase the fish to Iceland and Bear Island and now, by reason of a remarkable climatic change, into the very recesses of the Arctic.
We want the position to be made clear that certain areas around our coast are to be set aside, either by international agreement or British determination, as breeding grounds, that all trawlers are to be barred from those areas, and the fish given a chance to breed in peace and replenish the wasting areas We should not be content that there should be a line drawn from Rattray. Head to Duncansby Head, outside which British trawlers may 2117 operate, and inside which foreign trawlers may operate up to the three mile limit, thereby compelling the patriotic British owner to register his ship in Norway and fish inside that fixed limit. We want this to cease.
If we want to replenish the fish stocks of the North Sea and bring back prosperity to the inshore fishermen, they must not be subject to interference and poaching. It is no good fining a skipper :10 for a : 600 catch of fish with the object of preventing poaching. He does not poach unless driven to do so by economic necessity. If he is caught once or twice and the fines are going up, there is a "stool pigeon" in the wheelhouse the next time that trawler goes inside the limit and the skipper is acting as the first hand. The only way to stop poaching is to put a penalty upon the vessel and to see that the shore man, who sits comfortably and warm and derives a profit, has to share some of the difficulties, the dangers and the costs when it comes to penalties for breaking the law.
We need not bother to discuss fishing policy unless we are prepared to introduce scientific methods. In the last ten days we have had a larger landing of fish in this country than for years. With an inadequate fleet and obsolete vessels, we have landed a glut of fish. Why? Because the war put upon destructive fishing the control which a wise Government would have put upon it generations ago. We require the provision of boats which give comfort and security to the fishermen, and if we are wise these boats will be provided not for share owners, who will take the profits, but on terms by which the working fisherman can himself become the owner of a boat in which he takes a pride and risks his life. We require harbours. I remember as a boy baiting 3,000 hooks with mussels to set them in the early morning on the flow tide and then finding that because there was a slight wind blowing in that little harbour, we could not get out for three days. We want decent harbours for our fishermen and security, so that they can go out safely and come in safely. We also want a proper system of processing. Six processing plants around the coast of Scotland could solve the problem of glut in this country. There should be a proper method of distribution. I remember a catch of fish being sent from a Scottish port to the Manchester market. When 2118 the return came back to the fishermen, because of hot weather and delay in transit, the boat was 4s. 6d. in debt from that catch. We want a sensible system of distribution. We want refrigerating plant at the ports and refrigerator cars, and, if necessary, air transport to take out the fish so that people may eat it in the best possible condition. I have partaken of fish in London only on one occasion, and I will never repeat the experiment. Last of all, we want to cut out of the industry the dead wood —those people whose only intention is to make a profit through transferring fish from one quarter to another—so that the primary producers, the fishermen, can get a fair return for their labour and the housewives in the industrial areas can get a sound meal at a reasonable price.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Anderson) began his speech by apologising to the House for addressing it in this Debate, since he was not himself a representative of a fishing Division, but we have gathered from his speech that he has not only a lifelong interest in the industry, but has a lifelong experience and a close knowledge of the industry. I am sure that in Debates of this kind contributions from him will always be welcomed. I hope that, by the next time he speaks we shall have persuaded him to try another meal of fish in London. If he can ensure that something from East Fife is presented to him, I can tell him that it will be quite fresh.
The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), whose speeches are so often characterised by sound common sense and a definite detachment from the partisan view, began his remarks by pointing out that there was a great deal of unemployment in his constituency which arose very largely out of the shortage of boats. In my constituency, there is precisely the same position. I suppose that more than one-half—getting on for three-quarters—of the fishermen in my part of the world are walking about the streets, idle, and drawing the dole. Some of them have been idle for five months, and some for shorter periods. That is a staggering situation. When the situation was developing, I drew the attention of the Government, in various Departments, to the matter. I went from 2119 one Department to another, from the Scottish Office to the Admiralty, from the Admiralty to the Ministry of War Transport, and from there back to the Scottish Office. I was passed on, politely but helplessly, from one Department to another. Far from there being cooperation, I found a complete lack of cooperation among all those Departments. Last month, I was obliged to present an appeal on behalf of my constituents to the Prime Minister. I told him of the fruitless efforts I had been making, and he took up the problem. I had a letter the other day from the Prime Minister, who had clearly and most courteously made a complete survey of all the Departments concerned, and who gave me, for the first time, a clear statement of the position.
In East Fife, as, I fancy, elsewhere, our problem arises from the fact that during the war we lost, in one way or another, a great many of our boats. We lost 16 steam drifters and 20 motor boats, which together gave employment to 300 men before the war. During the next 15 or 18 months, I think the fishing industry will go through a form of crisis. Until the new boats are built, something has to be found so that the men may go out fishing. The first place from which one seeks for temporary relief, obviously, is from the Admiralty or the Ministry of War Transport, who are in charge of boats which were requisitioned during the war. The .Admiralty requisitioned no fewer than 1,700 boats in one way or another during the war. There was continuous pressure on one Department after another to get those boats from East' Fife and elsewhere released. There were not a great many of them left to be released. Some had been sunk, some had been sold, and some had gone in other ways. We were still left with a grave shortage.
It was apparent that the only alternative open to us was to get from the Admiralty some other vessels which would be suitable for fishing. It was at that point that I had to approach the Prime Minister. I wonder if the Joint Under-Secretary of State can explain one matter. According to the Prime Minister, 73 motor fishing vessels of various sizes are to be made available by the Admiralty. According to the very courteous letter which I had from the Joint Under-Secretary of State a day or two ago, the number is 88, plus a few 2120 more of the 90 ft. class. Was the Joint Under-Secretary of State or the Prime Minister right about the figure? There is a fairly substantial difference. The First Lord of the Admiralty, who wrote to me on this matter, informed me that 19 of those vessels were stationed on the East Coast of Scotland and he suggested that we in Fife might very well take steps to see those vessels, and possibly to acquire them. But those 19 boats were all of the 75 ft. class. Will the Under-Secretary of State tell me where the 45 ft. class and the 60 ft class are, and indicate that those boats also will be available to Scottish fishermen?
I observe from the Prime Minister's letter, the hon. Gentleman's letter, and other letters that I have received, that those boats are to be made available to fishermen by the method of sale. I have never' asked that motor fishing vessels should be bought by the fishermen. I have sought to get these vessels released because they will fill the gap that will present itself in the course of the next year or two years. They are suitable as a temporary measure, but they are by no means the right kind of vessels for fishing. The right way to use these motor fishing vessels is to charter them from the Government. The fishermen do not want to buy them. They want to buy new boats of the latest design, with new appliances. They do not want really to buy old boats, but they would be glad to hire them for the next year or two until new boats are ready. I see that the Undersecretary of State for Scotland is laughing. Is he not aware that the Elliot Committee very strongly recommended in their Report that the herring industry should obtain a number of boats for charter to young men returning from the Services and from the Merchant Navy, or, at their discretion, to others desirous of entering the industry? Does not the Under-Secretary of State know that the Herring Industry Act, 1944, contained, in Section 2, a provision to enable the Board to do precisely what I am asking, namely, to charter vessels, and not to sell them? Why is not the Herring Board making a scheme in order to enable it to charter vessels? Is the Under-Secretary of State encouraging the Board to push on and do that? I assure him that he will not meet the requirements of the Scottish fishing industry at this time unless he includes chartering as a vital part of his business 2121 The other day, I observed with some surprise that the Secretary of State declared that the Herring Industry Board had power to build vessels only for experimental purposes. The right hon. Gentleman knows my anxiety about this matter. I remind him, as I reminded the Under-Secretary of State, that the Herring Industry Act gave the Board power to do much more than that, and I invite the right hon. Gentleman to give his attention to that matter. With regard to the two schemes, the Herring Industry Act and the Inshore Fishing Act, which were designed to provide boats, I was disappointed by the figures which the Minister of Agriculture gave us. [An Hon. Member:" Why? "] I was not able to take a note of the figures of applications from Scotland, but I did note that of the 24 applications that had been accepted, only 7 came from Scotland. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
I will give the hon. Member some figures.
§ Mr. Stewart
I should have thought that was rather a small figure considering the large number of fishermen around the Scottish coasts. I am bound to say that in a sense it reflects what I have in mind, at any rate in regard to Fife. The men whom I have the honour to represent would like new boats, but I am bound to tell the Under-Secretary of State that they find the terms somewhat onerous. They find the interest too high.
§ Mr. Stewart
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is far too high. They find the charge for insurance a crippling charge. As the Under-Secretary of State may know, in prewar days fishermen seldom, if ever, insured their vessels up to anything like the full value. They insured on a somewhat lower value, and they found through the generations that that was a safe system. The Government now come along with these Acts and loans and insist upon a complete coverage of insurance. That is a very heavy charge upon the industry. I certainly hope that it will succeed, but I would ask the Government very seriously to examine what is happening, because if they are not going to get sufficient applications for those boats, these Acts will have to be 2122 reconsidered. The Government cannot risk facing a failure, and if the men do not respond something has got to be done to alter their attitude. I wonder if the Under-Secretary can tell me this—when the Minister of Agriculture was giving his figures was he referring to the Herring Industry Act as well as the Inshore Fishing Act when dealing with the boats that were applied for, because both those Acts deal with new boats? Will he tell me how many applications have been made in the herring industry during its two years? My information is hardly any, and if that is true there is something wrong with the Acts and the Regulations must be altered. I invite the Government to consider that.
On Tuesday at Question time I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Scottish Secretary about the Shipbuilding Committee, and I think the right hon. Gentleman found it a little difficult to know what it was all about. May I remind him that on 7th March the First Lord of the Admiralty announced the formation of a Shipbuilding Committee whose functions were to take the place of the Committee set up in 1944to advise the Government on all matters affecting the efficiency and stability of the industry; to advise on any steps required to safeguard the war potential of the industry; to promote the cooperation of shipbuilding employers both with shipowners and the representatives of shipyard labour; and to advise on organisation, practice and cognate matters, with a view to maintaining and improving the efficiency and stability of the industry." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 551.]On the day of that announcement I asked the First Lord if it was his intention to invite the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Scottish Office, as the Departments being responsible for fishing, to take some part in this Committee, and he said "No." I then asked the Civil Lord whether these Departments could make representations and he said he thought so. Why is the Scottish Office unwilling to make representations upon this matter? Surely it is of great importance to the Navy and to the fishing industry that boats be constructed in the future as was the case in the past which can be used by the fishing industry and would be available to the Navy. in time of war. It is incredible if the Scottish Office and the Ministry of Agriculture are not going to make representations to that Committee in view of the history of the fishing industry.
2123 I want to say a word about engines, which have been mentioned already. I have been in correspondence with one Department and another on this question, and only the other day I had a polite letter from the Minister of War Transport telling me that discussions are proceeding between his Department and the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Supply with a view to arranging some priority on engines for fishing vessels. Will the Under-Secretary tell me how far that co-operation has gone? Has the Committee met? What is the priority? My constituents are endeavouring to get engines, and my experience is precisely that of the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) that there is a 15 months' delay. We can get the boats delivered in six months, but we have to wait 15 months for the engines. When we went to the engine makers we found that there was an overwhelming demand for them and a considerable demand from the Board of Trade. These engines are being exported to Ireland and Iceland, so if you go to any of those places you can get engines for boats but not in England or Scotland, which is a fantastic situation. I ask the Under-Secretary to let us know how far this form of cooperation between the various Departments has gone. Can he give me a promise of one engine? That is all I ask and it will be a token of the sincerity of the Government on this matter.
I only want in a word to refer to the herring industry and to mention the Elliot Committee, which was a very important Committee and issued a first-class Report. Its first recommendation was that the Departments concerned should , ascertain the quantities of herring needed abroad during the present critical postwar period. I want to know what is being done on that recommendation, because I am certain it will take two or three years for the herring industry to build up the home market properly. In that two or three years, unless a great overseas market is found for the herring industry, it will decline to very small proportions. So an export trade for the next two years is absolutely vital, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman what steps are being taken in that regard. In view of the starvation in Europe we cannot tolerate any longer any restriction upon catching by the herring fleets. It is in- 2124 tolerable, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will give us a complete assurance that if possible the restrictions will be taken off the catching of herring in the coming season.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)
I must confess that I have sat through this fairly long Debate with a certain feeling of satisfaction, because I have the distinction and honour of being a man who started his working life in the fishing industry. That does not, of course, entitle me to speak with any more knowledge on modern fishing than any HON. MEMBERS, but I have a sympathetic understanding of the fishing industry and I feel at least that it is a good basis on which to exercise one's interest.
I want to make one or two points upon subjects which I do not think have yet been touched on. I still feel that quite a lot could be said about the marketing and distributive sides of the industry, but I will refrain from dealing with those two points at any length, except to say this, that much of the depression which is to be found in the industry today can be traced very largely to the same chaotic market arrangements both for the herring fishing industry and for the white fish industry. I am hopeful, however, that the promises of the newly constituted Herring Board may prove to be successful as far as the herring marketing side is concerned. There has been a lamentable lack of any real salesmanship in the fishing industry. Private enterprise, in this respect, has failed because housewives today are unable sometimes to distinguish the food value of dried eggs and herring, although it is evident that herring is now much more in favour as compared with dried eggs, the virtues of which many Members were proclaiming a few weeks ago—
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
Is it the hon. Member's view that private enterprise should instruct house-wives as to the respective food value of herring and dried eggs?
§ Mr. Robertson
I am satisfied that private enterprise would completely fail if it were to try that, just as it has failed to put fishing into a prosperous condition. I am coming to my remedy for that. The whole question of marketing and salesmanship 2125 is one that should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Food which, in this matter, could do a grand job. I do not think there is very much wrong with the production side of the industry. Our fishermen are just as skilful as ever. It is true that their boats are not like the ones they used to have, but I think that difficulty can be overcome. What we must try to prevent is the danger of putting the industry back to the position it was in between the wars, when fish was dumped into the sea. I therefore urge the Government to consider the possibility of acting as sole distributors in the larger trawling ports—say, a dozen. They should also see that all profit from the production of fish should cease when the fish is landed on the quay. From then onwards the Government should accept responsibility of distribution at cost.
One of the difficulties in the inshore fishing industry, especially in small villages, is the neglected state of the harbours, which require to be dredged and repaired. The bodies controlling these harbours do not find themselves financially able to undertake large capital expenditure in order to bring them up to date. I represent a constituency in Scotland where we have an excellent inshore fishing port, but where the harbour has not been touched since 1882. Boats have changed, and there are bigger vessels, yet the harbour has not been altered. I suggest to the Government that one of the ways of solving the difficulties of the inshore fishing industry would be to institute a national dredging service, which would keep the harbours in proper repair. Further, I understand that during the war a considerable number of diesel engines were manufactured for the purpose of generating current used for "de-gaussing "merchant ships. I am told that with little alteration these engines could be made serviceable for the inshore fishing industry, and I ask the responsible Minister to turn his attention to that possibility.
Finally, with regard to marketing arrangements for the inshore fishing industry, those can best be carried out by co-operation among the fishermen themselves. I speak with some knowledge, because two months ago, in one of the ports in my constituency, the fishermen formed a co-operative agency, and they are now despatching fish straight from 2126 the boat to the wholesaler. Formerly, there were two or three people with their hands in the fish basket before the fish got to the consumer. That is the way to deal with the distribution of fish in this section of the industry. But whatever is done, one thing is clear—the fishermen of Britain are today looking to this Government in a way in which they have never looked to any Government before. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sure Members opposite do not need reminding that the fishing industry was never regarded with any interest by Conservative Governments. The reason, I suppose, was that there were no great capital interests in it, or perhaps that fishermen had not to pay rent for the sea into which they put their nets. However, I do not desire to raise a political issue in this Debate, because I feel that in all parts of the House we are anxious to see that the fishermen of Britain have a better chance, after the last war than they did after the 1914-18 war. I repeat, they are looking to this Government, and I am confident that they will not look in vain.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
1 wish to take part in this Debate because I have the honour of representing a part of Grimsby, and also of Immingham. An hon. Member opposite said just now that Hull was the premier port. Of course, that is not true. He also said that great profits were being made out of the industry, but anyone with any sense knows that a person making great profits is merely working for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, the more profits that are made the more the Chancellor is pleased. Before the war, many trawler companies were in the hands of the bankers and were having a very thin time. But it is not for the trawler owners 1 want to speak today; I want to speak for the men. Many of these men, when they come back from fishing, as, I know, happens in my constituency, have to come back to poor, slummy homes. I would ask the Minister to remember these men when the question of housing priorities comes along. Will he see that not only agricultural workers, but also the men who have to deal with the difficult job of fishing, shall have a fair deal in this respect when they come home. It is a remarkable thing that the three classes of men who deal with the most difficult tasks in this country, the 2127 miners, the agricultural workers, and the fishermen, have always had the rawest deal of all workers. The time has come when we must alter that.
I would also plead with the Minister to talk to his right hon. colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to getting a greater depreciation allowance on the trawlers so that we may scrap the old fleet we have now and have a newer and up-to-date one so that the men may have better facilities in the future than they have had in the past. This would mean that when the period of temporary prosperity which the industry is now enjoying has passed—as it will when Europe gets back into its stride—we shall be in a better position to compete in five years' time than we were a few years before the war, when the Dutchmen were taking the cream of our industry. I hope the Minister will do his best to see that this country has the finest and most up-to-date fleet of trawlers in the world, because if we do not I can see that the people in our ports will not be able to enjoy half the prosperity they have been enjoying during the war years.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has dealt with the trawling side of the industry very adequately, and I would only like to reinforce what he said about distribution. I agree with the Minister of Agriculture that it is better than it was, but I think he will admit that it is capable of still further improvement. I believe the trouble is mainly due to lack of transport; and I quite agree that this in turn is caused by shortage of labour. But I think the Government should give the greatest possible priority, in this time of food stringency, to the distribution of fish. I am told that during the last fortnight there have been delays at Aberdeen, Fleetwood, Shields and Lowestoft, with trains running over 18 hours behind schedule. I know the difficulties, but I still feel that the utmost priority must be given to transport for the internal distribution of fish.
Apart from that, all I wish to say to the right hon. Gentleman is that I still stand by what I said in the last Adjournment Debate we had on the fishing industry. I said then that I believe this forth- 2128 coming international conference was of vital importance to the white fishing industry. I am sure that ail of us on both sides of the House wish the right hon. Gentleman the best of luck. There are certain things he has to do, and perhaps the most important is to try to prevent the overfishing of vital areas of the North Sea during coming years. We can kill the white fishing industry if, with all our modern apparatus, we fish it to death; and I do not see how this can be dealt with except by international agreement.
It is with the inshore and herring fishing industries that I really wish to deal in the comparatively short time during which I intend to address the House. So far as inshore fishing is concerned, I fear most genuinely that unless some means is devised of differentiating between the price paid for fresh fish, caught by line or seine, and trawler-caught fish, the inshore fishing industry is in for a very bad time. I will not say that it would be extinguished, but I would have a great apprehension about its future. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southport said that it was not our business, as Members of the Opposition, to recommend to the Government methods by which they could do what is admittedly a difficult job. I am sure, however, that we can all agree that if the inshore fishing industry all around our coasts were gradually to die out, it would be a tragedy of the first order. We have to stop it; and I ask His Majesty's Government to look into this point very carefully, because I believe it can be resolved. Meanwhile I ask them to ensure that the prices paid for fish caught mainly by the inshore men, such as haddocks, mackerel and pilchards, shall be remunerative. That at least they can do. No price differentiation is needed in this connection.
I come now to the question of the means of production—boats. I am convinced that, so far as the inshore and herring fishing is concerned, the future lies in the Diesel-engined dual-purpose craft. The steam drifter is obsolescent. I believe the Government will agree about that. I admit that the Government have done, under considerable pressure, everything that can practically be done to release existing craft for the use of the fishing industry; but we must now concentrate on building up an efficient fleet, 2129 not an obsolete one. We must go for the best type; and I want the Government to do everything in their power to increase the production of the most efficient kind of fishing craft that we can get, both for the inshore and distant water fishing.
What are we asking, in connection with these boats? First of all, for the boats— that is not unreasonable. Secondly, that the Government, and particularly the Admiralty, should not make money out of the fishermen by selling these boats at exorbitant prices. I do not think that is unreasonable either. Thirdly, we are asking that those who served their country afloat during the war, or who lost their boats through enemy action, should not be penalised on that account. Those are the three specific points which we put to the Government with regard to boats; and I think they are all reasonable. The Admiralty do not really need to make money out of the fishermen. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the record of the Admiralty with regard to the fishing industry has been absolutely deplorable during the 20 years that I have been a Member of this House. The Admiralty have always depended upon them, but have never lifted a finger to help them at any stage; and they are not doing very much now. I will have a word to say on that later.
I turn for a moment to the question of nets which, so far as the fishing industry is concerned, is as important as that of boats. I declare to the House and to the Government that there is, at this critical moment, a most serious shortage of drift and seine nets in this country; and I say that it is a scandal. It is worse. It is criminal negligence on the part of the Government, and reveals once again a total lack of co-ordination between the various Government Departments concerned. The Ministers were warned; yet the Board of Trade continued until quite recently to export nets to foreign countries. What excuse or justification can they have for that, and what is the position at this moment? I have a sheaf of telegrams, and it will not take me more than two or three minutes to read a few. The first, from the Secretary of the Federation of Scottish Fish Catchers, reads as follows:Many orders for drift and ring nets held up for want of weaving licences particularly for men and boats returning from service 2130 will prevent participation of many boats in summer fishing. English position similar.The second, from the Provost of Peter-head, says: Town council and community greatly perturbed at undue delay in supply of nets to fishermen. Boats are unable to go to sea for lack of gear and others handicapped through insufficiency of gear. Men home from service unable to resume occupation as fishermen. Recent developments in seine fishing at port have greatly helped unemployment and supplies of nets will further help. If nets not immediately made available expect this new development will be abandoned to the serious loss of whole community."
I have another here which says:No seine nets yet. Boats still held up. Priority given by Board of Trade last Tuesday only enough for two boats and will not be delivered for 10 days yet. Other factory can supply remainder of boats next week if given permission by Board of Trade. Mostly ex-Servicemen involved. Surely something can be done for them at once to give them a chance of their livelihood.The last telegram I would read reached me an hour or two ago. It says:Members amazed at great delay in issue of necessary seine nets. Understand factory can supply if given permission. Boats lying idle. —Inshore White Fish Producers' Association, Peterhead.Those are four telegrams, three of which I received today. The Secretary of State for Scotland assured me the other day that if I brought cases to his notice of acute shortage of nets, he would take steps to rectify them. I brought these very cases to him; but it does not seem, from the telegrams which I have received today, that any steps have yet been taken to rectify them. I say to the Government: "Get the cotton yarn, and get it quickly. Issue licences. And why not appoint a special officer, as was done in the case of ropes, and allocate nets to the ports where the need is most urgent?''
My last point in connection with inshore fishing is to express the hope that the forthcoming Conference will take special care to prevent the over-fishing of the spawning grounds. I agree with several HON. MEMBERS who have spoken that two of the most important grounds are the Moray Firth and the Minch. I understand that the Soviet have closed quite substantial portions of the White Sea and the Arctic Ocean. We can equally maintain that it is right for all trawlers, of any nationality, to be excluded from the valuable spawning grounds round this country. Nobody will deny that the Moray Firth is one of the most valuable 2131 spawning grounds. We should stand firm about this. I am prepared to concede the point that successive National Governments, Conservative Governments, and Labour Governments, before the war dithered about with this problem, and nothing ever happened. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to stick to it now, and to do something that ought to have been done 20 years ago. He will earn the gratitude of the inshore fishermen.
I turn for a few minutes, in conclusion, to the herring fishing industry, in which I have for long taken a considerable interest. I sincerely believe that the Government have no adequate realisation of the immense possibilities of this industry during the present period of acute world food shortage. Herrings have played a great part in the history of this country from the days of Henry VIII. In early Tudor times there was a great migration, a very fortunate migration, on the part of herrings, from the Baltic to the East coast of Scotland and England. Professor Trevelyan, in his "Social History of England,'' says:The two chief nurseries of English seamen were the colliers plying between the Northern ports and London, and the fishermen of Cornwall and Devon. …No less important was the growth in Tudor times of the herring fleets of the East Coast. Camden noted the size of Yarmouth, the out-port of Norwich, now outstripping its rival Lynn, for it seems incredible what a great and throng fair is here at Michaelmas, and what quantities of herring and other fish are vended.That was in the reign of Elizabeth, since when it has gone on, this particular gold mine of wealth all round our coasts, of which we have taken far too little advantage.
Herrings are the only article of food we can export, or ought to export. For two years now I have watched our herring fleet, a reduced fleet, fishing at the height of the season with limited nets, and not infrequently tied up in harbour while dense shoals of herring were lying within 30 miles of our coast. Is that melancholy spectacle to be repeated this year, when half Europe is starving?
I will not worry the House with statistics, but I can tell HON. MEMBERS that before the outbreak of the 1914 war we used to export hundreds of thousands of crans of salt herring to Europe and Russia. They were welcomed there, and greatly liked. Why should we not do it 2132 again? Herrings are highly nutritious, contain all the vitamins in any quantity, and are full of fat. They are even more nutritious than eggs or meat. I say, absolutely sincerely, that the herring industry can make a decisive contribution to the food problem of Europe at the present time if it is given a chance.
A great effort is required on the part of His Majesty's Government. Let them produce the labour, the raw materials, including timber for barrels, and salt, and the necessary transport facilities. Then we can, and will, deliver the goods. There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that the fish will not be there in the same quantities as they were last year and the year before. Will that help be forthcoming? A combined operation by the Departments concerned, with a single direction, is wanted; but I cannot feel that the omens are altogether auspicious. I have heard that there is to be a small amount of klondyking from Lerwick, but that will not touch the fringe of the problem.
This is the first time I have seen representatives of the Admiralty present during a Debate on the fishing industry, and I congratulate them. After 21 years it is most remarkable that the Admiralty should show any interest in the fishing industry. The Admiralty have usually been as unhelpful as possible. I will read an almost classic passage contained in a letter which I received a few days ago from the Civil Lord. Peterhead, I might inform the House, is one of the four leading herring ports in the country. The letter says:Much as we appreciate the inconvenience—says the Civil Lord—which the continued requisitioning of the fish saleroom is causing at Peterhead, I am afraid we cannot give the release of these premises a high priority.He says this on the brink of a herring fishing season, which will be critical, not only for this country but for the Continent as well. "Much as we appreciate the inconvenience "…the sauce of it! I hope this matter will now be put right within 24 hours.
The prospects of this industry are tremendous, if it can only be given the chance. The development of new processes such as quick freezing, with subsequent low temperature cold storage, 2133 holds out almost unlimited possibilities. Is quick freezing still an experiment, or has it passed beyond the stage of experiment? I think it has. If so, the Government should set up adequate freezing plants at the two great ports of landing. We ought to have plants at Fraserburgh and Yarmouth. We should freeze the herring, and put them in cold storage afterwards. I also agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn), who made such an admirable maiden speech, and who is a great recruit to the herring fishing industry in this House. He referred to the great future for the canning industry in regard to herring. That is quite true. It can be much extended.
Let me now say quite categorically that we never want to go back to the old free market system, which was the ruin of the industry between the two world wars. Prices fair to all concerned should be fixed at the beginning of every season; but I want to suggest to the Government that the control, as soon as may be, should be taken away from the Ministry of Food and vested in the Herring Industry Board. The Ministry of Food have not in the past made such a hilarious success of the fishing industry as to justify the indefinite continuation of their control, when you have an expert body, with I hope adequate powers, to take over. I think the time is very near, if it has not already come, when that transfer of control should take place. But I would make it quite clear that no responsible person I know of in the herring industry wants to go back to the old free market system. It very nearly killed that industry between the two wars. We want to have a proper control; and we want to have our maximum prices fixed each season, prices which are fair to all. I say quite frankly to the Government that we do not want to leave the fisherman ever again to the tender mercies of the speculator and the racketeer, as he was for so many years between the two wars, and before either of them.
Before I sit down I must say that there is really an unfading glamour about the fishing industry. It casts a spell over all those who are in any way connected with it. The sounds and the smells and the bustle of harbour life at the height of the season; the forest of masts that you see there; the sight of the fleet putting to sea; 2134 the glimmer of the lights of the drifters, hundreds of them, as they lie to the nets in the stillness of the night; then, in the early morning, if you go to sea with them, the fishermen silhouetted against the first streaks of the dawn, bracing themselves for that long two hours' haul which may produce £5 or £500—there is something about this industry which stirs the blood. I am very proud to have fought for the interests of the fishermen in this House for over 20 years; I am proud to be fighting for their interests tonight. As many HON. MEMBERS have said, the fishing industry was badly let down after the last war; and some of us on both sides of the House are determined that, if we can help it, that shall not happen again.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
Today tributes have been paid by HON. MEMBERS in all quarters of the House to the fishermen who served in the Royal Navy during the war, and to the older men who continued to risk their lives to bring to us wholesome food in those days of food scarcity. Unhappily, the scarcity remains with us still. I do not think I should take time tonight to do more than underline the tributes that have already been paid. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), in common with nearly every other hon. Member who has participated in this Debate, referred to the neglect of the fishing industry by the Government of this country for the past 20 years or more. I am not surprised that HON. MEMBERS on this side of the House should express the hope that there would be a change with the change of the Government, but it is really surprising that we should have such expressions of faith in the Labour Party by so many members of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Fraser
It was faith, because they said they expected there would be a change. The hon. Member made many points to which I shall seek to reply. I will see if I can tell him something about the question of nets, about which he read some three or four reply telegrams. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) deplored the rise of unemployment amongst fishermen in his constituency, and went on to say that in one 2135 way or another a great many of our boats have left our ports. I wonder why he said '' one way or another "?
§ Mr. Fraser
Is it because of this Government or any other Government, or because of the misfortunes of war?
§ Mr. Fraser
Is not the hon. Member aware that quite a number of vessels left the ports on the East coast of Fife at the beginning of the war, and have returned from the war, but not to the East coast of Fife, but to the ports on the East coast of England?
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, because the owners on the East Fife coast have sold the vessels to the owners in the English ports. So we find ourselves in the position today where they cannot get labour at the English ports, and the hon. Member is attacking this Government because there is unemployment at the East Fife ports. Really he should appreciate that that is no responsibility of this or any other Government.
§ Mr. Fraser
We are not responsible for the selling of the boats; that was done by a few owners in his constituency. It was done by private enterprise. It was a very short-sighted policy to pursue.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman is casting aspersions on my constituents. Has he inquired, first, into the number of boats that were sold? It is a handful. Has he inquired, secondly, into why they were sold? I will tell him. Some of them because the men wanted more up-to-date boats.
§ Mr. Fraser
And I suppose they expected to get better boats during the war, or did they? I cannot tell the hon. Member how many boats were sold, but the hon. Gentleman said some had been sold and I thought it was well to underline the reason for there being so many unemployed fishermen in Fife today.
In the course of the Debate I think we have had two very interesting and well- 2136 informed maiden speeches, one by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman). The hon. Lady made some remarks about the Essential Work Order and thought it ought to be retained in the interests of the fishermen. She was immediately replied to by the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), who said that he knew that the fishermen did not want the Essential Work Order. He said that he would like to go up to Tynemouth with my hon. Friend and speak to the fishermen. He knew that they liked the gamble which there is in their trade, that they did not want any security of income, and so forth. Yet it was the fishermen and not the owners who wanted the Essential Work Order during the war. They got it. I do not know whether they want to get rid of it, but I can say that the Departments principally concerned are looking into the question of taking the Essential Work Order from this industry. I can give an assurance that, when a decision is reached, a few months' notice will be given so that some new contract may be negotiated between the two sides of the industry to give the regularity of income which my hon. Friend thought was so very necessary—and I am sure she was speaking for the fishermen when she made her remarks.
What has been so confusing to me in the course of this Debate is that hon. Member after hon. Member has said that we must have more boats, we must step up our catching. The hon. Member for Streatham said it was no good my right hon. Friend wanting just to get back to prewar strength; he said that after all the demand today is four times what it was prewar, and that would give some indication as to our needs in the future. Yet, almost in the same breath, hon. Member after hon. Member has said that we have to guard against over-fishing .Frankly, I do not understand it. They have been saying that we must step up our catching capacity, and the hon. Member for Streatham said that the demand is four times what it was before the war, and then went on to say that we were over-fishing prewar, but that he wants us to build up fleets in the post war period. Many other HON. MEMBERS have said the same thing.
§ Mr. Boothby
But there is a distinction to be drawn in this respect between white fishing and herring fishing. The white fishing grounds have often been overfished in the past, but we have been underfishing herring. I doubt whether it would be possible to overfish the herring grounds, if you do not start too early in the season.
§ Mr. Fraser
I was thinking of the white fishing in the observations I was making.
I do not know whether I should say anything about the international Conference. My right hon. Friend dealt with it, but if I have time I might say another word or two about it. Another matter to which I must refer is the question raised by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) about the Nissen hut that was alleged to be for sale at Milford Haven. My right hon. Friend could not answer at the time because he had never had the question put before, but in the course of the day we have sought to get the answer. Apparently, the hut was built on requisitioned land at a cost of £1,230 which included cost of fittings to make the hut suitable as a sick bay. Our information is that the Ministry of Agriculture are now dealing with the disposal of the land and the figure of £1,230 has only been mentioned in that connection. No question of the sale of the hut has yet been raised and the sale price has not yet been considered. I think that is the answer. I am sure the Ministry have not got any false information, and apparently the hut has not been offered for sale at all and no price has been put on it.
My hon. Friend said that he would deal mainly with the white fishing industry and leave me to say a word or two about the herring industry.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Before we leave the question of the hut, do I understand that the Admiralty specifically deny that they asked £1,200?
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, that is my information, that no price has been put on the hut for sale. The cost mentioned was the cost of fitting the hut to serve as a sick bay. The Ministry of Agriculture are now dealing with the disposal of the land and it was only in that connection that the figure of £1,230 has apparently been mentioned.
I think I should say a word or two about the herring industry. During the 2138 war practically all the fishermen of military age have been in Service, mainly with the Navy. Most of the vessels have also been on requisition and I think it fitting that I should give one or two figures. Some 294 steam drifters out of 385 in September, 1939, and 204 large motor boats out of 487 were requisitioned. Eight steam drifters are still requisitioned, but no motor boats. The number in various stages of release and reconditioning is, however, relatively high and that is really our problem. It is 138 in the case of steam drifters and 70 in the case of motor boats.
Markets for cured herring were, of course, cut off by the war but there have been strong demands for herring in the home market which have, in general, been more than sufficient to absorb the total catch of the fraction of the fleet remaining. Herring catches are, however, very variable and periodically there have been occasions when it has been difficult to dispose of heavy landings. This was particularly the case in the summer of 1945 when shoals were extremely heavy and fishing had to be regulated in order to avoid gluts. While the home demand for herring is still strong, curing is a most valuable outlet for surplus herring when catches are heavy, and this was resumed on a small scale in 1944 and 1945, the herring being disposed of mainly for relief purposes in Europe.
The House will be pleased to know that arrangements are being made for 85 per cent. of the herring cured in barrels to be disposed of to U.N.R.R.A. and to the Allied Control Commission for Germany. It is recognised that there will be difficulties in curing as many barrels as could probably be consumed on the Continent, but we are doing all we can to ensure that the maximum -amount possible is reached and it is hoped that the final figure may be as high as 500,000 barrels. I think that will be a great help to the herring industry. It is also hoped that about 10,000 tons may be exported or klondyked for Germany as well. The Herring Industry Board have been very active in this matter and are very pleased to have this guaranteed outlet for the herring that cannot be consumed in this country. I am sure the herring industry are going to be very pleased indeed to know that they have that ready market.
2139 In view of the powers conferred on Departments for war purposes, it was decided that the powers of the Herring Industry Board would be more appropriately exercised in war circumstances by the Departments concerned and accordingly the powers of the Board were suspended at the beginning of the war and the Board was put on a care and maintenance basis. In 1944 an Act was passed extending the powers which might be conferred on the Board by a scheme and providing finance for assisting fishermen in obtaining boats and gear. The Board were reconstituted in the same year to undertake preparatory work with a view to undertaking the organisation and development of the herring industry. At ,the beginning of 1945, a substantial proportion of their powers were restored to them, subject, however, to the Board obtaining Ministerial consent to their exercise. The Board have not of late been very happy about that position. It has now been decided to withdraw the requirement for Ministerial consent and to restore to the Board the remainder of their powers. The Board will accordingly take charge of the production and export side of this year's summer fishing. That is why I say they are so happy about the figures I have given to the House.
Distribution of fresh herring and kippers for the home market will remain in the hands of the Ministry of Food. The Board and the Ministry work in the closest consultation in order to ensure that the arrangements for fishing will work smoothly. The restoration of powers to the Herring Industry Board has been considered by the Government as a matter of urgency, because it is necessary that arrangements for the summer herring fishing should be put in hand forthwith. In the special circumstances the decision to make the restoration has been taken in advance of the final definition of Government policy in regard to the operation of such Boards. It has, therefore, been explained to the Board that the arrangements made in respect of the herring industry are provisional in character, and will be reviewed when general Government policy is settled. It has also been pointed out to the Board that it would be contrary to Government policy if their powers were exercised to restrict production. The Board have given my right hon. Friend assurances on 2140 this point, and he is satisfied that the policy of the Board is to develop the productive capacity of the industry, and that their powers will be exercised with this object in view.
Some reference has been made to the Lerwick experiment, and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen said he had thought it had got beyond the experimental stage. I do not think that the Board would altogether agree with him. They have a refrigeration plant at Lerwick and are working on it as a large scale experiment in marketing the catch at Lerwick, where there is no outlet to the fresh herring market. There was no method of curing there for dealing with the catch, but it is hoped that freezing will provide an alternative. Of course, the Government's policy in these matters will be largely determined by the success of this experiment at Lerwick. I have been almost shocked to be appealed to, as I have been today, by HON. MEMBERS on the other side of the House in favour of the Government building these plants at many ports round the coast of this country. I have been so surprised at the protagonists of private enterprise saying that the Government ought to do this at one port after another in this country.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member said two ports, but other Members on the other side of the House mentioned many other ports—[Interruption]. The port which the electors chose in the recent storm will prove to be the safest port into which they have ever gone. I wish to say a word or two about the supply of fishing nets.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from the question of the Board's powers, would he be so kind as to answer the question I put about the Board's preparations for a scheme under the 1944 Act, which would enable them to charter boats?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am coming to the chartering of boats in a moment. I have a note about it. There is, of course, a difficulty about the supply of fishing nets, and many representations have been made to us. It affects only the seine nets, which are made of cotton. Trawl nets are not. The Board of Trade say that the supply of cotton is ample to meet requirements, but that the productive capacity of the 2141 net manufacturers is almost completely allocated for the present licensing period to June.
§ Mr. Fraser
I know HON. MEMBERS opposite do not agree, and I know that many fishing interests do not agree, and have not hesitated to make representations to us accordingly. But the probability of a shortage of nets was foreseen, and fishermen were urged by my Department, and I have no doubt by my right hon. Friend, to place their orders as soon as possible, in order that machine capacity might be determined. The fishermen, however, normally order their nets at the conclusion of the East Anglian season, and a heavy demand for nets did not materialise until the late autumn. As soon as it became clear that a shortage was probable, we pressed the Board of Trade to increase the quota for fishermen's nets.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall
Does the Minister mean that he could not foresee this? He has already mentioned just now the seasonal requirements. Surely, he could have foreseen it.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am surprised at the hon. Member. I said the probability was foreseen, and we pressed the industry but the industry, unfortunately, did not take our warning. As soon as it became clear that there was going to be a shortage—we had already warned the industry—we made representations to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade had great difficulty in increasing the quota, as we wanted them to do, because arrangements had been made with the Commonwealth Supply Council for the manufacture of nets. Finally, they found it possible to make a small balance available to meet cases of hardship among fishermen; so this unco-operative Board of Trade were co-operative on that occasion. They gave way and they succeeded—
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I am sorry to interrupt, but, really, I have got the case here of a large firm in Lancashire who had the machinery and the men ready to start making nets on a very large scale, not only nets for this country but nets for export. The Board of Trade have consistently refused to allow them to have any cotton yarn. The hon. Gentleman, with all respect, had better ask his friend at the 2142 Board of Trade to examine these questions before he comes and tells these stories.
§ Mr. Fraser
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman knows something about the arrangements that were made with the Commonwealth Supply Council—or does he not?
§ Mr. Fraser
I said the arrangement made with the Council made it difficult for the Board of Trade to give an increased quota for home consumption. I ask him if he knows anything about the arrangement with the Commonwealth Supply Council.
§ Mr. Hudson
The arrangement with the Commonwealth Supply Council has been made with the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade say there is no difficulty about the supply of cotton yarn. Why do they not produce the supply of cotton yarn?
§ Mr. Fraser
The Board of Trade, neither in this Government nor the last Government, would take a decision in these matters without consulting the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I am wondering what the right hon. Gentleman knows about that arrangement.
In order that the small amount may be distributed to those fishermen whose requirements are the most urgent, applications are being investigated through the local fishery officers, special consideration being given to men who are resuming fishing after war service, and to fishermen who would be unable to put to sea if new nets were not made available. That seems to me to be a sensible decision to take.
Many HON. MEMBERS referred to our fishery patrols. Of course, the Admiralty are again patrolling the English and Welsh coasts.
§ Mr. Boothby
Is the Minister really going to leave the net situation as it is? We have got a most formidable case against him, and he says some officer is going to look into something or other. The fact is the fishermen are not getting the nets. Can the Minister hold out any hope that they are going to get some nets with which to fish this summer?
§ Mr. Fraser
The Fishery Department did make representations to the Board of Trade. They got a concession and, having got a concession, they got expressions of thanks from the fishermen of this country— [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are the nets? "] The nets are being manufactured. I have already said they were being manufactured. I thought I ought to say a word about the fishery protection cruisers. I have said that the Admiralty are again patrolling the English and Welsh coasts. In Scotland, we have got two of our fishery cruisers back, and another vessel is in process of being converted. We have got an Admiralty vessel on the job, and the rest of our prewar fishery protection fleet will be back at work by Midsummer of this year. I agree with the point made by two of my hon. Friends on this side of the House that the penalties imposed on the trawler men caught doing this illegal fishing should be made to fit the crime. The hon. Member for East Fife got excited because I did not reply to his point about a scheme for transferring chartered vessels. As the hon. Member knows, there are no powers under which Departments can charter boats for the inshore fishing industry.
§ Mr. Fraser
No, but, under the Herring Industry Act, 1944, provision is made for the Herring Industry Board to have power to purchase boats for this purpose. An amending scheme has to follow a very lengthy procedure laid down in the Act, involving consultations with the industry and submissions to the Ministers, who have to be satisfied that there is a prevailing opinion in its favour among the persons employed in the industry, and it also requires an Affirmative Resolution in Parliament. An amending scheme, conferring the powers sought, amongst others, on the Board, is being laid before Parliament, and, indeed, I believe it has been laid before the House in the course of today's Sitting.
I was also pressed by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen to say a word about trawling by British vessels, and by foreign vessels, in the Moray Firth. As HON. MEMBERS know, there was a relaxation of the prohibition during the war years. I am hopeful that this relaxation that was given will be withdrawn in the very near future, and we are having consultations 2144 with the foreign Governments whose vessels normally come in and poach in these waters with a view to their recognising the prohibition of trawling, in the same way as our own trawlermen are required to do.
May I also mention the question of the size of mesh, which was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence). The matter is to be discussed at the forthcoming international Conference, and, indeed, His Majesty's Government are urging the need for a review and revision of the size of mesh, and are hopeful that there will be general agreement about the need to recognise a bigger mesh. There was, of course, an earlier agreement on these matters in 1932, which was observed, I believe, by this country, but not by all other countries.
Perhaps 1 should just say a word about the disposal of Admiralty-built motor fishing vessels. There are a number of vessels which have been made available. They are of four types—45 ft., 61½ ft., 75 ft. and 90 ft. The particulars of them are as follows: 45 ft., 23 at the launching stage and four complete or in the fitting out stage; 61½., one at the launching stage, 19 complete or in the fitting out stage and one in service; 75 ft., six at the launching stage, 19 complete or in the fitting out stage, and 15 in service. The completed vessels number 58 and those being brought to the launching stage 30, making 88 in all. That is the total for which the hon. Member for East Fife asked.
Engines are available for all the vessels except the 23 45 ft. hulls. Most of the engines for the 45 ft. boats were provided out of Lend-Lease and are not for sale. They were, in fact, mostly petrol engines and unsuitable for the purposes of the fishermen. The only other point of substance raised was as to the number of applications for assistance under the Inshore Fishing Industry Act. My right hon. Friend gave the United Kingdom figures and some HON. MEMBERS have asked for the Scottish figures. The total number of applications in Scotland is 56, of which 26 are for new construction. So far, seven have been approved, five for construction and two for the purchase of secondhand boats. Some HON. MEMBERS have expressed alarm and despondency that there 2145 should only have been that number of applications to date. But the scheme has only been out for two months, and many fishermen still cherish the hope that there will be-some reduction in prices soon and, in consequence, are hesitating to make application. I think I have covered the points that have been troubling the House most. I am sure this Debate has been a helpful one and that the fishing industry will benefit very much from it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.