HC Deb 12 November 1947 vol 444 cc495-516

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—

[Mr. Snow.]

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

The first thing I would like to do is to congratulate upon his appointment the Minister, who, I believe for the first time, will come to the Box tonight to answer this Debate. During the period of the Debates on the Gracious Speech, I spoke for about six minutes on the subject of over-fishing in the North Sea and the West Coast areas and, when I mentioned certain points at that time, the Prime Minister nodded his head, and I hoped that, when he came to reply, he would make some mention of the reason why he nodded his head. But he did not do so, and I balloted for this Adjournment Motion, and by good fortune drew it.

When I made my maiden speech in this House more than two years ago, I made it on the subject of the fishing industry, and I said that one of the reasons I was speaking on this matter was that—and here I quote from my speech—"it was concerned with sea power, food and employment." At the same time, I asked the Minister whether he would consider the setting up of a White Fish Commission to study the problem which I am putting before the House tonight. For about two and a half years, I have repeatedly asked the Minister to set tip a White Fish Commission, and I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman who is present here tonight that, in the 1938 Act, there appear the following words: There shall be constituted a Commission to be called the White Fish Commission. That was in 1938. Since then, there has been the great tragedy of the last war, but that ended in 1945 and we are now in 1947, and there is still no White Fish Commission. In the "Fishing News" of 1st No member, a headline on one page says: Why Fleets of Devon and Cornwall Dwindled to Shadows. Crippled by Over fishing. It goes on to say: Steady over-fishing of the Atlantic grounds during the past 20 years is given as the cause of the decline in the West country industry by the Survey Committee of the University College of the South-West. The question of fishing in Cornwall is a matter of very great importance to all of us, and if the Minister has ever had the time or occasion to read some of the histories of Cornwall, he will realise that this is not a matter which has arisen overnight. I think one of the best known authors is Gilbert, who, in 1817, wrote as follows: Fisheries. These are sources of great commercial advantage to the country, and provide employment as well as food for a considerable part of the population, particularly the pilchard fishery, which ranks the highest among the whole and has been carried on for centuries on the Cornish coast. The question of over-fishing in the vast areas off the West Coast and of the North Sea plays its part on the inshore fishing industry, and that is one of the reasons, among many, why I am bringing this matter before the House again. What are the facts with regard to this matter? First, I think we should be mindful of the scientific approach to the question of over-fishing. I expect the Minister will realise this point, though he may not have had it put to him before, that, whereas in agriculture, during the wars from 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945, great improvements were effected by scientific development, the seas are closed in wartime, and between 1914 and 1918 and again between 1939 and 1945, very little research was done in the matter of fisheries. So worried were all concerned in this matter of over-fishing that an International Convention was set up in 1946 to consider measures for the preservation of fishing grounds adjacent to the British Isles. The representatives at that Convention came from the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Eire and Poland. I think that Convention agreed that over-fishing was becoming an international danger. The size of the mesh was also discussed at that Convention.

Here is my first question to the Minister. How many countries have ratified that Convention? If, by chance, the Minister should answer that Denmark and Sweden have not ratified it, I suggest that certain import licences which are granted by us to those two countries, should help as a measure of discussion and debate should, and can, take place upon that point. After the Convention had met, an Advisory Committee was set up, but—and this appears to me to be very silly indeed—Spain was not invited to that Advisory-Committee. I shall refer to that matter again when I reach the question of over-fishing off the West Coast.

I have another suggestion to make, which is that, if, by chance, we find that we cannot get ratification by all the countries who attended that Convention, perhaps it might be possible to get the Netherlands and ourselves to agree with regard to the North Sea. At the present moment, the Netherlands and ourselves fish up to about two-thirds of the North Sea. The Minister may say that there are difficulties because of some form of Customs arrangement between Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, and that they cannot reach agreement. There are always difficulties. What I am suggesting tonight is that the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary together should overcome those difficulties. It is not the first difficulty which a Foreign Secretary has overcome in this great land of ours. I wish the House to realise what is happening in the North Sea. I am told that the drop in the catch is very considerable indeed, and that the average size of the fish now being caught is considerably smaller. I have a letter here from a skipper in which he says that within another year the North Sea trawlers may not be able to earn a living.

Now I wish to take the case of the West Coast. There the position is absolutely appalling on the question of hake. For the first six months of 1946, the amount caught was 624,399 cwt.; for the first six months of this year the figure has been reduced to 371,501 cwt., a reduction of nearly 50 per cent. This over-fishing off the West Coast has been due principally to the intensified fishing by the Spaniards. I wish the House to remember and to take into account how these fleets have increased. This is a veritable armada, and the word "armada" is not one which we do not know in the West Country and in Cornwall. In 1939, the fleet of Spain consisted of 44 large trawlers aggregating 13,308 tons and 228 parejas aggregating 46,295 tons. In 1946, there were 55 deep-sea trawlers with a total tonnage of 35,777 tons and 450 parejas aggregating over 77,954 tons, and I have good reason to believe that there are another 70,000 tons being constructed at the moment.

Is this the time not to have invited Spain to that Advisory Committee? The failure to do so does not make sense. In a report dated 31st July, 1946, the American consul at Vigo, writing to the United States Department of State, said that the catch of hake in 1945 showed a tremendous increase in Spain, and that the total catch for Spain showed an all-time record. When dealing with the catches of Spain and of Great Britain we must also remember that in Spain there is a great incentive. That incentive is, I understand, that on an average hake fetches is. 4d. per pound. In Spain they catch both small and large hake and different prices are charged; therefore, one has to take an average. That compares with 6d. a pound in Great Britain. Unless an operative international agreement is reached, it may well result in the finish of such a port as Milford Haven. Do not let us forget the great security value of Milford Haven and such ports during the war, and their great benefit to us.

I believe the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries have made certain suggestions with regard to the control of the size of fish caught. I would like to give an example of what the suggested size of this small fish looks like. A dover sole and a dab which I am holding in my hands show the sizes suggested. Those are the two sizes. I brought these fish along so that the Minister could see the minimum size he is suggesting. They are minute. Let us be practical about this matter. It is suggested that if fish under a certain size are caught, they should not be landed. But that does not stop the killing of immature fish. It only means that they are to be dumped into the sea instead of landed. It does not solve the problem. The only way to solve that problem is to get agreement on the size of mesh to be used. The Minister must know that that is the only method of solving the problem.

When talking of the fishing industry, one must bear the following points in mind. First, one is talking of an article of food which is of great importance and which at present is not rationed. We also have to bear in mind the fishermen themselves. We must never forget those men who are engaged in our fishing industry. Those are the men who are the first to come forward and protect the security of our land. They get no subsidy from the Admiralty. They are the first to man our ships and clear our seas in time of need. Let us also remember that the industry keeps alive the small shipyards. If we allow over-fishing to take place, and if we do not have an international agreement, we may see a decline which will affect the inshore fishermen and the number of boats they can maintain. I trust that the Minister will consult the First Lord of the Admiralty. I had a very disappointing answer to a Question which I put to the First Lord of the Admiralty today with regard to fishery protection vessels. I asked today if the Minister would give us an assurance he would not decrease the number of. our fishing protection vessels. This was the reply: I regret that no such assurance can be given, but any temporary deduction that may be necessary in the strength of the flotilla will not affect its ability to give essential protection to the fishing fleet. What an unsatisfactory answer. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well it is absolutely necessary to maintain those vessels.

The next question is one that I have mentioned before and must mention again—that he should give consideration to the setting up of a White Fish Commission to study all these matters forthwith. Next, I sincerely trust that the Minister will give me some information as to what he is going to do with regard to the scientific study of fish—what kind of organisation he is setting up. I also wish to ask about the question of experimental ships which will go out and, if necessary, find new fishing grounds.

Now I come to what I consider to be a major point, and to a proposition in which I believe with all my strength. Here we have got a vast agricultural policy, rightly and properly, for the country. The Minister will be taxed to his full strength in going forward with that policy, a policy with which I absolutely agree. But what happens about the fisheries? Even if one wants to put a Question down in this House, it has to be addressed to the Minister of Agriculture without the word "fisheries." It is time that a separate Parliamentary Secretary was appointed to deal with the fishing industry, a Minister who would work with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. The affairs of the fishing industry constitute a full-time job for a Minister, and there ought to be a Minister to do that job, so that the affairs of the fishing industry are not merely eked out here and there in any time the Minister of Agriculture can spare from agricultural affairs. Many years ago it was written about Cornwall that Cornish men are dauntless in war and mild and just in peace. That, I think, really does describe the fishermen of Cornwall. They are the greatest men I know, the greatest men I have ever met. If protection is not provided for them, and if the high seas are over-fished, the deep sea and the inshore fishing of this country will suffer lamentably.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I shall not detain the House very long because I spoke at some length on this subject when I had the opportunity of raising the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment one day in June. Nor do I propose to give again the long list I presented to the House on that occasion. I should, however, like to support the case made by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall); and also to tell him and the Cornishmen that although we have not had a reputation for wrecking on the East Coast, we have played our part in the development of the fishing industry and we can be relied upon to supply that measure of support to the nation which we always have done in the dire stress of war, as we did on the East Coast in the last war.

Mr. D. Marshall

Hear, hear.

Mr. Evans

What I want to urge is that the Government should use every endeavour to try to get this International Convention ratified. The hon. Member for Bodmin spoke of an agreement between ourselves and the Netherlands. One of our biggest competitors, of course, is Denmark, and I should deplore any bilateral agreement with any of the European countries to the exclusion of those other countries that are engaged in a very intensive form of over-fishing.

Mr. Marshall

I hope I made myself clear. The one thing I desire is that all countries should enter an agreement and ratify it. I was envisaging a position in which, perhaps, some countries would not do so.

Mr. Evans

I think I apprehended the point made by the hon. Member when he spoke. However, I see a danger if a restriction is imposed on two countries only, for if the other countries are left outside the orbit of that restriction, we should be in just as great a mess as we were before. I can appreciate, too, and sympathise with the difficulty in regard to the very intensive and, indeed, outrageous fishing methods adopted by the Spaniards in these waters. We know very well that our methods are not their methods—the methods of the long nets between boats, and a very heavy type of trawl. We must, I think, press the Government very strongly indeed to go as far as they can in getting the ratification asked for by the hon. Member. He also showed us some specimens of fish, and accused the Minister of establishing that standard of size. Of course, that was the standard agreed upon—and it was the lowest standard that could be agreed upon—at that convention. I was not quite sure whether they were dabs, soles or plaice.

Mr. Marshall

Soles and dabs.

Mr. Evans

The agreement in respect of plaice was 25 metres—[Laughter.] As I am telling a fishing story, perhaps I might be allowed a certain latitude. I should, of course, have said 25 centimetres. The minimum size for plaice was 25 centimetres, and for soles 24 centimetres. What I desire to stress is that the industry itself is terribly concerned, and there is not the slightest doubt in my mind—or in the mind of the industry—that unless there is a restriction in fishing in at any rate the North Sea, the bottom will be knocked out of the industry in a very short time.

About a fortnight ago I attended a trawl market where they were sorting the plaice. There were hardly any soles available, and no nice turbot or halibut. One has only to consult other hon. Members in the House to appreciate whit a very narrow choice there is when buying fish. I believe we can build up a fish-eating community comparable with some of the Mediterranean countries—and particularly the Catholic countries—only if we give not merely good quality but a wide variety. At the trawl market I watched the men sorting the fish; there was one barrel for good-sized plaice, but three barrels for the small or immature fish. Now, even an amateur like myself looking at those immature fish could see that they had been taken from the sea before they had reached spawning age. By taking those immature fish out of the sea we are—and as I was permitted to stretch my fishing yarn perhaps I might here be allowed to mix my metaphors—killing the golden eggs: in this case, silver eggs. There is no chance whatever for a recovery of North Sea fishing unless the immature fish are left in the water to grow to spawning age. The only method is to do it by international agreement, and I hope we shall press for an increased size of mesh. The present size, 80 millimetres, is much too small, for only very small fish can go through an 80 millimetre mesh. I urge strongly that this matter should be taken up with renewed vigour.

One of the most pleasing features is that the industry itself is in favour of this restriction. The trawl owners and the fishermen, whose living depends upon it—despite the great temptation in these days to earn quick money; and we know that the conditions in the fishing industry are better today than they have ever been—have enough sense to look to the future, and to realise that very soon their living will be taken away from them.

There are two means of approach. First, by increasing the mesh. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Bodmin about throwing the fish back. We know that if they are taken straight out of the trawl and thrown back undersized, they will recover, and will probably produce very many more fish. This can only be done by the good will of all those nations which operate in adjacent waters. We know that the food situation in Europe is so bad that there is this great temptation to over-fish, but unless we restrict over-fishing, our fishing industry will be reduced to a mere beggarly pittance for those who do this work.

9.31 p.m.

Mr. Duthie (Banff)

I should like first to support the pleas which have been made for the ratification of the International Convention in regard to over-fishing. I wish to direct my remarks to the inshore fishing industry. With the seine net and the trawl, the slaughter of immature fish is inevitable. We can arrange for a mesh of a large size, when it is in suspense, to allow a larger sized fish to go through, but when any strain is put on it, the mesh is reduced and the immature fish are caught. We must direct our energies towards securing as large a mesh as possible with the seine net and the otter trawl. The leader, or the wings of the net, guides the fish into the bag or cod end. Experiments have been carried out in the Moray Firth with a large mesh in the leader. The result has been that small fish have been noticeable by their absence from the cod end when the net has been hauled in.

There are other forces at work which are depopulating the fishing grounds and killing our shoals of fish. One of these is the dumping back into the sea of unsold fish. We had the regrettable instance— one is almost tempted to use a stronger word—during the earlier part of the summer of herrings being thrown back into the sea in the Moray Firth, instead of being sold to processing factories for the manufacture of fish meal and oil. That fish does one of two things. Either it pollutes the bottom of the sea and kills the young fish, or it attracts vermin.

Mr. D. Marshall

Also cods' heads.

Mr. Duthie

The sea is alive with vermin, just as the land is alive with vermin, which is inimical to the continued life of the edible fish which are so necessary.

I should like to say a word about what is happening in our territorial waters where trawling has been prohibited. There are two particular areas off the Scottish coast, one being in the East, the Moray Firth, and the other in the West, the Firth of Clyde. As from 1st May, 1946, there have been no British trawlers operating in those areas, and during that time there has been a steady catching of the fish we want. The reason is that the bottom of this particular ground is about 50 per cent. sand, or hard, as it is known in the fishing industry. The seine net cannot work on hard ground because it is fragile, and if it catches on the ground, away goes the net. Haddock is the most prolific fish in the North. It spawns on hard ground, and we believe that we have an oncoming growing population of haddock for all the boats we have operating. The trawl can work over hard ground, because its base is fitted with bobbins which enable it to roll over the rocks.

But there is one phase of research which I should like strongly to commend to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is into ways and means of destroying the natural enemies of our edible fish. Chief of these, I would say, is the dogfish. I think it is true to say that in the Orkney and Shetland area haddock has virtually disappeared through the tremendous inroads made by dogfish in that area. Where we have dogfish about our coasts in the north we have smaller numbers of edible fish coming along. Another enemy is the angler fish. In the Recess, together with my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), I spent a week in an Aberdeen trawler, and I was amazed to see the destruction caused to edible fish. The angler fish is a most voracious feeder. One reasonably-sized angler fish had in its stomach three large haddock, and another fish in its mouth. If research could be directed successfully towards the elimination of some of these enemies, I think we would find that many of our misgivings about fishing operations would be offset by the increased number of young fish coming along.

I am very glad to see on the Front Bench my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, who is my own Member of Parliament, and also my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I know I am pushing an open door tonight, because the Scots are extremely glad to see a practical fisherman in the Scottish Office. We want an international agreement on the mesh question, and consideration to be given to the establishment of closed times for fishing grounds around our coasts. Research can determine what those times should be. We want a closed time in the Moray Firth during the haddock spawning season, and when hake are spawning on the West Coast. The suggestion has been made that equipped research vessels should be put to sea, and I think that is being pursued. I strongly commend to the Parliamentary Secretary the idea of closed times at the right season, together with the need for agreement on the mesh question, which will do much to repopulate our fishing grounds in such a way that our fishing fleets will be able to look forward with confidence to a long era of prosperity.

9.39 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

We had an interesting Debate on this subject not many months ago, when, I think, we all went away fairly well satisfied with the answer which the Minister himself gave to our protestations about the perennial tragedy of over-fishing of the North Sea. The Minister then said that he hoped that the advisory committee which had been recommended would be set up, that the responsible Governments would play their various parts and show their willingness to march forward so that we could have a perpetual supply of fish and, at the same time, provide a reasonable existence for those who went to sea to catch fish. This Debate will have served a useful purpose if, tonight, we can find out, from the Par- liamentary Secretary—who will be making his first speech in his new office, and who has our good wishes—whether our hopes have been fulfilled.

My experience in my own fishing constituency has been very similar in the last few months since that Debate to the experiences already retailed tonight. I wish that we could have fish of the size mentioned by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans), because if we could during the coming winter, with the shortages of other kinds of food, we should be very happy. The story, however, has been very different. Over-fishing has already depleted the North Sea so far as my constituency is concerned. I think that it is something deeper than merely an alteration in the size of nets and closing certain areas to trawlers or drifters. It seems to us that the North Sea and other' fishing grounds are complete mysteries to men. We need a great deal more research. We need research in the short run and certainly a great deal of close research by experts in the long run. We shall always depend on areas like the North Sea, the Barents Sea and the White Sea for part of our native foods in this country.

It always seems, when we have these fishing Debates, that the fishing Department of the Ministry has not a very important part to play. There are elaborate consultations made with farmers and farm workers and about institutions for agricultural research, as a result of which we see in our lifetime many wonderful examples of increase in the size of fruit and flowers. Take, for example, the wonderful chrysanthemums seen lately in this House. I wish the two Under-Secretaries—one is a practical fisherman and we hope that within the next six months the other will also become a practical fisherman—will take these things to heart and realise that we who speak for the fishing constituencies speak for a very important part of the community. We have a g eat part to play in the next few months when so many supplies of food are failing. Shortages are showing themselves by the ridiculously small fish, such as I saw a man trying to skin in Yarmouth recently, and the size of which he was bewailing. It cost him more work to skin one of these small fish than it would have done to skin a real old-fashioned Dover sole. Practical research has to be done there. I hope that we have started something which will cause the Ministry to take more seriously this question of research into the mysteries of the sea.

It may seem curious that tonight in November, 1947, I am taking part in a Debate on over-fishing in the North Sea. Anyone who has followed the Press reports on the East Anglian herring season knows that we only wish we could do some over-fishing. The herring have abandoned us once more this year. Ask any of the research people of Lowestoft and the drifter fishermen what it is all about and they do not know. One is inclined to think as an amateur that there is something in what has been said about some of the fish having been thrown back and causing harm to the nursery beds. But do we really have enough knowledge to know exactly what happens to the herring?

One of the frightful things to my mind is that perhaps we are entering upon one of those great turning points in history where the herring are leaving us and may go somewhere else. That happened, I believe, in the Middle Ages when the herring, I am told, left the Baltic, and began to appear off our coasts and started our herring industry. In Roman times, before my constituency was formed, there were not the great herring shoals. In 1939 I was in a Portuguese town and found it desolate. No one was working, children were in the street and the place was "on the dole." I asked for the explanation and they told me that this was the main town of the sardine trade in Portugal. I said: "Why are they not working?" They said "A few years ago the sardines just went away; they left the town full of unemployment." I have been told that since the war ended the sardines have, luckily, gradually come back to that part of the ocean and I suppose that Portuguese town is getting on its feet again.

There, again, we have the same sort of mystery and we do not know why. One reason surely why we have these Ministry officials is to find out how it is that we get food from the waters around our shores in the way we do, sometimes in gluts when we have to throw the herring back, while sometimes the men are left standing on the quays doing nothing, or the boats bring back only 50 crans instead of 250 crans, which was approximately the figure of our winning boat last year in Yarmouth. There are modern scientific aids which should be able to help us. Therefore, I hope to get a reply tonight as to whether the nations have decided to sign the agreement. If they have, we shall be in a happier frame of mind, especially so if, in addition, we get an assurance from these two young Under-Secretaries, who are going to win their spurs tonight and who are going to arouse the confidence of the industry, that great steps are being taken, that science, which helped to win the war and which. has given us the atom bomb, is now going to help us to win our fight for food from the depths of the sea.

947 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

If ever there was an argument for the nationalisation of the fishing industry we have heard it tonight. The big fishing industries are doing to the North Sea exactly what the mineowners did to the mines; they are taking the last ounce of profit out of it without regard to the public interest. It is time that their operations were controlled and that the fishing industry was nationalised. Here at our very doors there is a plentiful supply of food of a highly nutritious value. A great supply is becoming impoverished through over-fishing, through lack of control of methods, through lack of control of the size of the mesh and other things which would be attended to if the industry were nationalised.

Mr. D. Marshall rose

Mr. Hector Hughes

Time is very short. We have only to look to see how the industry has been neglected. In 1913 the North Sea yielded five and a half million cwt. of fish. During the 1914–1920 period, which was a war period, the North Sea had a rest from exploitation and the result was that in the succeeding years 1920–1922 the yield went up by one million cwt. and yielded six and a half million cwt. In the 1925–1935 period there was a disastrous drop by 30 per cent. Again the value of fish taken bears out the same argument. In 1920 there were £21 million worth of fish taken from the North Sea. In 1924 it was £15 million and in 1938 £12 million. That is a serious drop, which is a menace to the food supplies of the people of this island. It is a menace to the living of the fishermen who earn their living by that means. I submit that it is an indictment of private enterprise in this industry. It is time that the Government took control of these catches.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I regret that I have to stop the hon. and learned Member. What he is now advocating seems to involve legislation which is not permissible on the Adjournment.

Mr. Hector Hughes

May I say that, apart from legislation, I am arguing in favour of the principle of the nationalisation of the fishing industry?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is the very thing I cannot allow the hon. and learned Member to do.

9.50 p.m.

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

First of all, may I say "Thank you," to hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate for the very kind words they have said about me? Sometimes I thought I caught in the wish that I should do well, a malicious enjoyment of things to come. For one hon. Member who took part I have special thanks, as my constituent. It was a special kindness in him, and I think I can say that he is becoming worthy of his Member.

A number of specific points have been raised, to some of which I would like to refer before I talk about the general layout as presented to the House by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall). About the White Fish Commission I fear I cannot give my hon. Friend a great deal of comfort, except to say that we are looking very closely at that matter. As we understand the original proposition, we are not very sure that the efficiency of it will be what was originally claimed for it in that form, but the hon. Member may be happy to know that we are seriously concerned to see what we can do along those lines. He asked me a question about the ratifications, with which I will deal in a moment. Having begun by trying to embroil me with the Foreign Secretary he went on to try to get me into an engagement with the First Lord of the Admiralty. I will do what I can, but I cannot undertake a heavy engagement in my first experience of office.

The hon. Member and other hon. Members made reference to scientific organisation and research. I gather from the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) that he thought we were doing very little in this regard. It may be interesting to the hon. and gallant Member and to others to know that we are doing a very great deal more than they think. Perhaps the House will permit me to mention one or two of the things we are doing. There are three research vessels, as far as England and Wales are concerned, now at sea. We have a large distant water trawler not yet launched but well on the way. We have the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth which, while not a Ministry organisation, receives a Government grant and is having a research vessel. We have a large research laboratory at Lowestoft, which is, of course a Ministry undertaking. We hive there at the moment a staff of 40, which we intend to extend to 80 as the men become available, which is the only obstacle. In this very important matter of research and in the whole problem of the sea we are doing, we can claim, a considerable amount.

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) referred to this business of dumping. Recently, I think it was in the early part of this month, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food replied to a Question on the point and gave some figures, which the hon. Member must have overlooked. They stated that from January to October this year the amount of dumping to which he referred was about 609 tons, representing about .07 per cent. of landings. My feeling about it is that while it is regrettable that the incidents occurred, the matter is hardly as serious a; I thought at one time it was, when the ton. Member was suggesting it to us.

Mr. Duthie

The dumping takes place in our port, and we think it does affect a very large local area for quite a long time. We should like to see dumping looked upon as a criminal offence.

Mr. D. Marshall

There is another point about dumping. The Minister of Food will not allow cod to be landed in this country without-the heads being off, so dumping of the heads takes place. This dumping is said by some people to pollute the sea-bed.

Mr. Brown

I took a note of what the hon. Member said earlier in the year, when I was researching into this matter in preparation for this assault. I cannot go beyond saying that I did take notice of what he said. On the other problem, I could not agree more than I do with what the hon. Member for Banff said except that the problem does not seem quite as big as I thought it was when I heard him talking. I am not saying that it is not a most serious matter for the inshore fishing, or that fishermen ought not to do it, or that we ought not to do all we can to encourage them not to do that sort of thing.

The Government would not pretend any more than hon. Members on both sides of the House that the question of over-fishing in these waters is not proven or is not serious. Indeed, it is quite aware that the experience we had after the first world war of catches being brought down very low is being repeated. We appeared to have a recovery during the rather restricted fishing of the North Sea areas during the war, although some nations were pretty hard at it, but the 1946 catches certainly suggested that we should be running very quickly into very dangerous times and that there would be drops in the catches. We must not be unduly self-righteous about this. Our own fellows were taking fairly heavy catches in 1946, and some measure of responsibility rests on us. We are not all the time dealing only with other countries which ought to toe the line.

To say that the Government are very concerned and that they share the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House is one thing, but to talk as though one can then command action by everybody involved is quite a different thing. There was a lot of talk tonight about the necessity for getting an agreement with other Governments. My right hon. Friend is entirely in agreement, and we are doing all we can to bring it about, but we must bear in mind that it is a question of getting agreement among a number of Governments each of which has difficulty of some kind or another with its own fishermen. The hon. Member for Bodmin paid great tribute to the Cornish fishing men but he would not say that a lack of individualism was to be found among them. All Governments have difficulties with their fishermen in this regard. The circumstances of each nation, of its fishing, of its reliance on food and so on, change, and so there is considerable difficulty in getting agreement.

Considerable action has been taken. His Majesty's Government were responsible for calling the original International Conference in March, 1946, which produced the convention which has been referred to. That convention got agreement on certain things. It may be thought by enlightened people that that agreement was not wide enough and did not go far enough, but it got agreement on the immediate issues of the size of fish to be caught and the increase in the size of the mesh. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) referred to the sizes on which agreement was reached and said they were really very small. I quite agree with that, but we did, however, get a measure of agreement.

I was asked by one hon. Gentleman, whose constituency for a moment escapes me, to say by whom the agreement has now been ratified. I am informed that we have now had ratifications from Denmark, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and, of course, ourselves. Although we have by no means covered the whole field of the countries represented there, it is the earnest desire of His Majesty's Government, to bring about further ratifications. At the same time, we have gone along the road which my hon. Friend thought was at that time most important. Also out of the first international conference came the proposal for a standing Advisory Committee which could agree upon some considerable form of regulation for the prevention of over-fishing in the North Sea and other areas, and that Advisory Committee has had two meetings. It met in January and again in April of this year and discussed a number of measures that might, be taken. I will not weary the House by going through those measures again because my right hon. Friend, when replying to the Debate in June this year, detailed the seven different varieties of conservation measures that were discussed. A number of different actions were agreed upon by different Governments—

Mr. D. Marshall

The hon. Gentleman has not referred to the question whether or not Spain has been invited.

Mr. Brown

I am coming to Spain in due course, but I thought we might divide this into the general problem and then the Spanish problem a little later on. I was saying that seven varieties of conservation measures were discussed. Each country there represented in the end agreed upon—

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

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

Mr. Brown

Each of the countries there represented agreed upon an offer which it was prepared to make. I will not go through them all because they were detailed by my right hon. Friend in the Debate in June, and hon. Members will no doubt have in their minds what was agreed upon. The United Kingdom offer, as part of the general measure of agreement, was to limit its fishing to 85 per cent. of prewar fishing, and we regard the different measures offered by each of the nations concerned as approximating to equal contributions from them all and, while they were not as effective as we would have liked, it was felt to be an important step forward. There was a third outcome, and that was the recommendation to which my right hon. Friend referred in the June Debate, to set up a standing Advisory Committee as an international commission, consisting of a representative from each nation, accompanied by a scientist, to undertake an annual review of the fishing activities in the North Sea. I am not able to say that it has yet come into being. In fact it remains a recommendation; we have accepted the whole of the recommendations, and we are doing our best to get the agreement put into force by all the countries who were there.

The hon. Member for Bodmin referred to Spain. This, as he explained, is mainly a question of the hake fishing off the South and South-West Coast of Ireland. Again, unquestionably over-fishing of those waters is going on, but from the evidence we have and from the estimates made by our own fishermen of the extent of Spanish over-fishing—I have the figures here if they are required—it is perfectly true that our own fellows took out in 1946 a catch from that area considerably above our own prewar fishing there. The hon. Member referred to pareja fishing, which I understand is fishing by a pair of trawlers with the net between them. On the advice I have, this does not necessarily seem to involve the taking of immature fish. It is sometimes forgotten that these pairs of trawlers cannot operate all the year round and that rough weather, as far as they are concerned, will be a considerable brake; on the other hand, it does mean that they are taking an increased tonnage away.

As to Spain having a representative on the standing Advisory Committee this, as the hon. Member will realise, is a difficult problem. He knows that in December of 1946 the United Nations organisation adopted a resolution dealing with the question of the participation of the Franco Government in Spain in international organisations run under the aegis of tae United Nations organisation. Without arguing too much from that, at the same time the adoption of such a resolution—and His Majesty's Government did not hide this at the time—obviously led to certain difficulties. Certainly the interpretation of the spirit of such a resolution can quite easily occasionally lead us into difficulties, and there I think is the whole point about the Spaniards and this standing Advisory Committee. However, that is not being allowed to affect the desire of His Majesty's Government, the efforts to put that desire into practice, and to bring about some ratification of the convention by all the countries who were there.

Mr. D. Marshall

It would include Spain?

Mr. Brown

Of all the countries who were there. Consequently, in the attempt to get those higher standards agreed upon by the Standing Advisory Committee—the still smaller mesh, the higher standards about the size of fish, and so on—extended to include other countries who were there or not there, I think we can say we have given a lead to all the countries concerned. We have put into effect the whole of our own part of the bargain, hoping that they will follow us in their part. I can only say in conclusion—

Mr. D. Marshall

I trust that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the part of the ocean off the Irish coast which has been referred to actually involves not only Milford Haven, but Swansea, Cardiff, and all the great Welsh ports.

Mr. Brown

Yes, I do not think I could add anything to what the hon. Gentleman said, but I agree about the importance of those ports and those men. We are doing what we can, and we are well aware of the. difficulties. We are well aware of the need for further international agreement on this matter, and have no illusion about it at all. I only hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that there are enormous difficul- ties, and that it is not in the power of the Government to demand action on the part of other people.

Mr. D. Marshall

I know this is rather a difficult position, but will the hon. Gentleman consider—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Seven Minutes past Ten o'Clock.