§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman
A short while ago I was applying the rod to the Government in regard to the means test which, up to now, has been applied to fishermen seeking loans or grants for boats, and I was saying that I hoped that, now that gear and the building of boats had become so expensive, there would be no more of this means test, and that fishermen, even if they had saved a few hundred pounds, would be helped by means of a grant. I would like also to say that I think these grants have been applied to boats which have been too small, in England, at any rate. What happens in Scotland I do not know, except that the Scots have much more money than we have. The subvention should be available for boats up to 75 feet, and, incidentally, I may say that the Admiralty have some motor vessels of 75 feet which our fishermen would like to have, and this limitation seems to be a very great mischief.
There is only one other matter to which I would like to refer. This Measure makes provision for financial assistance in the extraction of oil from herrings, and I have no objection to that, but I cannot understand, after all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) and myself, why there should be no similar assistance for people obtaining oil from pilchards. There is a long history over many generations of the use 660 of oil from pilchards, and we know perfectly well that it can be used for nutritional purpose and also for various commercial operations, such as leather dressing. One feels more and more that matters such as this are weighted in favour of the herring industry which is in fact, though not quite in form, a Scottish institution. I have raised a number of matters and there are others such as breakwaters, and harbours with which I should like to deal; but I feel if we could have a clarification on the matters I have raised this measure will take us at any rate a little way further along the road which we wish to take.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Miss Colman (Tynemouth)
I think every Member who has so far spoken in this Debate has welcomed this Bill—I certainly do so—but they have said it does not go far enough, and I feel the same. It does not touch the white fish side of the industry which is, of course, very much more important in value than the herring side, except in so far as it attempts to prevent over-fishing. Apart from that, it leaves that side of the industry entirely alone. The attempt to prevent over-fishing is, of course, very warmly welcomed, but I find, as again I think every hon. Member who has spoken today has said, that there is great anxiety in the industry about the delay in bringing the convention, the international agreement, into operation. What it amounts to is that, presumably, we are getting more food now, but we shall get less food in the future as a result of over-fishing. Neither we nor the rest of the world can afford that. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, he may be able to give us some assurance that every possible effort is being made to secure agreement for international action.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) suggested that, when the international agreement comes into force, the landing of immature fish by foreign boats at British ports should be prohibited. It has been suggested to me that in the meantime, before the convention is implemented, this step might be taken and that the landing of immature fish by both British and foreign boats at British ports might be prohibited. For instance, on the North East coast, there has been a considerable amount of landing of immature fish by Danish and Swedish boats. I 661 understand regulations are actually in existence by which this could be prevented, but at present they are not being enforced. On that point I hope the Minister will be able to give us some information.
I also find that there is a good deal of anxiety about Clause 2 (1) of the Bill, which relates to exceptions. It is feared that if considerable exceptions are allowed that may defeat the object of the Clause. Other hon. Members have asked for information on this point and I also would ask for it. To quote again the hon. Member for Lowestoft, he suggested that if any conditions are being laid down for the granting of licences, one of them might be the provision of proper accommodation for the crew. I would like to support that suggestion and, here again, I hope we may have some information as to what conditions, if any, are likely to be laid down in the granting of licences and whether such a condition as has been suggested could be considered.
I turn for a few moments to what appears to me—and I am sure it will appear to every Member of the House—to be the principal need of the industry, and that is a steady market. The increased grant for converting herrings into oil will help to provide a steady market for herrings and, as a consequence, it is welcome, although possibly it may be considered that the price of 35s. a cran, although it has been increased from 30s., is still too low when compared with what I think is the price of 89s. 10d. which is secured for kippering and freshing. The extra grant for the conversion of herrings into oil is only one comparatively small item in what I consider to be the greatest problem which we have to face—that of providing a steady market for both the white fish and the herring sides of the industry.
One of the chief points in this, so far as my experience goes at least, is the unsatisfied demand which exists particularly in the inland markets. One can go into a number of places now, particularly in the country districts, and find one often cannot get fish at all or, if it can be obtained, it is not fresh. There is a big demand in that market, and if we could distribute fish quickly in a good condition we should be doing more than we can in any other way, I am sure, to provide the steady 662 demand which is necessary for the products of the industry.
If I may quote my own Division, in the last two seasons we have had gluts of herrings in North Shields. The herring fleet has been laid up, the number of drifters sailing from the port has been reduced and the number of nets per boat has been reduced in order to cope with the glut, while at the same time we have an unsatisfied demand for herrings inland. I had hoped that measures would be taken by the Government to deal with this problem of better distribution of fish in good condition. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) mentioned the possibility of setting up a white fish commission, and I think that others are thinking on those lines.
I hope this Bill is only the first instalment and that the Government will go a great deal further and will take steps in the near future, in co-operation with the industry, for the purpose of improving the distribution of both white fish and herring. We have delays in transport, we have too many middle-men, and we have the short-period problem—the shortage of barrels and boxes. We also have—and this, I am sure, militates against the sale of fish—very bad conditions in many fish shops. In many cases the fish is exposed to dirt and dust from the roads. I suggest to the Ministry of Food that that should be prohibited as soon as possible. It is quite unhygienic to sell fish which has been exposed in that way and, unless fish is offered for sale in a really good condition, people will not be encouraged to buy it.
The main point I want to make is that the industry needs a steady market. A step has been taken by increasing the grant for conversion of herrings to oil, but if we tackle the problem of distribution, of getting fish in good condition and larger quantities into the inland market in particular, we should be doing the biggest thing we could to provide this steady market for the products of the industry. There are two practical points I want to make on which I should like to have a reply from the Minister. The first is that a great deal has been said, not merely in this Debate but on many other occasions, about quick-freezing. It 663 has been suggested that quick-freezing is the solution to the problem of distribution in good condition—
§ Miss Colman
But I am not quite so sure. I have discussed the matter with an expert and the chief value of experts in this connection has been that we get differing views from them, and the expert with whom I have discussed the matter has expressed the opinion that there are serious disadvantages in quick-freezing. He suggests that the fish deteriorates in quality very quickly once it is thawed, and that is a great handicap to the ordinary housewife.
§ Mr. Boothby
I apologise for interrupting, but I beg the hon. Lady to believe that he was very little of an expert.
§ Miss Colman
I must point out to the hon. Member that the expert to whom I am referring is a practical man. This is his view and I am not putting it forward as my view. This is one view—that the fish deteriorates quickly once it is thawed and that is a disadvantage for the ordinary housewife who has not a refrigerator. Further, quick-freezing greatly increases the cost, and when the fish is thawed it loses much of its natural juices. This seems to be a point for further investigation, and I hope the Minister may give his views and those of his experts on it. I am quite sure that we shall also have the views of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby).
The second practical point I wish to raise is that there appears to be room for more white fish and herring processing factories. I would like to ask what is being done. May I give just one small illustration? We are finding there is a good market in the United States for canned kippers, not dyed. They are being exported in increasing quantities and we are finding a good market in the United States. Those are two practical questions to which I hope I may have an answer.
May I conclude by saying, as was said by the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) that the one thing we have 664 to avoid is any return to the conditions of the inter-war years, which were described by the Sea Fish Commission in 1936 in these words:It is clear that there is not in this important food product a remunerative return to the producer, or a satisfactory result in quality and price to the consumer.Those were the conditions in the interwar years, and we sincerely hope that this Bill is an instalment in a series of measures which will prevent their return.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down)
During the past two or three weeks, since this Bill was published, I have been round among the fishermen, and those connected with the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, in an endeavour to find out their opinions of this Bill. The general comment that I heard expressed was in favour of the Bill, and the only complaint was that it did not go far enough. The Secretary of State for Scotland spoke about larger boats, and the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) touched on the question of transport and harbours. Transport, of course, is one of our serious pre-occupations. After all, the herrings which will be landed next month and in August at Portavogie and Ardglass will have to go by rail or lorry up to Belfast, and then across to Glasgow or Heysham on the night boat, so that before they get to the consumer they have a long journey across the sea. One of the fishermen I spoke to said, "What you are doing is nothing. If only we could get good transport."
On our side the harbours are not available for quick transport in the same way as at places like Aberdeen or Lowestoft, because our boats are only 50 ft. or 60 ft. long, with a 5 ft. 6 in. draft; none of our harbours is big enough or deep enough to take a much bigger boat—a fish carrier to go quickly to Fleetwood or Glasgow. If in the future, when cement and steel are available, something could be done, either to improve the existing harbours or to build new harbours, that would be extremely popular with the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. I realise that with shortage of materials, that is impossible at the present time. Although our boats in Northern Ireland rarely, if ever, go to the North Sea to fish, we are still interested in this Bill and in over-fishing in the North Sea. Many 665 boats come from Scotland, from Lossiemouth and Buckie, and other places, to Ardglass for the herring fishing season, and we are very glad to welcome them. But at times, in Belfast and in the rest of Northern Ireland, the only fish in our fish shops comes from the North Sea, so that over-fishing in the North Sea affects us, as consumers, as it does every consumer in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Although Northern Ireland is excluded from two Clauses, I realise that we still get financial assistance in other ways. It is given by the Minister of Commerce in Northern Ireland; but as we pay the same taxes, and the same for our cigarettes and beer, this money comes out of the general taxation collected by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Curiously enough, when an ex-Service man wants a loan to buy a new fishing boat, he obtains it from the Minister of Commerce in Northern Ireland; but when an ex-Service man wants a loan to buy a second-hand boat, he has to apply to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries at Westminster. The other day I heard of a man who wished to buy a 60 ft. boat, drawing a 6 ft. draft, and the Ministry over here said that it was too large for the Northern Ireland harbours. Well, in other places in the fishing industry they would think that was a very small boat. I only mention that to illustrate the lack of proper fishing harbour facilities in Northern Ireland.
Clause 5 (1) is an excellent provision. In the old days—consumers might say, "the good old days," but fishermen might call them "the bad old days"—of cheap food, I can remember when one could buy a bucketful of herrings on the quay for 6d. Those days have gone for ever. People who in those days did not seem to care for fresh herrings, now appreciate them as a great delicacy.
In the scientific development of herring oil or meal, we in Northern Ireland are very much behind England and Scotland. In fact, our fish processing industry is only in embryo; it is only a baby, and has hardly been developed at all yet. Last year I received certain complaints about the fish-curing industry; but one should always take some of these complaints with a grain of salt. I understand that an official of the Ministry of Food diverted herrings from a curing factory at Portavogie to one at Ardglass. However, 666 until one has heard both sides of the story it is not safe to come to an immediate conclusion. I am informed by all fishermen that the cost of gear—ropes, nets, spare parts for engines, and so on—has gone up 500 per cent. since 1939. Although the price of herrings has been pretty good, and although the clever and most energetic fishermen have made money, the cost of gear is going up all the time; it is very expensive and extremely hard to obtain.
I am sorry that on the scientific development side the Bill does not include such things as lobsters. I am told that in the Isle of Man the lobster industry is far ahead of the lobster industry in the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, I understand that in the Isle of Man it is a very serious offence to take a berried lobster. Perhaps the Minister would inform us whether it is an offence in this country also.
I see that in Clause 9 money is being given to pay the Minister's Department for the work they do. I have had what I might call third-hand complaints from some of the civil servants who are being sent out long distances from London to conferences at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh. My information is that about 10 officials were sent up there, when the civil servants themselves said that three would have been enough for the conference. They were, of course, taken away from their other work, which accumulated in their absence. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman could make inquiries, and take steps to prevent these civil servants from being sent such long distances to stay in Edinburgh, and being taken away from their offices in London. Speaking for those with whom I have spoken in the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, I can promise the Minister a welcome for the Bill, and hearty co-operation in the working of it. I only hope that he will soon introduce a Bill for the improvement of our smaller fishing harbours.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)
Like most hon. Members who have already spoken, I give very hearty support to this Measure. We on this side feel that this is a beginning, and we hope that one of these days, through this Government, we shall have more extensive Measures introduced 667 to build up the white fish and herring industry into one of accepted importance amongst our people—that importance which we who know something about the industry realise it ought to have in our economy.
Today, we have had a fair mixture of speakers from North and South of the Border. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), the former Secretary of State for Scotland, was even kind enough to say, "This is by no means a Scottish industry." It is indeed by no means a Scottish industry. On more than one occasion in this House I have maintained that most of the herrings we eat—badly cooked as they are in places like London, or well processed as they are in the form of bloaters in Yarmouth, or canned and sold to the United States—are caught in English waters. I am always happy in remind hon. Members that the great fishing festival of the year is held in my own constituency, at the height of the East Anglian herring season, when all the drifters are assembled, in all their might, in that wonderful old port of Great Yarmouth. That being so, what annoys us very often is that, after putting down a Question in this House, before we get an answer—whether we put it to the Minister of Agriculture, to the President of the Board of Trade, or even to the Home Secretary, who comes into it—there always has to be consultation with the Herring Board and the Secretary of State for Scotland, with messages passing between London and Edinburgh. As a result very often, in such a fluctuating industry, the answer comes long after the Question has ceased to be important.
Now that this Bill is giving the Herring Board additional powers, and now that the Board's activities are being expanded and we are spending more of the taxpayers' money on it—most of which obviously comes from this country—we in the English constituencies think it is about time we had more English representation on the Board. I have to go to Yarmouth every East Anglian herring season, and there is usually a rumpus of one kind or another. The Scottish fisher lassies come into the town; they grumble at what is in the shops; they say they have not enough money to buy what we have to sell, and so they go on strike.
668 Hon. Members will recollect that on one occasion, after the whole fleet came down the local Ministry of Food official made a mistake and the fisher lassies thought they were to get less rations. We then had to go running round to see if we could put that situation right. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) was with me in these negotiations, and he will correct me if I am wrong. With the herrings off the coast waiting to be caught in their millions, the whole fleet was held up in the port while negotiations went on between the strikers, the Ministry of Food and Members of Parliament. The negotiations were so protracted that the boats lay in port for about a week; in the meantime the herrings disappeared, and we had a bad season for some weeks after that. I do not say that happened because the Herring Board is run by Scotland; but I am saying that from my experience of disputes like that, and of these negotiations and minor difficulties—difficulties which do not get into the Press and do not cause strikes—it would lead to much smoother working, especially when the fleet is off the English coast, coming down from, say, Berwick to Great Yarmouth, if there were more opportunities to put the English point of view to the Board.
Some time ago there was great difficulty in the co-operation of the Herring Board representatives and the representatives of the Mediterranean exporters, who export mainly from Yarmouth—indeed, I believe only from Yarmouth. I will not go into the merits of the case: they were probably fifty-fifty. The Mediterranean exporters—who add to our exports to the Middle East, and so on, and perform a very useful function—came to the conclusion that they were being badly treated by the Herring Board. They started an agitation, which reached the town council. The town council took it up, and were prepared to form a subcommittee to try to negotiate with the Herring Board. The Herring Board said, "Very well, your sub-committee can come and see us at Edinburgh at half-past eleven on such and such a day." If hon. Members will think of a map and of the position of Yarmouth, they will appreciate our feelings, especially in view of the state of the railways in East Anglia. It is about a three-day journey to Edinburgh.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn
It is a two-day journey, at any rate. It means that one must set off the night before and spend a whole day in the train, when a day's work is being done in Yarmouth, and, in addition, one's business the following day must suffer. Such action by the Herring Board means a wastage of several days during the course of a week. The town clerk, the deputy mayor, the mayor and an alderman were supposed to leave their business in Yarmouth and tackle the problem by making the long journey to Edinburgh. How much better if there had been a resident representative of the Herring Board in East Anglia or somewhere near; or if there had been a representative who could have been sent from London. Better still, the Edinburgh authorities could have said, "We will come to Yarmouth at once and get this settled."
The difficulties I have outlined have actually arisen. Our people are justified in claiming that there should be more English representation on the Herring Board and that improvements in methods of freezing, new factories and so forth should at least be considered for East Anglia to help that population of ours which relies so often on seasonal trade in the fishing industry. Year in and year out, there are always those months when some of our people are bound to be out of work. In order to get the proper balance at which we are aiming, it would be helpful if some of the activities of the Herring Board were placed in our care.
I will now leave this particular phase of international strife and go on to discuss the larger field. It seems to me that the most important point in the White Paper on the Agreement on Fishing (Cmd. 7387) is the announcement on the front page thatConsent to the adoption of this Report has not yet been obtained from the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Eire, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland.I should say that means that, with the exception of every member of the Western Union, there could be agreement over fishing in the North Sea. I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at present in Brussels. It would not be a bad idea, in this age of telegrams, if all of us who are interested in the fishing industry 670 sent him a telegram. The Western Union representatives in Brussels are talking about international and financial matters, and one of the most important aspects affecting our constituences is the fishing industry, which is held up—
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn
I am very pleased to hear that. We can now leave off fishing, I hope, and the fish will get bigger.
§ Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
Did I understand the Minister to say that the 1946 Convention was ratified?
§ Mr. T. Williams
When my hon. Friend quoted all the Western countries who were supposed to be co-operating as being those countries who had not ratified the Convention, I said that that was not the case as most of the Western countries had ratified it.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn
I hope that it is true and that we shall now get bigger fish from the North Sea and will not be sold those smaller things again at Yarmouth which the dealers were ashamed to sell to the hotels not many weeks ago.
The further question of research is linked up a great deal with fishing, and I mentioned it in the last Debate here on fishing some months ago. The cutting from one of our local papers which I have here tells of an expert of the Lowestoft fishing laboratories addressing one of our local scientific associations. He brought to the notice of his listeners the fact that we now have a new instrument which he calls the "echo sounder." Evidently it is something akin to radar in the air and it was discovered by accident that it would detect shoals of fish. As a result, experiments seem to have taken place off the Norwegian coast and a new way of making great catches of fish has been adopted. He said, for instance,Using redundant British trawlers as parent ships"—notice that, "redundant British trawlers"—the Norwegians laid their 300 yard seine net 40 fathoms deep round the whole shoal by 671 means of two motor dories. When the net had been drawn tight around the fish the parent ship hoisted part of the net to the rail and hauled aboard the huge mass of fish, five crans at a time. Contrasting the speed and ease of this method with the laborious work of the English driftermen Dr. Hodgson mentioned that the Norwegians could easily haul a thousand crans a night, whereas last year's Prunier trophy winner took II hours' slogging to get 253 crans aboard.If that is the opinion of an expert who saw it being done in Norway, and it is true, some of the money we are now sending over to the Herring Board under the Bill might well be spent in following up research of this kind. If fish can be caught at that rate, and if we can save the labour of our fishermen and get still bigger catches through using these foreign methods, we ought to push on with all our might, with financial backing and facilities from the Government. I hope that the Minister will tell us that such work is already under weigh and that the expert to whom I have referred is one of the people who are leading in this work of research.
What we are aiming at is stability in the industry. We want stability in catching the fish, so that we can get to the shoals straight away, so that we can work almost like a machine and can handle the whole process in a stable way. A number of speakers have mentioned the question of stability of marketing and keeping the fish, so that they can be got straight to the housewife—or to any process which is being used—in a proper manner. The process would begin if we knew where to go at once for the shoals, so that they did not elude the fishermen as they so often do at the height of the season. This stabilising process could, in fact, be carried on, and we would know where we were for the first time in the history of the industry.
I would like the Minister to tell us whether he has any indication that the catches we hope to bring ashore in the East Anglian fishing season later this year are already earmarked—as we hope they are—for the Control Commission, for instance. Last year, as a result of panic, a question had to be tabled in Parliament because the Control Commission had not signed its orders for the herrings we wanted to send to Germany. The fishermen and dealers wanted several months' notice but were not getting it. In 672 a panic an appeal was made to us and the document was got through. My information was that plans were made at this end and that a request was put to the Control Commission that the Germans should be given so many crans out of the season's catches. Apparently the application had to go, not only through the British Control Commission, but also through the hands of the Americans. The British representatives said, "Yes, this is a British industry and we want the herrings to come over to Germany to feed the German population." But the Americans said, "Ah, this is a very expensive form of diet. It is much cheaper to feed the Germans with bread, which we can get much cheaper." Therefore, they had nothing to do with the matter. The economic basis of an industry was more or less abolished by this stroke of an American Duro pen. It was only after agitation that we got this decision reconsidered and the American changed his mind. I wonder if that man is still doing the same thing this year, and is saying, "No; in any case, I can get herrings cheaper from Norway. Besides I can get more wheat this year from places like Argentine and the U.S.A. and, therefore, the Germans can do without herrings." Our people in the trade want to know the facts, so that they can make their preparations long before the season begins.
In conclusion I refer to the perennial question of nets. We say that over-fishing has been carried on during the last few years by nations on the other side of the North Sea—nations which have suffered from the evils of the occupation; nations which have lost a great part of their economic resources. We have all seen them building up their fishing gear in the last two and a half years. The Norwegians have made their research in a "redundant British trawler." We have had our own export drive, which has included nets and other fishing gear. These foreigners have used them and are now economic rivals to our own folk. Yet, our own folk have had the utmost difficulty in getting these nets ever since the war ended. I make a plea with the Minister to use his influence with the Board of Trade to try to swing round this matter of nets and to see that the first call on them this year is made on behalf of the fishermen of England and Scotland.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Duthie (Banff)
I look upon this Bill as opportune and being in the main a good Measure. The inshore fishing industry is facing increasing difficulty. There are ominous signs of over-fishing in our Northern inshore fishing grounds. The lack of fish is something that transcends the seasonal falling off which we expect from time to time. The future of the herring industry is very uncertain and there has been a great deal of misgiving amongst herring fishermen. I am hopeful that the Bill will go a long way to dispelling disquiet and restoring confidence.
Regarding the inshore fishing industry and the very present problem of over-fishing, a great deal has been said about the size of mesh. I take the view—a view that emanates from experts in the North—that too much attention is paid to the mesh question and far too much is expected from it. The seine net, which is the method used in the North—and, indeed, used generally among inshore fishermen—is an instrument similar to the trawl. The net, as it is dragged along the sea bottom, picks up large and small fish alike; in addition it is inclined to disturb much of the food of the fish on the seabed. It is true that when a net is in the water fully extended the mesh which will probably be adopted as regulation will allow fish of small size to escape; it must be borne in mind, however, that when a net is in action there is considerable strain. The greater the strain owing to the presence of fish in the net, the more unlikely is the net to allow small fish to escape. To demonstrate my meaning, I have with me a piece of net. Here is what is termed the leader of a seine net. It is of a wider mesh than the "cod end" on the bag into which the fish are guided, but the mesh is very large and a reasonably-sized haddock could get through it. It will be noticed that once a strain is put on the net, it is almost as impervious as a piece of cloth or canvas.
Research will have to discover some type of material which will provide a mesh that keeps open under strain. Unless that is done, the slaughtering of small and immature fish will continue. I do not know how many Members have been in a seine net boat or trawler, but those who have will know that no matter how large the mesh, the strain on the gear is such that it imprisons a large number of 674 small fish. With the best will in the world on the part of the fishermen who want to return these small fish to the sea, the fish are either dead, or they are so far gone when thrown overboard they float on the surface to be snatched up by the ever-present seabirds. The result is that a large number of small fish are killed when every haul is taken up from the bottom of the sea. Research must be directed towards the interests and survival of the inshore fishing industry, by securing a type of mesh which will keep open under strain.
I am glad to note that steps are to he taken to license boats under this Bill. That can result in nothing but good, but what is to happen in regard to the control of the size of mesh? Our inshore fishermen often fish side by side with boats from Norway and Denmark. If our people are to be restricted in the size of mesh, there is to be no restrictions on the foreigners working by their side, they will be under a very severe handicap. It must be remembered that the catches of the foreigners will be landed in competition with those of our own people. I am extremely glad that further financial assistance is to be given for the provision of boats and gear. We must not forget that, with the depleted fish stocks in the sea, we are asking fishermen to invest their all in an industry which, without further generous guarantees, is precarious, to say the least.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to the tremendous increase in costs in the fishing industry. The usual method of fishing in the inshore fishing industry is, as I have already stated, by means of the seine net, which is operated by a small diesel vessel somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 feet in length. A 60-foot diesel engine vessel of that size was ready for sea new at £1,600 in 1938. Today, the cost of a vessel similarly equipped is £9,000. In 1938, a new 85-foot steam drifter was worth about £4,000, but today it is worth eight times that figure, costing £30,000. Great assistance has been given to the industry by making redundant Admiralty vessels of the M.F.V. type available to fishermen.
I believe that the first of these vessels which were made available got into the right hands. I have personal experience of some of the first 75-foot vessels which 675 were made available. They were made available through the Scottish Office at a price of £5,000. The fishermen knew what the price of these vessels was, with the result that the best type of men applied and got them. The system has now been changed very much for the worse. They now go to those men who can offer the biggest price. A tender system is now in operation, and the highest bidder gets the vessel. In these circumstances, how can we be sure that the man who gets the boat is the man most deserving of it? I suggest that arrangements should be made with the Admiralty that, for any further vessels which become redundant, a price should be set on each, and people should be asked to apply for them. Then, after credentials have been vetted, the vessels can go to men of the enterprising type who most deserve a vessel.
It may be that the provisions of this Bill in regard to the inshore fishing industry will be inadequate. As the hon. and learned Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) has pointed out, the term "inshore" is a misnomer as far as these fishermen are concerned. These men go out in all weathers to any distance where there are fish, providing that it is within range of their vessel. It may be that the size of vessels for inshore fishing will have to be increased so that these men can go to the places where fish is obtainable.
I wish to give a few examples of the terrific increase in the cost of ancillary gear such as ropes and so on. Seine net boats have in regular use something like 16 coils of rope. Before the war, manila rope was obtainable at under £2 a coil. Today, manila is not obtainable, and it has to be substituted by sisal. Sisal rope costs £7 per coil, and, whereas manila would last three months, sisal lasts for only three weeks. A seine net cost £12 before the war, but its cost today is about £65. A herring net before the war cost about £2, and it now costs £12. To equip a herring drifter, it needs something like 350 nets for it to carry out its work from one year's end to the other. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to fix ceiling prices for fishing gear, but first of all to reduce prices, if that is at all possible. The hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities 676 (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) have made rather slighting remarks about our Scottish fishermen and their proneness to unreason and temper on occasion. Coming from among those fishermen, I deny both allegations.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Those remarks were not meant to be slighting; they were meant to be complimentary.
§ Mr. Duthie
I am very glad to hear that. There is one matter which I want to make clear, because I think that the House is owed an explanation, regarding the alleged behaviour of Scottish fishermen two years ago, when they threatened to strike, and when the then Minister of Food made a statement in the House that a pistol had been put to his head by the Scottish herring fishermen stating that they would tie up their boats rather than accept his prices. An hon. Member of this House had to go to Scotland to pour oil on troubled waters and to get the fishermen to renew conversations with the Minister of Food. In that he was successful. The true story was never told in this House. I think that I owe it to the Scottish fishermen to tell now exactly what happened.
They sent an ultimatum to the Minister of Food, stating that if he did not agree to an increase of prices, they would tie up their vessels. What led up to that was this: the Scottish Herring Producers Association, which is the Association representing the industry in Scotland, during the war years met the Minister of Food annually to discuss prices for the coming year. Early in 1946, a notice came from the Minister that prices would be discussed in Edinburgh some time in March. The delegated directors of the Scottish Herring Producers Association went to Edinburgh, after making considerable preparations. They went to the appointed meeting place and were there met by a subordinate officer of the Ministry of Food. Each member present was handed a typewritten slip, and when they asked for an explanation, they were told, "These are your prices for 1946, and there is no discussion." Consequently, they were somewhat incensed, and said, "Until the Minister sees fit to discuss prices with us, we shall tie up our vessels." That was the true picture.
Nevertheless, I am the first to admit that the Scottish Herring Producers Asso- 677 ciation has caused the Minister of Food some difficulty from time to time. I hope and believe that, the new powers implicit in the Bill to be vested in the Herring Board will tide us over such difficulties in the future. There has been, as I think the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) will agree, local committees within our Scottish Herring Producers Association who are apt to take the law into their own hands, and there are instances of the tail trying to wag the dog by some local committees presuming to give orders in particular ports.
§ Mr. Boothby
I do not entirely agree. When these committees were in operation, it was because there was no system of effective control of the industry. There were four different Departments competing, and not one with any coherent view as to what was happening. The fishermen, more or less, had to take the law into their own hands. Under this Bill, I hope that they will better themselves.
§ Mr. Duthie
I agree up to a point about their taking the law into their own hands, but without authority for so doing. I hope that under this Bill and the new era which it promises, we shall have all-out fishing, and I sincerely hope that we shall see introduced into the various herring ports schemes similar to that which has been so successful in Lerwick. It is difficult to get a fisherman to understand why he should get 35s. a cran for his shot when another man gets 7os. and another man 9os., all in the same day, for the same quality of fish—90s. for freshing, 70s. for curing, and 35s. for making into oil and fish meal. There is far too much disparity, and I trust that one of the first schemes which the Herring Board will bring into operation in all our fishing ports will be a scheme whereby they will purchase the entire catch at a flat rate, along the lines which are so successful in Shetland, and that the fishermen will receive whatever dividends are due to them on the eventual averaging-out sale of the fish.
The question of foreign landings has been touched upon. The importation of Norwegian herring gave cause for heart--burning among Scottish fishermen last Winter. In that regard, the Minister of Food was not to blame. He had the foresight to ensure that satisfactory quantities of fresh herring would be obtainable during the winter months. On top of 678 that, came unprecedented herring fishing in the Minch. I hope that the Herring Board, in its wisdom and foresight, will set about the provision of deep freezing plant at all suitable ports in the country, so that when there is a glut we shall be able to lay down in the freezing plants sufficient herring of prime quality to enable us to have herring on our tables throughout the winter. I sincerely trust, too, that the Herring Board will watch the interest of the fishermen, not forgetting the curers, the processors, the kipperers and those engaged in the red herring industry. [Laughter.] I am not referring to the type of red herring so common in this House. The kipperers, of whom there are several in all our small herring ports, are productive of a great deal of local labour. The jobs are there for people, and sometimes these small kipperers are apt to miss the mark with regard to prices. If the Minister of Food will not do it, I suggest that the Herring Board should consider some method whereby the kipperers are guaranteed against loss by their output being purchased outright.
I welcome the Bill very much. I believe that it is the precursor of what the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) chose to call the long-term policy for the industry. I think that the Bill is a move in the right direction, and it is greatly needed. With increasing costs and the falling off of white fish, young men are getting restive and inclined to leave the industry. I hope that this will be a fillip to help to keep them there. Anything that this House can do will never be too much for these splendid people—the very salt of God's earth—the fishing folk of our coasts.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Streatham)
I think this Bill is overdue. It is more than two years since the conference for the restriction of fishing in the North Sea was held. We have lost those two precious years, and over-fishing has been going on in the North Sea and great damage has been done. It is only today that this House is considering giving a Second Reading to a Bill to give effect to decisions taken at the conference. I regard the Government as blameworthy in losing these two precious years. The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries who, I presume, will wind up the Debate, 679 and who I notice is not now on the Front Bench, will, I hope, make in precise terms any excuses he has to make for this two years' wastage. I hope he will tell us what steps the Government intend to take to make the convention operate. It was conceived and inspired by Britain, the meetings took place here and they were widely reported. There was an intense atmosphere for ten days, but since then nothing happened until this Pill erupted today, with a trifling Clause about mesh, which is of little value, and the licensing of boats, which will be of great value if other people carry it out. This is typical of the way in which this Government behave in so many respects. It is always a case of too little and too late.
The North Sea waters are the heritage of all the nations that fish in that sea. Those waters were there several thousand years before steam trawling began 60 years ago. During those 60 years much harm has been done, and it is the duty of all Governments to ratify and operate this convention in the interest of all countries, particularly those with fishing industries, which are certain to commit commercial suicide unless these grounds are protected. I note with regret that there is no permission to restrict over-fishing on the distant ground of Iceland, Bear Island and the White Sea, from whence come the great bulk of our catch of fish. This is predominantly a British enterprise. British trawlers from the Humber and other ports operate on those distant grounds, and it is not outwith the control of the Government to put their own house in order so far as these grounds are concerned and possibly bring the Icelandic Government, whose trawlers are a bad second in operating on these grounds, into line. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, who is not on the Front Bench—
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
That is the second time the hon. Member has made that remark about my right hon. Friend. I would like to make it clear that he has been here for most of this Debate, and that he will be away for only a short time.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
Will the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) give us any evidence of over- 680 fishing in distant grounds, because what he has said is contrary to what was said earlier from his own side of the House, that there was no over-fishing in distant grounds? The hon. Member is largely tilting at windmills.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I will deal with these interruptions one at a time. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot tell me anything about who has been here and who has not, because I have been here since Question time. I have said before, and I repeat it, that if in the Lobby I hailed the Minister of Agriculture as the Minister of Fisheries, he would not know who I was referring to; the fishery industry in this country gets a very raw deal from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I think he should be present during the whole of this Debate.
§ Sir D. Robertson
The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) wanted to know whether I have any evidence of over-fishing in distant grounds. The best advice I can give him is to go back to Hull and read the records, which will show that at Bear Island, in 1927, the average weight of the cod catch was 10 lb. each. Within a year or two it had been reduced to 7 lb. each, and just before the war it was down to 4 lb. each. There could be no clearer evidence than that of over-fishing. If the hon. and gallant Member will go on to the pontoon at Hull, or across the Humber to Grimsby, and look at the catches as they come in, he will find many soft and immature fish among them which should have been left behind. If the Bill is right in attempting to protect the North Sea, surely it is equally right to protect the grounds a little further North. Is over-fishing a parochial matter? Does it finish at the Faroes? No. I am surprised that the hon. and gallant Member should have made such an interruption.
I would like to say a word about herring, as the Secretary of State for Scotland said, I believe, that there was an abundance of herring in the sea and that there was no fear of herring being fished out. That is completely wrong. I strongly urge the right hon. Gentleman to take the advice of competent advisers—he will find them in the industry at our principal ports—on this matter. If he does he will find that great harm has 681 been done to herring spawn and the species by trawling for herring from the Humber, Aberdeen and Fleetwood. Herrings heavy with young go to the bottom of the sea and spawn there. Ordinarily, herring are caught by drifters when the fish are close to the surface and in good condition. They should be left alone to perform Nature's function of reproduction. It is only then that the trawlers come out for them, because it is only then that they can get them, as they operate their trawls at the bottom of the sea.
Figures were quoted today by the Secretary of State, or perhaps it was my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), about the total quantity of herrings taken by the Germans before the war. All these were trawled herring. We have no need to stand any humbug from Germany about signing and ratifying the convention; we are in a position to say what she should do, and I hope the Minister will consult the Foreign Secretary to see that that is done. I hope Britain will set an example herself. The herring ought to be left to the impoverished herring fishermen who have had such a bad time since Russia went out of the market.
I also note with regret that the Bill takes no notice at all of the deplorable quality of fish which is now being landed from distant grounds. I spoke at some length on this subject in the recent Economic Debate, and I will not repeat what I then said tonight, beyond emphasising that this wastage of valuable food is going on with reckless abandon. Ice is useless as a preservative for fish for more than seven days. Every day catches are being landed from vessels which have been to sea from 25 to 30 days, so that the fish is probably anything up to two or three weeks old. It is being condemned in large quantities. The trade has been holding a conference this week, of which "The Times," on Tuesday, said this:Mr. W. Rickards, speaking at the conference of the National Federation of Fishmongers, at Liverpool, yesterday, said that conscientious retailers were blushing with shame daily at the quality of the fish they were selling.That is an observation made by the chairman of the National Federation of Fishmongers, representing many fishmongers in Great Britain—
§ Sir D. Robertson
I know it is true, because I have spent many years in the industry. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, which is maintained by the British taxpayer, has reported time and again that what should be done in the case of vessels operating in distant grounds is that fish should be frozen within an hour or two of capture. If that is done, people will get fish of a superlative quality and not the dreadful things which the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) addressed when they were electioneering in Aberdeen.
I am glad that the Bill gives more assistance to the herring industry, because it needs all the help it can get, but I am completely dismayed at this herring oil project with which the Bill so largely deals. The total catch of herrings before the war by all nations fishing in the North Sea, as was mentioned by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities, was roughly 1,000,000 tons. Our share was about a quarter of that—250,000 tons of lovely fresh herrings landed in this small island of ours; and here we have a Bill today, at a time when our people are almost hungry, suggesting that some of this lovely food should be converted into oil for margarine. It is a shameful suggestion, and one that fishermen resent. They catch this good food which the Almighty produces, and they land it in good condition.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) said a moment ago, some of it makes 80s., some 70s. and some 34s. The Secretary of State for Scotland said earlier that the actual price paid by the refiner to the herring industry was 8s. 6d. a cran, and the taxpayer has to subsidise it to bring it up to 31s. When that is done it is still 53s. under the maximum price which the fisherman is entitled to get for his herring. It is an intolerable situation. It is wrong from the national point of view to take this fine food and crush it into oil. That is all right in Alaska, in Newfoundland and in Labrador because there are no populations there to consume the fish, but this is a densely-populated island with 47 million people, and to talk of turning herring into oil is completely wrong. If I were not in this House I might be tempted to say some- 683 thing stronger, but I hope that my remarks will be conveyed to the Minister of Agriculture and also that the fishermen will hear them.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I think the hon. Member shares my own views on these matters. I have a great regard for the Herring Board. It is doing a first-class job, and as a Scotsman who has now moved South I would be glad indeed to support the idea of representation by some Englishmen on the Board.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Regarding the hon. Member's statement about crushing herring into oil, how does he reconcile that with the statement of his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who pleaded very strongly, as I understood it, for an intensification of the development of that end of the industry? He went so far as to compare it with the millions of money which is being spent in securing oil from East Africa.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
If I may say so in passing, I remarked that until every herring that could be used for eating had been used, we should not go on with the scheme of crushing them for oil.
§ Mr. Evans
That is what we call dealing with the surplus. If there is no market for them that is what we can do with them. That has been the problem which has faced the industry in the past, but what I want to ask the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) is how does he reconcile his statement with that of his right hon. and gallant Friend?
§ Sir D. Robertson
If the hon. Gentleman will have patience, I will tell him in a moment or two what to do with the herring.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I will have something to say about that. It is good for Scotsmen to accept the suggestion of the Sassenachs that they should have representation on the Board. That would be excellent, because some of my fellow countrymen in the industry are apt to be somewhat thrawn.
684 The Herring Board, which has done so many good things and deserves the praise and support of the Government and of all of us in all parties, carried out an interesting experiment in Lerwick and elsewhere in regard to the freezing of herring. Last year they froze altogether 528 tons, of which about 375 tons were frozen as herring and the remaining 150 tons dealt with as frozen kippers. These were sold to my old firm who instantly re-sold them, while their customers were clamouring for more. Five-hundred odd tons is a pitifully small amount and could not possibly pay. It must have cost the State a good deal of money, because it was far too small ever to pay, but it proved to those who still want proof that these herring are eagerly wanted either in their natural form or as kippers. The solution to this herring problem is to commence large-scale freezing and cold storage operations at the six principal herring fishing ports, Lerwick, Stornoway, Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The plants should be large-scale ones, capable of dealing with 10,000 tons and with a capacity for freezing anything from 1,000 to 2,000 tons per week.
§ Mr. Boothby
Does my hon. Friend think that he could sell these herrings at a profit? I am not saying he could not, but I should like his opinion on the matter.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I should like the job. I talked about this to my old firm a few days ago. They were deploring that the whole output from Lerwick was only 500 tons. They wished it had been many times more. If these plants are built and quick-freezing facilities provided, it would greatly help the industry. The House might be interested to know that a company of which I am managing director has created a modern freezing plant. It is in a tunnel, with a moving conveyor and with a temperature of minus 40 degree Fahrenheit, which is 70 degrees of frost; and cold-driven air passes over the fish at over 1,100 feet a minute. That is being used greatly in Grimsby, and similar plants can be erected elsewhere, with stream-lined mechanisation.
We are living in a mechanised age. It does not call for a big staff. Those magnificent herring women, to whom the East Anglian people 685 owe so much for gutting and salting the herrings in the open air in the cold and frost, all for very low wages for a long time, would find more congenial employment in these plants. Stocks could be kept continually moving to the Clyde, the Thames, the Forth, the Bristol Channel, Humber, Mersey and the Tyne, bringing stocks of fine fresh herring to the consuming centres. We would not have to spend our precious foreign currency on poor quality Norwegian herring which is good enough to eat in Bergen, Oslo, or Copenhagen, but is not good enough to eat at Waterloo station. Much of it is only fit for manure.
That is the solution for this problem, and if the Minister or any other associate or the Herring Board care to go to Grimsby, we will give them a demonstration of this quick-freezing plant. In that connection, may I say that 25 years ago in Norway I saw the Norwegians doing this. The drifters came alongside the quays and discharged their catches into the brine freezing tanks. It was a mechanical operation, and no handling was necessary. They were doing it for bait for their white fishing industry. My company used to buy them for the vessels which we sent to Baffin Island, to be used for bait, but the frozen herrings from Norway were so good that we sold those unused for bait for human food when we brought the ships back nine months later. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman) expressed doubts about frozen fish, but I would easily convince her if she came to see the plant working. She would agree with me that the people of Britain would want them. We could sell them in America. The great mid-West markets would rather have a good quality frozen Scottish or English herring than the canned herrings an hon. Member referred to earlier in this Debate.
That trade is waiting to be picked up. There is no mystery about freezing. New Zealand did it nearly 65 years ago and has been doing it ever since with her mutton and lamb. Argentina is doing it, and the United States has been doing it for very much longer that anybody. It is a better scheme than spending £25 million on groundnuts in Tanganyika. Even the hon. Member for East Aberdeen joined in the doubts which have been expressed when he asked me whether I would sell the frozen herrings. I cer- 686 tainly would sell herrings frozen at a low temperature every night just as they came out of the vessel, which means 72 degrees of frost, almost instantaneously. They are kept at a low temperature and are marketed like that. They are welcomed in this country, where we have to eat Bear Island cod and other fish which has been dead for three weeks before it is consumed.
§ Mr. Boothby
The reason I asked the hon. Member the question was only that I saw a representative of the Herring Board under the Gallery and I wanted to pin him down.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I value the interruption in that case. I hope that the Herring Board representative will permit me to take him to Grimsby and show him the works. What are we waiting for? Here is an all-British industry. Are the Front Government Bench too timid to build these plants and to go to the Treasury and make them fork out the money? We were able to build 50 huge cold storage plants to safeguard our food during the war. Is it not possible now, when our food is still in jeopardy, for us to build six plants for the herring industry?
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) is the only one who has introduced a really controversial note into the Debate. First of all, he attacked the Minister who has been here practically the whole time. When I interrupted to ask a question the hon. Member made an attack upon me. I can take that in my stride. I did not interrupt him back because I knew that sooner or later I would follow him. I would like to take him up on the last point he has been talking on. He was asking that we should build six plants for freezing herrings. I would ask him why he and his fish industry did not do that job in the 20 years between the two wars?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I humbly apologise to the hon. Member if he thought that I made an attack upon him. I start off with a big advantage in a matter of this kind because I was happily employed in this industry for more than 20 years. I do not patronise hon. Members on that account and the last thing I would do would be to attack anybody except a 687 Minister. That is a thing which I enjoy doing on a point like this. The hon. Member has asked me why I did not do this job between the wars. The answer is that I joined a little fish firm in Billingsgate about 30 years ago. When I left it to come into this place in 1939, the capital was something like £3 million. We raised the firm from a little enterprise worth about £4,000 to that figure. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did not the hon. Member stop there?"] I was very fully employed there working for long hours. I need not apologise to anybody on account of slacking because I did a pretty fair job of work. An hon. Member has just asked me why I left it. I exuded public spirit, which I am sure he himself exudes. Otherwise I should still be fishing.
§ Commander Pursey
I do not complain about what the hon. Member said about myself. I only wanted to take him up on his own ground. The time to force the argument which he employed was in those 20 years between the wars, when there was unemployment, capital and material were available and there was every opportunity to develop such a scheme. This is not the time to attack the Government for not doing such things. In point of fact, in the three years in which they have been in office the Government have done more for the fishing industry than any Government who preceded them.
§ Sir D. Robertson
The hon. Member is wrong again. I am not attacking the Government for not freezing, but am simply telling them to do it instead of going on refining oil. I attacked the Government for the two years that the locusts have eaten from the time when they reached the agreement till the bringing in of the Bill.
§ Commander Pursey
I think we may leave the matter there. I want to take up the point he made about over-fishing in the distant seas. I have been here nearly all the afternoon, but I am not quite certain which hon. Member made the observation. I think it was the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) who said there was no over-fishing in the distant seas.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot indicated dissent.688
§ Commander Pursey
If he did not say it, I must have made a mistake. The hon. Member got back on me and tried to tell me that I ought to know more about the subject. Not only do I come from a fishing family and not only have I spent 30 years at sea, but I have also been in Norway and the Scandinavian countries. Without patting myself on the back I reckon I know a little bit about the matter, if not to the same extent as the hon. Member. The hon. Member quoted 1927, but we are not dealing with that year today. This is 20 years onwards and the position in the distant seas, as in the North Sea, is that there have been six years with no fishing. Today, there are also reduced British and Icelandic trawler fleets. Consequently, I honestly say that over-fishing in the distant seas is not now a problem. I repeat what I said when I interrupted the hon. Member that he was simply tilting at windmills. I will now pass on to my own speech.
I have listened with considerable interest to this important Debate about a very important industry. I was prepared to allow my hon. Friend on this side of the House from inshore fishing areas to get in with their first innings. The hon. Members for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) made reference to inshore fishing and complained of that term. There is nothing in it today. About 40 years ago, in my youth, there was real inshore fishing. We had no auxiliary engines in boats and only worked with sails. Boats went as far as the sails would take them and in places like the Devon and Cornish coast they had to haul their craft up on the beach. Today with auxiliary motors boats can go considerable distances, compared with the days of sail and everyone appreciates that. Therefore that was rather a wasted point.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) and others have referred to the lack of harbour facilities, jetties which require repairing and so on, but they do not realise how well off they are, compared with the fishermen on the open beaches around our coasts. I make a special plea to the Minister that if any consideration is to be given, the first consideration should be given to the open coast fishermen who are limited as to the size of their craft and consequently the distance they can go to sea, and suffer 689 the handicap of having to haul their craft up on the seashore.
It is not only from the inshore point of view that I want to make a contribution to this Debate and to welcome the Bill, but also from the point of view of the larger craft. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) is now a junior Minister and so we have not had the advantage of his wisdom and knowledge. Also, the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. S. Smith) is on the sick list and, as he represents the fishing industry area in Hull, he would have made a contribution. I shall therefore speak on behalf of Hull, the largest fishing port with the largest fishing fleet in the world, and of the craft which make the long voyages to the distant fishing grounds and bring back the greatest landings. In Hull we also have a cod liver oil factory and fish meal factories which are part of the important adjuncts of this industry. As to the larger issues, if an hon. Member had wished to raise a controversial point I would have thought it would have been about coal, but I just mention that word and leave it there.
I support the demand for an increased and quicker supply of nets; if fishing vessels cannot get their nets, they are not much good as fishing vessels—and other equipment. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) discussed the question of prices and said that prices ought to come down, controls ought to be put on and ceilings ought to be established, and yet, generally speaking, the Opposition are arguing for the removal of all controls and the establishment of a "free for all." In other words, the Opposition are out to keep controls when it suits them and to remove them when it does not. Therefore there is no consistency in their arguments about controls.
A problem which frequently crops up, perhaps not to a large extent, is that of trawlermen's long thigh boots, and I would like the Minister to make a note of that so that an adequate supply can be provided. A more important matter from the point of view of the larger vessels is the supply of materials and their refits, so that they are not detained unduly long in port for refitting when they ought to be at sea. I welcome the new measures for the larger mesh and the restriction on the tonnage of vessels. When the hon. and learned Member for 690 St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) advocated that licences should be limited to vessels of over 70 feet, it seemed that he would rule out most of the inshore vessels. Another important point which has only been mentioned once, and that from this side of the House, is the question of improvements for the crew. The living and sleeping accommodation and washing and other facilities in the later vessels are being improved, but a great deal can be done in the older types of vessels to make life more tolerable, particularly on the longer voyages.
No doubt the most important subject affecting the industry is that of over-fishing. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to that but, as far as I know, no one has attempted to develop the point and to suggest any means whereby over-fishing may be checked. There might be prohibited areas. By international agreement there could be prohibited areas which might be varied from time to time. Then comes the difficulty, which has always existed, particularly in dealing with foreign craft, of the control of fishing craft at sea especially in bad weather and low visibility. It would require quite an armada of small vessels adequately to patrol the fishing grounds of the North Sea. I have had some experience of fishery protection, and I know what the game is.
I am glad to welcome the transfer of the headquarters of the Fishery Protection Service from Lowestoft to my constituency. Today fishery protection has certain advantages. There are the improved high speed naval craft which are an advantage in chasing foreign vessels. There is also the possibility of the use from time to time of aircraft, even though they are rather on the expensive side. A combination of naval flying with fishery protection might be employed or consideration might be given to the use of a smaller and therefore less expensive type of aircraft, which would be a means of providing flying training for the Fleet Air Arm, which now comprises roughly one-third of the Royal Navy. That would be of particular value to hon. Members on the Devon and Cornwall coast for chasing the Spaniards.
There is also radar. Radar would be of value in finding fishing craft, and if 691 the Government were able to get international agreement about prohibited areas, the Admiralty would be in a far better position today to control them than it would have been before the war. Reference has been made to the use of radar in finding shoals of fish and to echo-sounding. Echo-sounding was the grandfather of radar. First there was echo-sounding, then Asdics and then radar. I am an Asdic expert. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) made a suggestion about research. I am all for research in every direction, but little or no research is required into echo-sounding. Echo-sounding was on the market for merchant ships 30 years ago. The Asdic was mentioned in the address by Dr. Hodson, of the Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory, but Asdics are too expensive and too technical to be used simply for fishing crafts.
Therefore, use should be made by fishing craft, particularly the larger ones, of echo sounding for the purpose of finding fishing shoals. But I believe that in the address that was given the reference to fishing in Norway was a reference to the seine net fishing in the fjords in flat calm and fine weather. Seine fishing is one thing, drift net fishing and trawling fishing, as everyone knows, is a totally different proposition. Therefore, it does not follow that because the Norwegians have been particularly successful with echo sounding as regards seine fishing it would be so successful at sea. But echo sounding can find fishing shoals, and I suggest that it should be developed.
The question of foreign landings has been raised. I do not wish to discuss the pros and cons of that except to say that at the present moment when we can take all the fish we can get foreign landings are an advantage. The only problem is to see that there is a fair deal as between our own fishing vessels and the foreigners. Reciprocal agreements are often tied up with the question of foreign landings. I understand that one reason why Norway was allowed in pre-war days to land fish in this country was because there was a reciprocal coal agreement with Norway, and therefore it was part of a bargain. Norway may have said, I do not know whether this was the case, "We will not take your coal unless you take our fish." So it is not entirely a one-sided arrange- 692 ment which favours the foreigners to accept these foreign landings today.
The other side to this question of imports from foreign countries is the fact of exports to other foreign countries, to which reference has been made. When fish, and particularly herring—and the hon. Member for Streatham referred to the export of herring—are sent over a long distance it must be done with a certain amount of sense. For instance, we cannot export herring and keep the trade if we do what happened to a cargo or part of a cargo of herring which I know was sent to Athens some years ago. When I was in Athens I found that someone had flown out from Hull because a cargo of herring had gone bad. When he inquired into the position he found that they had been packed with cheese. Herring, particularly red herring, are good travellers with certain things, but herring do not travel well with cheese, and whether it was the cheese that had put the herring off or the herring which had put the cheese off first I will net argue. Much the same thing happened to a cargo of herring for Egypt. Therefore, if we want to get and retain export markets for herring they must be sent with some certainty of arriving at their destination fit for human consumption.
The ultimate object of the fishing industry is to provide fresh and cheap fish for the consumer. This is a problem yet to be tackled. The reference of the hon. Member for Streatham to fish being kept aboard ship for 25 days, when it should not have been kept there longer than seven days, and other things which are happening, together with the price structure of the industry, are in the present situation factors to support a demand for a Government inquiry into the fishing industry and the distribution of fish in this country, with the object of getting a better standard of fish at a cheap price all over the country, including the country districts. I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly as an advantage to the industry and as an advantage to the community. Like other hon. Members I hope that it is the first of several other Bills which will follow dealing not only with the sea side of the industry but also the shore side, so that there will be no question that as time goes on we shall get a better supply of fish at a cheaper price.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) in welcoming this Bill, which has very good features. I do not agree with everything the hon. and gallant Member said. I thought he made a dangerous remark about over-fishing in distant waters. It may be that there is no over-fishing in those waters at the moment, but nothing is more certain than that if the exploitation of those waters expands at the rate at which it was expanding before the war, the danger of over-fishing will undoubtedly become apparent.
§ Commander Pursey
As the hon. and gallant Member has taken up that point, and as I debated it with another hon. Member, I would like to make it clear that I am not saying that there is no prospect of over-fishing in the distant seas. What I am saying is that because of no fishing for six years, and the present reduced British and Atlantic trawler fleet, there is no over-fishing in the distant seas, or any immediate likelihood of it. Obviously, when the Government are considering, with other foreign Governments, restrictions as regards over-fishing in the North Sea, they should not overlook the distant waters. But there is no over-fishing in those waters today, nor is there likely to be in the immediate future.
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
I do not disagree with that. There is no over-fishing there at the present time, but it is one of the things upon which we have to keep a very sharp eye in case we get over-fishing there.
By far the most important topic which has been raised in this Debate is the question of over-fishing, which is, of course, far worse in near waters than anywhere else, although it is now appearing again in the middle waters. The North Sea fisheries underwent a great recovery after the 1914–18 war, and much the same thing happened after the last war. About four years after the end of the First World War, over-fishing became rampant. The same thing is now happening again in the North Sea. I welcome what there is in this Bill which will do anything to put a stop to that over-fishing.
694 One of the classic examples of over-fishing was that of the halibut industry in the North Pacific. It is interesting to note how that was dealt with. In that case the fleet was already too big and there was no question of restricting the size of the fishing fleet. The only thing that could be done was to restrict the amount of time spent on fishing. That had a most remarkable result, because in 10 years the yield from that fishery had very nearly doubled. That is what happens when over-fishing is dealt with. If production is limited a far bigger yield is eventually obtained. The ideal is to ascertain what is the optimum production for any given fishery and then to restrict the fishing effort to that figure. The method applied in the case of the North Pacific halibut industry was an uneconomic one. It meant that the men were lying ashore, the boats were idle and the overheads were great.
By far the most effective way in which this problem can be dealt with is by limiting the total catching power. I am now speaking about the North Sea. We are all left in considerable doubt as to what is the present position regarding the International Convention. I hope the Minister will clear up this point when he replies. As far as I know, agreement was reached, at the 1946 Convention, on the size of mesh of nets and on the size of fish, both important points but really minor ones, and in fact no agreement was reached at that Convention on the subject of the size of fishing fleets. I think that is the position. The problem of over-fishing continued to be examined by the standing advisory committee of the International Over-fishing Conference, and their report, which I am now discussing, was published only a couple of days ago.
It appears from that document that the British proposal was to limit the catching power of our fleet in the North Sea to 75 per cent. of its pre-war size. Belgium put forward a different proposal, that we should ascertain the amount of fish that could be taken without interfering with the stocks; but I cannot see what that was going to achieve. In point of fact, I think there is already available quite enough statistical and scientific information to say what is the approximate catch that should be taken out of the North Sea without endangering the actual stock. France wanted to regulate the 695 catch of each country in accordance with its consumption needs. There again, I cannot see what is the value of that suggestion. We may be able to ascertain the countries' needs, but what really matters is what fish is available. The British proposal is the only one which seems to get down to brass tacks, and it is very much to be regretted that Norway, Denmark and Sweden are all opposed to reduction in the size of the fleets or in the limitation of the catch, although they agree about the mesh proposals, and, in fact, put forward proposals for a larger mesh.
The British proposals were supported by several countries, Eire, Iceland, Poland and Portugal, none of which has a very great interest in fishing in the North Sea. I like to think that they approached this in an objective way, without any bias or axe to grind, and found that the British proposals were good commonsense proposals for dealing with the problem. Failing to get any agreement, I understand that another British proposal was put forward to limit the catch for 1948–49 to 85 per cent. of the 1936 to 1938 figure and also that an international commission should be set up to examine the fisheries and to report on conservation measures. The Netherlands put up some counterproposals.
I am not condemning the Government in any way. I think they have tried to do their best in difficult circumstances, and a study of this document shows how extremely difficult it is to get any agreement on an international scale. The Netherlands wanted to fix the optimum catch by agreement with a special quota for each country. That seemed to be impracticable. It would be of no use to fix the catch unless the share is fixed. Sweden, Denmark and Norway were against the proposal. The only encouraging fact is that Denmark, Sweden, France and Belgium do not expect to increase the size of their fleet beyond the 1938 figure, at any rate for the next few years. I think that there is a grain of comfort to be gained from that. We are not to be faced with the immediate prospect of the building up of very big fleets which would reduce the condition of the North Sea Fisheries to a deplorable state.
It seems that each country agreed to recommend their own proposals to their respective Governments and the whole 696 thing seems to be entirely chaotic. I wish to know what is actually happening in this Bill. We appear to be putting forward our own proposals, and I shall be alarmed if we put these into practice without getting a very sure undertaking from the other nations that they are going to put their proposals into practice. Perhaps the Minister would spend a little time on that point. What alarms me very much indeed is that Spain was not a party to this conference. I think the reason for that is that our Government have a dislike of the politics of the present Government of Spain. I think that is just too silly for words, and that some effort should be made to confer with Spain. She has already built a fleet bigger than in 1938, which is going to be a real menace to our fishing industry.
The other great danger that I see is that although there is in this report a reference to Germany, apparently no steps are being taken to control her fishing effort. Germany may, on her own initiative, build up a great fleet which would ruin the North Sea in less than no time. If she cannot build up such a fleet from her own resources, she may be helped to do so by some other country. I think that is a point which must be dealt with.
A number of references have been made to the herring industry. There is scope for development in that industry. We are far behind the state of development which the industry had reached in the years before the 1914–18 war. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) quoted the figure of 250,000 tons of herring landed in this country immediately before the war. If we go back to the years before 1914, it was quite common to have an annual catch of three million crans of herring. That, translated into weight, is 525,000 tons of herring, and that was a common pre-war average. We were recently given the catch for 1947, which was rather over one million cranless than 200,000 tons of herring. That means that on the basis of the average annual landing, pre-1914, there are, every year, something like 330,000 of herring swimming in the North Sea unharvested. The sooner we make a bid to harvest this fish the better.
I join issue with the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) who talked 697 with great knowledge and experience of the fishing industry. I think he is wrong to condemn the catching of herring for the purpose of extracting oil and other things from them. We really cannot afford to neglect any source either of proteins Dr oil at the present time. I would certainly say, let us catch all the herring that we can and market all we can as herring. But we can get a vastly greater quantity than we can dispose of at the moment, as herring, and the proper thing to do seems to me to be to catch all the herring we can for conversion into meal and oil.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Would the hon. Gentleman take up the point about the over-fishing of the herring? He is a great authority on the herring.
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
With one exception, there is no evidence of any over-fishing in the herring industry. It is hardly likely on the figures that I have given, when year after year before 1914 we used to catch over 500,000 tons of herhing, that our present catch of 200,000 tons is likely to produce over-fishing. I admit that, in one particular part, with which the hon. Member is no doubt familiar, there is a suspicion that the trawling of herrings has produced over-fishing in that area, and it is certainly a point that should be watched very carefully.
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
My hon. Friend will doubtless read what I have said. The Herring Industry Board is often blamed for not having done things, but it is only right to say that it has up to now been very restricted in its activities by the statutory limitations imposed upon it. That is one of the reasons I welcome this Bill, as it will enable the Board to do a number of things which ought to be done and which I hope will be done very soon. Several references have been made in this Debate to my own constituency, and I myself have watched the activities of the Herring Industry Board there with very great interest from the start. It is a pity to suggest that the efforts which they have made there are very puny.
698 The hon. Member for Streatham was not very impressed with the 528 tons of herrings which were quick-frozen in 1947 but it must be remembered that this scheme started only in 1946 and that the Board began under the most extraordinary difficulties. They could not get half the machinery they wanted, they had difficulty in getting it transported, and they could not get all the building materials or labour they needed; nevertheless, by almost superhuman efforts, they did get into action in 1946 and did process some 200 tons of herrings. Naturally, 1947 was a better year and 528 tons were processed. I understand that the figure for this year will be something like 2,000 tons. That is a much more impressive figure, and I am quite certain that the experiment being carried out there holds out very great hope for the future of the industry.
Markets are a very difficult question. Fishing people are still hankering after the days when herrings, hard cured and packed in barrels with salt, were disposed of to various countries of Europe, some of which have now disappeared behind the "Iron Curtain," and the inhabitants of which, even if they would like the herrings, are not allowed to have them. I should hesitate to suggest that there is any great prospect of a return of this trade in the immediate future, if at all. What we have to do is to exploit our own home markets to the maximum possible extent. There are densely-populated areas in this country where the people have never had a decent herring, and I think that one of the jobs which the Board will have to do is to send herrings into these areas in the best possible condition.
I had the great misfortune a few days ago to have to eat what would be called a "British Transport herring," in one of their hotels. It was an incredible production, like a piece of old boot leather, under-smoked, over-dyed and completely tasteless. That sort of thing is a very bad advertisement for the herring, and I shall not be eager to have another for some weeks. It came from Norway, and I think it is a great pity that we have to take herrings of that type, because they are very damaging indeed to the reputation of the herring. I know that we have to take them when herrings are not actually being caught by this country, but I think the answer to that is to be 699 found in the activities of the Herring Industry Board. It has been proved now that herrings, at the end of some months in cold storage, come out like perfectly fresh herrings just caught, and that they can also be turned into absolutely first-class kippers. I hope the day will come when, if one orders a kipper in this country, it will be a British herring and not one of these citied imported ones.
One hon. Member has referred to the necessity of other plants such as that which has been established at Lerwick, and I quite agree. I have heard it suggested that the places where this type of plant should be installed are Fraserburgh and Lowestoft. I think that is a great mistake because I think there are certain centres where herring fishing has been prosecuted in the past on a very big scale and where it undoubtedly can be prosecuted again on a very big scale, and one of these places happens to be my own constituency and native county—Shetland.
It is not generally realised that a tremendous herring fishery has centred in these islands throughout history, and we need only go back to the days before the 1914–18 war to find that one-third of all the herrings landed on the East Coast of Scotland were landed on these islands, and one-quarter of the entire Scottish catch, which is equivalent to about one-eighth of the entire British catch, came out of those waters. The men there are under the difficulty that they cannot get top prices for their herrings, such as are obtained in the East Coast ports, because of the long distances which they have to be transported. There is no doubt that the quick-freezing plants will be one of the best ways of solving this problem.
The scheme which is operated in Lerwick has been referred to. That was entered into entirely voluntarily by the fishermen there with the Herring Fishery Board. The arrangement was that the Board undertook to buy their entire catch and dispose of it whatever way they could. They paid the men a basic sum for the herrings and agreed to divide the "kitty," or whatever profit they made, at the end. It took a great deal to persuade the fishermen to come into that scheme, as they are rather individualistic in their views about how to catch and 700 market herrings, but they did come in, and this is a lesson that needs to be learned by herring fishermen in other areas. The point is that it was stressed to them that it might pay them a great deal better to fish throughout the season for a smaller average price than to be constantly tying up their boats, fishing spasmodically and taking the top price which was available to them. The result was that in 1946 and 1947 the men there had a better return than herring fishermen in any other parts of the country, and their experience ought to encourage fishermen in other parts to collaborate with the Board in the type of scheme which they have been trying to develop.
In regard to the use of herrings for the production of oil, some of the East Coast fishermen went over to Norway and were impressed by what they saw there. One plant, the largest in the world, was producing 180 tons of meal and 90 tons of oil per day. These men sampled a quite delicious cream which was spread on buns and pastries and which was made out of herring oil. There are other very important possibilities in connection with the proteins derived from herrings. Experiments are going on now which aim at making the best possible use of everything which can be extracted from the herring. Experiments are not yet complete, but it is very encouraging to know that investigations and research of that kind are going on at the present time, and I cannot help feeling that the Board are working on the right lines in their research.
The herring fishing industry can look forward to a very much more stable and prosperous future than it has been able to for a number of the years in the past, when it had a very bad time indeed, with very poor returns and great destitution, with a great many men being actually driven out of the industry altogether. I think the future for these men is full of hope, and I welcome everything in this Bill which will strengthen the hands of the Board. Much as I dislike controls, I am perfectly willing to admit that in the circumstances a case has been made out, in the interests not only of the fishermen but of the people of the country.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I do not propose, if I can help it, to detain the House for any 701 great length of time and I shall certainly confine myself to the subject of the herring fishing industry, which is not unfamiliar to me, for I have been talking about it on and off in this House for the last quarter of a century. I find myself in complete agreement with what was said by my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and indeed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, with regard to the over-fishing of the North Sea. I agree with one hon. Member who said it was a great danger facing this country today. It is absolutely imperative that we should get international agreement on this matter; and those who advocate, as I do, a union of Western Europe, are entitled to say, I think, that if we cannot get some sort of united action on this particular business, the outlook for our larger schemes is black indeed. I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) said about Spain. Franco may be a very bad chap, but when it comes to fish that is really very much more important; and I think the right hon. Gentleman must waive his political objections to the regime, if necessary, in order to get an agreement. I do not know whether that is holding things up, but we do want to get an agreement. I believe they are anxious to co-operate; and they can muck up any international agreement, if they are disposed to do so, and are left out of any arrangements which may be made.
Before I pass to the subject of herrings, I would like to say a word about the landing of immature fish in this country. I agree with what hon. Members have said. Here, surely, is something on which we can take immediate action. Far too much of this is going on; and I beg the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to realise that. There is far too much landing of immature fish in this country today, at large ports and small. It should be stopped, and stopped by law. That, at least, we can do; because even if other countries are not doing it, there is an opportunity here for us to set a good example.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) described the rather dismal scene in which we took part in the fish market in the early hours of the morning. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman it was a very melancholy sight—those melancholy cod, with those awful 702 eyes turned up to heaven, and all condemned—and in my view very rightly condemned—to the dustbin. Before my hon. Friend came into the House of Commons there was another occasion when I had the opportunity to visit the fish market, shortly after a foreign trawler had arrived from a very long distance, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman it was about a year before I could look at a piece of fish again. You never smelt anything like it, Sir. You could not believe it was possible that any smell could be so ferocious and linger so long. These are things which do not do the fishing trade any good. I agree that these stinking fish are no longer being landed, but immature fish are still being landed. All but the best fish should be prohibited from being landed; and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to deal with that point.
So far as the herring industry is concerned, I regard this Bill as the coping stone of a long series of enactments affecting the herring industry over the last 20 years. It is, indeed, the logical conclusion of the recommendations, first of the Duncan Committee and then of the Elliot Committee. As long ago as 1943 I was moved to write in a modest little publication which I called, "The new Economy," that the fishermen had been partaking for fifty years in the greatest gamble in the world and very seldom had been the winners in this gamble; and I felt after the war there could be no return to what was known as the free market. I found that fishermen shared that view, and that everybody in this House now shares that view. We cannot go back to the free market. A few people may gain a great deal for a short time, but in the long run it is bad for everybody. I went on to write:We want some kind of public corporation or board With statutory powers to buy herring on a contract basis, to allocate them to the various processing firms at home, and to market them abroad through a centralised selling agency.A short time after that publication there came the publication of the Elliot Report; and I was delighted to find, having had no preview of that report, that our ideas, not for the first time, coincided. Then came the Bill of 1944. I felt very strongly at that time that the Bill did not go far enough, as regards the powers of the Herring Board either to inaugurate 703 marketing schemes, or to develop processing schemes. The Secretary of State at that time, Mr. Tom Johnston, expressed himself as satisfied, as did my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and we were all very anxious to get the Bill through as quickly as possible, not only in the interests of the herring industry, but because the day it was discussed on Second Reading, as some of my hon. Friends in the House may remember, was the grand slam day of the "doodlebugs." They were coming over in shoals, like bees, and I remember—I believe you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were in the Chair at the time—that every time one began to warm up to the theme of the argument, there came that awful buzz or purr, and which naturally made one hesitate. Then came the moment when the purr stopped, and one wondered what was going to happen next, and then crash, a slight hiccough, and one was able to carry on. It did militate against sustained intellectual application, and I think that may have been the reason why we did not carry out all the recommendations of the Elliot Report to their logical conclusion.
This Bill fills the gaps in the 1944 Act. It increases the grants. I think that is absolutely essential. Prices have risen, and it is absolutely essential that the scheme should be extended for another two or three years at any rate, and it is extended in this Bill. It enables the development of new processes to take place on an adequate scale, instead of on a merely experimental scale. It also enables the highly successful marketing scheme, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland referred, to be extended to other areas; that is to say, the scheme which has been in operation for the last two years in the Shetlands, and which has been to the fishermen an unexpected success, but to those of us who believe in maximum production an expected success. But it has had a great success, and some of us very much want to see that scheme extended, as it now can be.
This scheme will enable the fishermen to be offered by the Board that single price for all they catch, which I believe to be the ultimate aim for stability and prosperity in this industry. I should like to see the fishermen offered under this 704 Bill, and under the scheme which no doubt the Herring Board will introduce, a fixed price for all the herrings that they can produce; and then, on top of that, offered a bonus on all the additional profits made during the season. That, I am certain, is the final answer to this problem. It is not, after all, the business of the fishermen to market the fish; their business is to catch the fish.
It is the business of the Herring Board to market the fish; to take all the fish they can off the fishermen at a reasonable and fair price; to make their own arrangements to allocate the fish to the various processing firms; to export fish in the manner they think most conducive to the interests of the industry as a whole; and to make quite certain that the primary producer, the fisherman, gets full value for the work he has done during the season. That has been the principle applied, as I understand it, in the Shetlands during the last two years. It is the principle that I, quite frankly, want to see applied to the industry as a whole.
This Bill will enable that to be done. And, if it is done, it will mean what I have long preached and advocated; and I know I shall carry hon. Members on both sides of the House with me in this. It will mean capacity production. It will mean that the fleets can go to sea and catch all the herrings they can lay hold of. There will be no artificial shortages created, no boats tied up simply for the purpose of wangling the market, so that they get just enough herrings for the home market, leaving the greater part of this invaluable treasure lying about in the sea, when it ought to have been taken out.
I have preached that doctrine for many years, with varying success; but the success is now beginning to grow, and the conversions are increasing. I certainly assure hon. Members that my advice will continue to be: go and catch all the herrings you can get, and get the best single price you can for the whole lot. The Bill will also mean—and I am rather pleased about this—a simplifying and a speeding up of the machinery of these various schemes. That is important.
One Clause which worries me a little is Clause 8, which, on the face of it, gives the Minister very wide powers of direction. It could, if he chose to abuse those powers, make him a sort of Hitler of 705 this industry, because apparently he can give directions to the Herring Industry Board, provided he can get his colleague from Scotland to agree, and tell them exactly what their plans must be this way and that. I would only say this. If he really wants to become the Fuehrer of this industry, then we on this side of the House will have to object. But if the object of this Clause is merely to enable the necessary steps to be taken quickly to facilitate and speed up procedure; and if the Minister gives an assurance that he will work in collaboration with the Herring Industry Board, and not give them peremptory directions against their wishes, exercising in an arbitrary and Fascist manner the powers that he is asking us to give him, clearly that would greatly relieve us.
The great advantage of this Bill seems to me to be that it brings the herring industry under one unifying and, we hope, constructive control, and takes it away from four competing, and very largely destructive, controls. The control of this industry has rested for the last few years with the Department of Fisheries in Scotland, the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and, incidentally, with the Herring Industry Board; but the interests of all those various Departments have not necessarily coincided, and there were sometimes great differences between them. The difficulties of getting decisions on matters of policy that should have been taken very quickly have been enormous; and have been the cause of a great deal of trouble in the past. I feel that probably the greatest single advance made under this Bill is that at last we have one controlling authority for this industry, instead of all these various Departments passing the buck from one to another—when they are not actually fighting one another.
Before sitting down, I want to take a considerable amount of credit to myself and to my hon. Friends for this Bill. A year ago I went to see the Minister of Food, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), and my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). We pressed upon the Minister of Food the urgent necessity of giving the Herring Industry Board far greater powers and of setting it in control over this industry. I may say 706 to the Minister of Agriculture—and I do not think he will be altogether surprised when I tell him this—that the immediate reaction of the Minister of Food was by no means favourable, because he recognised very clearly that what we were pressing him to do was to shed a great many of the powers which his Department were at that time exercising, and continued to exercise for some months afterwards, over the herring industry. This Bill, in effect, takes away a great many of the powers of the Minister of Food over this industry and gives them to the Herring Industry Board.
I should like here to pay my modest tribute to the Minister of Food—a bitter political enemy, but a great personal friend of mine—who at present is not here, although he ought to be. After much travail, labour and anxiety—because no Minister likes to give up control or power—he has seen the light; he has been converted; he is the man who, in the main, has given up power in order to make this Bill possible and successful. The Minister of Agriculture has, by comparison, given up very little; also, he has a greater control over the Herring Board than the Minister of Food—as has the Secretary of State for Scotland. He needs to shed no crocodile tears over this Bill. But this is really a sad day for the Minister of Food, because he has to give up a lot. However, his Department have, on the whole, made a persistent and consistent mess of this industry for the last seven years; and I am not sorry to see their grip relaxed. I know they have done their best; but I also know that they have failed.
There it is. At this juncture, I only wish to see a really advanced view taken of this problem—the view which was originally taken on this side of the House. It was our party which put these rather revolutionary proposals before the Government. We begged them to take this bold action, and even to go a little further. Our only complaint now—and as it is of some hon. Members opposite—is that the Bill does not go quite far enough. Hon. Members opposite think we are reactionary. We are so far ahead of them on this, as on all other matters, that they really cannot see us. That is the truth of the matter. But we have not got the power. All we can do is to kick the Government along as hard as we can, and as often as we can, in 707 the hope that they will do something. Usually, in about 12 months they do something—but never quite enough.
There is one other point I should like to mention. We have until 11 o'clock, so the right hon. Gentleman need not be alarmed about the time. I should therefore like to put this point, which is more important than many that have been advanced, whatever other hon. Members may think. I do so agree with the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) that on the whole this quick-freezing process is the greatest hope for this industry. I entirely disagree with the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman), who was talking about some deplorable expert who had said that quick-freezing was no good, and that herrings which were quick-frozen dilapidated, or collapsed, or something, as soon as they were unfrozen. Nobody ever anticipated that those herrings would be thawed and then left lying about in the kitchen for several days. They are frozen so that they can be kept: they should not he thawed until they come to be eaten.
I would assure hon. Members opposite—and I wish the hon. Lady were still here—that I have been to the Torry Institute in Aberdeen, which has carried out the greatest research into quick freezing. I have had placed in front of me fresh and kippered herrings, some absolutely fresh, and some which have been quick frozen for several months. Every time, the herring that I chose as the most delectable and delicious was the one that had been quick-frozen. The hon. Member cannot have eaten quick-frozen herrings. I assure her they are absolutely delicious. The hon. Lady is quite wrong; and I hope she will take the earliest opportunity of going to the Torry Institute at Aberdeen, where she can eat quick-frozen herrings to her heart's content. The more she eats, the more she will want to eat.
I would say to the Minister and to the Secretary of State for Scotland, through his Under-Secretary, with all due deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. NevenSpence) that when it comes to disposing of really big surpluses, whatever may have happened before the 1914 war, there are only two really big herring fishings in the year. One is the summer fishing, off 708 the East Coast of Scotland, in which I admit Lerwick plays a part, but where the centre has been situated for many years at Fraserburgh and Peterhead; the other is the great autumn fishing off Yarmouth and Lowestoft. These are the occasions of the really big catches. Therefore, these are the places where the Herring Industry Board should concentrate their plans, both for the production of oil and for quick-freezing on a big scale. I hope they will co-operate with private interests. Judging from the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham—and I pressed him on one or two points—he is only too eager to co-operate. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell the Herring Board to make early contact with my hon. Friend, who is apparently prepared to sell a tremendous number of frozen herrings and is confident he can sell the whole lot in a few days. He sold the whole Shetland lot last year in half an hour, and he tells me he can sell practically all he can get.
It is rather remarkable that this is one of the only industries where a third of the total raw material is imported—gratuitously and, to my mind, unnecessarily, from Norway. It is a bad third, the worst third, the coarsest third; but think of the scope that would give those who are anxious to exploit the home market by means of quick-freezing. I do not think anybody would disagree that, if we can avoid these importations of large, coarse herring, with which we have been afflicted during the last two months from Norway, it will be a good thing for the industry and the trade as a whole. We do not want them; they do not kipper well. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland discussed how, at one of our new British Railway hotels, he ate one of these kippered Norwegian herrings and made a mental resolution not to touch kippers again for six months. I do not blame him. They do a lot of damage to the trade. We should never have had them. They have kept down the West Coast fishing, which promised to be good. If we can develop the quick-freezing process on a good scale, it will be unnecessary ever to import them again.
I differ on one point only from my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham. I think we must include oil as well as quick-freezing. Oil is absolutely vital to this country; fats are almost our greatest need. I would say from surplus herrings only, 709 however; and that we must secure fair prices for the fishermen. Why not? As somebody has pointed out—I think it was the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities—we are spending between £20 and £30 million on the development of a groundnut scheme in East Africa, which may or may not produce oils in the next five or six years. I say frankly that I am not opposed to that scheme, because I am a great believer in long-term imperial development. But I do say that it is fantastic, if we are prepared to spend between £20 and £30 million in developing a long-term groundnuts scheme in East Africa, that we should not spend a few thousand pounds in extracting oil from the herrings that teem in the North Sea, and which can be got this year; even if it involves, and I think it should involve, a certain subsidy to the fishermen. They should not be asked to catch herrings at an uneconomic price.
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give serious consideration to this aspect of the matter. He knows well that costs are high, and are rising; labour and field costs are already very high, and the costs of nets is also prohibitive. Costs are rising against the fisherman all the time. Raising the price for herrings for oil from 30s. to 35s. a cran was not enough. We could get nearer to a solution by adopting the method I have advocated, of one price. We should not ask fishermen to fish for herring for oil at an uneconomic price. We should spend a little money and subsidise the fisherman to get oil, not in five, six or seven years' time, but now—this year and next year.. Oil is vital, and that would be money well spent.
Reference to the home market has been made by hon. Members opposite, and particularly by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland. There is scope for tremendous expansion in this market, and I hope the Board will pursue this suggestion. For so many years we have heard the same old stories about dyeing kippers and cooking kippers. The hon. Member for Lowestoft also referred to cooking a fresh herring. Here, in one sentence, is the way a fresh herring should be cooked: split it, take the central bone out, dip it in a barrel of good Scotch oatmeal, and fry it. I wish the English would learn how to do it.
§ Mrs. Mann (Coatbridge)
That is quite wrong. I do not think the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) knows anything at all about getting the best flavour from herrings. They should never be fried, but grilled.
§ Mr. Boothby
I disagree with the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann). I sometimes like a grilled herring, but the best herring of the lot—and I have the support of the whole Moray Firth—is the herring dipped in the barrel of good Scotch oatmeal and fried.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
Perhaps the hon. Member would teach the proper method to the kitchen staff?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not think we should complain, because there is nothing more exciting at the present time of starvation than talking about food. It cheers us all up. I think the hon. Lady is wrong. A cat would not take a grilled herring off a plate—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This is not the occasion for knowing how to cook fish and I think hon. Members should confine their remarks to the question at issue.
§ Mr. Boothby
This point was really raised by the hon. Member for Lowestoft. Once when they had been cooked the right way, I ate eight of these herrings straight off. That was when I was coming back from the fishing grounds in a drifter in the early morning after I had been seasick. That was the most delicious meal I had ever tasted.
I come next to the development of the industry on the West coast. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) is not here. He was very rough with me last night, but today he has given me the moral right to address the House on behalf of the herring industry, which yesterday he denied to me. Today, therefore, I have both a constitutional and a moral right.
711 An extremely important fishing on the West Coast takes place from Castlebay at a special time of the year. There they catch the Matje herring. I shall not be out of Order here, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because you do not cook a Matje, but simply put it under the tap and then straight into your mouth. It is better than caviar; it is the highest form of luxury; it is magnificent. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but they cannot have eaten a Matje, otherwise they would know that there is nothing to touch it. It goes to America, where it is sold at an enormous price. It could be caught if the Herring Board would take sufficiently energetic steps under this Bill. This fishing must be revived. It is fishing of the highest order; and we can earn many dollars with it, although I hope that a few barrels of this fish will be reserved for this country—and at least one for me.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has not sought any compulsory powers in regard to fishermen. Whatever the hon. Member for Lowestoft may say, we shall get nothing out of the Scotish fisherman by trying to discipline him and make him fish on terms or conditions under which he does not want to fish; in fact, you will not make anyone in Scotland do anything he does not want to do; and that is why we remain the greatest nation on earth. It is no good the hon. Member thinking that he can drive the Scottish fishermen against their will; and if he tries, they will only fight back. We must have their confidence and co-operation. There is no other way, and that is the way it must be done under this Bill. I could not support the Bill if there were any element of compulsion about it. Scottish fishermen cannot be made to fish if they do not want to.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Then will the hon. Member see that no obstacle is put in the way of English fishermen, if they do not want to conform with Scottish practice?
§ Mr. Boothby
We have come to a happy agreement about this Sunday business and everyone is in a much more congenial mood. I hope that the hon. Member will not go on talking about that because it only puts ideas into their heads. The Scottish fishermen will play their part, as they have done in the past. Their main 712 business, and that of the English fishermen, is to catch herrings; and they cannot catch herrings without houses to live in, harbours to work from, coal to drive the drifters, and, above all, nets to put into the sea. The Government have drifted along for far too long on this net business. No one can deny that there was a very critical moment when they allowed herring nets vital to this industry to be exported; and it was not for several months that they grasped the danger and put a stop to it.
We are now suffering from a desperate shortage of nets; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some assurance tonight that he will put all the pressure he can on the President of the Board of Trade to see that no more nets are exported until the needs of the herring fishermen, and all the other fishermen, are completely satisfied. It is outrageous that we should export nets when we are in a half-starved condition in this country. Our harbours are still in very bad condition, our coal is of extremely bad quality and of very high price, and our houses are in almost as short supply as our nets. These are the raw materials, and we cannot expect the fishermen to do all that they can do for the people of this country unless we supply them with the essentials of their craft in order that they may pursue their arduous task. At the moment, too, many of these essentials are being withheld.
I have said, inside this House and outside it, on many occasions, that the future of this industry mainly depends on cooperation between the Herring Board, armed with adequate powers, and every section of the herring industry. It is co-operation, based upon mutual confidence, that really matters. Under this Bill, we have at least given the Herring Board the powers which they require, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having done so. The Herring Board will never be able to say again, "We are sorry we made a muck of this, but we had not the necessary powers." They can now be held responsible by the fishermen if they do make a muck of it, but I do not think that they will.
Equally, the fishermen have their responsibility; but, if there is genuine co-operation between the Board and the industry as a whole, I think that the industry has a great future, based, for the 713 first time, on assured markets and stabilised prices. If that is the case, I do not despair altogether of the hard-cured herring export market in Central and Eastern Europe. We may even get the hard-cured herring behind the "iron curtain" before we have finished; and, if we can succeed, we may also get them to take a more genial view of politics generally, and of this country in particular. I do not think that we should give up hopes of exporting hard-cured herrings to those regions, because they have been accustomed to them in the past; and I think that the only effective contact with those countries we can hope to have for some considerable time to come will be by trade of a barter character. If we can sell some of our herrings in exchange for some of their feedingstuffs, what could be a better proposition from both points of view?
I take an optimistic view; and while I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not been a little more daring—he is like the Government generally, so frightfully cautious and a little bit niggardly—I think that this Bill represents a big step in the right direction, and I thank the Government for bringing it in, because I believe it will mark another milestone, perhaps the last for some time, on the road back to prosperity for a very great industry.
§ 9.9 P.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I am sure that Members of the Government will feel very much obliged to the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who has just given them such generous praise. He has not just damned with faint praise or praised with faint damns, but his general benediction of the Bill has been wholehearted, and I wish that when he was speaking the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) had been here to hear his general commendation of the enterprise carried out by a semi-public enterprise as compared with the anarchy of private enterprise that existed in the fishing industry before the war. I welcomed the last passage in his speech in which he recalled the days in which we used to trade our fish with Russia. I thoroughly agreed with his proposition that if we talk in terms of herring to the people behind the "Iron Curtain," we shall get much nearer to understanding 714 than if we talk in terms of the old diplomacy and of power politics.
I want for a few moments to deal with the position of the Clyde fishing fleet. I spent a week in January in very stormy weather, on the Clyde, where I went out with the fishermen who live in the little village of Maidens. For a week we fished in Loch Fyne, and during that time I came into contact, for the first time in my life, with the actual day-to-day and night-to-night experiences of the fishermen. It was a very interesting and helpful experience, and I can assure the hon. Member for East Aberdeen that although he says he bores the House with the subject of herring, he and I will always be allies in helping the people who work to bring herring to the markets of our cities, towns and countryside.
We have heard about the need for harbours, and I believe it is absolutely essential that if we are to encourage our herring fishermen they should get the harbours they deserve. Upon the harbours of some of these small fishing communities rests the future prosperity and economic life of the picturesque sea-fishing villages which are so essential to the economic life of the west coast of Scotland. While I was with the Clyde fishing fleet we had some nights of very good fishing, which resulted in gluts. We went back to places like Tarbet, in Loch Fyne, and Ayr, to find the ports closed so that the fishermen could not get rid of their fish. There is something wrong with that, and I believe this Bill will greatly assist methods of distribution. I entirely endorse what was said by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen about the need for one buyer and a centralised agency to market herring. It was tragic to note that there were shoals of fish waiting to be caught and marketed, while men were ready and eager to make their contribution. Through ports being closed fishermen could not dispose of their herring at a time when people on the mainland were hungry for fresh fish.
We brought the fish back to the town of Ayr, where lorries were waiting at the quayside. The fish were taken to London in two lorries from a little place called Trabboch, within a short distance of the coast. These lorries had to travel for 12 hours before the fish was put into Billingsgate market. Yet in little mining villages, 715 in the town of Ayr, in Kilmarnock, in Glasgow, and the west of Scotland generally, people had not seen fish for weeks. I hope that by a new system of distribution the home market will be organised in such a way as will enable our people, who are now short of fats, proteins and meat, to get the fish which would be such an important part of their diet.
I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to do his share, as I know he will, because he has this matter at heart. I hope he will get repairs done to the harbours in places where the people are dependent upon the fishing industry and where the harbours need to be dredged. It is hard for these fishermen to bring their fishing boats into a place like Maidens and anchor them safely there for the weekend. They have to take the 'bus back to Girvan, because the harbour is silted up. I appeal to the Secretary of State to help these little fishing communities by restoring their harbours to them, and in this way giving an economic prosperity to these places.
I want to say a word about the imports of Norwegian fish. About a fortnight ago, I asked a very innocent question on this subject, and with great relish the hon. Gentleman the Member for the English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) asked me, "Where is your internationalism now?" I must confess that I was a little disconcerted by that remark, but I was expressing the point of view of the fishermen of the West Coast, who are constantly pressing upon me questions as to why so much Norwegian herring is coming into the country when they cannot market their fish, or have to sell it at the lowest price. I hope there will be some marketing arrangements so that if Norway needs our coal we shall insist that not so much Norwegian fish should come into this country but Norwegian wooden houses instead, which would be a good bargain from our point of view, as well as helping the Scottish fishermen to sell their fish in their own home market.
We have had a most helpful and interesting debate, and constructive contributions have been made in a spirit of goodwill and good fellowship. I, for one, do not grudge my tribute to the Elliot Committee, nor do I grudge paying a tribute to the hon. Member for East Aberdeen because of the years in which he has 716 put this question of the herring industry before the House, even though he has done it in a humorous manner. In the years which are to come, if we concentrate more of the business brains of the country, like that of the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), who put forward constructive proposals in regard to cold storage on this industry, we shall make even greater progress, and get more fish on the tables of our people, which would be preferable to trailing to the southern end of the earth for Argentine chilled meat.
Further, we would be establishing a sound economy in this country, enabling the fishing industry to play a useful and helpful part. No doubt, too, we could get international agreements with Spain, with Poland, and with the countries behind the "Iron Curtain," and so through this industry build up a system of common understanding with the idea of helping all those who need help in any way. I welcome this Bill, and I am quite sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has spent so much of his time in the fishing industry, will do his share in making this scheme a success, which I am sure is the desire of all Members of the House, whatever their political opinions may be.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
This Debate is different from that which we experienced last night. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) tells me that it is very much better. Then we reached the highest states of emotion. Now we are more or less on ground level.
The first thing we need in the matter that we are discussing is to find the fish. For some strange reason the Firth of Forth which, for 1,000 years has had a visit from large numbers of herrings in the winter months, has not had that visit in the last two or three years. In the last three or four years we have had something like a complete dearth of herrings, and the recent winter has been quite a disaster. Not a herring has been caught. That is a very serious matter. The Joint Under-Secretary of State was kind enough to pay us a visit in Fife the other day, and he knows how serious this matter is. I know that the Scottish Office have a boat sailing up and down the firth inquiring into the matter. Not only herrings have 717 gone out of the firth, but white fish also. There must be other firths and bays in Scotland where a similar change has taken place.
What is the cause of it? The matter is under investigation and I hope that the researches now being carried out will take account not only of the conditions of the sea bottom, the temperature of the water and the current, but of the points raised by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), namely, the methods that have been adopted in fishing. Many old and skilled men in the Firth of Forth tell me that the seine net is responsible for the destruction of the white fish and the herrings. Whether that is true or not, I do not know, but the view is held with the greatest possible strength by some of the most respected men in the district. The seine net seems to be of universal application, nevertheless it is proved to be a method that destroys, and I suggest that the method needs investigation.
Having found the fish in the water, the next thing is to catch them. We catch them with boats. There is a great need for boats now. As the Joint Under-Secretary of State knows, we are building boats in Fife. We have a good many boats on the stocks and they have been there for a long time. They will remain there, unless we get engines for them. I know that the Joint Under-Secretary is doing what he can in this matter, but I appeal beyond him to the Government. These engines ought to be made available for the new boats, but they are not available because they are being exported. That cannot make sense. It is wrong that this position should be allowed to continue. I have asked that the Minister who replies should deal precisely with that point. I am very much obliged to the Joint Under-Secretary for a letter which I have had from him. I am somewhat encouraged by it. He tells me in the letter, if I remember it aright, that he thinks that the productive capacity of the country is now able to supply all the nets we need in a year. I hope that is true. We have great difficulty in believing it at the present time.
Having caught the fish, we have to see that they are landed. Here again I apply a practical test. The Joint Under-Secretary was at one of my harbours in Pittenweem and he saw the place and the danger. It is the most active of the three 718 ports in Fife, getting far more fish than the others. He saw that the harbour needs substantial improvement. He very kindly put up some suggestions and I know that he will do his very best to push them forward. We depend and rely upon him. We valued his visit, and we shall be greatly disappointed if, as a result of it, one or other of the schemes is not carried out. I instance that only as an example, because there must be hundreds of places like it in Scotland.
When we have found the fish, caught them and landed them, they have to be sold. As regards herrings, there is no doubt that the Government are right at last in giving the Herring Industry Board powers to manage the industry as one unit. I have always been in favour of that. However, do not let us think that that is all there is to be done. On the white fish side, organisation for selling is equally necessary. I had some considerable interest in the creation of the White Fish Commission before the war, and it ought to be re-formed as soon as possible. Only by means of large-scale organisation of this type can any success be achieved, and the fishing industry is no exception to that rule. I therefore plead for the early re-establishment of that Commission.
This is another of many Bills of the kind which we have seen. Those who have been in the House a long time have seen us advancing step by step. I must admit that we now seem to make more rapid progress than we did in the early days. I do not know whether that is the result of the Labour Government; I cannot believe it, and I interpret it rather as proof that the country and the House, as result of the exhortations of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) and the rest of us for 15 to 20 years, have become herring and white fish conscious and are beginning to realise that something must be done—
§ Mr. Stewart
The fact remains that the House of Commons is alive to the importance of this question, and I am glad of it.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)
We have heard a great deal about herring 719 fishing, fishing in the North Sea and fishing in the South-west, and I now want to say a word about the fishermen on the South coast. I grant that their industry cannot compare in size with the great herring fisheries, but they deserve some consideration, and I commend this Bill in that it helps them in the way of increasing the loans and grants for their fishing tackle. These men an the South coast have served the country well. In the days of Dunkirk they went in their small boats along the South coast and did what they could. Some lost their boats and others lost a good deal of their gear. That cost them a lot of money, and many of them have not been able to raise sufficient money to replace the gear and boats they lost.
I am sorry to say that a great number of these fishermen have turned to the less romantic industry of taking tourists round the sights. People in the North and the Midlands come to the South coast when they retire in order to end their lives in happiness and they like to be taken round to see the sights, and consequently a great many fishermen have given up their more romantic industry of fishing in order to take these people round. In spite of that, they do some fishing and at certain times there is a great glut of fish which it is difficult to get rid of. I regret to see this fish thrown on the fields. The Minister of Agriculture may not mind that, but it seems to me a waste of food when fish—sprats particularly—are thrown on the ground to be used as manure.
If such gluts could be dealt with by the quick-freezing of which we have heard so much, it would be of great advantage to the food supplies of the country. I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) is not here. I should like to draw his attention to a place where he can get a supply of fish for his quick-freezing apparatus, for one sees these ships coming in laden with fish for which the fishermen can get practically nothing—a few pence a bushel. If something could be done to meet that situation it would help these men and the food supply of the country. I commend this Bill, and with other hon. Members I feel sure it will be of great benefit to the fishing industry of the country.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I feel quite sure that all hon. Members will have found this Debate interesting and instructive. I feel equally certain that the Debate will have helped the industry at large. Also, I think that all will agree, in relation to the discussion of the Bill before us to-night, that the Debate has ranged more—and properly so on Second Reading—over the much larger matter of the future of this great industry than just the confines of the Bill. When the Debate was opened by the Minister, he formally explained the Bill to us. It appeared to me that he dealt only with the Bill and did not give sufficient emphasis to the great potential of this industry.
We in the United Kingdom are, in fact, the greatest producers of fish at the present time. Not only that, but with our great Empire and Commonwealth, and the seaboard we possess, it is my belief that if we really applied our minds to this question of the utilisation of fish throughout these seas, it would not only help to save our own economic position but might help to ease the food position of the world. I go as far as that with regard to this industry. In times of difficulty such as we are facing today, one can afford to have a "New Look" into an industry of this sort.
Before going any further, upon the fashion of the "New Look," let us dwell for a moment upon what the industry consists of in the United Kingdom, and the different potentials which this industry could in fact provide. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) mentioned the different experiments which are going forward in relation to extracting albumen from herring. Only a short time ago I put a question on that subject to the Ministry of Food. In South Africa these experiments are going on, and the results from them, and the different products that can be made, are extraordinarily interesting.
At this moment we have an industry of about 500 steam drifters, 8,000 inshore fishing vessels, about 860 middle-water steam trawlers and 225 distant water trawlers. If we go forward with this industry I believe that total can be increased without any question of over-fishing. At the same time, the cost of building is now, as we know, three times 721 as much as it was before the war. I have heard many hon. Members mention during this Debate the great help which this Bill will give in the raising of loans. I would be the last to say that is not the case, but do not let us, here in Westminster, make too much of it. During the last two and a half years these costs have risen very considerably and grants and loans in proportion to that cost are, in fact, less than they would have been two and a half years ago. Gear has not only risen in price, but will rise further. When there is new development in gear, such as radar—and no doubt the Minister is aware that there is one fully equipped vessel now on the East Coast—it will be realised that the cost is great, and is likely to become greater. But as more vessels are equipped in this manner, the fish will come into port that degree earlier and will be that degree fresher for all the processing which is necessary.
There are other matters of difficulty which the industry has had recently to face. Those who have an interest in the industry are not likely to forget the sudden announcement that the cost of coal was going up by 25s. a ton, without any consultation at all with the fishing industry. Immediately everyone raised an uproar, quite properly and rightly, and we were thankful when it was taken off. Even so, we must not be forgetful that whereas before we had a cost of £1 1s. 9d. a ton, it is now £2 12S. 0d. a ton, which makes the operation of these vessels fairly costly.
The importance of the inshore fishing industry has been mentioned. I think that the Minister will share with me a grateful feeling towards that industry, and acknowledge that it is only through the inshore fishing industry of this country that we have ultimately been able to develop the great fisheries in the way in which we have done. The Debate was opened by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) very quickly made reference to the question of Scotland and the question of England. I think he acted properly in so doing, because, although the question of the fishing industry in Scotland is a matter of major importance, it is right to remember that, of the volume of wet fish landed in the United Kingdom, only 30 per cent. is actually landed in 722 Scotland. Therefore, England does play a great part in these matters.
The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) made reference to and described that great fishing port. As he has done that, I think it is right also to make reference to Grimsby and to remember the three great fishing docks and the water area of 63 acres, and that there are about 4,000 fishermen and 8,700 dock workers. There are the great ports of Fleetwood, Milford Haven, Yarmouth and Lowestoft which should be mentioned, and let us not forget the development that can happen elsewhere. Brixham and Plymouth were once great fishing ports. I remember some 20 years ago seeing a vast number of vessels in Plymouth. And even in 1872 there were 66 vessels. The House might also bear in mind and reflect on the fact that the Plymouth Laboratory, set up in 1888, was the first laboratory in the United Kingdom to go into these matters relating to fish. There again, when we pass out of England, we come to the ports of Cornwall. I have spoken many times of their importance.
I do not think that, even now, the complexity of the fishing industry is fully realised, nor do I think that sufficient emphasis is given to industries which exist by the maintenance of a strong fishing fleet. The small boat-builders should be given help, and should not have difficulties over licences. Then there are the questions of the nets to catch the fish, the boxes to hold them, the transport to carry them and the ice with which to keep them. All these are matters that have to be co-ordinated in order to give help to the fishing industry.
Many hon. Members including the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and the hon. and learned Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman), have referred to the White Fish Commission. No doubt, the Minister may remember that, over two years ago, I put this point to him, and I have been putting Questions to him ever since. To start with, the right hon. Gentleman said that the matter would be considered, and then it got to "active consideration," and there it stopped. That was the last answer he gave, but I trust that tonight he may say a little more about it. In November last, he may remember that I spoke about over-fishing, and, in that speech, I made reference to the heading of fish. I would 723 like to draw the Minister's attention to that matter again and to the answer which he gave me, when he said that there was not sufficient information about pollution. Even if there is not, the Minister will remember that the critical time for stowing fish on vessels is when that fish is landed, and that, if the heading of the fish is carried out, there is more delay in stowing of the fish and it has an effect on the freshness of the landings of fish. I would like him to reconsider that matter.
Tonight, we are discussing a Bill introduced for the purpose of greatly increasing the fish supplies to this country, and one question which I want to ask the Minister is this: can he tell me why, under the Marshall Plan, provision is made for the importation of nearly £11 million worth of fish in the first year? No doubt, the Minister has a very reasonable answer to that question, but I would like to know what it is. Our object is to avoid the importation of what we have got already. There is nothing new about bringing a Bill before the House to restrict fishermen from taking immature fish. A Bill came before this House in the time of Edward III, in 1376. In fact, it was a petition to this House, in which, if hon. Members are interested, there is this phrase:The fishermen take such quantities of small fish that they do not know what to do with them, and that they feed and fat their pigs with them to the great danger of the Commons of the Realm and the destruction of the fisheries and they pray for a remedy.That is going back somewhat, but we find that in 1571 we had a similar type of Bill placed on the Statute Book by Queen Elizabeth. On 12th November last, when I spoke on the Motion for the Adjournment about over-fishing, as hon. Members may remember, one of the points I stressed was this:Is this the time not to have invited Spain to that Advisory Committee?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 498.]I never got a reply with which I was satisfied. Here is a matter where we wish to get international agreement with regard to over-fishing. If we are going first to hold a council, as we did in March, 1946, and then set up an advisory committee, and then see fit not to ask Spain to come to that committee, it just does not make 724 sense. What we want to do is to get agreements over these matters and see that these conventions are agreed to by all the people who fish, so that over-fishing does not occur. I sincerely trust that the Minister will see fit to give me some answer on this matter.
I would like to ask the Minister if he would kindly inform us whether any further countries have, or have not, signed this agreement. While I am on that point, may I remind hon. Members that Germany is not included in those countries. My right hon. Friend made references to that today and I sincerely trust we shall not suddenly find, owing to the great shortage of food, an enormous German fleet fishing on the North Sea. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has spoken in his wonderful way and his masterly fashion on the question of herring and on the importance of meal and oil. I think that is right. Here we are, desperately short of oil and all forms of feedingstuffs, and if this great industry can help us in this country, as I feel it can, and not just feel that these fish are only waste but are actually providing something of great benefit to this country in our economic need, it will be important.
Dealing with small vessels, and nets and the size of the mesh, I trust that when the Minister answers tonight he will assure us that where we have a smaller vessel owned by the share fishermen, adequate time will be given to them, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Ives suggested, in order that they may have sufficient facilities for obtaining these new forms of net. Not only will there be the difficulty of obtaining them, but there will also be the question of cost.
No doubt the Minister will remember that half-way down page 4 of the Bill, on line 19, it states:Herring, mackerel, sprats and pilchards.I want to ask him to give consideration, between now and Committee stage, to the addition of the words "white bait and sardines." I do not think he will object to that. The hon. and learned Member for St. Ives mentioned the question of the 75-foot M.F.V. and I strongly support the speech that he made on that point. I wish the Minister would reconsider this matter. I first mentioned it in my maiden speech in 1945; no doubt the 725 Minister will not remember that, but such was the case. I realise that if we extend the length to 75 feet, we will have also to make larger grants. But at the same time, with these vessels getting larger and with the question of the economy of fishing being studied to a greater extent, I believe the inclusion of the 75-foot vessel within the Inshore Fishing Bill would be an increasingly good Measure.
The hon. and learned Member for St. Ives also mentioned that he had heard from the Sea Fisheries Committee, in Cornwall, as have I, about the question of these words "in case of need." The grants are only to be made in case of need. I trust that in winding up tonight the Minister will give a little explanation on this matter. I do not believe that he really means that small sums of capital should be included in these cases. I would like to make the point, because I put it to him two years ago on the Inshore Fishing Act. At that time he may have been talking about a certain figure, and he spoke of working capital, or whatever we might call it, but since then the purchasing value of the pound has gone down. I will not go into the reasons for that. Therefore, he should consider considerably raising that datum line. I think that is a reasonable request, and I hope that the Minister will look at it in that light.
There are in the Bill certain provisions dealing with co-operative societies, and I should like to take this opportunity of putting something before the Minister. The Rye, Dungeness and District Inshore Fishermen's Protection Association have written me a letter on this subject. True, they ask me to put this before the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food; and I expected her to be on the Government Front Bench tonight, for she has a lot to do with this. The Association say:We all took great exception to that remark, and you may now like to advise Dr. Edith Summerskill that during the last month the Rye Co-operative Society has completely failed to compete with the open market, and last week only managed to pay 4s. per stone for plaice large and small together, with the result that the boats have ceased selling them and have gone to open markets at Hastings and Brighton.Those matters should certainly be considered by the Minister before he gets too one-sided on this subject.
726 No Bill, or anything else which is introduced here, will, of itself, help the industry; but there are certain ways in which the Minister can help the industry—and certain ways in which I trust he will. At the present moment a man who may have got a licence to build, and has his vessel, is fishing and bringing in his catches, may be called up. He is not protected as is the agricultural worker. Yet such men are producing food; and if they are called up their vessels may have to lie idle, with no crews to man them. Does it make sense? The Minister probably knows that at this moment I can instance a case in which that is, in fact, happening.
Again and again I have raised the question of soap for fishermen's wives. I agree that is not in the Bill. But remember, the fishermen's wives have to try to clean clothes which are absolutely soaked with salt, when they have not sufficient soap. Yet the Ministry of Food will do nothing about it. There is one thing which apparently nobody else has noticed today. I have been here listening to the Debate from its commencement, but I have not seen a representative of the Admiralty on the Government Front Bench; yet the Admiralty have a great deal to do with these matters. After all, the fishery protection vessels and the Fishing Protection Fleet play a vital part in this. In 1945 I made reference to them, but I did not get a very good answer. In November of last year I again made reference to them, and got an exceptionally bad answer. It was not long after that, as hon. Members may remember, that we had some trouble in the Channel. I trust that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will press upon the Admiralty the necessity for these fishery protection vessels.
I feel that this Debate has been of benefit, and I hope that the few remarks I have made will be answered by the Minister, who has plenty of time tonight There is no question of trying to rush through the proceedings. There is over an hour to go. If by any chance the Minister does not answer any particular point it will be either because he does not want to answer, or because he cannot answer. There will be no excuse at all. I am sure that all hon. and right hon. Members share with me, not only the hope 727 that we shall see a great fishing industry in this country, but the feeling that this industry may well play a major part in helping to solve the world economic problems.
§ 9.55 P.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
One might have expected this to be an interesting Debate. There has been a good deal of repetition, but that was inevitable as all hon. Members felt keenly on some point or other which can be paralleled in many fishing ports in this country. I am pleased that there was a hearty welcome from all sides of the House for this Bill, which has been described by some as being too late and too small. I was pleased that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) intervened at an early stage. He had every right to do so in view of his ministerial activities in the past and the fact that he had presided over one of the Committees which gave a report, part of whose recommendations finds its way into this small Bill. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman's observation on the value of fish caught could not be over-estimated. As I have said before, it is not generally understood that we land twice as much fish as we produce beef in this country. It is an extremely valuable foodstuff and we should not underestimate the real importance of our fishing industry, whether it be white fish, pelagic fish or anything else.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the 1946 Conference and Convention. I say at the outset that the Government did not delay in initiating international conversations for securing a covention on over-fishing. The Government initiated the first move by convening the Conference; our representatives exercised all the influence they could to prevent over-fishing such as that witnessed after the first world war. If we have failed to secure complete ratification of the Convention and the final act, it is no fault of the present Government; all our influence is continually exercised to persuade signatory nations to come to conclusions as quickly as possible. Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Sweden, as well as the United Kingdom, have ratified the Convention. These countries at any rate 728 have taken the step for the final act. I understand that the reason for some delay was that certain countries had not the power to take steps as rapidly as some other nations. We have every reason to believe, however, that the Convention will be finally and completely ratified and that we shall be in a position, within two months of the last nation ratifying it, to apply the Convention and to see that it is applied by other countries. The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about what was going to happen two months from the last signature.
§ Mr. Williams
I hope that it is not only not going to be years: I hope that it will not be very many months, but one cannot say. All one can do is to exercise such influence as one may; that influence is being used as reasonably and decently as possible.
I was asked about the construction of fishing vessels in Germany; what part they may play in fishing in the North Sea, thereby endangering future supplies for this country. The construction of fishing vessels in Germany is subject to control by the Allied Control Commission. Germany will be required to adopt conservation measures equivalent to those proposed for the United Kingdom. Therefore, there is no danger in that direction.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I would point out that I also mentioned the possibility of Germany acquiring fishing vessels. Will that also come under Allied control?
§ Mr. Williams
Exactly. Any fishing vessels owned by Germany, while the Control Commission is there, will be more or less under the control of the Allied Commission, and Germany will have to comply with such regulations as apply to this country. With regard to enforcement, that can and will, I hope, be carried out by each participating country. Fishery officers of each nation will have power to board vessels at sea or on arrival at port, and confiscate any illegal meshes should it be found that the right mesh has not been used. In the Convention itself ample power is taken under Article II, which reads as follows:The contracting Governments agree to take, in their territories and in regard to 729 their vessels to which this Convention applies, appropriate measures to ensure the application of the provisions of this Convention and the punishment of infractions of the said provisions.If we are satisfied that we ought to do the right thing, having attached our signature to the Convention we must expect other countries to be equally decent in the matter. I do not think that we can go beyond that.
I repeat the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's words, that we cannot overestimate the value of fishing in this country, and we cannot overestimate the danger of over-fishing in the North Sea. While it is true that the United Kingdom took only 25 per cent. of the fish from the North Sea in prewar years, it is equally true to say that that fish is high quality fish, without which we should have a very poor diet of cod. It is in our interest that we should do all we can, and for others to do what we think they ought to do, to ensure that there is a continuity of the high quality fish caught in the North Sea.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) asked a question about long-term policy. I can only say—and this will perhaps answer the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall)—that the question of long-term policy and the White Fish Commission are now under energetic consideration. I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Member for Bodmin. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles also thought that we ought to give co-operative societies not only loans, but grants. Perhaps he is not aware than any member of a co-operative society is entitled to apply for both a loan and a grant. Therefore, I do not see that there is any necessity to go beyond loans to co-operative societies which are serving various members of the Co-operative Association.
Reference was also made to piers and harbours which need rehabilitation. Here again, we give substantial assistance for improvements to piers and harbours in various parts of the country. My hon. Friend also referred to lobsters, and in that connection mentioned transport. He thought that research was the answer, and at this late hour I am willing to accept that what he thinks is the right thing. I can also say that the Government are rendering assistance in another direction, in that they are helping with storage 730 ponds, so that lobsters can be preserved there for sale in the winter, when they are not too plentiful. To that extent, I think we are doing more than he realised. He also said that this is an improvement on the last Bill. I should have thought he would have known that every Bill we introduce is slightly better, whatever Government introduces it.
The hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) welcomed Clause 2 and the possibility of licensing the number of ships fishing in the North Sea. She was very anxious for the application of the over-fishing convention as soon as possible, and so are we. She then entered into a realm which is completely outside the scope of this Bill, namely, when she referred to foreign landings of fish. I do not think that it would be reasonable on my part to start discussing the landings of foreign fish on a Bill that has no relation to the import of fish. She said something about the removal of uncertainty and insecurity. If I know anything about fish, which the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) thinks I do not, there is less insecurity and anxiety among fishermen today than there has been for generations in this country. However, we shall take note of what the hon. Lady said; and I readily understand her absence, as she had to catch a train and was kind enough to warn me of that earlier on.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) also regretted that there was no reference in the Bill to transport. This is not a transport Measure, although I recognise that transport is important where fish are concerned. No doubt the Railways Executive will take note of the observations of my hon. Friend, and if they can reasonably provide better transport so that Londoners or those elsewhere can get fresher fish, I hope that they will take steps to do in the future what has not been done under private enterprise in the past. He also made reference to the working conditions of seamen. I am in agreement with him so far as conditions on the boats are concerned, but that, I fear, is also entirely outside the scope of this Measure. The hon. Member also mentioned the question of foreign landings where nations have not ratified the Convention. I can assure him that we shall keep that very much in mind, and we shall not hesitate to take steps that seem to be necessary.
731 The hon. and learned Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) wanted to know whether there is any prospect of this Convention being finally ratified? I think that there is a very good prospect that the Convention will be ratified by all the signatory nations. He asked whether we had conferred with Spain about the matter. My answer is "No," as Spain does not happen to fish in the North Sea. He also asked whether the French are co-operating. I understand that it is thought that the French will ratify the Convention. He asked me what size of vessel is likely to be allowed to operate under Clause 2 without a licence. The type of vessel we have in mind will be under 40 feet. The hon. and learned Member referred to the question of a means test for inshore fishermen who apply for assistance, either by loan or grant. That question is governed by the 1945 Act, which this Bill does not amend except to provide more funds for that purpose. In saying that, I am also answering the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall).
§ Mr. D. Marshall
It is not exactly covered by the 1945 Act. I was hoping the Minister would say tonight that the reasonable amount would have to be more reasonable in view of the present purchasing power of the pound.
§ Mr. Williams
What the hon. Member would regard as reasonable might be contested in some quarters. At any rate, Clause 3 provides more money to help inshore fishermen on the 1945 basis. The hon. and learned Member for St. Ives and the hon. Member for Bodmin also asked about the 75-foot vessel. The answer is that the 70-foot vessel is regarded as a reasonable sub-division between inshore fishermen and trawler owners. If we go to 75 feet, why not to 80, 95 or 100 feet? If we exceed 70 feet, which is regarded by most people as reasonable, we enter into the field of the trawler owner. The inshore fisherman with a boat in excess of 70 feet would become a competitor of the trawler owner. It would be absurd, so long as we are giving assistance to the inshore fisherman, to turn him into a trawler owner by the size of his boat, while the great trawler owner was getting no assistance whatever. At the moment, there is no hope of turning the inshore fishermen into a trawler owner.
732 My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Miss Colman) asked about the conditions to be laid down for licensing vessels under Clause 2. The answer is that we shall start with the 1938 basis, and the proportion leading up to 85 per cent. of pre-war vessels will be the determining factor, except in the cases of those vessels under 40 feet. My hon. Friend also asked me about quick-freezing. If there are regular supplies to make quick-freezing economic, and those supplies are fresh, I think it may form part of the answer to the problem of our surplus and shortage of fish. But it must be understood that unless fish is really fresh it is no use for quick freezing. A quick-freezing factory must have a constant supply if it is to be economic, otherwise fresh fish, quick-frozen, would be at an outsize price once the day of scarcity arrived and releases were made from that quick-freezing plant.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) said that this Bill was a good Bill, but did not go quite far enough. That is what we all say when we are in opposition, and if I had been sitting in his place today I should probably have said the same. I am glad that somebody, particularly from the Opposition Benches, realises the modesty of the Government. We are sometimes charged with going too far, and doing too much, but at long last there is a voice, echoed by the hon. Member for Bodmin, to say that this is a very modest Measure. The hon. and gallant Member for Down also referred to civil servants. I do not know anything about the particular case he mentioned, but I am willing to inquire into the details if he will let me have the information.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) referred to the question of research, as did several other Members during the Debate. I can tell him that research has been going on for a considerable time, and that our scientists are perhaps as good as any in the world. Whenever new problems have to be resolved our scientists are always in the front line. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth, and others, also referred to nets. My duty is to see that fishermen, like farmers, get the tools necessary for their job, and so far as I can exercise my influence in the councils of the mighty, I shall use it in 733 the direction of the producer, whether he be fanner or fisherman. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) raised a number of points, with many of which I agree, and also answered one or two Members who spoke earlier. Since his answers were so effective I do not think I need answer those Members myself. The question of rubber boots and nets is constantly in our minds, and when supplies are made available it is my job to see that we get our fair share.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir D. Neven-Spence) made one of his characteristic speeches, to which we all listened with great interest because of his knowledge of the industry. I could not have agreed with him more when he answered the hon. Member for Streatham so effectively, in the absence of the hon. Member for Streatham. Since the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made such an effective answer I do not propose to repeat it at this late hour. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has made a score of speeches on herrings. He has taught me at least a dozen times how to cook a herring properly, but I must confess that even yet I do not know how to cook it, because it has not always been the same story which he has told. Nevertheless, it is all very interesting. He said that this Bill was the coping stone on his hopes and expectations and he thought that the Bill filled the gap in the 1944 Act. I hope with him that the new powers to be given to the Herring Board will be used to the full to develop whatever new processes there are. We are providing both the powers and the funds for the Board.
The hon. Member for Streatham raised two or three points, and I understand in my absence he was as generous and as kindly as he usually is to Ministers of Agriculture. I could not hope to compete with him in offensiveness and since he has done it often and regularly I have no complaints. He was similarly disposed to my predecessor as he is to me and I regard it as characteristic of him since he feels he is the repository of all the fishing knowledge in the universe. One thing I would say to him is in reply to his remarks that this Government has wasted two years. He has been a Member of the Conservative Party, which has been in office for seven of the nine years he has been a Member of this House of Commons, and 734 yet he has constantly and wholeheartedly supported that Government during that period though the wastage has been something like 20 years in the interval between the two wars.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I was referring to the omissions of the right hon. Gentleman and this Government between 1946 and 1948. It has nothing to do with the Conservative Government nine years ago or any more years ago, and anyway the war was on for the greater part of that time.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman recognises that it was this Government, in view of the experience gained after the first world war, that initiated this international conference and has used and exercised all its influence to get the convention agreed and to secure ratification at the earliest possible moment. Yet in his observations the hon. Gentleman suggested that we had wasted two years. He went on to say that if the Minister of Agriculture had got any excuses to make, let him make them precisely. I ought to tell the hon. Member that I have no excuses to make at all. I have every reason to be proud of what this Government has done in the short space of time it has been in office.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I cannot let the statement of the right hon. Gentleman go without challenge. He was talking about initiating this conference, but he knows as well as I do that it was initiated in the days of the Coalition Government when most of the Governments concerned were refugee Governments in London.
§ Mr. Williams
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to claim part of the credit, I will readily give it to him, but at least he is answering his hon. Friend who suggested that we have been wasting two years. Perhaps the answer of the right hon. Gentleman is more effective than mine.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen said that this Bill will speed up the procedure in making us approve any scheme to be carried out by the Herring Industry Board. He had a tinge of fear that it might give such power of direction to the Minister that a little dictatorship might arise out of it. I can satisfy the hon. Member I hope by telling him that the change in procedure is designed to 735 simplify and to speed things up, as he himself suggested. Directions have to be given on such questions as quick freezing, oil extraction, the building of floating factories or the giving of price guarantees, all of which will be very useful to the herring industry. He said that the Ministry of Food had consistently made a mess of this business over the last seven years. If that is so, the Ministry were making a mess of it when he was its Parliamentary Secretary. He claimed that he was happy to be in the position of merely kicking the Government along, and he said that so long as the Government were doing their job because of his kicking, he was very happy. It is a pity that the hon. Member could not have kicked his own Government along 20, 15 or even 10 years ago.
Perhaps the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) has gone to catch the same train as his colleagues. If he has, God bless him. He asked a question about engines. Feeling that he might have gone to catch that train—I know that homeward bound is always pleasure bound, so I agree with him in so doing—I think it is right to answer his questions. He said that he hoped that we were not exporting so many engines that the inshore fishermen could not get engines for their boats. He will be glad to know that quite recently 104 new boats have been purchased by inshore fishermen in Scotland with aid provided by the Government while 76 new boats have been provided in England, in addition to replacements. Those figures seem to indicate that there is no shortage of engines for those who apply for assistance from the Government.
The hon. Gentleman who concluded the Debate for the Opposition, I thought rather formally, deserves some sort of reply. He referred to experimental processing plants and that kind of thing. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are fully seized of the necessity for keeping pace with the latest science and technique in processing plant for fishing. We could not over-estimate the value of the fishing industry in this country. Whether it is in the direction of radar or of other devices, I can assure the hon. Member that we shall be as well forward in this country as any other nation.
736 He referred to the price of coal for export as an imposition, from which I fear the hon. Gentleman does not know the story very well, or he would not have raised that matter. The hon. Gentleman is perhaps aware that before the war, when coal was exported at a very cheap price, the trawler owners of this country were always anxious to remain in the category of exporters of coal. It was only when the scene was changed, that is to say when there was a scarcity of coal and the export price became higher than the internal price, that the trawler owners say there was a difference.
The National, Coal Board, after represensations made to them found, perhaps, that they had made a mistake. They quite readily, after conversations and discussions, rectified the mistake. Because the Coal Board did what had always been done before the war, namely, kept trawler owners in the export category where coal was cheaper than the internally consumed coal, they corrected the matter, I repeat after discussion and conversation. The trawler owners are very happy with their present position.
§ Mr. D. Marshall
I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman would be the last person to wish to misrepresent anyone. As far as I am aware, if we go back to the time when they took advantage of the cheaper coal prior to the war, it was in order to give this industry, which was having a very bad time, some form of chance. That is quite a different matter.
§ Mr. Williams
There is no difference at all in the matter. It was just a question whether coal purchased by trawler owners for the high seas was export or not. If I had been a trawler owner at that time I would obviously have wanted to be in the export area, but equally obviously in the post-war period I should want to be in the internal area. Now the thing is straightened out and it is plain. The hon. Member also referred to fishing in England and Wales as compared with Scotland. I should never have dared to talk about Grimsby, Hull, Fleetwood or Milford Haven because such ports speak for themselves and do not need advertising.
The hon Member referred to a part of the Bill and asked me to include whitebait and sardines with herrings and pilchards, and so forth. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Bodmin was aware 737 that sardines are young pilchards and whitebait are young herrings or young sprats and have therefore a very close relationship to their parents.
I do not think I need detain the House any longer. I have answered most of the important questions. I must thank hon. Members on all sides of the House for their contributions to the Debate. It is rare that a Bill is perfect when first advanced—there is always room for slight improvements—but on the principles there has been general agreement. I hope that the progress visualised in this small Bill will, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen said, bring new power, new funds and new opportunities, and that the Bill will ultimately help the fishing industry to a reasonable prosperity and the consumers of fish to reasonably permanent supplies.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.