HC Deb 15 May 1950 vol 475 cc871-7

3.46 p.m.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, at the end, to insert: Provided that any regulations made in respect of paragraph (b) of this subsection shall have regard to existing general traditions of design. This Amendment arises from a point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) during the Second Reading proceedings. My hon. Friend pointed out that the Bill as it stands allows for regulations to be made which will regulate the position in any fishing boat in which the crew accommodation or any part of it may be located and the standards to be observed in the construction, equipment and furnishing of such accommodation. According to my hon. Friend, and I think it will be generally agreed by the Committee, the traditional position for the accommodation of crews of fishing vessels is aft and not for'ard. My hon. Friend was most anxious that that traditional position should be maintained. In his speech he pointed out that in new foreign trawlers very good accommodation was to be found for'ard, but he did not think that that would meet with the desires of our own fishermen. Therefore he suggested that an Amendment of this kind would be acceptable to the fishing community generally.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

While we do not wish to be either factious or fractious, I think it is a pity that the Minister should not be here to reply. I understand from certain sotto voce remarks which, although not entirely inaudible, are certainly very useful on occasion, that the Minister will be here before very long. Although I would not wish to move the Adjournment of the Committee in order that he might be here, I trust that his arrival will not be unduly delayed. The case which has been put by my hon. and gallant Friend requires answering, and I should have thought that the Minister, even from the courtesy point of view, would have been here to give the Committee the information required. It is a little awkward when business passes through very suddenly, as has been the case today, but for all that I think the Committee is entitled to make a slight protest when the Minister is not in his place to deal with business which, after all, he and the Government have set down to be taken at this time and in this place. Perhaps one of the other Ministers could give us an explanation of what is going on and tell us how long it will be before the Minister is able to appear.

Mr. Hoy (Leith)

I think I should say a word or two in reply to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He knows that even in the best ordered House—whether we are sitting as a Committee or as a House—a slip very frequently takes place. As I heard the hon. and gallant Minister for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) move his Amendment, I thought he made a very reasonable case, but frankly I admit that I would not care to say whether or not I support it. I should prefer to wait until the Minister replies. When he has replied, I am sure that all hon. Members will be able to make up their minds on this Amendment.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

First of all I should like to offer my apologies to the Committee. The first Measure dealt with today went through with unexpected speed. I thought I could transact other business before we reached this Measure. Moreover, I must confess that I am not built for speed these days.

I want to assure the Committee at once, with very little qualification, that I recognise the importance of this Amendment. It is quite out of the question that, in dealing with future improvements of fishing vessels, we should ignore present circumstances. To do so has never been the policy of the Ministry of Transport. I will give a general assurance that I shall take the purpose of this Amendment into full account, but I would point out that it is framed in rather vague language and that it is difficult to define the exact responsibility of the Minister in this respect. It merely states: shall have regard to existing general traditions of design. That is the common practice in matters of this description.

Probably the most important criticism of this Amendment, however, is that there is no similar provision in the Act of 1948, which was passed about 15 or 18 months ago when I was dealing with the international convention on merchant ships. This Bill is modelled on the provisions of the 1948 Act and I see no reason why we should adopt a practice in regard to fishing vessels different from that which we adopted on the former occasion. I would remind hon. Members opposite that the 1948 Act was passed with the general agreement of both sides, both in this House and in another place.

I hope that my assurance that I shall take this question into consideration will be sufficient, but to strengthen my request and appeal to the Opposition further, I shall make it plain that in framing these regulations I shall have to consult representative bodies of owners and seafarers. I would not desire that that consultation should be looked upon as a pious hope. I have before me the list of the bodies which I have to consult, because I wanted to give as firm an assurance as possible on this matter. Those bodies are very numerous and very representative.

Indeed, I was surprised at the obligations which I have accepted in this respect because, in the main, these bodies do not represent national organisation. This industry appears to be split up amongst a number of bodies and ports. Certainly the result will be to make any form of consultation as representative as possible. There are 16 organisations altogether. If hon. Members wish to be satisfied about the representative character of these bodies, I am prepared to give the list in detail, but I assure the Committee that it covers the whole of the country and most of the main fishing ports in Britain. I trust that, following these general assurances, it will not be felt necessary to press the Amendment.

Commander Galbraith

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has appreciated that the point we made to him is one of substance. In view of the very wide and at the same time specific undertaking which the right hon. Gentleman has given to the Committee I shall, with the leave of the Committee, withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

A rather important question arises on Clause 1. During the Second Reading Debate, I asked the Minister whether foreigners would have to comply with the rules and regulations which will be laid down and which are covered by Clause 1. On that occasion he did not answer, and I ask him to make the position of foreigners quite clear now. As far as I can see there is nothing about foreigners in the Act, although there is some reference to foreigners in the Schedule at page 9, paragraph 12. I am not clear in my own mind whether foreigners will be forced to comply with these regulations.

If they are not compelled to do so, then it will be extremely unfair to our own fishermen who are having a very bad time at the moment. I know we cannot compel foreigners to bring their ships up to the standards we require but we could control them to some extent. For example, we could prevent them from landing fish in our ports unless they were prepared to bring their ships up to the standards with which our own fishermen have to comply. There was an international convention on over-fishing and all nations agreed that they should do something about it, but the convention has not been ratified so far by several nations and those nations are still landing fish in this country. We do not want the same thing to happen here.

4.0 p.m.

Since the Second Reading of this Bill the situation in the fish industry has become even more serious and some trawlers are being laid up simply because fishing does not pay. If we are to help our fishermen we must help them soon. My suggestion is that, to protect our own gallant fishermen, who, during and since the war, have done a very great job of work, and to allow them to earn an honest living bringing fish to this country, we should not lay down standards for them to maintain without taking some steps to see that foreigners also maintain those same high standards.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I am rather surprised at the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams). He suggested that we should not improve or attempt to improve the accommodation and general conditions in our ships, as provided by the Bill, because it has not been done in foreign vessels. In merchant shipping generally our standards have been below those of other countries, though we have improved them recently. It seems to me that what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting is that we should be cautious lest the trawler owners should provide something foreigners do not.

Mr. Williams

No. Perhaps I did not make it quite clear. I want to stop the foreigners bringing fish to this country unless they comply with the standards laid down for our people. I think it is desirable that we should have high standards for our fishermen, but we do not want foreigners to compete on unfair terms.

The Chairman (Major Milner)

I understand the hon. Gentleman is arguing against the Clause on the ground that it is undesirable to lay down standards, as permitted by the Clause, unless some corresponding arrangements are made by foreign countries.

Mr. Williams

I was asking whether they would have to.

The Chairman

To that extent, perhaps, the matter may be in Order, but it would not be in Order to go further than that.

Mr. Barnes

I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to deal with this point, because we appreciate that it is a matter of general concern. We, of course, naturally desire—indeed, I think it has always been the historical position of this country to do so—to give a lead in all maritime standards, but I also recognise the very practical consideration that must always be borne in mind, that we must not take those standards too far ahead, to the extent that they may, in fact, damage the situation of either our Merchant Fleet or, as in this case, our fishing vessels.

I want to assure the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) that this Bill—and I state this quite specifically—does not and cannot deal with the standards of foreign-owned fishing vessels. This Clause deals with the responsibility which we have for the conditions of seafarers in our own fishing vessels. There are two sides to this. Obviously, if we claimed the right to impose conditions on foreign-owned fishing vessels, equally other countries could claim the right to impose conditions on our fishing vessels, and the same would be true in the case of the merchant fleets of other countries and the merchant ships belonging to this country. I am not so sure that on balance we should not get the worst of that situation. I do not mean that our standards would invoke reprisals; but the ingenuity that can sometimes be exercised in matters of this description to cause inconvenience at times could be pretty severe.

Therefore, I think that if the hon. Gentleman reflects on the situation, and bears in mind that these powers will be applied only to new ships, and to ships that are coming for substantial alterations and repairs; that the Ministry of Transport always keeps in the closest possible touch with the owners' and the officers' and men's organisations in these shipping matters; and that we always have a very practical eye on this problem, and on the standards of British ships as compared with those of our foreign competitors, I think he will be able to rest, assured that we shall not overlook the point he has raised.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

In view of the grudging welcome that has been given to this Clause by the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) I should like to say a word upon it, although I had not intended to do so. Whatever may be the conditions in foreign trawlers, I think it is right that we should do what we can to make the accommodation for the seamen in our own trawlers of as high a standard as possible. That is, apparently, what this Clause is intended to do, and I welcome it for that reason. Of course, we have no jurisdiction over foreign trawlers. We cannot do anything about them. They are not within our scope. However, what we can do is being done by this Clause to improve the accommodation for seamen in our own trawlers, and for that reason I welcome it.

Commander Galbraith

I am quite certain that the Committee and the fishing industry will welcome the speech which my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) has made. He was not in any way giving a grudging welcome to the Clause. What he was doing was calling attention to a matter which the right hon. Gentleman himself has agreed needs to be kept constantly in mind—that there should be no unfair competition coming from foreign sources. That is the point we have in mind at this moment. We can remember many examples, in merchant shipping, of most unfair competition in days gone by. My hon. Friend merely wanted to draw attention to that fact. The right hon. Gentleman has assured us—he has told us this cuts both ways—that he will keep the matter constantly in mind, and that therefore, we need not fear that the fishing industry will be in any way let down during his term in his high office.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Remaining Clauses ordered to stand part of the Bill.