HC Deb 05 April 1951 vol 486 cc437-40

6.15 p.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

I beg to move, in page 2, line 36, to leave out "appointed," and to insert "selected."

I think it would be convenient if we discussed together this Amendment and the next one, also in line 36, because they cover the same point. These two Amendments deal with Clause 3, which sets out the method by which the White Fish Industry Advisory Council is to be set up. On the Committee stage we had a long debate on this subject, and we withdrew our Amendment on the understanding that the Government would consider this matter between then and the Report stage. As the Government have not seen fit to put down an Amendment, it is our purpose, in moving these two Amendments, to enable them to explain the position to us.

It was quite clear during the debate in the Committee stage that there was no difference between the two sides of the Committee in principle, but only as to the form of words. The substance of the point is that members of the Advisory Council should be selected from panels of names submitted by representative organisations, and we understood that the Government were largely in agreement with us on that particular method of forming the Advisory Council. At this stage I will say no more in order that the Government can explain their atti tude, having reviewed the position since the Committee last met.

Captain Duncan

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

As the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) has said, most of the reasons for and against this Amendment were argued in Committee. I take it we have all considerable sympathy with the two aims which he has in mind, first, that there should be a more democratic foundation for this Council; and secondly, that it should be representative of the very important and valuable organisations which exist throughout the fishing industry.

On the other hand, there are strong arguments on the other side. There is a multitude of these organisations, and it could be argued that pressure from some of them has not always been entirely beneficial to the industry. Secondly, there are various independent people who might be extremely useful on this Council and who might not be put forward by any organisation. Furthermore, some smaller organisations exists with which it would be extremely difficult for the Minister to keep in touch. There is a danger that if the Amendment is accepted certain individuals or organisations might be excluded from consultation with the Minister. If I understand the Amendment aright, the Minister would be compelled to accept only the people who were put on the panel, and he would have no other course open to him. There is also the question of the consumers, and people who are not in any organisation.

I should like to ask the Minister whether it would be possible to make public the names of all the bodies to whom he refers, because a certain amount of democratic principle would then be satisfied, and we should know that the responsible bodies had an opportunity to put forward their views. If the Amendment is to be taken at its face value, it means that the Minister will not be able to consult organisations which are multitudinous in number. In that case, I could not support the Amendment.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I hope that the Minister will resist the Amendment. We had a very full debate on this point on the Committee stage and I cannot agree with what was said by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), that we were then willing to accept the principle of the Amendment. There are so many flaws in the Amendment that it is very difficult for us to see what benefit there could be to the industry from the interpretations which could be placed upon it. The major difficulty is that a certain amount of force majeure could be brought to bear by big representative authorities, who would be bound to have seats upon the Advisory Council, in order to secure the selection of certain persons whom they wanted to press forward. They might simply submit one name, so as to give no choice, and that would not be in the best interests of the purposes for which the advisory committee has been set up.

The Amendment would restrict the opportunity for the Minister to go outside the big, recognised authorities and bring in people who have given most of their lives to the service of the fishing industry and are as knowledgeable as anybody. For those and other reasons, I hope that the Government will not accept the Amendment.

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

I hope that the hon. Baronet and his Friends will not press this Amendment. We went over the arguments in the Standing Committee, since when the Government have tried to find a form of words which would enable us to meet the principle specifically in the Bill without tying the hands of the Government unduly. It has proved impossible, with all the good will in the world, to find a form of words which would not tie us down so completely that we should be open to all the difficulties which have been mentioned. It is only because of those difficulties that we are not accepting the Amendment. I give the firmest assurance that we will consult with all the organisations and that we will invite them to submit lists of names, and that it will normally be the intention of the Minister to select from the lists of names that are put in.

In regard to the point made in the previous debate by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) about the different interests, for example in the near and distant waters, we are proposing to ask the British Trawler Federation to submit different sets of names for the different parts of the industry. Our great difficulty is that if we were tied down under the Bill we would lose all power of selection. Any interest which chose to put up just one name, or a few names, would be able to compel the selection of an individual or individuals, without the Minister having any power of choice. It is to avoid that happening that we are taking our present course. If there were any awkwardness, we retain power of selection. There is the additional point that in the case of the inshore fishermen it would not be true to say that there is any real, national representative body. We might in that case get the objection that we were appointing somebody who was unrepresentative.

In this matter we are following faithfully good Conservative precedent. In respect of the two Fisheries Acts of 1938, this principle was very firmly adhered to by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they put forward the very arguments which I have now repeated, with that hallowing sanctity. I therefore invite them to withdraw the Amendment.

Sir T. Dugdale

If I may speak again, with the permission of the House, I would just say that the Government have evidently given very careful consideration to the point since the Committee stage. It is important to have put on record the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, and in view of that statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.