HC Deb 05 April 1951 vol 486 cc425-36

For the purposes of this Act, the expression "Wales" shall include "Monmouthshire."—[Mr. Donnelly.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Donnelly

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

This proposal is supported by a very wide range of opinion in Wales—by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts), President of the Liberal Party of Wales, by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. D. Williams), who is chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary Party, my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), who is its secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), who is chairman of the Welsh Labour Group, and also by the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), who, if she holds no official position, can at least be claimed as a national institution. Thus the supporters of the proposal include almost everybody who believes in national unity—except, naturally, hon. Members of the Conservative Party, who are of small consequence, being the smallest party in Wales.

The proposal and its effects, I submit, are very reasonable. There is no sectarian or parochial interest in proposing this special Welsh Committee for Wales, and although some people from time to time pronounce my name to rhyme with Llanelly, I should have thought that my antecedents would not have led anyone to suppose that I would put forward any narrow nationalist point of view. I should make clear at once that we are very much in favour of the Bill as a whole, and I would say again, what I said on Second Reading, that I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward a Bill dealing with the problems of the fishing industry, when we have been mourning the problems of the fishing industry for years without doing anything effective about them. It is for the sole purpose of securing the full benefit of this wise, far-sighted Bill for Wales and the Welsh fishing industry that we are putting forward these Amendments tonight.

We appreciate that there are special conditions affecting Scotland and Northern Ireland which make it necessary or advantageous to have a special committee for those countries. I appreciate that there are administrative matters concerning Scotland which do not quite compare with the administrative set up which exists in Wales. We in Wales are in no way jealous of our Scottish colleagues. We simply congratulate them on the effective machinery which exists in Scotland, and we are only asking for a similar kind of committee for Wales, for, to some extent, the same reasons, but also—and, perhaps, to a greater extent—for different reasons.

First of all, there are some extenuating circumstances in Wales so far as distances are concerned. This, indeed, is an exactly similar problem which faces Scotland. I see the Minister of Labour on the Treasury Bench. He once came down to my constituency, and he fully appreciates the difficulties of rail travel down there. He assured me that he would never come by train again, and I am sure he will be able, if he speaks to the Minister of Agriculture, to convince him of the very real problems of rail transport in West Wales. Equally, the hon. Member for Merioneth is a martyr to the railway system.

This problem of transport is particularly difficult in the white fish industry, because I understand that the White Fish Authority have their headquarters at Harrogate, which is doubly far from Wales. I have been assured, very generously, by some representatives of the White Fish Authority that they are prepared to come to London to meet Welsh representatives, but, as we have always felt that Whitehall was remote enough, so we feel that Harrogate is doubly remote so far as getting effective action is concerned. It is very difficult to arrange a meeting place on mutual ground, and Harrogate is very difficult to get at from Wales, and, therefore, we feel that it would help the work of my right hon. Friend's Department if we had a separate Welsh Committee dealing with the problems of Wales.

5.45 p.m.

Second, we submit that, although the catch landed by the Welsh fishing industry is not of the volume of the catch landed by the fishing industry in Scotland or in England, nevertheless it plays a very large part in the Welsh economy; and the Minister of Agriculture, I am sure, agrees with this, because he said so in a letter which he sent me some time ago dealing with this point. The fishing round the coasts of Wales can be divided into two main sections, the inshore fishing along the western coast, and the middle distance trawler fishing from the port of Milford Haven, which is the fourth or fifth largest of the trawler ports in the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend knows only too well that the inshore fishermen specialise in special quality, high-grade fish. I see that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) agrees with me, and rightly, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) also agrees. I am sure that the high quality of the fish landed by the inshore fishermen of Wales cannot be compared in any way with the catches of the long-distance trawlers from ports such as Hull, for instance.

Commander Pursey (Hull, East)


Mr. Donnelly

I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will agree with me that there is all the difference between them. Therefore, the inshore fishermen deserve some quite different treatment from that of the fishermen of the long-distance trawler ports such as Hull, Lowestoft, and so on. The same argument applies to the high quality fishing port of Milford Haven, which deals with fish of far higher quality than that landed at the fishing port of Hull, and I am sure that again I can carry my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), with me on that point.

The third point which I submit, in addition to the distance factor, is the specially high claim which can be made for an intensive drive to develop the market in South Wales—one of the problems which has been facing the fishing industry in Wales for a long time. Indeed, the problem of market development faces the representatives of the English fishing constituencies as well, and I am sure I shall be able to carry them with me on this point, as on some of the earlier points I have made. During the years of depression the organisation for selling fish in South Wales obviously was not very effective or successful. People, in the days when hon. Gentlemen opposite had the power, had not got the money to buy the fish that was landed on the quayside at Milford Haven or in many of the other fishing ports in Britain. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]

That was one of the reasons why the fishing industry languished in the years between the wars, and why fish had to be dumped back into the sea; and that was the difficulty which faced us in the years between the wars—of developing the potential market which exists in South Wales. It is a difficulty which still exists, although to a lesser extent. There are vast potentialities for selling fish—making it accessible at reasonable cost and in good condition—to the housewives in the Welsh valleys—a market which has never been developed; and I submit that a Welsh Committee dealing with this problem, and knowing the conditions which exist in Wales, and the opportunities there are for developing the sale of fish, would be in a far better position to do something about this problem than an authority resident in some remote place like Harrogate. Here again, in this argument, I am seeking only to facilitate the working of the Bill.

Finally, there is the great importance of the white fish industry to the Welsh economy. In Cornwall and other parts of Great Britain there is an extensive tourist trade, which is more extensive than that around the Welsh coasts, and which comprises, for those parts of Britain, a staple industry. In many areas of Wales, partly because of the bad train service, there is no alternative industry available. If the men are not able to make a profit from inshore fishing, they have difficulty in making a living at all. Inshore fishing is the only possible way for them to earn a living in many of the small, remote fishing villages around the Welsh coast. If my right hon. Friend will look at the Fourth Schedule to the Bill he will see that there are a number of fishery harbours in Wales of this nature. In Carmarthen, one; Pembroke, six; Cardigan, three; Merioneth, two; Caernarvon, eight—a total of 20 in all. Although these are very small fishing harbours, they are, nevertheless, very important to the people who live in these areas.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will think that it is desirable that the Welsh fishing industry should have the maximum support of and feel that they are in the closest possible contact with the White Fish Authority and that the maximum benefits of the White Fish Authority should reach the fishermen of Wales. The most effective way of ensuring this will be to set up a Welsh Committee who are conversant with the problem and able to deal with it on the spot.

Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

I beg to second the Motion.

I cannot see that any possible objection can be raised by the Minister to accepting this very reasonable Clause. A week or two ago we were discussing in this House the Report of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, which dealt with certain problems concerning the economy of Wales, and in that report it was made clear that there are special problems in the economy of Wales. That was accepted by Members on both sides of the House. It was made clear in the Report and in the House that policies framed centrally in this country are not always adapted to the needs of Wales. The argument for a Welsh Committee does not depend on the amount of fish caught in Wales. Small though the catch may be in relation to the whole fishing industry of Great Britain, it is nevertheless an important part of the economy of the small Welsh ports; that is why it needs protection.

If proper attention is to be given to Welsh questions by this new highly centralised organisation, I think that it is essential that we should have a Welsh Committee to advise the Authority. The Bill provides for a Scottish Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very glad to hear that hon. Members representing Scotland are enthusiastic about that fact.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

But not Cornwall.

Mr. Roberts

I have yet to learn that Cornwall is a separate country as Wales and Scotland are. The objection may be raised that there must be a special Committee for Scotland because there is a special administration of fisheries for Scotland and that this does not apply to Wales. The fact that there is no special administration of fisheries for Wales makes it, in my opinion, all the more necessary to have a special Committee to protect and develop Welsh fishing interests. If that objection is put forward we find ourselves in a vicious circle. When we ask for special bodies and organisations for Welsh affairs we are told, "You do not need them like Scotland does because Scotland has a Secretary of State, and, therefore, we must have separate bodies and organisations for Scotland." When we say, "Give us a Welsh Secretary of State," we are told, "You do not need that because you have no special bodies and organisations for Wales." I hope that the Minister will take heed of the wide demand for what is contained in this new Clause and announce that the Government are prepared to accept it.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

When I moved the Second Reading of the Sea Fish Industry Bill a few weeks ago, I quoted from speeches made in a previous debate by the hon. Members for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans), Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), and North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes), which showed absolute unanimity for a small independent authority who would be ready to take advice from all but orders from none except Ministers. The Government agreed with what we conceived to be the general view of the House. We felt that if the job was to be tackled seriously, nothing less than such a body could do it effectively. That is exactly what this Bill provides—a small body of independent persons who, we believe, are quite capable of representing the views of all sections of the industry in all parts of Great Britain.

I can understand the desire on the part of hon. Members representing Wales and of my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), in particular, if there is any doubt at all in their minds, that the interests of Wales should not be overlooked and left out in the cold. My hon. Friend made reference to the fact that the headquarters of the Authority is to be established at Harrogate, and he felt that that was a long way from Wales. The Authority feel—and I agree with them—that it would not do to keep too near to one side of the coast and they have chosen a geographical centre.

I can give hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies a categorical assurance that their interests will not be ignored. Members of the Authority have already visited Milford Haven, Cardiff, Swansea and a number of the smaller inshore fishing ports. They are well acquainted with a good many of the problems, including that of marketing, and they intend to keep the interest of Wales in the forefront, as they must, if they are to accomplish their task, not ignore the quantity or value of the fish caught in any part of Great Britain.

I can tell hon. Members that the Authority are already considering establishing one of their most important offices in one of the ports in Wales. This, in turn, will depend on the type of local organisation for Great Britain as a whole, which is a matter yet to be settled. I want to make it clear that there is no possible question of keeping people with Welsh connections out of the administration of this Authority. Indeed, the aim when selecting these five persons—the small body which it is the wish of Members in all parts of the House to have—was to get the best talent available for the job. When the time comes for a review of membership at the end of a term of years, Welsh candidates will obviously be considered on an equal basis with any others, as indeed they were on this occasion when the Authority was set up.

6.0 p.m.

The hon. Members who moved and seconded the new Clause made some reference to the Scottish Committee. There is a sound industrial reason for that Committee which does not apply to Wales. There are very marked differences in the character of the white fish industry in Scotland. The problems in England and Wales are so similar as to make it difficult to find any difference between them. The industry in Scotland is to a far less extent based on a few big ports. The inshore fisheries in Scotland account for no less than 27 per cent. of the total value of the catch compared with 6.7 per cent. in England and 6.3 per cent. in England and Wales taken together. The problems of the Highlands and Islands have always been regarded as being different to those of any other parts of Great Britain. There are the special problems of Aberdeen arising from the distances to its main markets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke made reference to distances between Wales and here. It is a long distance, but if we compare the value of the catch, by weight or by volume or in any other way, we find that there is a very big difference between Scotland and England and Wales. Leith and Granton have a unique marketing structure. The position in Wales is similar to that of England. Wales has one large fishing port and two smaller ports—Milford Haven, Cardiff and Swansea—with quite a few inshore fishing ports.

The problems of Milford Haven are very like those of Fleetwood, Grimsby or Hull. They all suffer from the same difficulty where near-water fishing takes place, and that is over-fishing, lack of up-to-date equipment and vessels. There are two comparatively small fishing ports in Wales, those of Cardiff and Swansea. I need not mention the catch value, because hon. Members will know how it compares with Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood. Cardiff and Swansea perhaps can be compared to Lowestoft, if we eliminate herrings.

My hon. Friend said that there was a marketing problem in Wales and that we ought to develop that market and have a special organisation to do it. But what does that market consist of in terms of the value of fish? Milford Haven represents about £1¾ million worth of fish, whereas Cardiff, Swansea and all the inshore smaller ports represent something in the region of about £650,000 worth of fish. It seems quite unnecessary to establish a special committee exclusively for Wales to market £650,000 of inshore fish. The balance of inshore and deep-sea fishing in Wales is about the same as for England taken as a whole.

The statement has been made on some occasions that although the total catch in Wales is not very much compared with England it does mean something to the Welsh economy. I am prepared to concede that, but on the test of the proportion of men engaged in fishing for each country we find that both have less than one-quarter of 1 per cent. of the population engaged in the fishing industry. I do not think that any case has been made out for a special committee for Wales.

It is not the importance of the Scottish fisheries themselves which is the reason for their committee, but the special nature of their fishing. The similarity between the English and Welsh problems makes it wholly unnecessary for Wales to have a separate committee, which would have little to do but would be merely a subordinate executive. If a special committee were conceded to Wales it would lead, logically and quite properly, to another new Clause appearing on the Order Paper to establish a committee for England. It might be that we should have to establish more than one committee for England because of its diverse interests.

If Scotland, England and Wales were to have a separate committee, I do not see why my own county of Yorkshire should not also have a separate committee. We find that Hull alone is responsible for £9½ million worth of fish, as compared with £2,400,000 for Wales. Surely, then, Hull is entitled to a committee. Grimsby is also responsible for £9½ million worth, and we should have to be very strong to resist a claim from Fleetwood. I am sure that this would be contrary to what my hon. Friend for Pembroke wants. It would be an end to the effectiveness of the boards.

There will be a number of committees operating in England, Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland, and the effectiveness of this small, independent, impartial Authority would be completely undermined. I do not think that the fundamental problems that have been affecting this industry for such a long time would be adequately dealt with in those circumstances. The body of individuals that has been appointed to weigh all the evidence of the interests in the industry is the sort of body the House recognised on Second Reading to be the one that could do the job.

It seems to me that with all the goodwill in the world towards the Welsh fishermen and the consumer of fish in Wales, with full recognition of their transport difficulties, this Clause ought not to be accepted. There ought to be no animosity because beyond the Border there happens to be a special set-up to meet their particular problems which are dissimilar to those of England and Wales. I know that my hon. Friends are very anxious that this authority should not be hampered with four or five committees tendering them advice but should be left to collect advice and guidance from the fishing interests in England and Wales, on the west coast and on the east, and thereby help us to a final solution of these fundamental problems which have been facing the industry for a long time.

Mr. William Elwyn Jones (Conway)

Could my right hon. Friend say whether there are amongst the members, designated representatives of Welsh interests?

Mr. Williams

As a matter of fact, they were not elected or appointed on a geographical basis. They were appointed because we thought that they were the best type of persons to do this particular job, but there was no hostility against Wales or Welsh connections in any kind of way.

Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

I was following the Minister in what he said and going with him a long way until the latter part of his speech, into which he brought something which aroused the temper of a Welshman and against which I must make a protest. I well remember that under the Agriculture Bill, the Forestry Bill and the Hill Farming Bill provision was made for a Welsh Committee. I did not hear at that time the people from Cornwall or from Yorkshire asking that there should be separate committees for those very beautiful counties. Why produce this argument now?

The principle has been laid down in this House. There is not only a committee under the Hill Farming and Forestry Acts, but there is also a Land Commission. Furthermore, in Wales we have a joint education committee of our own. Wales is a nation; not merely a part of the United Kingdom. It has its own party, and we as individuals have put our names to this new Clause as Members of the Welsh Parliamentary Party. This is the first instance for many years when we brought our arguments to the Floor of the House of Commons, because the Minister has not met our wishes.

In the Schedule there are listed 28 fishing harbours in Wales. If there is special consideration for education and agriculture in Wales, the same argument can be applied here. Not one Welshman has been considered for the Authority, but we are very glad of the concession that when vacancies take place that point will be considered. I rise as an official of the Welsh Parliamentary Party—I have no official interest in the matter from the point of view of my division—to say that we are disappointed with the reply of the Minister.

Mr. William Elwyn Jones

I am voicing the very grave feelings of those who are supporting this new Clause when I say that we were disappointed with the reply of the Minister. I gather that the Minister's chief objection to the new Clause is that there are no peculiarities in the fishing industry in Wales, and that the problems of fishing in Wales are precisely the same as those which face the industry in England. By the same reasoning there should be no separate Commission for Scotland or Northern Ireland. I did not hear any argument adduced by the Minister to show that there was any difference about the character or peculiarities of the fishing industry in Scotland.

Captain Duncan (South Angus)

Of course there is.

Mr. Elwyn Jones

The Minister did not produce any of the arguments. The reason is that the problem is the same in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, and the reason why the Minister set up a separate Commission for Scotland and Northern Ireland is in order that their particular interests should be properly represented on a geographical basis and that those interests should receive proper attention. For my part I am very sorry that there has been complete silence on the Opposition benches on this subject.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

That is what we always get on these matters.

Mr. Elwyn Jones

They have always expressed their interest and belief in individual freedom and in national freedom. In this debate they have not expressed anxiety such as we have felt at the reply of the Minister. They have not exhibited any interest at all, and I leave the matter there for others to draw the necessary conclusion. I can only support my hon. Friends on this side of the House and say we are very disappointed at the reply of the Minister. For my part I find it very unconvincing.

Question put, and negatived.