HC Deb 29 April 1948 vol 450 cc624-59

Order for Second Reading read.

4.8 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill deals with some rather urgent matters in connection with these two industries. It contains eight principal Clauses. The first deals with the size of mesh of nets for fishing in the North Sea; the second with licensing of fishing in the North Sea; the third with financial assistance to inshore fishing; the fourth with loans to fishermen's co-operative societies; the fifth with assistance to the Herring Industry Board; the sixth with advances to improving the procedure for maintaining the Herring Industry Board; the seventh with the general powers of the Herring Industry Board; and the eighth with the powers of Ministers to give general directions to the Board.

Clauses 1 and 2 arise from the International Conference on Overfishing, which took place in London in 1946. The question of overfishing was debated in this House on two occasions last year, and hon. Members are familiar with the problem, and with the attempts to secure international action to deal with it. Over-fishing means that the stock of breeding fish is reduced because more fish are taken out than are reproduced. Stocks of fish in the sea cannot be measured directly, but the yield from fishing and the percentage of small fish in the catches give a good indication of the state of stocks. Our scientists have been giving a considerable amount of study to this matter during the war, and as a result Britain called for this conference.

Statistics of the fisheries between the wars showed that overfishing took place in the North Sea then. The replenishment of stocks during the first world war, when there was little fishing in the North Sea, encouraged activity. Immediately afterwards the stocks declined markedly, and by 1937 were considerably below the level in 1913. The results of this overfishing were that greater and greater effort and expense were required to catch the same amount of fish. To a considerable extent, fishing became unprofitable. During the second world war, the North Sea fish had a second chance to multiply and again increased in numbers, but even after three years the weight of fish caught for a given effort and the percentage of smaller fish show that the results of overfishing are already to be seen.

Overfishing can be controlled only through international agreement, and it is in the interests of all countries concerned to prevent it. This country, which before the war caught nearly one-quarter of the fish taken out of the North Sea, has a special interest in this. Much of Britain's fish comes from other areas, such as the Arctic, Iceland and elsewhere, where overfishing has not yet been found, but nearly all the best fish and the fish of prime varieties come from the North Sea. The British Government convened an International Conference in 1946, with a view to limiting the tonnage of vessels fishing in the North Sea. The convention drawn up by that Conference prescribed new minimum sizes for the mesh of nets, and larger minimum sizes of certain kinds of fish which might be landed. A standing advisory committee was set up after the Conference. This committee has proposed further measures, including a British proposal to limit the tonnage of British vessels fishing in the North Sea to 85 per cent. of the tonnage in 1938. I should perhaps explain that the tonnage of the present British North Sea fleet is about four-fifths of the 1938 figure, and has not yet reached that figure of 85 per cent. Therefore, it is not an immediate problem to provide a limitation for British tonnage.

We have been pressing the countries which have not yet ratified the 1946 Convention to do so, and we are considering bringing the new mesh and new minimum sizes of fish into force without delay. We have also been pressing other countries for an indication that they will put into effect the further measures put forward by the standing advisory committee last year. The report of the committee became available in the House earlier this week. Under the Sea Fishing Industry Act, 1933, fishery Ministers have powers to regulate the minimum size of nets, but those powers do not extend to territorial waters. The first Clause of this Bill remedies this by extending the existing powers to territorial waters. This shows our willingness to take steps to put the agreement into force, and we hope that our example will be followed by the other countries.

Clause 2 deals with the points discussed on the standing advisory committee. It provides machinery for dealing with the limitation of the tonnage of the North Sea fleet. This can only be done by a licensing system, such as that provided in this Clause. The system will not, however, be brought into force until after an appointed day, which cannot be fixed until Ministers are satisfied that other countries are taking equivalent measures. Provision is made for the exemption of certain classes of boats from the need to have licences. For example, licences would not be necessary for very small boats. The licensing system will not apply to boats when they are fishing for mackerel, sprats, pilchards and herrings, or for shellfish and salmon.

I now turn to the part of this Bill which deals with the inshore fishing industry. Clause 3 provides additional money for the purposes of the Inshore Fishing Industry Act, 1945. Under that Act, grants and loans may be made for the provision, improvement and reconditioning of boats and gear. The grants provided under that Act total £500,000, and the loans £800,000. It was intended that this provision should cover the five-year period from December, 1945, to December, 1950, but, it is likely that it will be exhausted in the autumn of this year. A great deal of advantage has been taken of the assistance available, and up to 1st April the total commitments made for England and Wales and Scotland amounted to £400,000 by way of grant, and £693,000 by way of loan. Applications are still flowing in, and the Fisheries Department have on their books a considerable number of applications from fishermen desiring to acquire ex-naval motor fishing vessels as they are released from time to time by the Admiralty.

Available sums have run out quicker than was anticipated because the fishermen have elected to build a higher proportion of the larger boats. I welcome this tendency, as larger boats are less subject to the difficulties of bad weather. The second reason for the drain on the money available has been the considerable rise in costs since the Act was passed. That applies not only to materials, but also to labour costs.

In the case of Scotland, grants so far offered cover the construction of 104 new vessels and the purchase of 26 ex-naval vessels as well as the purchase and reconditioning of 133 second-hand boats. Over 600 Scots fishermen will benefit directly from the assistance given. Grants in England and Wales cover 78 new boats, 15 Admiralty motor fishing vessels and 136 second-hand boats, and about 320 fishermen will benefit. It may be asked why there are more in Scotland than in England and Wales. The point is that inshore fishing is much more a definite part of the fisherman's life in Scotland than in England where there are sometimes alternative methods of earning one's livelihood, and the fishing is not so consistent as in the North. The tendency in Scotland is also for larger boats, which accounts for the larger catch, and, to some extent, the larger cost. [Interruption.] It helps a larger catch, if one can get it. The point of the Bill is that we are trying to prepare measures so that the catch will be there when the boats go out. The purpose of the Bill is to protect the breeding of fish in the North Sea, so that when the boats go out there is something to catch.

The inshore fisheries are carried on by fishermen all round our coasts in boats up to about 70 feet in length. They land appreciable quantities of fish in fresh condition, and in 1947 accounted for over 1¾ million cwts. of white fish, or a little over 10 per cent. of the total landings of white fish in Great Britain. In Scotland the inshore fisheries are specially important as they produce about one-third of the total catch of white fish available in our country. In 1947, the landings of these fishermen were over two-and-a-half times as great as in 1938. Apart from the contributions to food supplies, the inshore fisheries provide a very valuable reserve of small craft and men for emergencies. I think it is very desirable to continue the provision of these grants and loans, as they are being of great help in the re-equipment of this side of the industry.

Clause 4 provides for loans to help fishermen's co-operatives. Co-operatives of this type have been formed at over 50 ports in England and Wales but there are only three in Scotland. These organisations usually engage in such activities as the provision of fuel and other requisites for fishing, bulk purchasing of gear for boats, marketing of the catch, and provision of communal facilities, such as sheds for the storage of gear, and insurance. These co-operatives can play a big part in helping the fishermen. It often requires considerable capital outlay to start a co-operative—£2,000 or 3,000 or even more for the provision of a working stock of boxes, offices and yard, lorry or van, etc.

This Clause authorises loans to help in this desirable development in order to assist the formation of new co-operative organisations and to assist existing organisations to meet capital expenditure on such things as sheds for nets which can be provided with less expenditure and material on a communal basis than individually. Our experience is that they are extremely helpful to the fishermen in getting a start, and they can carry on once the foundation has been laid. The loans may not exceed £1,000 in any case or an aggregate of £100,000 during the next five years. It is desirable that if the State gives loans, the fishermen themselves should make a considerable contribution in order that their interest in the matter may be very clear.

Fishermen's co-operatives can benefit their members both through the economies which can be effected by purchasing in bulk and in the disposal of the catch. A portion of the profit which normally accrues to the middleman is secured for the fishermen; but more important the fishermen are not forced to accept terms dictated by the buyers who at the smaller ports are often few in number.

The third part of the Bill deals with the herring industry, and the main purposes of the next four Clauses are, firstly, to provide additional money for grants to the Herring Industry Board and to extend the period during which these grants may be made. Secondly, it enables additional powers to be conferred upon the Board by means of the Herring Industry Scheme. We also propose, at the same time, to speed up procedure for amending the Herring Industry Scheme, and to make the Board subject to formal directions from Ministers in order to bring it into harmony with other legislation on this subject. Some minor adjustments of the financial arrangements under the earlier Act are also being made.

Clause 5 provides £1,250,000 extra money for grants to the Board. It is estimated that £1 million will be required for projects for converting herring to oil and other products, and the balance will be available for schemes such as the development of winter fisheries research and experiment, for which grants may already be made.

The Board are acting as agents of the Government for carrying out projects for converting herring to oil and meal. The oil can be used for margarine and many other purposes and the meal for cattle food. The projects will help to save imports. The projects will also provide additional outlets for the herring catch to take the place of declining export markets for pickle-cured herring. At present there is no sign of overfishing for herring, and the total British catch in 1947 was lower than 1938 and less than half the pre-1914 level of 3 million crans. In 1946, the Board set as a target the conversion of 1 million crans of herring; this is equivalent to about 17,000 tons of oil.

The Board will be reimbursed for expenditure incurred by them on approved schemes and the grants to be made will cover not only capital expenditure but any loss made in the initial period. The Board have taken over from the Ministry of Food the payment of subsidy to fishermen for herring supplied for conversion. Hitherto, there have been only one or two factories intended mainly for converting herring; the other factories employed were primarily for processing white fish and have not been conveniently situated for the herring ports. The price which factories can pay to fishermen for herring varies with the quality of the herring and the distance it has to be transported. In 1947, the average price was about 8s. 6d. per cran. The Ministry of Food, however, offered the fishermen 30s. per cran for all herring surplus to other requirements subject to the limit of capacity of the available factories.

In 1947, about 40,000 crans of herring were converted to oil and meal. Over one-third of this amount was landed and processed in Shetland. Fishermen in other areas did not supply as much herring for this purpose as we had hoped. The reason was largely because they thought the price offered—30s. per cran—is too low to justify the additional effort required to produce the additional supplies. The price of 30s. included a subsidy of 21s. This year we have offered the fishermen 35s. per cran with a view to stimulating greater efforts in bringing herring in.

The price paid to the fishermen under present arrangements varies according to the use made of the herring; and the oil and meal price is the lowest in the scale. This price structure does not help us to get the maximum production of herring and the maximum use of the catch. In an experimental scheme at Lerwick in 1946 and 1947, the Herring Industry Board arranged with the fishermen that their herring should be taken over by the Board at a flat rate, and that any profits made by the Board in disposing of the catch would be shared out amongst the fishermen at the end of the season. This scheme worked with great success. The fiat price encouraged the fishermen to think in terms of as much fish as they could land, rather than about the proportion which would realise the highest price for the home market.

Clause 7 extends the working capital for the Herring Industry Board. It makes it possible for the Board to be given powers to take over at a flat price all herring landed in any prescribed area. At the moment these schemes are voluntary. In the meantime we will proceed to develop them so far as we can, and the Herring Industry Board have carried out an experiment in Shetland and are now hoping to try similar arrangements in Stornoway. In due course, we hope that the fishermen will realise the benefits of a scheme such as this. If this provision becomes law it is intended to amend the Herring Industry Scheme accordingly.

The procedure at the moment for amending the Herring Industry Scheme has proved cumbersome and slow, and the Bill substitutes a quicker procedure. Under the present powers, the Board prepare a draft amending scheme, but they can only do so after consulting the industry and after being satisfied that there is a prevailing opinion in the industry in favour of the scheme. The scheme is then submitted to Ministers who can modify it only with the Board's assent. The scheme requires an affirmative Resolution, but Ministers cannot submit it to Parliament for approval unless, after a further period for objections, they are in turn satisfied about the prevailing opinion in the industry.

This procedure was laid down in the Act of 1935. It does not provide a means of conferring additional powers on the Board quickly when the need for them develops. Neither can the Government take the initiative. Under the proposals of this Bill, action will be started by the Ministers after consulting with the Board. A draft amending scheme will be advertised and there will be opportunities for all concerned to have their say. This amending scheme will still require affirmative approval of the House and the House will have full control over the change.

The Bill, for the first time, brings the Minister of Food into a formal relationship with the Board. The Board was, of course, set up before the Ministry was created and its responsibilities extend into matters which are now the responsibility of the Minister of Food. After the proposals in the Bill are adopted, the Ministry will share responsibility with the fisheries Ministers in regard to such general questions as the amending of the Herring Industry Scheme and in giving directions to the Board. It is under Clause 8 of the Bill that these directions may be made, and under it the fishery Ministers may give directions in the national interest to the Herring Industry Board. A similar power has been taken in all recent legislation setting up public Boards for the management of particular industries.

This Bill will bring very great and immediate benefits to the fishing industry, and will also enable the organisation to be speeded up, as a result of which I hope the Herring Industry Board will be able to take much bigger steps with a view to securing the prosperity of the industry. Whether we shall get an agreement with other countries in respect of precautions against over-fishing is still a matter for conjecture, but this country exercises a considerable influence. We ourselves will show an example by proceeding to deal with the question of the size of the mesh, but the decision about the tonnage will not take effect until after the appointed day, which will be when Ministers are satisfied that other countries are also playing the game. Whether other countries take steps in regard to meshes or not, it is important, for our own sake, that we should take such steps as we can to prevent the over-fishing of the North Sea.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

Are there any provisions in the Bill for the inspection of trawlers in the North Sea?

Mr. Woodburn

The Bill does not deal with trawlers.

Mr. Scollan

I mean seine net fishing.

Mr. Woodburn

It is not covered by the Bill. Powers exist to control fishing, but there is nothing in the Bill to deal with that particular point.

Mr. Scollan

I think my right hon. Friend has misunderstood me. I was referring to the nets of trawlers and inshore fishing boats. Is there any arrangement for the inspection of boats which are fishing in the North Sea?

Mr. Woodburn

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. There are powers of inspection. If we are to make regulations we must be able to enforce them. We can enforce them in our own country, but we cannot enforce them on other countries. As I say, even if other countries do not take steps immediately, it is important that we ourselves, in the areas in which we are fishing, should permit the breeding of fish so that they can maintain their reproduction at a suitable rate. This country is limited in its power to use its land for the production of food. Fortunately, we are a sea-going and fishing race, and we have around our shores tremendous resources of food. While this Bill deals with only a limited part of our problem, it nevertheless deals with an important part, and I commend its acceptance to the House.

4.34 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

I am sure no one will quarrel with the concluding sentences of the speech of the Secretary of State, namely, that we have around our shores enormous resources of raw material both for food and other uses which, especially in present circumstances, are of the greatest importance to this country. This Bill deals with two aspects of our fisheries—first, the adequate utilisation of this asset by ourselves, and secondly, co-operation with others. Co-operation is the vital point—I am not sure that the Minister made enough of it—and we must see that this pool of economic resources is not drained dry. That is the problem with which we are faced; it transcends altogether the arrangements for proper internal organisation which the Minister has put before the House, arrangements for the more rapid and more efficient extraction of these resources.

Unless we can get a far greater degree of co-operation on the replenishment of these resources, a more rapid rate of extraction will simply mean a more rapid run-down of the whole process. Because of two successive wars, which meant two long periods of rest for our fishing areas in the North Sea, it has been proved possible—although one would scarcely believe it—for human beings around the shores of the North Sea to catch all the fish in the sea, or, following the analogy of the American Dust Bowl, to leave the North Sea as a salt bowl from which, when the sea is strained with nets, all that is obtained is salt. That was actually taking place before the 1914–18 war, and also took place before the last war, not in regard to herring but certainly in regard to white fish.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food was in her place during the earlier part of the Secretary of State's speech, and it is a pity that she should have withdrawn herself from the discussion now, because of all the people who are interested in this Bill, the Ministry of Food are more interested than anyone else. White Papers without number have drawn attention to the necessity for making the best use of our fishing resources to balance the shortage of other foods. That is a very necessary thing, but if increasing emphasis is placed on a diminishing supply then a great disaster awaits this country. Because fishing is carried on by small units, and the fish are landed at a great diversity of ports, it does not attract the same attention as the great imports of other foods from other countries. Yet it is of transcending importance. The whole of the meat import from South America to this country, pre-war, amounted to 500,000 tons a year. The catch of herring by our own vessels alone amounted to 250,000 tons a year; the landings of white fish totalled 800,000 tons a year, and the two together amounted to over 1 million tons a year—twice as much as the whole of the South American meat trade. If we consider the amount of capital, attention and international negotiation which has gone on about the South American meat trade and compare it with the attention given to the fishing industry, I think we should find that the meat trade had been given twice as much attention. If the fishery industry has had a quarter of that attention, I should be surprised. The danger of neglecting this great industry is, therefore, very real.

This Bill is in series with the Sea Fishing Act, 1933, and the vital Duncan Report which arose from the Duncan Commission appointed under that Act. It is necessary to note, especially when, by a coincidence, the Bill is being discussed by an ex-Secretary of State for Scotland, following the Secretary of State, that the fishing industry is by no means solely a Scottish industry. It is an industry in which England plays a very large part indeed. The great trawler fleets of Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood, and other English ports generally, are outstanding among the fishing fleets of the world. English vessels landed a large percentage of the fish caught in the North Sea. It is truly a United Kingdom industry. The shoals of herring may start in the North, but the active and hardy constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who follow them around, are greatly indebted to the landing facilities which they encounter in East Anglia. We are talking today not of any kind of limited or parochial industry; it is a great industry which is of the highest importance in the national economies of Scotland, England, and, indeed, Wales.

When the Sea Fishing Act was passed, it was the first time for 50 years that Parliament had passed an Act about sea fishing. The white fish problem was tackled along the lines of the larger mesh and the rejection of immature fish, a line which scientists had pressed on the attention of the industry and practical men for a long time, but upon which it had not been possible to get agreement. We got agreement upon that by enforcing the regulation of landings in this country. We used the great weapon of the British import market to make sure that we would get an operative international convention. That convention was the first practical step ever taken towards reducing over-fishing of the North Sea.

Today, the Minister advanced the hope that we would get agreement with foreign countries in the further steps he intends to take. I am not sure that that will be possible without again exercising the weapon of the British import market. I do not think it will be possible for us merely to regulate mesh and restrict our own trawlers without also trying in some way to enforce this upon others.

The hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) asked if there was to be inspection of fishing vessels. Yes, but only of our own ships, and of our own nets. We cannot enforce any inspection on other ships and other nets. When I hear all this talk about Western Union, I must say that the North Sea, this great food-producing salt lake, adjacent to our own shore, is a field in which Western Union will need to get to work if that field is not to become exhausted. There will need to be something with more teeth in it than the discussions on this Bill have hitherto revealed. Other countries have seen this great source of food supply, and are beginning to make inroads upon it. Even before the war we were not the largest fish catchers in the North Sea, and as there is every likelihood of famine in Europe, the pressure on the resources of the North Sea will be greater than ever before.

Before the war, the largest fishery nation in the North Sea for herring, was Norway, which took 350,000 tons a year out of the North Sea, compared with 239,000 tons by the United Kingdom. Germany lifted 216,000 tons a year, and I would not be surprised at all if the Germans, faced with a great food shortage, as they undoubtedly are, and with shipyard resources second to none in Europe, devoted their attention to building or purchasing, or being given, under Marshal aid, vessels with which to raid again the resources of the North Sea. Without some kind of international convention and administration I fear very much that the growing pressure on these resources will lead to their very rapid diminution. The North Sea is only a recently submerged part of Western Europe. The valley is still there under the sea where the Thames ran down to join the Rhine and both entered the ocean off the coast of Norway. It is in these drowned valleys that the great herds of fish pasture. If there is any part of the world fit for some kind of international operation and exploitation it is the North Sea—the submerged part of Western Europe.

The sea is no man's land in the most literal sense of the word, and without some co-operation by those around its shores exhaustion which the scientists repeatedly prophesy and which repeatedly comes, will arrive again. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) drew attention as recently as 12th November last to the whole question of over-fishing, and particularly to the figures for hake. He said that for the first six months Of 1946 we landed 624,399 cwt. and for the first six months of 1947 the figure was reduced to 371,501 cwt. The same tale is told in Aberdeen. The landings of all classes of fish in Aberdeen which were 187,000 cwt. in March, 1947, were 147,000 cwt. in March, 1948, although the vessels coming in had been 299 in 1947 and 440 in 1948. That is to say, 140 more vessels had landed some 40,000 cwt. less of fish. That is the way of bankruptcy for the fishing industry, the road to hunger amongst the population of this country and exhaustion of the fishing fields. It will be necessary for Ministers, before the Debate is finished, to be much more specific about what they expect to do in the way of the enforcement of the admirable projects which they have laid before the House.

As far as the herring industry is concerned, the Minister pointed to the necessity of making the maximum possible use of the potential herring catch of this country, and in particular of using processing of one kind or another. He drew attention to the necessity for processing for oil and meal, but until we have used every herring that can be used for straight human food, there is no sense in processing them for oil and meal. I would say a more intensive exploration of the freezing processes is very necessary. When I see the millions upon millions that are being poured into East Africa to produce an eventual two million tons of oil-containing foodstuff as compared with the attention which is being given to this source lying at our own shores, I wonder whether we have not got the thing a little bit out of perspective. For a very much smaller sum, and a much smaller percentage of our economic resources than is needed for the expansion of the groundnut industry in East Africa, there would be an immediate return in the shape of the very fats and oil for which we are looking.

The interesting point about the herring industry is that all parties now are proceeding along the lines which the Duncan Report laid down. Those suggestions were in favour of using the small, federated man—giving him the resources of a large-scale industry without passing into the realm of nationalisation. Since I do not wish to be controversial, I might say that it is a line of approach which may give to the small man the advantages of large-scale collective enterprise while allowing him to retain the power of individual initiative. He remains on his own but enjoys the greater economic resources which are provided in the large-scale enterprises of processing, marketing and intelligence which the Herring Board makes available.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

My right hon. and gallant Friend has mentioned the Duncan Report. I hope that he will not withhold a tribute to the Elliot Report.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Perhaps I had better leave that to other speakers in the Debate, but I do not under-estimate the importance of that Report, which I attribute very largely to the admirable colleagues with whom I had to work and to the very rapid way in which the conclusions of that Report were taken up by the Ministers of the day. The difficulty of all this is that if we reduce the authority of the centre, action is to some extent slowed up. The Secretary of State spoke of the difficulty of getting sufficiently vigorous and rapid action, and many of the proposals in the Bill are devoted to that end. For instance, the Board will draw its salary from the Exchequer and the proposal for making amending schemes is being considerably shortened. When we framed the 1935 Act on the Duncan Report, we deliberately did our utmost to encourage co-operation amongst the herring fishermen and we tried to build the pyramid from the bottom up, but that proved impossible. Time and time again, as those closely engaged with the herring men will know, the machinery broke down hopelessly.

Mr. Scollan

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman of the opinion that pyramids can be built from the top down.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

We were trying to build the pyramid from the bottom up, but the hon. Member may not be unaware of the stalactite which grows from the top down. We have had to adopt this stalactital as against pyramidal, structure. I prefer myself a democratically based Board, but if action cannot be had by that means, other means have to be adopted. I do not deny that the Minister was quite right in giving greater powers to the nominated Board in this case. But I hope every opportunity will be taken to encourage the initiative from the bottom up. The best thing of all would be if the herring industry elected its own board, as has been done in the case of the Marketing Acts. It would produce a greater responsibility amongst the herring fishermen, and would make them more tolerant of the decisions which the Board take. I hope that it may be found possible to have such a structure of self-government within the industry.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree with the idea of having an Englishman on the Board?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

There is always an Englishman on the Herring Board. I appointed the original Herring Board and I got into the greatest trouble amongst my friends North of the Border because I nominated an English chairman. We had an English representative on the Commission over which I had the honour of presiding and very good indeed he was. The English brought sanity and a power of assessing the other man's point of view as well as a power of sweet reasonableness.

Mr. Boothby

My right hon. and gallant Friend is not serious when he suggests that Scottish herring fishermen are insane?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I am not saying they are insane further than the parallel we find in the story of the man who had a friend called Campbell. He was asked whether he would call his friend Campbell a liar, and he said he would not like to, but if all the liars were gathered together on the top of Ben Lomond and Campbell was not there, he would say that the collection was not complete. I would not bring an accusation of insanity against any of the constituents of my hon. Friend, but I would say if all the eccentric and quarrelsome men were gathered somewhere in the United Kingdom and there was not a single fisherman from Fraser-burgh or Buckie among them, the collection would not really be complete.

So far, the attempt to bring about a self-governing structure in the industry has not been successful, and we must still go on striving to produce it. One of the efforts which the Board must make must be to try to produce co-operation amongst the rank and file which will lead to their taking over as far as possible the administration of their industry. I do not think the co-operative societies have been very successful in that direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin will speak about that later. I fear that so far, the results have not been very good. I do not think we have yet got the proper solution for all these difficulties, and we shall simply have to go on trying.

There is no other way in which men working from year's end to year's end can produce so great a weight of food as in the fishing industry. It is the way in which the greatest amount of human food can be produced by the minimum amount of human effort. Therefore, at the present time it is of the very greatest importance. We have asked for an extension of time on this Bill, because a great number of hon. Members desire to take part in this Debate and every opportunity should be given to them to do so. It is not often we get a fishery Debate ending in action. Fishery Debates on Supply Days are all very well, but here is a piece of legislation before us. It is not often we get a chance to debate legislation for this industry, and we all want to take full advantage of it. I do not wish to stand long between the House and the further discussion on this Measure. But I am most grateful for this opportunity of addressing myself again to a subject in which, for many years, I have taken a very great interest, and which I believe offers great chances of advancement both in food production and in production of industrial raw material.

We have not yet properly exploited the harvest of the seas. In fact, it is a mistake to call it the harvest of the seas. It is the only great industry which is still a hunting industry. It is a nomadic hunting industry. How far it is possible, as I am sure it is possible, to make better use of its catches is something which remains to be seen in the years to come.

Nor do I know whether it is possible eventually to farm the seas. There are most fascinating possibilities in that. The sea is full of currents and these currents rise carrying phosphate laden waters from the lower seas on which the minute organisms in the upper waters feed. On these the fish feed. Whether it is eventually possible to reinforce these phosphate laden waters or encourage the minute organisms I cannot say. That is still far ahead in the future. But here is a great asset which has been, and is just now, of the greatest advantage to this country. Here is a great asset which is in jeopardy, increasing jeopardy, rapidly increasing jeopardy. For those reasons, this House should think it desirable to bend its utmost attention to the proposals which the Government are laying before us.

5.1 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

After listening to the characteristically interesting and informed speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) I think I might perform the function of stalactite to his stalagmite in the hope that we might meet half way. There is a great deal of common interest on both sides of the House on this matter. As a special gesture, I should say that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), with whom I had a slight altercation yesterday, and whom I see opposite, has given a great deal of attention for many years to this important subject. I am not sure that the Bill is by any means one of the major steps that the Government ultimately intend to take in regard to the fishing industry. We look forward to the time, and we hope that it will not be long delayed, when we shall have a glimpse of the Government's longterm policy for the fishing industry. I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House as well as opposite will be glad and relieved when we have before us definite and practical evidence that there is to be a long-term policy shown to us and brought forward soon in the form of legislation.

I recognise that many delays are naturally bound to occur until we can reach much more international agreement, for instance, about the limitation of fishing in the North Sea, on the regulation of the size of mesh, and so forth. This Government and the previous Government have not been backward in seeking that agreement, which has not yet been forthcoming to anything like the extent which one would have expected from responsible governments in other countries. They must know that their own interests, too, will be as vitally affected in the long run—and not so long a run—as in our own case. Everybody knows that the North Sea has for many years been over-fished. The same is true of course of more local waters, such as the Moray Firth. It has been one of the most difficult matters to get the fishermen at Moray Firth to realise that they could over-fish their particular area. The argument that should have impressed them is that it was known and is long known now that the North Sea has been over-fished. It stands to reason that a smaller area, like the Moray Firth can be largely depleted also, because of over-fishing. The general Convention agreement reached in regard to mesh control was a contribution in the right direction, but nobody can possibly say that real progress has been made towards a longterm policy until we get the ratification of such agreements as we have been able to reach on the subject.

The Bill is welcomed by all sides of the House for the obvious reason that it greatly extends the benefits and advantages the previous Act gave to fishermen and to the fishing community. It does not very greatly widen the provisions of that Act. It extends the financial provisions. I am glad, indeed, that it extends the powers, and to some extent improves the finances, of the Herring Industry Board. That is important. The nation has for many years neglected the industry very considerably and has allowed it to fall into such a condition that a long time will be needed to put it on to the healthy footing on which it ought to be. I hope that people do not get the impression generally that the Bill is a mere matter of giving away money to fishermen, for no national return; purely a matter of throwing out money without any expectation of a definite profit to the community by way of production. This is a valuable investment in assured increased future production and food supplies.

This important industry has many nationally vital aspects. One of them has repeatedly been stressed, and it is still necessary to stress it. And that is the strategic aspect. We must maintain the community of seafaring men around our coasts and isles as a vitally important element in our strategical security. I do not want hon. Members to think in terms of the fishing community merely as a training ground for producing first-class recruits for the Navy, the Merchant Navy or the Minesweeping Fleets. The seafaring men have their use to the nation in producing food at all times. It is in terms of their usefulness and rights as citizens, and not merely as emergency fighting forces in wartime, that I want the country and the House to regard them.

What we are arranging to do by the Bill, and by other such Measures as they come along, is to make a first-class investment in a first-class section of our community. We are not proposing blind subsidies, without check or return, as many subsidies have gone out in the past. I must say immediately that while fishermen have their local difficulties and there are still national difficulties in the industry, I have never known the industry more prosperous from the point of view of the fisherman who is fishing full time than it is just now. The men are doing reasonably well, and from the average fisherman there is normally little complaint. Loans and grants have been available to him for equipping himself, subject to a test of his needs, with boats and gear upon a generous scale. One acknowledges that very considerable efforts were made by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, and his successor, also.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

The hon. Member said a moment ago that the fishermen are well satisfied with their conditions, including their gear. Does he not know that great difficulty has been experienced for 18 months by many of them in connection with getting their fishing gear?

Mr. MacMillan

The hon. and gallant Member is referring to the question of the adequacy of the supplies of gear. I was saying that they are more satisfied with the returns from the industry than they have been for many years. That is what I know to be true of the West Coast. In regard to the assistance which they have been given in the form of loans and grants for the supply of boats and gear, I think the fishermen are reasonably content with the grants, as being generous and fairly adequate in most cases. The total amount of the assistance has not been large enough. The Bill certainly helps in that matter. The average fisherman has not had very much of a kick on that account.

But I do agree with the hon. and gallant Member opposite in regard to supply of gear, generally, because I think that much more ought to have been done in the past. Two years ago was the time when a lot of trouble could have been avoided. The export of cotton and machinery for the spinning of nets should not have taken place. Much of that machinery could have been useful at home. The whole matter could have been handled a great deal better than it was handled at that time. I acknowledge the immediate short-term value to this country of such exports, which might have been more immediately valuable to this country in hard currency; but we found ourselves as a result not many months afterwards importing fish from countries to which we had sent a great deal of equipment and nets that our men would have been able to use for catching fish here. It has been very difficult to make our men understand this kind of transaction, and I am afraid that many of them do not understand the matter yet. We are beginning to see an easing now of the situation in which fishermen found themselves, then, waiting between 18 months and two years to get spare parts and service for their engines. The situation has considerably improved.

The Bill does not do a number of things. It ignores the provision of assistance for and the tackling of the problem of building and reconstruction of piers, harbours and jetties. We shall not get the maximum production from the industry until harbours and piers and even local jetties are brought up to date. The Bill does not provide for anything like that. A Bill may provide for many things but if it does not include that provision it is lacking in something very important. We trust that this matter is being looked at from the broadest national point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) has already tried to "discipline the Scots element." We are prepared to challenge him at any time to a marine Bannockburn.

I cannot over-emhasise how much harm has been done to this country by the loss of food production and the loss of our very best type of citizen, through neglect of local harbours and the equipment of the places where men have to land their catches, shelter their boats, and even have to live. I hope that the Government will tackle this question as a matter of first class priority even under the restricted capital investment programme. Just now, the emphasis is essentially upon economy, but it is a false economy if we allow any further dilapidation—I emphasise the word "further"—in the facilities of our harbours and piers which serve our fishing industry.

I have a number of local questions which I wanted to put to the Secretary of State, but in deference to other hon. Members who want to speak and whose time is as limited as mine I will pass over them. I have written on many occasions about these matters to the Scottish Office and I still find it difficult to get from the Department just that sense of urgency in giving a decision on these matters, which are of first class importance in food production and to our fishing population.

There are one or two things in the Bill to which I should like to make a brief special reference. On the financing of co-operatives some provision might be made by way of grants for certain forms of capital equipment. I do not see any real reason why, if a project is good enough for a loan, which can be got from a bank, it should not qualify for some percentage of grant. After all, it would be a good investment. We can afford to be generous where a project commends itself to responsible authorities upon the Herring Industry Board and in the Government Department concerned.

I welcome again the extension of the powers of the Herring Industry Board. Very many people have been inclined to criticise the board, but I think the board have tried to do a good job of work within the limit of their powers. There was a desire that the board should not come on a very large scale into the industry, possibly to the detriment of certain private interests in the industry. I hope that the time will come when the board will be the greatest single organisation for all purposes in the herring industry. I would like to see something done—whether it could be done in this Bill or not I do not quite know—for the revival of the White Fish Commission. We shall have to face that issue sooner or later, and the sooner the better.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend might give me his attention for the last three quarters of a minute while I ask him why the question of transport for white fish and lobster has not been tackled. I will drop the white fish, just now, and will concentrate on lobsters. One of the complaints in almost every fishing village around the North-East and North-West coast and especially in the Islands is about the loss of this highly perishable and very important foodstuff from delays in transit. The transport system for bringing fresh fish straight to market—especially in the case of highly perishable lobsters—is obsolete and neglected. Fishermen have lost hundreds of pounds during each of the last few seasons. Overall they have made thousands, but individuals have repeatedly lost sums of £10 to £20 throughout the summer because of the lack of proper transport.

We shall be told that research is being made into packing and containers. If the right hon. Gentleman is yet again thinking out this stock answer, "research" is probably the right word. We have been waiting for 10 years for a practical answer and the right answer and we have still not got it. I know that there are possibilities in what are called by some "iced-end containers," but the question of use of insulated vans "drikold" and the rest must be speeded up. The sooner we tackle the losses of our fishermen through lobsters perishing in transport the better. It is most unfair to ask the fishermen to fish all out and try to put their fish on the market in a first class condition if they are losing money as they go along. I hope that most serious consideration will be given to the recommendations of that group of the Highlands and Islands Panel which is under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex. Anderson). That will lead to a happier lobster fishing community.

I welcome this Bill although I should have liked to see a much tougher Measure and the powers of the Herring Industry Board extended very considerably and their minimum authority as far as possible defined so that they would know just how far they can or cannot go. Overall the Bill is good. It is an improvement on the last one. It will serve the immediate purpose of giving new heart to the men who are waiting to acquire boats, engines and gear to the national benefit. I am confident that there will be an early reflection of it in increased production. May I just again stress that the Secretary of State might well consider putting into operation assistance by way of grants as well as loans at places where co-operative schemes have come into being, as at Eyemouth and Arbroath, on the initiative of the local people and with the assistance and encouragement of the Joint Under-Secretary. We rather refute the suggestion that the fishermen will not co-operate now. Wherever we have put our Highlands and Islands Panel's plans for the lobster fishing industry before the fishermen we have found them most anxious to co-operate. They have learned the lessons of past anarchy and non-co-operation and they are now willing, with responsible supervision and organisation, to put under way the co-operative schemes put up to them. I hope the Government will be able to yield and help us by making not only loans but grants as well.

5.19 p.m.

Lady Grant (Aberdeen, South)

I am very glad indeed to welcome this Bill, particularly as it affects the white fish industry. In company with the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), I should have liked to see a rather tougher Measure. I should have liked to see the provisions of this Bill considerably widened. I agree with him that it is, in a way, a courageous Measure, particularly as it affects the extension of grants to fishermen, when in the country generally there has been such a wide cut in capital investment. I, therefore, regret having in any way to qualify my remarks of appreciation, and I trust that the Secretary of State will realise that any remarks I make are more in the nature of inquiry than criticism, on this occasion at any rate.

Clause 2 and the licensing provision will be very much welcomed in the port of Aberdeen because that port has suffered considerably from over-fishing in the past. I can well remember immature fish being landed in Aberdeen in thousands of tons, with the result that in time our fishing grounds were depleted and our boats had to search further afield in order to reap their harvest or, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said, to hunt their quarry to the kill. In consequence, our boats have had to go out on longer journeys and when they have returned the fish has been in very poor condition largely due to the inadequate arrangements for freezing on our trawlers.

I hope that the agreement regarding the size of mesh will be adhered to. Boats have been known to leave port with one kind of net and, perhaps inadvertently, to fish with another. I must confess that I am very disturbed at the lack of decision about the appointed day when the Clauses regarding the licensing of boats and their limitations come into effect. I noticed from the White Paper issued this month that certain governments, notably those of Belgium, Denmark, Eire, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland, have not agreed to the recommendations of the International Over-Fishing Conference. The Secretary of State says that he hopes they will soon agree, but I should like a very specific assurance that the appointed day will not be long distant. If we control and inspect our boats and foreign countries have a rather vacillating policy regarding their own, we ought to consider how best the British trawling industry can he protected not only from foreign competition at sea, but also from foreign competition on land.

In consequence, I want to say a word or two about foreign landings. As the Secretary of State will no doubt remember, during the last two years there have been considerable stoppages of work in the trawling industry in connection with the foreign dumping of fish. We have had trouble in Aberdeen and there have also been stoppages at Grimsby and Hull. The argument has always been that where an excessive amount of foreign fish is landed in our ports, it depresses the demand for our own fish and therefore depreciates the earnings of our people. In Aberdeen in July, 1945, the Skippers and Mates Association petitioned the Harbour Board to ask whether provision could be made for any British ships docking at the fish market before 4 p.m. to have priority of berthing, after which time any space left would be allotted to foreign ships. After due consideration of all the evidence the Harbour Board acceded to that request and a by-law was passed to that effect. That had a favourable influence upon the stoppages of work through foreign dumping of fish, as has also the Ministry's policy of reviewing the ceiling quantities of landed fish at different intervals.

It is true that we do not want to see all foreign fish barred. This country is very appreciative of the high quality of certain boxed fish landed by foreign boats. I particularly recall certain Danish products which are of a very high condition—I should say a very good condition, and not "high." On the other hand, I remember the literally high state of some of the cargoes of fish landed in Aberdeen by carrier boats coming from the Faroes. Such cargoes have frequently been condemned at once on landing. All our efforts and the provisions of this Bill ought to be directed towards maintaining the quality of fish even more than the quantity, because if anyone goes down to a fish market and sees great quantities of green and putrid fish, that is not only a discouragement to the industry but it is enough to put one off that form of food for months. I remember a certain experience I underwent with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). It was an occasion during a by-election in South Aberdeen, and my hon. Friend and I, at the early hour of 7 a.m., went down to the fish market and delivered an address not to a human audience but to rows and rows of green and sightless cod—putrid and condemned.

The subject of foreign landings is a hardy annual, and therefore one regrets that this Bill is not wide enough and does not incorporate legislation to deal with this fundamental and recurring problem. This is by no means a new suggestion. In July, 1946, a court of inquiry was called under the chairmanship of Mr. John Forster to examine the causes and circumstances of the stoppages of work in the trawling industry. After many recommendations, that court of inquiry specifically recommended that a committee should be formed to undertake a comprehensive investigation of the industry as a whole. They considered that one section of the industry could not be tackled without very great repercussions on all the others and that because it was such a complex industry, it ought to be examined as a whole. They went so far as to enumerate the many factors which operated, and said that among them were the method of operating the control of the selling price of fish, the nature and locality of the fishing grounds and the need for their preservation … the policy of the Government in regard to the importation of foreign caught fish; the financial return afforded to the port wholesaler, the inland wholesaler and the retailer under the price control scheme of the Ministry of Food; and the elasticity, speed and efficiency of the machinery of distribution. They therefore came unanimously to the decision that there should be set up immediately a body which would give detailed and exhaustive examination to these problems—a body appointed jointly by those Ministries whose province it is to deal with the various aspects of the fishing industry as a whole. I should like to ask why it is that two years after this report was issued, although there have been many stoppages in the industry which have greatly undermined its efficiency, the recommendations of the Forster Report have not been implemented? We all know the many pleas which have been made in this House for a White Fish Commission, and, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for the Western Isles, we all recall the continuous pleas made by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) on the subject with his characteristic fortitude. The last time he raised the matter in this House was in a Debate on the Adjournment in November last year, when he received a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to the effect that they were afraid that they could give my hon. Friend no comfort but that the Minister and his colleagues were looking very closely into the matter. Might I ask, with due respect, whether it is not time that the Government ceased only to contemplate and resorted also to activity. This Bill is presumably designed to maintain prosperity in the industry and thus ensure a cheap and plentiful supply of food to the consumer. I suggest that the grants incorporated in this Bill will not be utilised to the full unless the insecurity and doubt which surrounds the industry are to a large extent removed.

To sum up, I would say that I welcome the Bill, but one feels that it does not go far enough, that the root causes of discontent and disturbance in the industry have not been properly examined, and that if they are not so examined quickly, it will mean once again that the consumer will have to be confronted with a food which varies in price and quality. That in turn will again depreciate the demand, and we shall see the vicious spiral with us once again. Lastly, I hope that the Secretary of State will follow up this Bill with further provisions on a more imaginative and speedy scale because we are dealing with what is at this time one of our fundamental and most important industries at this time, an industry the products and the men of which have served us very well in the past, and to whom I suggest we should now pay tribute by endeavouring to ensure greater stability and hope for the future.

5.32 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I rise with a good deal of diffidence as a mere Englishman to support this Bill. I am sure that its provisions will prove valuable, as has been exemplified already by the speeches made and by the general acceptance of all Members who have the interests of the fishing industry at heart and all others who appreciate what a great contribution it makes to the economic life of this country and to our food supplies. I was interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant), and to note that she is demanding more controls than ever in the landings of foreign fish, inspection and all the paraphernalia that must attach to direction by the Minister of Food. I agree with her and with other speakers in supporting this Bill generally, but I agree that it does not go far enough. I hope to deal a little later with those reservations.

I am very glad to see that not only are the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries sponsoring this Bill, but also the Minister of Food, who has a prime interest in distribution and the control of the price level, factors which are of the highest importance. While they are given no weight in the Bill, nor even mentioned, those elements are so important in relation to the question of the accessibility of fish to the housewife that without the most complete co-ordination and co-operation between the Departments of Food and Fisheries conditions might degenerate into a chaotic state and could become more unsatisfactory than they are at present. I wish that the Foreign Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade were also included as supporters, because their responsibilities are real and their success or non-success in negotiating with foreign countries will prove to have important effects on the prosperity of the industry, particularly in the conservation of the fishing beds and also on the ultimate stability of the herring industry itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) has mentioned the question of transport. There is no reference in this Bill to the necessary facilities of quick transport from the ports to the great markets. Everyone will agree that that is of the most vital importance in order to maintain on the fishmongers' slabs, fish in a fresh condition so that it will be acceptable to the housewife. Without variety, without good quality and without freshness there is no form of diet against which the ordinary person reacts so readily as fish, and we must not disguise that fact. The best inducements to building up a fish-eating community are good quality and good variety. That is why it is so important that when fish is landed it should become readily available in an acceptable condition. I do not think it is realised by the general public how large a part the fishing industry plays in the economic life of this country. Reference has already been made in this Debate to the importance of fish in supplementing the diet of the people, but when it is realised that in 1947 British takings were 19,872,000 cwts., of a value of over £41½ million, to which must be added foreign imports of 4¼ million cwts., valued at £12½ million, we can realise the great importance of this industry to our economic life.

It is appropriate that the first Clause of this Bill deals with one aspect of over-fishing but it is important to remember that it is only one aspect of the problem. Hon. Members will remember the recommendations of the International Conference on Over-fishing in 1946, some of which have been examined, but only this one has been put into this Bill. Over-fishing is one of the major anxieties of the industry. It is a present and real anxiety, which is based, as has already been said, on historic experience. We have already had two Debates on the Adjournment in this Parliament, one initiated by myself in June last year, the other by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) in November, and at that time we both laid before the Minister figures which showed clearly and conclusively that we were heading for disaster. We are taking out of the North Sea not only too much fish but, what is infinitely worse, we are taking fish so small, so immature, that we are killing millions of potential parents of fish and the ultimate source of supply. We have failed to learn, as indeed we have failed in so many other instances, the bitter and costly lesson of the inter-war years.

I will trouble the House with a few figures of this subject, because it is indeed important that the conditions should be fully realised by everyone. I will deal only with demersal fish taken from the North Sea, excluding Scotland, and I will go back to a period before the first world war. In 1914 we landed 2,869,000 cwt. Then for four years, as the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has said, these waters were rested. The drifters and the trawlers were engaged in other occupations. Fish multiplied and were allowed to grow to spawning age, and the sea became well stocked. By 1919 there was an ample supply of fish of good quality and wide variety of choice. Intensive fishing took place. In 1920 the catch was 4½ million cwt. and continued at that high pressure. Development in the industry was rapid through the inter-war period. The great steam trawler was developed to an extent that it could do the work of quite a number of the smaller boats of the early part of the century. In 1924 the catch had dropped to 2½ million cwt. In 1932 it was just over 2 million cwt., and in 1938 it had fallen to less than 1½ million cwt., about one-third of the catch of 1920. So the bottom was really knocked out of the North Sea fisheries. In addition to that, in seven years after the first world war the percentage of fish landed and recorded as small, that is immature, increased in respect of cod by 32 per cent., haddock 83 per cent., plaice 72 per cent. and soles 41 per cent.

What is happening today? After the six years' rest during the war it was confidently predicted that there would be no serious overfishing of the North Sea for a decade. Yet already there are the clearest signs that such a calamity, for calamity it is, cannot be long delayed. In 1946, and I am sorry to have to quote figures again, we landed from the same source—the North Sea, and again excluding Scotland—2,059,000 cwt. In 1947 that figure receded to 1,791,000 cwt., in spite of a large increase in the number of first-class landings, of which there were 2,307. Yet the aggregate catch was so considerably less, and the position in regard to hake, as has already been stated, was particularly acute. In January, 1946, 75,000 cwt. were landed, mostly in West Coast ports. In January, 1947, the catch had dropped to 33,000 cwt., less than half, and those figures are only instances of the general trend.

The cause is plain. As has been stated already by hon. Members—it cannot be stressed too often—it is the taking of immature fish, and in the case of the Western waters in which the hon. Member for Bodmin is so interested, we know very well that it is the intensive fishing of the Spaniards with their own peculiar methods. It is gratifying to find, therefore, that in Clauses 1 and 2 measures are to be taken to increase the size of mesh, although many of the participants in the International Conference, and many in the Convention, thought that the size as suggested was even then too small. No mention is made in this Bill of the other methods of conservation, that is to say, restricting certain areas of the North Sea, restricting the size of the fleet, and giving rest days or rest periods. None of these seem to have been considered. I do not know whether that is because there is no hope of getting agreement to these rather more drastic proposals on the part of the other nations which are interested.

I would like some clarification of the licensing proposals. I assume that they are designed to give some control over the number of vessels, that is to say we shall be able to limit the number of vessels which shall go out, and that we shall not increase the fishing fleet beyond the capacity of the seas to produce the fish. Otherwise we are again heading for an intensity of fishing which the seas cannot maintain. I should also like to see in the Bill a provision dealing with the condition of the working fishermen, and there is no mention of it as far as I can see, except in so far as the Bill relates to loans and co-operatives. I hope that when licenses are considered the amenities of the working fishermen will be considered. That is to say, in trawlers, and drifters there should be a minimum standard of requirements in regard to sleeping, cooking, lavatory and washing, and particularly drying accommodation. It is time we got down seriously to considering the working conditions of the men who are actually going to catch the fish.

In regard to Clause 2, Subsection (6) of the Bill, I am sure that the Minister will agree that it would be a grave hardship to the British fishing industry if, at the time when we are going to increase the size of our mesh we should permit landings from foreign boats which are not subscribing to these conditions. I sincerely hope that, before we decide on the appointed day, we shall have regard to the nations who were represented at the Conference and who signed the original Convention. I understand it has not been ratified by the important ones, Belgium, Eire, France, Iceland, Portugal and Spain, and before we insist on implementing these regulations we should get something much more specific from them as to the ratification on their part. I believe that most of these countries are alive to the danger, but in view of the grave food shortage on the Continent it is quite natural that they should take a shortsighted view of their responsibilities in this direction.

Even in Spain, where the attitude hitherto to this extensive form of over-fishing has not been critical, it is being realised how dangerous is the policy of catching immature fish. I quote from a Spanish fishing journal, "Industries Pesqueras," an article on, 15th January, 1948, in which it is said: what is intolerable is taking complete, or almost complete hauls at the expense of fishing without a minimum commercial size. There is a very long article on this question and it is gratifying to find that the Spaniards who—as I am sure the hon. Member for Bodmin will agree—are almost the worst sinners, are beginning to realise how this policy is coming home to them, and that they will eventually suffer very seriously from it. In securing the ratification of the Convention agreed by the International Conference the interest of the Foreign Secretary should be sought.

I consider that this is a good Bill, with certain reservations. It should be made wholly illegal to permit the landing of immature fish which, because of its size, does not command the control price and is being sold for manure. In March of this year 6,000 stones of fish, mostly dabs and plaice, although perfectly edible was disposed of at one of our ports as manure. In order to maintain higher prices this fish was not allowed to come into the consumers' market and the price was kept up by creating an artificial scarcity. The remedy would be—and here I hope the Minister of Food will examine the position—to put the first hand price so low on undersized fish that it would not pay to fish that area off the Dutch coast, and so save what a friend of mine, a great authority on fishing, has called "The slaughter of the innocents." There is no doubt that the temptation to skippers to supplement their catches with "smalls" is a natural one, and the temptation should be removed from them. The breeding grounds would be safeguarded and the fish would have a chance to grow to full size and become, in turn, parents of other fish.

The trade is seriously concerned at the increase of buyers at the ports. There is no question that the removal of the restricted licence last year has brought into the ports a number of persons who are not at all qualified for the job. They are going there in the hope that they will make quick money in the artificial conditions in which the fishing industry is working today. They are a hindrance to themselves and a nuisance to the old established people there. It is time that the Minister of Food looked at this matter again. On the question of foreign landings, I agree with the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant), that it is causing a great deal of disquiet, and there ought to be some ratio worked out by which foreign landings could be adjusted in some measure to the home supply and home needs. I admit that it is a difficult matter to tackle, but it should be attempted.

On those Clauses dealing with grants to inshore fishermen and co-operatives, I do not propose to say anything. The system of co-operatives on my part of the coast does not seem to have attracted the fishermen, and in that we lag behind. I hope that with the encouragement that will now be given, they may be induced to come in rather less reluctantly. I welcome the desire of the Minister to give increased power to the Herring Industry Board. The twelfth annual report of the Herring Industry Board is well documented, thoughtful and, I think, realistic. In spite of great shortages of material and skilled labour, steady progress has been maintained since the end of the war. There are, however, the gravest immediate difficulties to be overcome, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will take notice of what I am sure will be the general demand of most hon. Members who speak in this Debate, which is to examine this question of gear, and particularly nets. It is of the most urgent importance. It is having a crippling effect and must be solved if the industry is to be maintained at an effective level.

A great deal of the Herring Industry Report is concerned with experimental devices that have to meet shortages, particularly the shortage of timber. It is important, if the industry is to develop, or even maintain its present standard, that the question of containers should be tackled. All the experiments in regard to the ancillary processes show that the Board is facing the problems that it will have to meet. I think it has the cooperation of the industry to a very large extent, but there is no doubt that it will have to do more in reconciling some of the more difficult elements in the industry.

The hon. Member for the Western Isles twitted me a few months ago because I suggested in the House that the Board should have greater powers of discipline. I admit I said that the Scottish fishermen in the industry require rather more discipline. It was all very well for Scottish Members to jeer at me when I said it. I got a great deal of notoriety out of it and some very abusive letters, but I still maintain that, if the industry is to function well, the Herring Board should have certain disciplinary powers; that is to say, that when they are flagrantly flouted, and when their instructions are flouted, they should be able to impose some sort of sanctions. I am not suggesting what the sanctions should be, but there is a great need for better co-operation between elements in the industry.

I believe that there is in this country a greater home market for the herring than is realised. One of the reasons is that very few inland people know how to cook a herring. I would suggest that one of the activities of the Herring Board should be to show people how to cook a herring. I also make the suggestion that hon. Members do not know what a herring really tastes like. The Kitchen Committee should bring in a housewife from Lowestoft to show us what a herring really tastes like, and I hope that one of their main priorities will be the elimination of that dietetic abomination, the dyed kipper. It is a great pity that the Russian market was not regained. That was no fault of the President of the Board of Trade, but I do hope that we shall be able to regain those markets in Eastern Europe for certain forms of herring. I give this Bill a very warm welcome. I agree with those Members who think it should go a great deal further, but I hope that this will be the first of a number of Measures to deal with this great, expanding and most beneficent industry.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. Beechman (St. Ives)

I certainly welcome this Measure, though I hardly feel that it is possible to give it what is called a hearty Cornish welcome, because my experience is that there is something slightly sinister when a Measure of this sort is introduced by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that amiable and competent figure, and welcomed by the right hon. and gallant Member who sits for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and who, I hope, will sit for many years. At any rate, I am in a position to welcome this Measure not only on behalf of myself but on behalf of the Federation of English and Welsh Inshore Fishermen. How I do wish they were not called inshore fishermen, because there are hon. Members of this House, and members of the public, who think that an inshore fisherman is somebody with a little boat who goes out a few miles, whereas he is a hold and brave adventurer, who goes out 20, 50, nay, 80 miles in a small boat to catch fresh fish and not some of these Icelandic monstrosities which have been foisted on the public.

I was very interested to hear, after all the excellent Scottish speeches, the speech from the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) because he mentioned the matter of Spain. This is a matter of great importance. I ask the Minister, "Is there a real prospect of international agreement on the subject of the regulation of the mesh?" Over-fishing, in the main, happens outside the three-mile limit, and I may tell him that the fishermen will not be satisfied if there is to be a one-sided regulation of the mesh. Have we invited the Spaniards to confer with us on this matter? I want an answer, "yes" or "no." When I was last in the Isles of Scilly, I saw five Spanish fishing boats there, and I know that, quite recently, Spaniards have been fishing off the coast of Ireland. I hope that political feeling about Spain will not prevent us from conferring with the Spaniards on a subject about which, as the hon. Member for Lowestoft has pointed out, the Spaniards themselves feel deeply, and in which, I feel sure, they would be willing to cooperate.

Next, I want to ask the Minister whether the Government are approaching the French Government, because at the moment the French are undoubtedly among the chief offenders in catching immature fish. If there is to be a regulation of the mesh, there must be notice, and I want it to be made quite clear that there will be at least 12 months' notice before the mesh is changed. Nowadays, a net is a very expensive matter and very often difficult to procure, and, if there is not to be proper notice, there will have to be compensation. I would also like to say a few words about licences. I am not quite sure to what boats licences will apply, but I say to the Minister that there is no reason whatever why there should be any licences for long-liners, because the damage is done, not by long-liners, but by trawlers. I would like to ask specifically what size of boat will be allowed to operate without a licence. I do not feel at all clear on that matter. If it is to be 40 feet, I should say that was too little, and I should like it to be stated that any boat up to 75 feet could operate without a licence.

On the subject of grants, while I naturally welcome the increases that have been made, I take the opportunity to say that it is time we did away with the means test in this matter. There are fishermen who have a little money put by, but who cannot afford, none the less—

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